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New York City Ballet: Balanchine's World

- Onstage with the Dancers

New York City Ballet
Balanchine’s World
(NYC Ballet Website)

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

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 20, 2008

(Read More NYC Ballet Reviews).
Guest Conductor: Andrews Sill

Le Tombeau de Couperin (1975): Choreography by George Balanchine, Music by Maurice Ravel, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by an Ensemble of 16 from the Corps in Left Quadrille and Right Quadrille in Four Movements: Prelude, Forlane, Menuet, and Rigaudon. I had seen this ballet just once, at a School of American Ballet Workshop.
With a simple blue backdrop, 16 corps dancers create some of the most interesting choreographic designs one could imagine. What is difficult to imagine is the breadth of Balanchine’s versatility, to have created such a repertoire, replete with classically, regally, abstractly, theatrically, romantically, and educationally influenced ballets. Tonight’s homage to Balanchine showcased four divergent works, and this structured piece, suitable for students or corps, is a visual masterpiece. Dancers circle about each other in traditional dance forms: Forlane, Menuet, and Rigaudon. A Prelude is presented first. The contrast of Ravel’s memorable score (for six friends who died in World War I) against Balanchine’s shifting geometric figures, is magnetizing. Dancers circle about each other, create fluid, flowing directions, and emerge in different groupings, or Quadrilles. Ravel had orchestrated his six-part commemorative piano suite for four dance movements, for Balanchine’s introduction of this piece at a 1975 Ravel Festival.(NYCB Notes)

Tarantella (1964): Music by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Reconstructed and Orchestrated by Hershy Kay, Choreography by George Balanchine, Costumes by Karinska, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Piano Solo: Susan Walters, Performed by Megan Fairchild and Daniel Ulbricht. This music is from Gottschalk's "Grande Tarantelle for Piano and Orchestra". Gottschalk was well known in the Nineteenth Century as a pianist and composer from Louisiana. He was praised by Chopin and toured Europe. Hershy Kay was an orchestrator and composer of Musicals and Ballets. The Tarantella is a classical dance with instantaneous spins and directional changes.(NYCB Notes).

I miss Joaquin De Luz, who has always danced this vibrant ballet with European flare. Daniel Ulbricht has flare, but it’s less mature, more unbridled. Partnering Megan Fairchild, Mr. Ulbricht unhinged a few cymbals from his tambourine and athletically threw himself into this rapid, rigorous choreography. Ms. Fairchild is a pro and physically sized to suit Mr. Ulbricht’s stature, but there was a spark missing today, something more classy that lit the stage, when Mr. De Luz partnered the sprightly Ms. Fairchild. In time, Mr. Ulbricht will grow into roles that inhabit our minds, roles so masterfully assumed by Mr. De Luz, Mr. Woetzel, and others. With some polish and refinement, Mr. Ulbricht will reach his potential. Yet, Tarantella was quite entertaining.

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, Performed by Maria Kowroski, Albert Evans, and the Company. On second viewing, this alluring and arresting ballet was even more nuanced, with Maria Kowroski in a Japanese sexual rite, with her female attendants, joined by Albert Evans and his male attendants. The slow, deliberate movements and gazes into the audience, full dress and makeup that lend authentic cultural harmony, and stark, bright sets of Asian design, all combine to reinforce the psychic-erotic intensity of Balanchine’s oeuvre. Toshiro Mayazumi’s score sears the imagination and sharpens the drama. Andrews Sill kept this music at cutting edge potential. Karinska captured the essence of Japanese courtly couture.

La Sonnambula (1960): Music by Vittorio Rieti (after themes of Bellini), Choreography by George Balanchine, Scenery and Costumes by Alain Vaes, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Sara Mearns as The Coquette, Amar Ramasar as The Baron, Nikolaj Hübbe as The Poet, Wendy Whelan as The Sleepwalker, Adam Hendrickson as Harlequin, and the Company.
Rieti's music is based on themes from Bellini's operas, including "La Sonnambula". The Coquette's encircling movements the Moorish dance, and the Harlequin dance all help to create a sinister effect to this ballet. Rieti was born in Egypt and composed for Ballets Russes. In the US, Rieti collaborated with Balanchine on ballets for several companies, including ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and NYC Ballet. (NYCB Notes).

I could watch this ballet every week, each time for new nuance, the quiet poise of The Poet, the sensual allure of The Coquette, the seething jealousy of The Baron, the ethereal magic of The Sleepwalker, and the contrasting energy of the Harlequin. Vittorio Rieti’s score should be heard more often, and Alain Vaes’ sets and costumes are lavish and luminous. When The Sleepwalker moves from room to room, behind the windows, we see flickering candlelight, prior to her entrance and after her exit. Most painful and poignant today was the awareness of Nikolaj Hübbe’s impending retirement, as he dances and acts with such ongoing distinction and drive. As The Poet, Mr. Hübbe was clearly conflicted, partnering and flirting with the elusive Coquette, and soon following and lifting the more elusive Sleepwalker.

Wendy Whelan is the quintessential Sleepwalker, her toes dancing across the stage like fireflies. She does not miss a beat, nor does she seem to even be awake, including her incredible exit with The Poet in her arms. There is such a surreal ambiance here, that only the genius of Mr. Balanchine could have imagined. Sara Mearns as The Coquette is secretive, seductive, and vindictive, almost all at once, as the action quickly unfolds. When she is the “woman scorned”, she encourages The Baron, Amar Ramasar, to destroy The Poet, and he dashes off with dagger in view. Mr. Ramasar is rapidly growing into new lead roles, and today his theatricality was riveting. He dances with confidence and charisma. Adam Hendrickson was the appropriately athletic Harlequin, and the Company as Guests and Divertissements dancers was elegant. Especially noteworthy were Devin Alberda and Troy Schumacher in the Pastorale.

Kudos to George Balanchine.

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