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New York City Ballet Opening Night Gala 2008

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New York City Ballet Opening Night Gala 2008
(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
November 25, 2008

(Read More NYC Ballet Reviews).

For a Fall Gala, Opening Night of the New York City Ballet, the first half of the program was uncharacteristically subdued and melancholy. Perhaps it was meant to match the mournful economy, or perhaps Peter Martins chose to make a serious statement, in honor of the substantial philanthropic donation of $100 million by David Koch, a financier, for whom the former New York State Theater has now been named and has now begun to be refurbished. This gift will be rolled out over a ten year period, so, strategically, Peter Martins (and later Senator Chuck Schumer) saluted Mr. Koch and his wife, Julia. Mr. Martins offered them their choice of seats and personal, but public swigs of vodka. I was quite taken aback, as there were so many dedicated and tireless donors and volunteers in the audience, not to mention the dancers, retired dancers, their families, and the ballet audience and community, at large, who, too, should have been included in this toast, on behalf of their work for City Ballet, at this Opening Night Benefit. Hopefully, at future performances, Mr. Martins will embrace them, too, with the spotlight and the swig.

Chichester Psalms (2004): Music by Leonard Bernstein, Choreography by Peter Martins, Costumes by Catherine Barinas, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Fayçal Karoui, Guest Artists: The New York City Opera Chorus, Soloist: Jonathan Makepeace, Performed by Sara Mearns, Jared Angle, and the Company. The Danish born Mr. Martins has either danced, choreographed and/or led NYC Ballet for more than 3 decades. His dances are performed by ballet companies around the globe. He is also Chairman of the Faculty of School of American Ballet. Leonard Bernstein was the first native-born American to permanently conduct the New York Philharmonic. Mr. Bernstein composed “Chichester Psalms” in 1965, using Biblical texts with an orchestral score. (NYCB Notes).

August 25, 2008 marked the 90th birthday anniversary of Leonard Bernstein, and, to commemorate this date, Mr. Martins opened the evening by showcasing his own Chichester Psalms, set to Bernstein’s choral work. The New York City Opera Chorus and Soloist, Jonathan Makepeace, filled the newly re-named David H. Koch Theater with majestic and momentous music. Sara Mearns and Jared Angle created a sumptuous visual effect, against the eerie solos of the “boy alto”, Jonathan Makepeace, who sang flawlessly.

The six Psalms, sung in Hebrew by the Chorus, are translated for the audience. They call for unity, love, trust in God, praise, thanks, questioning, and peace. Included is the well-known 23rd Psalm, and Bernstein's music matches the verses in mood and somber, yet glorified tonalities. Black and white simple costumes are well conceived to blend with magnificent lighting that changes with the musical intensity and lyrical emotions. Sara Mearns and Jared Angle are seen in spiritual lifts and sometimes in crucifix images, followed by athletic duels between pairs of male dancers. Dancers toss their bodies onstage and onto their partners' legs.

Barber Violin Concerto (1988, 2nd Movement): Music by Samuel Barber (Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 14), Choreography by Peter Martins, Costumes by William Ivey Long, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Conductor: Fayçal Karoui, Solo Violinist: Kurt Nikkanen, Performed by Darci Kistler and Albert Evans. Barber, usually considered a classicist, moved into a contemporary motif with his "Violin Concerto", with its dissonance and starkness. This work includes melodic movements as well as a rapid scherzo. (NYCB Notes).

Barber Violin Concerto, Movement II, consists of a mesmerizing, melodic duet, visually entrancing and physically challenging. Darci Kistler, still dancing with strength and poise, was attentively partnered by Albert Evans, always the showman. He cradles her, lifts her, and carries her about, before her hair comes down in a more anguished motif. Kurt Nikkanen, violin soloist, was virtuosic and confident in this sensual work by Mr. Martins.

Ives, Songs (1988, excerpt): Music by Charles Ives, Choreography by Jerome Robbins, Costumes by Florence Klotz, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Guest Artist: John Hancock, Baritone, Pianist: Cameron Grant, Performed by Rachel Rutherford, Philip Neal, Wendy Whelan, and Charles Askegard. This was the first of no less than three sequential ballets set to Ives, and the dissonance begins to wear on the listener early on. Two dances from this work were performed, “In Summer Fields” and “There Is a Lane”. The first was performed by Rachel Rutherford and Philip Neal, and the second danced by Wendy Whelan and Charles Askegard.

John Hancock and Cameron Grant were superbly prepared for the solo vocal and piano songs, and their participation was flawless. There was some dancing backward into the wings, en pointe, a Robbins hallmark. At times the ballet is a tribute to the innocence of youth and romance, and at times a reflection of darkness and loss. This is a ballet that should appear first in any program.

The Unanswered Question (1954, excerpt): Music by Charles Ives, Choreography by George Balanchine, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Guest Conductor: George Manahan, Music Director, NYC Opera, Performed by Janie Taylor, Daniel Ulbricht, Justin Peck, Henry Seth, Christian Tworzyanski, Max van der Sterre.

In contrast to the previous work, this is a ballet that should appear more often, but, again, with an atonal score by Ives, never late in the program, although Balanchine is always welcome. Janie Taylor appears as a goddess or metaphoric sorceress, ingénue yet mystical, carried about en air by four male corps dancers, always beyond the grasp of Daniel Ulbricht, who yearns for this goddess, with unrequited desire. Several levels of space are utilized, with Janie Taylor swooping down like a ghost or a vulture, while Mr. Ulbricht’s theatrical skills are put to the test. George Manahan led the City Ballet Orchestra with a focus on not rushing the momentum. Both lead dancers were in rare form. I wonder where this work has been hiding.

