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New York City Ballet: 20th Century Music Masters
(NYC Ballet Website)

Founders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Founding Choreographers: George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins
Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress, Rosemary Dunleavy
Children’s Ballet Mistress, Garielle Whittle
Orchestra, Music Director, Fayçal Karoui
Honorary Chairmen: Julia and David Koch
Managing Director, Communications, Robert Daniels
Assoc. Director, Communications, Joe Guttridge
Assoc., Communications and Special Projects, Caitlin Gillette
The David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 7, 2009

(Read More NYC Ballet Reviews).

Conductor: Fayçal Karoui

Stravinsky Violin Concerto (1972): Music by Igor Stravinsky (Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major), Choreography by George Balanchine, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Solo Violinist: Kurt Nikkanen, Performed by Yvonne Borree, Wendy Whelan, Robert Fairchild, Albert Evans, and the Company. This music premiered in 1931, Stravinsky conducting and Samuel Dushkin as solo violinist. In 1941, Balanchine used this music for dance for the original Ballets Russes, under the title, Balustrade. (NYCB Notes).

What was striking about the opening of this ballet was the sight of full smiling faces, at the juncture of Stravinsky’s stark score. This was a lightning, but lyrical work, with Kurt Nikkanen on solo violin, infusing the stage with an evocative pitch. Robert Fairchild gave a memorable performance, with charismatic partnering for Yvonne Borree, who offered less eye contact to him than he to her. Eye contact, for me, is key in partnered chemistry, and few dancers seem aware of this performance requisite. Wendy Whelan was stunning in controlled backbends, and the cast danced with propeller arm motions, like machines or giant birds. Albert Evans seemed to be enjoying his role, but with less gravitas than usual. Among the ensemble of 16, Devin Alberda and Allen Peiffer were inspired as artists to watch. The swooping sensation that emerged, during the joyful, choreographic surprises, was indicative of Balanchine’s incomparable versatility.

La Valse (1951): Music by Maurice Ravel, Choreography by George Balanchine, Scenery by Jean Rosenthal, Costumes by Karinska, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Janie Taylor, Sébastien Marcovici, Lauren King, Antonio Carmena, Ana Sophia Scheller, Sean Suozzi, Rebecca Krohn, Tyler Angle, and the Company. According to NYCB Notes, the Waltz was "...a dance craze (that) swept across Europe. Although first denounced as immoral, it soon became the most common social dance on the continent and has remained in the repertory of ballroom dancers to this day." Diaghilev originally asked Ravel to write "La Valse" for the Ballet Russes, but then he rejected the work. Balanchine used this work here, but added additional Valses from Ravel. (NYCB Notes).

This is certainly one of my favorite ballets, imbued with Ravel’s luscious, romantic Valses. In fact, the Overture draws the audience into the lush but mysterious score. Tonight’s full presentation of Parts I and II began with eight waltzes, called “Valses Nobles et Sentimentales”. Although Janie Taylor and Sébastien Marcovici lead the cast, they appear in the eighth waltz, with unearthly, mystical affect. However, it is in Part II that the dramatic focus builds, and Ms. Taylor danced with spellbinding emotionality. Ms. Taylor has the theatrical depth to become her character (such as in Afternoon of a Faun), and she makes the most of every moment onstage, spiritually and physically.

In Part II, the dervish and hypnotic whirling begin, like a feverish dream, and Ms. Taylor is drawn to Philip Neal, an aggressive death figure, who dances her to death in a mad, tempestuous whirl. From the moment Mr. Neal appears against the black curtains, it is apparent that the gay frivolity of the waltz will catapult into a nightmare. The mood and motion become death-controlled, and Ms. Taylor is lifted by Mr. Neal’s assistants in black. Kyle Froman danced a support role here with persuasive persona. Among the three lead couples, Ana Sophia Scheller and Sean Suozzi were the most enthralling. Lauren King with Antonio Carmena and Rebecca Krohn with Tyler Angle seemed too self-conscious and restrained. In fact, Mr. Carmena needs to exert control of his stage personality, for maturity and depth.

The stirring score, with whirring wind effects and harmonious harp strings, drove the Company into large swirling circles, even still swirling as the curtain fell, all the while around the image of the lifeless Ms. Taylor held on high. Kudos to Karinska’s deep pink-black costumes, to Jean Rosenthal’s eerie scenery, and to the Bates-Stanley lighting effects that remain dim and glowing, all at once. And, kudos to Ravel and Balanchine for this must-see-again-soon ballet.

West Side Story Suite (1995): Music by Leonard Bernstein, Choreography by Jerome Robbins, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Scenery by Oliver Smith, Costumes by Irene Sharaff, Original Book by Arthur Laurents, Co-Choreographer: Peter Gennaro, Guest Singers: Rob Lorey, Lara Marie Hirner, Leslie Becker, Julie Price, Whitney Webster, Performed by Benjamin Millepied as Tony, Andrew Veyette as Riff, Amar Ramasar as Bernardo, Georgina Pazcoguin as Anita, Faye Arthurs as Maria, Gretchen Smith as Rosalia, and the Company as The Jets, Their Girls, and The Sharks, Their Girls. Mr. Sondheim began his career as a lyricist with West Side Story in 1957 and then with Gypsy in 1959. His theatrical mentor was Oscar Hammerstein. (NYCB Notes).

West Side Story Suite is yet another of the must-see-again ballets, one that always satisfies and one that always reveals an additional nuance, a new surprise. Tonight’s surprise was the exceptional timing of Benjamin Millepied’s (as Tony) theatrical dance, as he meets Maria (Faye Arthurs), the ingénue sister of Bernardo (Amar Ramasar). In fact, Andrew Veyette (as Riff, Leader of the Jets) was another wonderful surprise, after the unforgettable memories of Damian Woetzel and Nikolaj Hübbe in the same role. Mr. Veyette sang, acted, and danced with cool edge, with Broadway-sized personality, and with his growing magnetism.

Amar Ramasar, as Bernardo, has perfected the subtlety of his head motion, as he summons his Sharks, and he moves with drive and urgency in street smart fashion. Georgina Pazcoguin is the quintessential Anita, and her song-dance rendition of “America” was even sassier and more entertaining than last year. Gretchen Smith, who has made Rosalia her role, is an artist to watch. It should also be mentioned that all five singers performed with high quality tonality. Kudos to Bernstein, Robbins, and Sondheim for music, choreography, and lyrics. Amazingly, Arthur Laurents, who wrote the original 1957 book, will be directing the revival of the full Broadway show this season. And, finally, kudos to Maestro Karoui and City Ballet Orchestra for mastering Stravinsky, Ravel, and Bernstein with such grandeur.

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