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New York City Ballet: Kyra Nichols' Farewell
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New York City Ballet
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Kyra Nichols' Farewell

Founders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress, Rosemary Dunleavy
Children's Ballet Master, Garielle Whittle
Orchestra, Music Director, Fayçal Karoui
Communications, Managing Director, Robert Daniels
Assoc. Director, Communications, Siobhan Burns
Manager, Press Relations, Joe Guttridge
New York State Theater, Lincoln Center

by Dr. Robert E. Zlokower
June 22, 2007

Originally Published on

Conductor: Maurice Kaplow

Serenade (1948):Music by Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky, Choreography by George Balanchine, Costumes by Karinska, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Ashley Bouder, Sara Mearns, Kyra Nichols, Ask la Cour, Philip Neal, and the Company. Set to Tschaikovsky's "Serenade for Strings", this was Balanchine's first ballet choreographed in America. (NYCB Notes).

Kyra Nichols, on the eve of her City Ballet retirement, after 33 tireless years of exquisite dance performances, obviously was still in her prime. Very few prima ballerinas have had the perseverance, stamina, fortitude, good physique, and luck to literally land on their feet decade after decade. For her Farewell, she chose three ballets, all requiring dramatic, virtuosic presence, hour after hour, and she danced and danced. All three ballets were by Balanchine, fitting for one of the last dancers Originally trained in the choreography by Balanchine, himself. The partner she chose for the Farewell was Philip Neal, and he rose to the occasion with class and character.

The first ballet of the night, Serenade, opened with those magical musical phrases that captivate the imagination, from Tschaikovsky's Serenade for Strings. Throughout this textured work, Ms. Nichols, in her blue long-bodiced leotard and full tulle skirt, was flooded with exuberance. She performed the lead role of the woman turned angel, as she falls lifeless, dances with the blindfolded Ask la Cour (one of the most fascinating, dramatic dancers, with noble features and classical lines, who is guided by the velvety Sara Mearns), falls lifeless again, and is lifted onto the shoulders of four male corps dancers, arms outstretched to the heavens.

This surreal drama also unfolds amidst an emotionally elegant pas de deux with Philip Neal, present in the moment, wrapping her with warmth. His purpose was to showcase this surreal star, and he accomplished just that and more. Both Mr. Neal and Mr. la Cour were generous in manner and particularly attentive to Ms. Nichols. Ashley Bouder and Sara Mearns, two distinct personalities with two distinct styles, are both virtuosic and invaluable to the Company. They seemed to represent the new guard, those to carry on in Ms. Nichols' elegant, empty footsteps. The Corps was the essence of perfection, participating in a historical evening, as if Mr. B. were there himself, watching with pride.

Robert Schumann's "Davidsbündlertänze" (1980): Choreography by George Balanchine, Scenery and Costumes by Rouben Ter-Arutunian, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Piano: Cameron Grant, Performed by Maria Kowroski, Kyra Nichols, Jenifer Ringer, Jennie Somogyi, Jared Angle, Charles Askegard, Nilas Martins, and Philip Neal.

What a gift to see this rare work presented one more time, and again with Ms. Nichols in a dramatically driven lead. Her effusive lightness and tiny steps into the wings, facing the audience, hands held in a cross over her face, drew the very breath from her fans. Ms. Nichols was partnered here by Charles Askegard, and he, too, was mesmerized by the moment, keeping a keen eye on every move of the star of the evening. Maria Kowroski was partnered by Philip Neal, who appeared, like Ms. Nichols, in every ballet. Ms. Kowroski's lively solo exuded personality and elegance.

Jenifer Ringer was partnered by Jared Angle, and, under the chandelier that shifted in lighting and mood, their clarity and brightness lit up this fanciful festivity. Jennie Somogyi was partnered by Nilas Martins, and they were especially buoyant and brimming with romance. Near the end, Ms. Nichols reached toward Charles Askegard as if in another farewell, and, when the partners momentarily mingled, Ms. Nichols was truly a diva. Cameron Grant's onstage piano performance of this superb Schumann work was flawless and especially poignant. There were numerous curtain calls.

Vienna Waltzes, Excerpt (1977): Music by Richard Strauss (Der Rosenkavalier: Erste Walzerfolge,1946), Choreography by George Balanchine, Scenery by Rouben Ter-Arutunian, Costumes by Karinska, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Kyra Nichols, Philip Neal, Rachel Rutherford, Jared Angle, Yvonne Borree, Damian Woetzel, Sterling Hyltin, Tom Gold, Jenifer Ringer, Nilas Martins, and the Company. These costumes are the last that Karinska had created for NYC Ballet. She had designed costumes for much of the 20th Century, for ballet, Broadway, and opera, having fled Russia, and she collaborated with Balanchine as City Ballet's principal costume-maker. (NYCB Notes).

This brief excerpt allowed Ms. Nichols to remove her pointe shoes for the short, dress heels, long white gown, and the formality and class of this excerpt lent itself to the formality and class of her retirement. The mirrored backdrop, black tie and tails, long white gowns, chandeliers, and incandescent lighting provided the frame for this final act. Ms. Nichols was once again partnered by Mr. Neal, and there was a true connection and comfort between the two, a rare bond of artistry. Rachel Rutherford danced with Jared Angle, Yvonne Borree danced with Damian Woetzel, Sterling Hyltin danced with Tom Gold, and Jenifer Ringer danced with Nilas Martins. The Corps was spectacular.

During the numerous Farewell curtain calls, Ms. Nichols was showered with confetti, surrounded by bouquets, and Peter Martins and the Company were onstage to embrace and applaud this true Prima Ballerina. Ms. Nichols ended the occasion with her two small sons (in formal attire) and husband, all onstage, quite a feat. Kudos to Kyra Nichols, and kudos to George Balanchine for finding her.

Kyra Nichols and Charles Askegard in "Davidsbündlertänze" at the New York City Ballet. June 22, 2007

Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Kyra Nichols dances in "Serenade" at the New York City Ballet, June 22, 2007.

Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik

"Vienna Waltzes" marks Kyra Nichols farewell performance for the New York City Ballet. June 22, 2007.

Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik


For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at