Calcium Light Night (1978, excerpt): Music by Charles Ives, Choreography by Peter Martins, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Guest Conductor: George Manahan, Performed by Sterling Hyltin and Sean Suozzi. With yet more Ives, I was close to hypnotized at this point, but Sterling Hyltin and Sean Suozzi, both fascinating and dynamic performers, managed to rivet my attention. This is a contemporary, sleek ballet, and, in this brief excerpt, a nice change of pace. One of Mr. Martins’ earliest choreographies, it evokes a youthful exuberance and artistic exploration in daredevil duet. Mark Stanley’s white spotlight effect adds to the energy. Ms. Hyltin has emerged as a powerful interpreter of eclectic ballet genres.

Jazz (Six Syncopated Movements) (1993, excerpt): Music by Wynton Marsalis, Choreography by Peter Martins, Costumes by Peter Martins and Barbara Matera, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Guest Artists: Juilliard Jazz Orchestra, Conducted by Ted Nash, “D” in the Key of “A” – Now the Blues, Performed by Maria Kowroski and Sébastien Marcovici. At this point in the program, City Ballet Orchestra took a break, and Ted Nash conducted the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra for three works. This was a brilliant idea, changing the pace and tempo with artists from Juilliard, also in the Lincoln Center complex. A sultry, sophisticated mood enveloped this work, with Maria Kowroski and Sébastien Marcovici in, as I wrote on my program, “real dancing”. Peter Martins added playful elegance to the design of this bluesy ballet, and the pink-black costumes were stunning. This is another work that should be seen more often.

A Fool for You (1988, excerpts): Choreography by Peter Martins, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Juilliard Jazz Orchestra, Conducted by Ted Nash, Music by Ray Charles, Percy Mayfield, Memphis Curtis, Performed by Yvonne Borree, Amar Ramasar, Ashley Bouder, Jonathan Stafford, Megan Fairchild, Andrew Veyette, Abi Stafford, Tiler Peck, Ana Sophia Scheller, Tyler Angle, Ask la Cour, Gonzalo Garcia. Peter Martins has choreographed so many works that are rarely seen, this being one more. In “Ain’t That Love”, by Ray Charles, Yvonne Borree and Amar Ramasar were the most captivating dancers. They have a magnetic quality with understated sassiness and direct eye contact with the audience.

In “Hit the Road Jack”, by Percy Mayfield, once again Ms. Borree and Mr. Ramasar swiveled and strutted with delight. In “It Should’ve Been Me”, by Memphis Curtis, Tiler Peck and Ask la Cour caught my eye, but Andrew Veyette stole the show with wild bravura dynamism. Mr. Veyette is obviously practicing. In “Rockhouse”, by Ray Charles, Ashley Bouder and Gonzalo Garcia brought freshness and vivacity within their growing partnership. Why has this Martins ballet not been seen more often?

Blossom Got Kissed (1999, from Duke!): Music by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, Arranged by Andy Farber based on original transcription by David Berger, Choreography by Susan Stroman, Costumes by William Ivey Long, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Juilliard Jazz Orchestra, Performed by Savannah Lowery, Robert Fairchild, and the Company. This was the third work performed to the live jazz orchestra, and Savannah Lowery and Robert Fairchild led a corps ensemble of twelve, split among females and males. Ellington and Strayhorn’s songs, “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got that Swing” and “Lotus Blossom”, were pulsating and punctuated. Ms. Lowery played the serious ballerina, with the corps in red hot swing. Robert Fairchild arrives as her hero, and off they go. William Ivey Long’s costumes are outstanding, and his work on Broadway is certainly relevant. And, speaking of Broadway, Susan Stroman was in her element, as always, and wove together some high jazzy kicks with lyrical ballet leaps. I’d like to see her entire Duke! performed soon.

Who Cares? (1970, excerpts): Music by George Gershwin, Adapted and Orchestrated by Hershy Kay, Choreography by George Balanchine, Scenery by Jo Mielziner, Costumes by Ben Benson, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Conductor: Fayçal Karoui, Pianists: Nancy McDill and Elaine Chelton, Soprano: Lauren Flanigan, Performed by Jenifer Ringer, Nilas Martins, Rebecca Krohn, Teresa Reichlen, and the Company. This ballet, in its entirety, has been frequently reviewed in this magazine. Tonight’s two songs, “The Man I Love” and “I Got Rhythm”, were a perfect finale to a glittering Opening Night Benefit. Jenifer Ringer and Nilas Martins are seasoned partners, and they danced “The Man I Love”, with Nancy McDill as piano soloist. Ms. Ringer and Mr. Martins swung about each other in semi-ballroom/balletic fusion. Unfortunately, the soprano, Lauren Flanigan, was totally out of tune, quite an embarrassment at such a high profile event.

“I Got Rhythm” brought Rebecca Krohn and Teresa Reichlen onstage to join Ms. Ringer and Mr. Martins, and he was surrounded by women. Mr. Martins was charismatic and charming, and he kept his partners busy in buoyant, bubbly fashion. Kudos to the two Georges, Gershwin and Balanchine. And, kudos to New York City Ballet on Opening Night of the Winter Season. The Winter Repertoire will be presented January 6, 2009 through March 1, 2009. During the interim, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker will entertain for the Holiday Season.

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