New York City Center, as part of its 75th anniversary season, is presenting Balanchine: The City Center Years with works from eight leading companies, a sort of all-star production. New York City Ballet’s first performance was in 1948 at City Center, performing there until Lincoln Center opened in 1964.
The Wednesday performance commenced with comments from City Center President Arlene Shuler, a former Joffrey Ballet dancer, and former NYCB Principal Dancer Wendy Whelan. Both noted the importance of Balanchine works to the dance world, many of which premiered at City Center. This was a popular event on Halloween as the house was packed with very few empty seats (check my photography website notmydayjobphotography.com for curtain call photos).
First up was the classic Serenade, which debuted in 1935 by students of the School of American Ballet. It was Balanchine’s first original work created in the U.S. and serves as a signature NYCB piece. Balanchine created the work as a lesson in technique for the students and he added unexpected touches such as a student falling in frustration and a late arriving dancer. Miami City Ballet performed the work with admirable care with Emily Bromberg dancing the Dark Angel role, Jeanette Delgado as the Russian Girl, and Simone Messmer as the Waltz Girl with Rainer Krenstetter and Chase Swatosh providing steady support. It wasn’t perfect as an additional fall was inadvertently included and at times Delgado’s solos were presented with a forced quality, but Serenade served as a fitting opening to the evening of important Balanchine works.
The middle segment resembled a ballet competition with high-flying antics from some of the world’s great dancers. The Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, which premiered in 1960 at City Center, featured Mariinsky Ballet’s Vikoria Tereshkina and Kimin Kim. New York audiences are familiar with both as Viktoria has guested at American Ballet Theatre and made appearances when Mariinsky last danced at Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2015; Kimin guested at ABT in La Bayadére last spring and led the K-Arts production of Song of the Mermaid at City Center two weeks ago (see my Mermaid and La Bayadére reviews). Kimin is known for his great leaping abilities and he dialed it up to 11 on Wednesday, drawing gasps on the simplest steps such as grand jetés that appeared to cover most of the stage and big split jeté entrelacé. All done with great stage presence and gusto. Viktoria was more subdued but displayed high level technique in a joyous demeanor. The only downside to the distinguished work was a diagonal of perfunctory and boring fish dives, a highlight for some dancers in the role.
After the Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, the competitive juices were probably flowing as Royal Ballet Soloist Anna Rose O’Sullivan and First Soloist Marcelino Sambé delivered a high energy rendition of Tarantella. The work is a significant inclusion to the bill as it was Balanchine’s final piece at City Center in 1964 before the company moved to Lincoln Center the same year. Anna and Marcelino sailed through technical the demands, dancing with joy as if on large doses of caffeine. Marcelino is also a great jumper and displayed high double tours and double cabriole derriére. Anna’s solos were filled with pixie-like delicacy and later featured a moving turn in fifth position sequence with Marcelino providing encouragement by banging on a tambourine.
Last up was NYCB’s Symphony in C (see photo at the top of this article), which debuted in Paris in 1947. Tickets were expensive for this event and I saved some cash by sitting high up in the cheap seats, where I usually don’t sit at Lincoln Center. The view gave me a new perspective for the Corps. With unobstructed views of every Corps member, I gained a new-found appreciation for the NYCB Corps. The Corps moved with machine-like efficiency, well-timed on fast footwork sections, hops on pointe, and various fast-moving poses. Very impressive work from the Corps that provided an important foundation for the piece.
The solo work in the four sections was mixed, not the best I have seen from NYCB. In the First Movement, Tiler Peck danced at her usual high level and displayed great musicality and timing to the Bizet score. Tyler Angle provided sturdy support, but lacked flair and energy in his solo work. Sara Mearns and Jared Angle were featured in the Second Movement Adagio. The two got off to a rough start as Sara stumbled (Jared later apologized on Instagram for tripping her). Sara seemed off of her usual high standard with less spirit than usual. Jared’s dancing was rather unexceptional.
Ashley Bouder and Anthony Huxley provided the work with a much-needed shot of adrenaline in the Third Movement while Lauren King and Taylor Stanley finished up in the Fourth Movement on a strong note.
Apollo led off the Thursday bill. Apollo is one of Balanchine’s most important works and was an obvious selection to the City Center bill. The work premiered in 1928 when Balanchine was 24 years of age, set to Stravinsky. The Thursday performance featured Mariinsky’s Xander Parish, Maria Khoreva (Terpsichore, Muse of Dance and Song), Anastasia Nuikini (Polyhymnia, Muse of Mime), and Daria Ionova (Calliope, Muse of Lyric Poetry).
Remarkable is that the three ladies are all 2018 graduates of the Vaganova Ballet Academy and are probably in their late teens. The three danced with maturity after debuting in the roles in July. Daria as Calliope displayed great emotion as her body contracted intensely as she rose on pointe, opening her mouth and thrusting her arm forward in arabesque. Anastasia completed her tricky solo with a finger to her lips to represent silent art with some rough edges on her turns. Anastasia, like the other two, displayed high arabesques. I don’t recall these solos danced with such high arabesques; it seems that the three Russians push it to the limit. Notable in Maria’s solo as the Muse of Dance and Song was beautiful, airy jetés. Xander graced the role of Apollo with great presence and command.
Concerto Barocco was in fine form with NYCB’s Maria Kowroski, Abi Stafford, and Russell Janzen as leads. This was the premier NYCB piece when the company presented its first performance at City Center in 1948. This piece is truly a Balanchine “woman is a garden of beautiful flowers and the man is the gardener” type work, with Russell engaged in partnering only duty. Remarkable is that the man is not present when the curtain closes.
The most interesting aspect of Concerto Barocco is the patterns of the moving parts of eight Corps dancers. All are onstage throughout the work and clad is simple white leotards with short skirts against a plain backdrop. The piece opens with four dancers in two lines and throughout the work, the Corps dancers form intriguing formations while performing rudimentary steps, transitioning to the next pattern. In one section, the Corps forms an X and bourrées in unison. In another segment, the dancers stomp in unison en pointe. The Corps is critical in this work as there are flowing arm movements and pointe work, in synch with the lovely Bach score.
In Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, the Royal Ballet’s Anna Rose O’Sullivan and Marcelino Sambé were more daring in the fish dive section relative to the Tereshkina/Kim, eliciting gasps from the audience in an overall fine performance
The San Francisco Ballet’s Divertimento No. 15 was the highlight of the evening with energetic and sometimes aggressive work from Frances Chung. The dynamo was all over the stage with difficult turn sections and leaps with filled with great passion. Former NYCB Principal Dancer Ana Sophia Scheller made a successful return to New York, dancing with great technical nuance. The architecture of Divertimento is unique, with five lead women and three lead men, creating unique partnering possibilities. The work has a number of segments; the lack of flow and unpredictability makes the piece compelling with various solos and pas de deux dotting throughout the work.
More performances Friday, Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday. Check back Sunday for more reviews.