BWW Reviews: NEW YORK CITY BALLET Chases Winter's Chill With a Cheery and Cheeky Double Bill

New York City Ballet's "All Balanchine III, Hear the Dance: Italy" features a perfect pairing of pieces that brim with Balanchine's incomparable sense of showmanship. Ballet is an art form, but Mr. B knew that it can also serve as sheer entertainment without losing integrity. Beyond that, he was a master of making us "see the music, hear the dance", as he put it. This double bill, with works set to scores by great Italian composers, does precisely that.

The opening offering is "Square Dance" to the music of Vivaldi and Correli. Premiered in 1957 with Patricia Wilde and Nicolas Magallanes as the principals and revised in 1976, this neoclassical rendition of the American hoedown eschews the traditional skirts and petticoats but retains all the ebullience of the original. The minimalist costuming, with the ladies in short dance dresses and the gentlemen in tights and T-shirts, does not distract the eye from the fleet-footed movements and kaleidoscope patterns. On February 26th 2015, with Anthony Huxley and the incomparably effervescent Ashley Bouder as the leads, the dancers more than rose to the challenge of Mr. B's complex and demanding choreography.

The corps de ballet deserves special mention. I have been known to complain about messiness in NYCB ensemble sections, but the cast on the evening that I saw "Square Dance" moved in perfect synch while always projecting infectious joy. Not only that, but every corps girl proved able to toss off the tricky step called a gargouillade, with double circles of both legs in the air before landing the jump. The term is French for "bubbling", a perfect description of the ethos of the whole performance.

The second work on the program, "Harlequinade", is done in the crowd-pleasingly humorous style of commedia dell'arte that originated in Italy in the 16th century. A two-act production, this ballet is complete with amusing characters, trompe l'oeil stagecraft, riotously colorful costumes by Rouben Ter-Arutunian, charming children, festive character dancing, and a silly but satisfying love story. The Playbill notes that as a student, Balanchine danced in Marius Petipa's "Les Millions d'Harlequin" and that when he created his own version in 1965 for the 65th anniversary of that production, he "attempted to remain faithful to the spirit of Petipa's dances".

As always, the youngsters on stage had been well rehearsed by Children's Ballet Master Dena Abergal and Assistant Children's Ballet Master Arch Higgins. The kids' costumes, miniature replicas of what the adults were wearing, had the startling effect of making the little ones seem to be midgets at first glance. That impression was enhanced by the fact that the training at the School of American Ballet had given the children polished technique and stage presence well beyond their years.

The music for "Harlequinade", "Les Millions d'Arlequin" by Ricardo Drigo, was commissioned by Petipa in 1900. Many of the score's eminently danceable tunes are popular with accompanists for ballet classes, and I noticed that the baby bunheads in the audience near me were nodding and smiling in recognition as each familiar passage was played. Full disclosure: I was doing the same thing myself!

You still have time to catch this delightful program on February 28th at 2 p.m. or March 1st at 3 p.m. Why not head over to the Koch Theater in Lincoln Center for a dose of good cheer that is sure to banish the winter doldrums until the ice and snow finally give way to spring?

Photo by Paul Kolnik

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