NYC Ballet – Balanchine – Oct 12,13, 2023

New York City Ballet
Lincoln Center, Koch Auditorium
October 12, 13, 2023 7:30 PM

Celebration! History, Nostalgia, Performance Memories

The three works on this Thursday program date from early times in the development of the NYC Ballet. For the 75th Anniversary Season, the company has restaged the works of George Balanchine, director, choreographer and inspiration for what is now, ballet in America.

Balanchine’s history is best told, most recently, in Janet Holman’s “Mr. B” (George Balanchine’s 20th century) New York: Random House, 2022. In it, Holman traces Balanchine’s journey from Russia, through Germany, France and then, to wherever he could choreograph and stage ballet…to NYC where, with the help of Lincoln Kirstein the NYC Ballet was finally established.

For this reviewer. the company and Balanchine’s work is primary to my understanding of theater dance. As early as 1948, shortly after the NYCB was based at the NY City Center, I was there…along with dozens of other dance students. We begged for free and/or low price seats. With kind ushers and understanding patrons we were admitted to the performance for $2.40!

The Thursday evening event at Lincoln Center began with “Serenade”, a work Balanchine started in 1934 and has been in the repertoire ever since. It starts almost as a class in ‘porte de bras”, the carriage of the arms. One gesture is historical. Hitler’s ‘heil’ gesture (so terrible to see in those times) is turned out as if the dancers are guarded against it.The dancers, first the corps and then soloist proceed to offer a classic Balanchine American ballet, athletic, lively and complex to Tschaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings

Although the dance proceeds for several movements as lively lyrical activity, ultimately a scenario begins. A womaSymphony in Cn falls; a man revives her with the help of a “dark angel”. She, Psyche or perhaps another mythical creature, is ultimately carried fully erect on her feet upstage and out. “Serenade” is a ballet, class, a study in classical reference and a lyrical wonder. It is certainly Balanchine’s tribute to the ballerina. He adored his ballerinas (and married four!).

I saw ”Serenade” in 1948 and remember every gesture, posture and event. For this performance the leading dancers were: Erica Perieira, Unity Phelan, Emilie Gerrity, Adrian Danching-Waring and Christoper Grant. Yes, only one man then! At finale a group of men carry the ballerina standing, fully erect to the upstage right exit. What a tribute!

Balanchine is not usual noted as a ‘dramatic’ choreographer, but on these two programs (Oct, 12 ad 13, 2023) I found the ‘story’ ballets the most compelling.”Orpheus” was also premiered in 1948 at the NY City Center. To a Stravinsky score and with sets by Isamu Noguchi, we are led into the ‘underworld” as Orpheus searches for his lost love, Eurydice. Most audiences know the story from the Gluck opera and the myth. I see it also as the artists descent into his/her personal underworld where, ultimately artistic insight is revealed. Orpheus finds his music!

For the Oct.12 performance Adrian Danchig-Waring was Orpheus, Davide Riccardo, the Dark Angel and Brittany Pollack, Eurydice. All were accompanied by Furies, Lost Souls and Bacchantes. “Orpheus” is truly a Balanchine tribute to ballet and the ballerina!

Friday, October 13 was a Gala event. No press passes ( I paid $100. for a third ring seat.)

The dramatic work on the program was “Prodigal Son” premiered in 1929 for the Ballet Russes; then 1950 at the City Center, NYC. I must admit remembering an event when Misha Baryshnikov danced the wild young man and Balanchine himself the father!

The prodigal leaves home and falls into wild adventures particularly with The Siren. Seduced, humiliated, ego crushed and physically destroyed he crawls home, climbing into his father’s arms. Anthony Huxley danced the Prodigal; Sara Mearns the Siren and Preston Chamblee the Father in this production. The decor is by Georges Rouault; music by Sergei Prokofiev.

Another masterpiece!

Friday’s event opened with Bach’s Violin Concerto in d minor, “Concerto Barocco” beautifully played by two violinists, Kurt Nikkanen and Arturo Delmoni. The leading dancers were Isabella laFreniere, Mira Nadon and Gilbert Bolden III. The ballet was premiered in NYC in 1948. Again this work demonstrating Balanchine’s superb musical understanding, is a masterpiece.

The evening closed to unending applause for “Symphony in C” to music by George Bizet. It is in four movements, each more exciting than the one before. We were treated to the dancing of ballerina Tiler Peck, partnered by Chun Wai Chan for the first movement. Other stars were: Unity Phelan, Alec Knight, Baily Jones, Sebastian Villarini-Valez, Emilie Gerrity and Peter Walker. The Gala audience cheered, stamped and generally applauded this 75th celebration.

The resident conductor of the superb orchestra is listed as Clotilde Otranto.