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New York City Ballet: Serenade, Bugaku, Union Jack
-Onstage with the Dancers

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New York City Ballet
(NYC Ballet Website)
International Balanchine

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, Fay├žal Karoui
Communications, Managing Director, Robert Daniels
Assoc. Director, Communications, Siobhan Burns
Manager, Press Relations, Joe Guttridge
New York State Theater, Lincoln Center
www.lincolncenter.org

Review by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 30, 2007
Originally Published on ExploreDance.com


Serenade (1948): Music by Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky, Choreography by George Balanchine, Costumes by Karinska, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Maurice Kaplow, Performed by Ashley Bouder, Darci Kistler, Sara Mearns, Charles Askegard, Stephen Hanna, and the Company. Set to Tschaikovsky's "Serenade for Strings", this was Balanchine's first ballet choreographed in America. (NYCB Notes).

Serenade is a hauntingly exquisite ballet, with the female soloists and corps in iconic upraised arms toward stage left, wearing long, tulle tutus, set to Tschaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, with a deep blue backdrop. Charles Askegard and Stephen Hanna, both in purple leotards, lead the multitude of female dancers in seamlessly flowing choreography. Ashley Bouder has internalized Balanchine's intentions and illustrated his design with perfection. Darci Kistler is iconic in the role, with elegant lines and quintessentially stylized technique. Sara Mearns, youthful and fresh, earnestly embraces the ethereal and magical mood of this work. Karinska's costumes almost steal the show, with visions of blue-white lushness. Maurice Kaplow kept the Serenade score scintillating.


Bugaku (1963):Music by Toshiro Mayazumi, Choreography by George Balanchine, Scenery by David Hays, Costumes by Karinska, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Maurice Kaplow, Performed by Maria Kowroski, Albert Evans, and the Company.

I had not seen this rare gem of Balanchine before, and Maria Kowroski and Albert Evans deserve kudos in advance for the erotic unfolding of a Japanese-infused drama. Ms. Kowroski and Mr. Evans are seen being dressed and undressed in ritualistic fashion by female attendants in petal-like costumes and male attendants in white, who carry chiffonny white trains for the lovers. David Hays' green/red/black sets are Asian simplicity, and Karinska's costumes are resplendent and, according to program notes, a "free fantasy" on Japanese court dress. In the close partnering (this duo is fast becoming a legendary partnership), Mr. Evans spins Ms. Kowroski in deliberate slow timing. He also exhibits worshipping motifs with bowed head that add refinement and richness to the choreographic design. The music, according to program notes, is in the style of Japanese court music (Bugaku) but with Western orchestration. One can hear Japanese gongs and stark, stringed instruments, a Far Eastern musicality. Ms. Kowroski's makeup, as well, is white and severe.

The eight corps dancers accompany Ms. Kowroski and Mr. Evans with engaging intensity and rhythmic momentum. The momentum builds, when these leads entwine arms and create psychically charged imagery. This gem should be staged more often, and, hopefully, with this duo. Kudos as well to the lighting designers.


Union Jack (1976):Music by Hershy Kay (Adapted from Traditional British Music), Music commissioned by New York City Ballet, Choreography by George Balanchine, Scenery and Costumes by Rouben Ter-Arutunian, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Guest Conductor: Nicolette Fraillon, Performed by Benjamin Millepied, Damian Woetzel, and male Company as Scottish and Canadian Guards Regiments, Lennox and Dress MacLeod, by Abi Stafford and female Company as Green Montgomerie, by Philip Neal and male Company as Menzies, by Yvonne Borree and female Company as Dress MacDonald, by Wendy Whelan and female Company as MacDonald of Sleat, by Teresa Reichlen and female Company as RCAF, by Nilas Martins, Kyra Nichols, Amanda Kraus, and Arden Pickoff-Rafferty in Costermonger Pas de Deux, by Adam Hendrickson, Wendy Whelan, Aaron Severini, Damian Woetzel, Yvonne Borree, Benjamin Millepied, Abi Stafford, Philip Neal, and the Company as Royal Navy, and by Teresa Reichlen and female Company as Wrens.

"Union Jack" was designed by Balanchine as a tribute to the British heritage of America in the Bicentennial year of 1976. With Scottish military marches, British Music Hall entertainment, British Navy jigs, and Royal Navy drills and hand flags, Union Jack is Balanchine's ballet gift to a national historical moment. (Program Notes).

This one hour, one-act ballet is always riveting, as it opens with that everlasting drum roll, each ensemble clan marching and filing, one batch of colorful tartans at a time. Guest Conductor, Nicolette Fraillon, kept the Hershy Kay score seamlessly shifting, from marching to jigs to Vaudeville to nautical whistles. Kyra Nichols performed in the role usually reserved for Jenifer Ringer, as Nilas Martins' flask-guzzling partner, a campy, charming role. Mr. Martins was, as always, equally campy and charming, and ever-so-delightful. He dances and mimes with exuberance and a love for his audience. They were perfectly suited in the Costermonger Pas de Deux. Teresa Reichlen, as lead Wren, has perfected the role, as has tonight's full cast, and she was seductively adorable with technical prowess. Of the leaders of various clans, Wendy Whelan and Damian Woetzel were quite entertaining, radiating joy and expansive energy.

Yvonne Borree, Benjamin Millepied, Adam Hendrickson, Aaron Severini, Abi Stafford, the corps, SAB students, and one live donkey all teamed for a tremendously successful performance, with scene after scene of celebratory lines of dance. The raised Hand Flag Signaling at the end of tonight's three-hour program was as perfectly synchronized as was the first vision of raised hands in Serenade. Kudos to City Ballet.

NYCB's Serenade

Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik


Maria Kowroski and Albert Evans in NYCB's Bugaku

Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnik

 

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net