BWW Review: NEW YORK CITY BALLET Offers an Entrancing "All Balanchine" Program
On the afternoon of April 29th 2018 at the Koch Theater in Lincoln Center, the New York City Ballet proved that the company is still flourishing under the interim direction of a team of four after Peter Martins' resignation. The "All Balanchine" program celebrated the enduring legacy of Mr. B's choreography, and the dancing was mostly magnificent if at times not quite as clean as It should have been in the ensemble work. That has always been an NYCB issue, however, so I won't blame the interim team!
I was seated next to two charming and chatty gentlemen in town from San Diego. Their thrilled and even awed reaction to the performance delighted me. One of the men was clearly a balletomane while the other was pretty much a newbie to the ballet world, yet he was just as taken with the proceedings as his more knowledgeable friend and I were. A convert, perhaps!
The opener was Apollo, the oldest ballet in the NYCB repertoire, choreographed in 1928. This was Balanchine's first of many collaborations with Stravinsky. In Mr. B's own words "Apollo I look back on as the turning point of my life. In its discipline and restraint, in its sustained oneness of tone and feeling, the score was a revelation. It seemed to tell me that I could dare not to use everything, that I, too, could eliminate." Created for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, and originally titled Apollon Musagète, this powerful drama based on Greek mythology established the 24-year-old Balanchine's international reputation as a choreographic genius. What I find most fascinating, however, is that the original production had lavish sets and costumes. Then after the NYCB premiere in 1951 the trapping were gradually stripped away so that the extant iteration is danced in minimalist white tunics for the ladies and tights and a shirt for the male dancer - in other words, pretty much one of Mr. B's "leotard ballets" that focus us on the dancing and nothing else. As I said, he was a genius!
After an intermission, Le Tombeau de Couperin to the music of Maurice Ravel recalled the court dances of 18th-century France. Even so, Balanchine's own choreographic hand is evident in the constantly evolving patterns as the four women and four men move. A program note explains that the composer created the score in memory of six friends who died in World War I.
Next came one of my all-time favorites, Tachaikovsky Pas de Deux, danced with power and speed by the incomparable Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle, who didn't quite measure up to my memory of Barishnikov in that high-flying role. The daredevil leaps by the ballerina in the coda into her partner's arms for a fish dive never fail to take my breath away. One small quibble: The earrings Mearns wore were so dazzlingly sparkly that they distracted me from her dancing at times. I love sparkly jewelry in general on stage, but in this case the simple costumes and the virtuosos dancing shouldn't have been upstaged by those earrings!
The closer after the intermission was the venerable Symphony in Three Movements dating from the 1972 NYCB Stravinsky Festival. The epitome of a "leotard ballet", the work is mesmerizing from the moment the curtain rises to reveal a stunning line of ladies in white. The piece was cleaner that any of the other ensemble works that afternoon. Kudos to whichever of the Ballet Masters rehearsed it. My applause also to Clotilde Otranto, the accomplished conductor of the New York City Ballet that afternoon.
NYCB's Spring Season continues through June 3rd. Check out the programs here and treat yourself to the chance to view some glorious dancing, superb live music, and excellent choreography!
Photo by Paul Kolnok