NYCB presented an all Bach evening Thursday and Saturday evenings consisting of Concerto Barocco and The Goldberg Variations. I’m sometimes asked how I can see the same performance two times in the same week with the same cast. With a full-length ballet, I generally don’t and am unhappy when cast changes make this a reality; the number of dancers filling primary dancing roles is limited and their interpretation and solos are the same from performance to performance, and the benefit of the second performance is small.
However, with mixed rep performances like Concerto Barocco and Goldberg, there are many primary dancers involved, with complicated and difficult to interpret movements. A second viewing can add depth and understanding to the works not uncovered by the first, particularly when viewed from various locations in the theater. Such was the case with this performance that paired the short Concerto Barocco (18 minutes) with the very long Goldberg (1 hour 24 minutes).
Concerto Barocco, set to Bach’s double violin concerto, began as an exercise by Balanchine for the School of American Ballet and performed by American Ballet Caravan on its tour of South America, according to the Balanchine Trust website. “Later it entered the repertory of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. In 1951, Balanchine permanently eliminated the original costumes and dressed the dancers in practice clothes, probably the first appearance of what has come to be regarded as a signature Balanchine costume for contemporary works. On October 11, 1948, Concerto Barocco was one of three ballets on the program at New York City Ballet’s first performance.”
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 onstage 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. The women danced in unison; from my lofty perch Thursday, I didn’t see any segments where the dancers were not in synch or where the symmetry was compromised. Even in the pas de deux, the Corps plays a major and integrated role as the principals weave between Corps dancers.
The architecture of the Corps provides a backdrop for lead dancers Sara Mearns, Teresa Reichlen, and Ask la Cour, who are almost secondary figures. Sara was energetic, attacking her pique arabesques while Theresa was more subdued. The pas de deux is fairly short (Teresa and Ask both evenings) and not particularly eventful.
Here is the work on YouTube with Patricia McBride and Peter Martins. The piece is marred by a hyperactive film crew , although some of the overhead shots are unique.
The Goldberg Variations is a work for harpsichord by Bach consisting of an aria and a set of 30 variations. It was first published in 1741. The variations are named after Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who may have been the first performer.
Jerome Robbins’ ballet by the same name had its debut in 1971 and has two parts with music provided by a single pianist (Cameron Grant both evenings). The first part has a Dances at a Gathering and Interplay feel, with group dances with various degrees of formality, at times whimsical with generally simple neoclassical ballet steps. Sometimes the guys sit on the floor, observing the women dance. In other segments, the men partner each other and do cartwheels in a playful tone.
A notable feature of the work is it’s length at almost an hour and a half; the length of the piece explains the repetitive nature of some of the sections in the first part. Anthony Huxley and Taylor Stanley stood out in the first part. Anthony had a nice repeating single tour to a double tour to the knee, performed twice in different sections. He has a quick aggressive style that served him well. Taylor was more subdued but effective in the slower sections.
Part II features three couples in various dances. I found this part dull as my eyelids grew heavy, particularly during two slow pas de deux. Tiler Peck had a nice fouetté section, but the last part failed to deliver for me. Part of the problem is that much of the music is on the slow side and I need something more substantial to keep my attention after more than an hour.