New York City Ballet at The Kennedy Center-Program A: 20th Century Classics

There’s no company like the New York City Ballet, performing the old, new, and, especially, Serenade.

Last night was one of those magical evenings of ballet and beauty. First it was a smooth ride to DC through the budding cherry blossoms. After listening to a jazz vocalist on The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, we took a stroll through the Hall of Nations and were mesmerized by the Dustin Yellin exhibit of glass dance sculptures called Pstchogeographies (on exhibit through the month). If you look closely at the 3,000 pound art pieces, you may find all sorts of memorabilia – Egyptian mummies, medical notes, and love poems.

The highlight, of course, was the return of The New York City Ballet, performing three classics by the late, great master, Georgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze (George Balanchine), known to dancers and friends simply as “Mr. B.”

The brightest dancers; the best training; the finest performances of original works, this was the dream of Balanchine and his sidekick, Lincoln Kirstein, when they set out to form a distinctively American company. After more than a decade of obstacles, including the Depression and the Second World War, their Ballet Society had its first performance in 1948 as the resident company at New York’s City Center.

Program A: 20th Century Classics, came to The Kennedy Center’s Opera House, with proof in hand and foot, that although the master is dead, the masterpieces live on. NYCB has preserved the classical ideals of harmony purity, balance, and musicality nearly three quarters of a century later. His pioneering vision came to dominate and revolutionize classical ballet in the last half of the 20th century, and dancers world-wide continue to embrace and exult in his creations.

Balanchine had a more profound effect on ballet than any other figure in the last century. In an age when ballet had been dependent on costumes, sets and storytelling, he insisted that the dancing come first. He had a gift for taking a simple movement and filing it with unexpected character. This was Balanchine’s unique talent; he shifted the emphasis in ballet away from the story and spectacle and allowed the choreography to stand on its own, unadorned and uncompromised.

Ashley Bouder and Ensemble in 'Serenade. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Ashley Bouder and Ensemble in ‘Serenade. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Serenade, the first ballet Balanchine choreographed in America (1935), remains breathtaking, even after dozens of viewings by numerous companies throughout the world. Last night, The New York City Ballet Orchestra’s conductor, Clotilde Otranto, lifted a baton, and the audience cheered. This transcendent Tchaikovsky score would take us to a place far from the maddening world. As the curtain rose, 16 gorgeous ballerinas in traditional romantic blue chiffon, raised their right hand towards the gods, turned out their pointed feet, and once again thrilled us. While the lead dancers, especially Ashley Bouder, performed impeccably, this was a true ensemble piece, music visualization at its best.

Balanchine created a number of “Black & White Ballets,” though his 1957 Agon may best represent his collaboration with Igor Stravinsky. There could be no better champion of Stravinsky than Balanchine, whose career, like the composer’s, has spanned the 20th century. In his ballets, Balanchine has exalted the athleticism of dancers, a distinctive sense of space and the oddly unemotional quality of American performers.

Last evening, the dancers, especially the men, surprised us at each move. A wonder of force, here is an intense, modernist masterwork, with the dancers, especially the men, surprising us at each move. Still Agon is a tough dance to perform, and there were a couple of minor misfortunes – a ballerina fell and one of the guys failed to hold onto another dancer. What I enjoy in this ballet is the chance to discover a nuance or two or spend the quiet moments watching the intricacies of the art. Dancers Maria Kowroski and Amar Ramasar should be noted for their interpretation of Stravinsky’s poignant score.

Upon discovering a long-lost Bizet score, Balanchine took only two weeks to choreograph the neoclassical masterpiece Symphony in C, which dazzles with dozens of dancers – the ballerinas in sparkling Swarovski gems – and brings down the house at each performance. Set to Bizet’s high-spirited score, last night’s finale showcased Tiler Peck (recently of The Little Dancer) who radiated her joy in her on-the-money pirouettes. Nonetheless, my eyes kept watching Sara Mearns who dominated center stage as the curtain closed.

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with two 20-minute intermissions.

The New York City Ballet performs two programs: 20th-Century Classics, featuring three of Balanchine’s most iconic ballets, and 21st-Century Choreographers, which includes works by Justin Peck, Alexei Ratmansky, Peter Martins, and Christopher Wheeldon at The Kennedy Center Opera House through Sunday, April 12, 2015 with cast changes. ‘Program A’ will be performed Thursday, April 9, 2015 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, April 11, 2015 at 1:30 p.m. For tickets, call the box office (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

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Carolyn Kelemen
Carolyn Kelemen is an award-winning arts critic and feature writer for the Baltimore Sun, Howard County Times, and Columbia Flier - 45 years and counting. The Columbia resident earned her Masters Degree in Dance at Mills College in California and has taught college and graduate courses at Goucher College, Loyola, the College of Notre Dame and Howard Community College. A professional dancer throughout the East Coast in the late 50s and early 60s, she was trained in classical ballet, modern dance, jazz and tap. Her TV/film career includes MPT’s “ weeknight Alive” and years of local productions in the Maryland/DC area. Carolyn is a longtime member of the Dance Critics of America, the American Theatre Critics Association. She has proudly produced the “A Labor of Love” AIDS benefits since 1988.


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