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New York City Ballet: Nikolaj Hübbe Farewell

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New York City Ballet
Nikolaj Hübbe Farewell
(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
February 10, 2008

(Read More NYC Ballet Reviews).

Nikolaj Hübbe gave his Farewell today, after almost 16 years as a Principal with New York City Ballet. Mr. Hübbe is from Copenhagen and originally danced with the Royal Danish Ballet. He has been awarded the position of Artistic Director of Royal Danish Ballet and will now return home to continue his distinguished career. His dances today reflect his admiration of Balanchine (Apollo), Bournonville (his staging of Flower Festival in Genzano Pas de Deux), Martins (Zakouski), Robbins (West Side Story Suite, “Cool”), and the American Western (Western Symphony).

Apollo (1951): Music by Igor Stravinsky, Choreography by George Balanchine, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Fayçal Karoui, Performed by Nikolaj Hübbe, Wendy Whelan, Ashley Bouder, Rachel Rutherford. Balanchine looked upon Apollo as the turning point of his life, "in its sustained oneness of tone and feeling". (NYC Ballet Notes).

This was a bittersweet event, as no male principal in City Ballet is presently poised to replace the elegant premier danseur, Nikolaj Hübbe, who retired as a dancer today with this Farewell Gala. No ballet could have been more appropriate to open today’s matinee than Apollo, as the curtains opened to Mr. Hübbe, standing alone, barely draped in white, a Grecian and noble apparition if there ever was one. Appearing in this ethereal and eloquent masterpiece as his three muses were Wendy Whelan, with a lyre, as Terpsichore, muse of dance and song, Ashley Bouder with a mask as Polyhymnia, muse of mime, and Rachel Rutherford with a tablet as Calliope, muse of poetry.

Balanchine’s iconic choreography enhances the melancholy dissonance of the Stravinsky score, and the visual effects of a fan of the muses’ legs appearing from Mr. Hübbe’s torso and of Ms. Whelan’s body walking against Mr. Hübbe’s uplifted head, with their arms to the rear, are totally God-like and mesmerizing. Again, this role may never seem so breathtaking or inspiring. Even though this was his Farewell, Mr. Hübbe danced with passion and persuasion.

Flower Festival in Genzano Pas de Deux (1977): Music by Edvard Helsted, Choreography by August Bournonville, Costumes by Ben Benson, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Staged by Nikolaj Hübbe, Conductor: Maurice Kaplow, Performed by Kathryn Morgan and David Prottas.

At the Royal Danish Ballet, Mr. Hübbe will stage numerous works by Bournonville, and tonight, perhaps two of his protégés, Kathryn Morgan and David Prottas, had a rare showcase opportunity, with the New York ballet community in attendance for this Gala. Ms. Morgan and Mr. Prottas are artists to watch, the future of the Company, with charisma, confidence, and charm. Maurice Kaplow got to conduct this work, and he seemed thrilled in the orchestra pit, participating in City Ballet history. This is a work for triple en air spins, languorous leaps, and scintillating presentation. These two corps dancers met the challenge in their peasant Italian costumes by Ben Benson. Mr. Hübbe’s staging added pulse and propulsion.

Zakouski (1992): Music by Sergei Rachmaninoff (Vocalise), Igor Stravinsky (from opera Mavra), Sergei Prokofiev (Cinq Melodies, No. 4), and Peter I. Tschaikovsky (Valse-Scherzo), Choreography by Peter Martins, Costumes by Barbara Matera, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Violin: Kurt Nikkanen, Piano: Richard Moredock, Performed by Yvonne Borree, Nikolaj Hübbe, Megan Fairchild, and Andrew Veyette. "Zakouski" is the word for hors d'oeuvres in Russian. This work covers the emotionality of the four short works by four Russian Composers. Rachmaninoff eventually made his home in the US and performed in concerts and recitals and recordings in this country. (NYCB Notes).

Four Russian composers are represented in works for piano and violin. Kurt Nikkanen and Richard Moredock teamed for compelling musicality. Two couples shared this ballet today, (on my last review of this work, almost four years ago, Mr. Hübbe and Yvonne Borree were the solo partners) and the textures and tones of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, drew the audience in to the rapturous, Russian motif. Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette were joyful and buoyant, while Ms. Borree and Mr. Hübbe were sensual and refined. There was much leg-slapping, in the Russian motif, and, at the curtain call, Ms. Borree could barely contain her sadness at her partner’s Farewell. Mr. Hübbe affectionately held her head in an endearing show of emotion.

”Cool” from 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, Conductor: Fayçal Karoui, Performed by Nikolaj Hübbe, with Saskia Beskow, Glenn Keenan, Jennifer Tinsley-Williams, and the Company. 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).

Jerome Robbins’ West Side Story Suite was represented today in an excerpt, “Cool”, starring of course, Mr. Hübbe. He sang, he danced, he acted, and he wore jeans. Here he was Riff, the leader of the Jets, and it was a watershed moment, as Mr. Hübbe’s Farewell began to wind down. Now he was casual, relaxed, improvisational, but still dynamic and in the moment. Maestro Karoui was back in the orchestra pit, and a mood of celebration was now unfolding.

Western Symphony (1954): Music by Hershy Kay, Choreography by George Balanchine, Scenery by John Boyt, Costumes by Karinska, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Fayçal Karoui, Performed by Abi Stafford, Nilas Martins, Sterling Hyltin, Albert Evans, Maria Kowroski, Nikolaj Hübbe, Gwyneth Muller, Justin Peck, and the Company. Some of the American folk songs in this ballet are "Red River Valley", "Good Night Ladies", and "Rye Whiskey". (NYCB Notes).

In any ballet Farewell, the last work always takes on a sense of urgency and realization, that sudden awareness that every visual image will be caught in time, for the memories now, with no further opportunities in the here and now of this Company or this stage. As Western Symphony unfolded, the party began. Abi Stafford and Nilas Martins pranced in for the “Allegro” with suave entertainment and that kicking up of the heels. They make a grand duo, and their energy was contagious. Sterling Hyltin and Albert Evans led the “Adagio”, with Ms. Hyltin’s memorable tiny steps back and forth from the curtain to Mr. Evans’ shoulders. Mr. Evans added campy flair, with his wide-brimmed hat and even wider smile.

For the “Rondo”, Mr. Hübbe returned, partnered by Maria Kowroski, and there was quite a hidden kiss, stage side, that caused Ms. Kowroski to fan her face and neck. Mr. Hübbe was now making the most of every moment, and they were soon joined by Gwyneth Muller and Justin Peck, as well as the Company in cowboy and showgirl costumes galore, ruffles and bright colors and that all-American Western mood. This had been Mr. Hübbe’s request, to retire onstage at City Ballet as an American cowboy, and that he did. Soon red confetti streamed down, floral bouquets were brought in, and current and retired partners (such as Kyra Nichols) joined the entire Company in applauding and shouting “Bravos” to this adored premier danseur. Peter Martins in the rear was the quintessential host and appeared quite moved and proud. Kudos to Nikolaj Hübbe.

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