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New York City Ballet: Serenade, Outlier, Cortège Hongrois

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New York City Ballet
(New York City Ballet Website)

Cortège Hongrois

Founders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Founding Choreographers: George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins
Ballet Master in Chief: Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress: Rosemary Dunleavy
Assistant to the Ballet Master in Chief: Sean Lavery
Guest Teacher: Merrill Ashley
Children’s Ballet Master: Garielle Whittle
Orchestra, Music Director: Fayçal Karoui
Chairman of the Board: John L. Vogelstein
Managing Dir. Communications and Special Projects: Robert Daniels
Manager, Media Relations: Katharina Plumb
Assoc., Communications and Special Projects, Caitlin Gillette
The David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 14, 2010

(Read More NYC Ballet Reviews).

Serenade (1948): Music by Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky, Choreography by George Balanchine, Costumes by Karinska, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Fayçal Karoui, Performed by Sara Mearns, Jonathan Stafford, Rebecca Krohn, Sean Suozzi, and the Company. Set to Tschaikovsky's "Serenade for Strings", this was Balanchine's first ballet choreographed in America. (NYCB Notes).

What could warm an audience for a World Premiere better than Balanchine’s Serenade? Not much. As soon as the lights dim, I feel compelled to quiet nearby audience members, who whisper into the first refrains of Tschaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. Those first few moments are addictive, as balletomanes anticipate hypnotic music and synchronized footwork of the corps in blue. Tonight’s performance was outstanding, as were particular dancers, such as Kaitlyn Gilliland, Ask la Cour, and Jenifer Ringer, in lead roles, and Gwyneth Muller and Georgina Pazcoguin in the corps. Maestro Karoui inspired the Orchestra to fill the hall with drama and symphonic sentiment. When Ms. Ringer falls to the floor, she appears as a spirit lost in ecstasy. Ms. Gilliland floated with flowing blond hair like a Fragonard angel, light as air.

Karinska’s blue tutus are remarkably timeless, and, when they catch on the dancer, a windswept effect occurs. Megan Fairchild gave a remarkably tight performance, a solo of strong skill and impish confidence. Philip Neal and Ask la Cour were princely and classical, walking with regal flair. Mr. Neal is another dancer close to retirement, but this role suited his mastery of the Balanchine genre. Mr. la Cour has grown into one of the most mesmerizing male dancers in City Ballet and deserves lead roles, such as this, over his often danced Father in Prodigal Son and Friar Laurence in Romeo + Juliet. Every time I see Serenade, I can’t wait to see it again.

Outlier (World Premiere): Music by Thomas Adès, Choreography by Wayne McGregor, Set by Wayne McGregor and Lucy Carter, Costumes by Moritz Junge, Lighting by Lucy Carter, Conductor: Fayçal Karoui, Solo Violinist: Kurt Nikkanen, Performed by Ashley Bouder, Sterling Hyltin, Maria Kowroski, Tiler Peck, Wendy Whelan, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Joaquin De Luz, Robert Fairchild, Gonzalo Garcia, Craig Hall, and Amar Ramasar.

In shades of grey, cream, and black leotards, an ensemble of eleven Principals and Soloists introduced the World Premiere of the second (for me) new ballet in City Ballet’s 2010 Architecture of Dance Festival. The British Wayne McGregor’s Outlier, a flash of electricity between tonight’s two classical Balanchine works, seemed, on first viewing, too contemporary, too contrived, and too cartoonish. Parts of dancers’ bodies quiver and flail, heads jut forth, legs snap up. This is more MOMIX than MOMIX. Dancers struggle, twist, gyrate, crash to the ground, push, and shove. The backdrop is all lighting effect, no “architecture” here, except in a light design; red, then white. The 2005 Thomas Adès score was receiving its New York Premiere, and the program notes allude to three movements: Rings, Paths, and Rounds. Although these movements are generously described in the notes with all manner of aesthetic import, such as “gravely gripping lament of a Baroque chaconne”, I found the work nerve-wracking and cacophonous. I wondered how Maestro Karoui would unwind. Audience applause for McGregor’s World Premiere was healthy, but not from standing positions.

Cortège Hongrois (1973): Music by Alexander Glazounov (from Raymonda), Choreography by George Balanchine, Décor and Costumes by Rouben Ter-Arutunian, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Maurice Kaplow, Performed by Sara Mearns, Jonathan Stafford, Rebecca Krohn, Sean Suozzi, and the Company. The ballet title derives from "corteggio", or Italian divertissements, with a Hungarian enhancement. There are references to Glazounov's score for Petipa's full-length Raymonda and also for Balanchine's Raymonda Variations. (Program Notes).

After Outlier, I was more than ready for Cortège Hongrois, scored to passages from Glazounov’s Raymonda. Sara Mearns was a sight for jolted eyes. Ms. Mearns danced the Variation IV, with sultry, sexy, sophisticated flourish. Rouben Ter-Arutunian’s ornamented costumes were sewn with Eastern European details that complimented the Eastern European boot kicks and rhythmic jumps. Jonathan Stafford was attentive and energized, but he lacks the charisma required to partner Ms. Mearns on fire. Partnering is essential. Dancers shine in pairs, and technique and timing need to be matched to zeal and zest. Sean Suozzi and Rebecca Krohn riveted the eye, with Mr. Suozzi a rising star, an artist to watch. He is infused with robust dynamism and awareness of the audience. He also dances with seriousness of purpose and enormous drive. In the corps, Gwyneth Muller exudes unique personality, as do Ralph Ippolito and Vincent Paradiso.

Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall
in Wayne McGregor's "Outlier"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Sterling Hyltin and Gonzalo Garcia
in Wayne McGregor's "Outlier"
Courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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