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The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition

Balanchine's Greatest Hits

Serenade, Apollo, Symphony in C
New York City Ballet
Opera House, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, D.C.
March 3, 2004

by Alexandra Tomalonis
copyright © 2004 by Alexandra Tomalonis
published 4 March 2004

When the New York City Ballet last danced in Washington, the Iran-contra scandal was in full swing, Al Gore had yet to invent the internet, and I was writing on a Macintosh with 512k of RAM. Seventeen years is a long time. The company came here for three weeks every winter, right after its New York winter season, and danced three programs each week. During the 1970s and early 1980s, “our” ballets were the new ones Balanchine and Robbins had just created—pieces from the Stravinsky and Ravel Festivals, Chaconne, Vienna Waltzes, Union Jack, Mozartiana, The Four Seasons, Tchaikovsky Piano Pieces—mixed with the older classics. Having this much fine choreography was important to the young Kennedy Center and the audience it was trying to develop; it helped educate our eyes and, if you’re into choreography, presented a measuring stick by which to judge other new work.

The company has returned with a Balanchine's Greatest Hits season, part of its year-long Balanchine celebration, in this, his 100th annivesary year. Save for Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, all of the ballets have been seen here fairly frequently in the past 17 years danced by other companies, and often danced very well. How would the ballets look on their home company?

There were no revelations; it was a muted opening, three masterpieces, all company signature works: Serenade, Apollo and Symphony in C. While there were some beautiful moments in each ballet, it wasn’t until Symphony in C that I saw and felt the energy I remembered and got caught up in the performance. The company was generous with its casting, giving us a look at many of the current leading soloists, including several extremely promising young women.

Serenade, Balanchine’s 1934 ode to American womanhood with its undercurrents of destiny and impossible love, was a bit over careful, and the three very different leading women—Darci Kistler, Yvonne Borree and Carla Körbes—seemed to come from different worlds. Kistler is no longer a technical powerhouse and although she hasn’t substituted perfume for technique in the central ballerina role (the Girl Who Falls Down), she hasn’t found a more mature persona either. Her approach was what it had been years ago—she seemed more girl than woman—but the faded sunniness brought its own quiet air of sadness. Yvonne Borree, small and waiflike, seemed oddly cast in the “Russian” role, with its big jumps. The very young Körbes, as the Dark Angel, was stunning, with her very clean technique and modestly authoritative stage presence. There were small pleasures throughout, often in a corps dancer’s response to the music.

Apollo (the rethought, unimproved short version minus the birth scene) seemed oddly cast too, with Peter Boal considerably older than his three Muses (Alexandra Ansanelli, Ashley Bouder and Rachel Rutherford). Ansanelli and Bouder are two of the Girls Most Likely at the moment; both made debuts as Aurora in Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins’ production of Sleeping Beauty recently. Bouder danced with a leashed power and a surprising lyricism (the two often don’t go together); she looked as though she could dance anything, that she had a thousand secrets to reveal. Ansanelli is perhaps too young as yet for Terpsichore, and her neoclassical lines jarred with Bouder and Rutherford’s smoothly classical ones, but if she can't yet match Boal's power, she certainly gave a thoughtful performance.

Boal’s Apollo—powerful, full of life and a sense of exuberant expectancy—is familiar from his appearances here with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet. He's such a classical dancer with such beautiful stage manners (the antithesis, surely, of Serge Lifar, the brash athlete who was the first Apollo) that it's always a surprise to see how lustily he throws himself into the role's jazziness. Despite being preceded, followed and surrounded by ballerinas, Boal was the evening's star.

Symphony in C (conducted with zest by Andrea Quinn, who also led the orchestra in Apollo; Hugo Fiorato had led the rather sluggish Serenade) is one of the happiest of Balanchine's ballets. Whether you see it as a masterful exposition of sonata form, a grand classical ballet reinvented for the 20th century, or a suite of contrasting sunlit and moonbeam dances, joy has to figure into the equation somewhere. Opening night, the ballet that was in the vanguard of the post-World War II neoclassical revolution got a very happy performance; the dancers seemed to worry less about keeping straight lines and more about riding the music.

Jenifer Ringer (with Nilas Martins) danced the first movement crisply, and served as the ballet's gracious hostess. Maria Kowroski, a tall, fragile dancer, was dreamy and delicate in the second movement, without sentimentalizing it, and Charles Askegard was the kind of selfless partner—there when the ballerina needs him, nearly invisible when she doesn't—that's sometimes required of men in Balanchine ballets.

Another wunderkind, Megan Fairchild, led the third movement as though she'd been dancing the role for years, yet this was a debut. Fairchild has a beautifully light jump and is one of those rare dancers who can dance as though for her own pleasure and still communicate to an audience. She was paired with Joaquin de Luz, late of American Ballet Theatre, and he seemed a changed man. De Luz had danced the same role with ABT in that company's current very presentational style and way of separating the solos from the fabric of a ballet. He's now integrated his dancing into the ballet and filled out the music, rather than doing the steps as fast as possible and then waiting for the music to catch up to him. He's an odd match for Fairchild, though. Tiny as she is, she dances on a grand scale—she was the most old-style Balanchine dancer on stage, with her fearlessness, her hip thrusts and her off-center turns—and she would seem more suited to a taller partner.

In the fourth movement (led by Pascale van Kipnis and Arch Higgins), the dancers from each section of the ballet have a brief reprise, and the corps stands to the side, surrounding the principals, until the stage is bursting with white tutus and legs and Balanchine launches one of his grandest cheerleaders-at-halftime finales. They may not all have kicked as high, or at the same time, but the ballet was alive.

The company is here through Sunday night, alternating two repertory programs with the evening length Jewels.

Other NYCB in DC reviews:
Second program, March 4, 2004, by George Jackson

Jewels, March 5, 2004, by Alexandra Tomalonis
The Great American Dancer, March 6 (matinee) by Alexandra Tomalonis
NYCB in DC: Last Look and Look Back, March 7 (matinee and evening) by George Jackson

To read our coverage of the New York Season, click here; you'll be taken to the last review in the series, with links at the bottom of the page to the other reviews.

To read a series of articles by Leigh Witchel on the George Balanchine Foundation's Interpreters Archive Project sessions, in which the creators of many of Balanchine's leading roles coach young dancers in those roles, click here.

Photos, by Paul Kolnik:
First:  Peter Boal as Apollo.
Second:  Peter Boal and Alexandra Ansanelli in Apollo.
Third: Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard in Symphony in C (second movement).

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 9
March 4, 2004

copyright © 2004 Alexandra Tomalonis




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