Ballet is back! New York City Ballet opened its Fall Season yesterday to a ballet-starved, packed Koch Theater house, 18 long months after its last performance due to COVID-19 shutdowns. It was a glorious evening of ballet providing some sense of normalcy from the devastating pandemic. The night’s rep was spot on for the historic occasion; the company presented two iconic Balanchine classics, Serenade to open and Symphony in C to close, with Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain in between. As a bonus, the orchestra presented Tschaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers before Symphony in C. The crowd was animated with numerous curtain call ovations, particularly for Symphony in C as confetti rained down on the dancers. Check out curtain call photos on my website notmydayjobphotography.com.
The dancing was on the mark after the long drought with many months of dancer at home digital classes with make-shift kitchen tables, sofas, and chairs serving as barres. It was great seeing principals such as Sara Mearns, Megan Fairchild, Joseph Gordon, Maria Kowroski, Ashley Bouder back in action. I particularly enjoyed Joseph’s energetic work with rapid pirouettes in Symphony in C and Megan back in action after giving birth to twins in April and contracting COVID. Serenade was as beautiful as always with the classic blue theme. After the Rain with Maria Kowroski and Ask la Cour was touching and haunting as always, providing memories of the poignant sunrise September 12, 2013 video performance of the work on the 57th floor of 4 World Trade Center in memory of 9/11. The work has added meaning after the tragedy of COVID. Artistic Director Jonathan Stafford and Associate Artistic Director Wendy Whelan gave brief remarks, recognizing the long performance draught and thanking the audience for support. Then a surprise rendition of Waltz of the Flowers led by orchestra conductor Andrew Litton.
The quality of the dancing was almost secondary; just being at Koch Theater was the main event, partaking in activities we took for granted pre-COVID. It was refreshing getting back to a somewhat normal routine for an evening of entertainment: eschewing sweat pants and at home attire for real clothes for an evening out; seeing people in person rather than on Zoom; experiencing the grand Lincoln Center complex and Koch theater; taking in the performance in close proximity with other people just recently considered as lethal threats; reflecting on the numerous aspects of the performance on the way home, wondering if I have any reasonable curtain call photos to post on Instagram.
The event was different from the pre-pandemic world. First, all Lincoln Center audience members must show proof of vaccination through the Excelsior or Clear apps, or show both a vaccination card and an ID. I chose the Clear app route, which entailed signing up for the app, acknowledging and agreeing to what looked like a 30-page legal document (which I did not read), providing a photo of my driver license and vaccine card. With that, it was smooth sailing through the theater line. Second, masks were required in the theater, except for those that, for some reason, thought they were exempt from the requirement with masks around their chins. The mezzanine scene seemed almost normal, with pre-performance wine and food sales. The performance started 20 minutes late, presumably due to the crush of vaccine checks. Third, there were no 20 minute intermissions, just 3-minute pauses between works. This required bladder management as I avoided my customary late afternoon diet Pepsi. Great to be back, thanks to the efforts of drug companies with vaccines developed in record time.
The NYCB Fall Season runs until October 21. Programs include Classic NYCB, Robbins + Ratmansky, Innovations & Icons, Balanchine + Peck, Ballet & Broadway with farewell performances from Ask la Cour, Maria Kowroski, and Lauren Lovette. Most of my commentary during the NYCB season will be on my Instagram feed with curtain call photos. Check it out and subscribe.