New York City Ballet Programme 1 – Classic Balanchine

Tchaikovsky
Serenade

Dancers:
Ashley Bouder, Kaitlyn Gilliand, Janie Taylor, Ask la Cour, Philip Neal, Soloists & Corps de Ballet of NYCB

Ronald Bates – Original Lighting

Stravinsky
Agon

Dancers:
First Pas de Trois – Rebecca Krohn, Jennifer Tinsley-Williams & Andrew Veyette
Second Pas de Trois – Teresa Reichlen, Tyler Angle & Amar Ramasar
Pas de Deux – Wendy Whelan & Albert Evans
Marika Anderson, Sophie Flack, Dara Johnson & Gwyneth Muller

Bizet
Symphony in C

Dancers:
First Movement – Abi Stafford & Jonathan Stafford
Second Movement – Sara Mearns & Charles Askegard
Third Movement – Megan Fairchild & Gonzalo Garcia
Fourth Movement – Tiler Peck & Sean Suozzi
Soloists and Corps de Ballet of NYCB

Fayçal Keroui – Conductor
George Balanchine – Choreography
Karinska – Costumes
Mark Stanley – Lighting


Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 12 March, 2008
Venue: The Coliseum, London

George Balanchine (1904-83) with Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). Photograph: balanchine.orgNew York City Ballet opened its first London season for 25 years. It presents four programmes, the first of which, “Classic Balanchine”, showcased NYCB’s founder George Balanchine, the man credited with having forged a new style of classical dance. The programme was almost the same as the one presented on NYCB’s first visit to London in 1950.

The opening night revealed much about the present state of the company; it is incredibly young as a troupe with just a sprinkling of older dancers. The Balanchine style is alive and well, with real attack in movement and impressive elevation in jumps, but the principal ranks seem rather dull of character, and the corps seems to have a different idea about the angle at which their arms and heads must be at any one time. It has never been the NYCB way to be perfectly drilled like Russian companies, Paris or even, on a good night, The Royal Ballet, but without the flashes of character and temperament to offset it, it can and did look messy.

New York City Ballet perform 'Serenade'. ©Paul KolnikSerenade was danced at a brisk pace – the Royal and the Kirov opt for a softer, more dream-like atmosphere and quality of movement, but NYCB is known for speed and attack. I was unconvinced – the piece is a serenade, and even Balanchine described it as “moonlit”, so the sheer brio of this rendition sat uneasily. There was much to take delight in, of course – there can be few ballets in the repertoire which open with such a magical tableau as the corps women in floating long skirts standing in ranks, one arm raised. Raggedness of line and the evident lack of cohesion in movement compromised this sublime choreography, as did splayed fingers; it seems that arms and hands receive little attention in this Company – feet and legs certainly do – but there is little as spoiling to beautiful line than ugly hands. It may not be the ‘house style’ to beautify the hands, but the aesthetic effect is diminshed thereby.

There seemed also to be an awful lot of emoting, far more than I can ever remember. This is dancing to sublime music (Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings) but there is no story – wild tossings of the head and passionate claspings sit uneasily, but they seem to have crept into the performance style, perhaps in order to set off the hurried quality which the tempos encourage. Principal roles were well, if not brilliantly, executed, and applause finished before any solo curtains could be taken.

New York City Ballet perform 'Agon'. ©Tristram KentonAgon did the trick. This is a superb creation to Stravinsky’s score (commissioned by Balanchine). This was the ‘real’ NYCB – sassy, jocular, relishing the vernacular movements liberally incorporated into the classical vocabulary. Balanchine pushes constantly in this work, asking for greater and greater extension and daring. Certainly the dancers attacked it with glee, and acquitted themselves well. In this work, the elevation of the men was particularly striking, as was their neat footwork; indeed there seem to be more interesting and individual men than there are women in the company at present, but not generally at principal level, although Andrew Veyette was particularly strong.

New York City Ballet perform 'Agon'. ©Tristram KentonThe main pas de deux is notable for its complexity, its physical challenge to its interpreters and the demands it makes on them to evoke some kind of relationship. This was done exceptionally well by Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans, whose experience and ease most certainly showed. Evans is now a little stockier, but he partnered Whelan superbly; she, accomplished dancer that she is, still startles with her painfully thin silhouette, but impresses with her command of the idiom. It was a superb rendition.

Symphony in C (to Bizet) is a showpiece for the Company. Again, musical tempos were fast, and, in the last movement, reckless, as the dancers fought to keep up. The look of the work is compromised by Karinska’s costumes, which suggest everyone’ s been saving up clothing coupons: dull tutus and New York City Ballet performing Symphony in C. Photograph: Paul Kolnikbodices and the merest hint of a paste tiara for the principals do not make for a glittering effect. The dancing revealed the now-familiar lack of cohesion in the corps, and the same level of competence at soloist level.

The principals were an oddly un-characterful bunch with two exceptions: Sean Suozzi took the male lead in the Fourth Movement and immediately impressed with his beautiful line and impressive technique. In the notoriously tricky slow Second Movement, played way too fast, Sara Mearns stood out: she has the look and the carriage of a ballerina, and a grand movement quality. She has not yet got the measure of the role, and indeed seemed harried by tempos, but the quality is there, and she shines out from the other good but not particularly notable principals.

It was a curious start. The company is in a state of transition, with many dancers taking on roles which they may not be quite ready for yet. That said, there was evidence of real talent coming up in the ranks, and many of the old NYCB qualities.

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