In its five brief days here, the New York City Ballet offered a lavish array of great ballets by George Balanchine with dancing that veered sharply from the inspired to the humdrum. This unevenness in the company directed by Peter Martins was notable in the second of three programs it brought to the Kennedy Center Opera House.
“Concerto Barocco,” set to Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, is choreography of such purity and clarity of design that it has a hallowed air. The remarkable chorus of eight female dancers was alert and responsive but Yvonne Borree’s performance of the first ballerina role was perfunctory, lacking in imagination and drained the ballet of its magic.
Pascale van Kipnis in the second female role was livelier and Nikolaj Hubbe’s gallant, authoritative partnering brought focus to the inventive second movement.
Two of the company’s leading dancers alternated in the title role of “Prodigal Son,” Mr. Balanchine’s expressionistic take on the biblical story with striking backdrops by Georges Rouault and a bold score by Sergei Prokofiev.
Damian Woetzel was a blaze of headstrong rebellion, Peter Boal was a more naive rebel; both were believable in the role’s multiple demands of brilliant dancing and poignant acting.
The evening-length “Jewels,” billed as the first plotless ballet when it was created in 1967, may have no overt story but it is suffused with emotion in its three sections titled “Emeralds,” “Rubies” and “Diamonds.”
Nuanced phrasing is everything in “Emeralds” and Jennifer Ringer and Miranda Weese responded sensitively, with James Fayette and Stephen Hanna as their partners.
“Rubies,” set to a coruscating, jazzy score by Igor Stravinsky, is the razzle-dazzler section and a tribute to American speed and energy. It had plenty of both in the performances of Alexandra Ansanelli and Mr. Woetzel.
The heart of “Diamonds” is a marvelous pas de deux for a couple, thusly described by Mr. Balanchine: “She is the Queen and he is the Prince Consort.”
Maria Kowroski came into her own in this role, phrasing luxuriously, sensuously, drawing out the movements to their full measure, swooning into deep arabesques. Philip Neal in his prince consort role was both self-effacing and noble.
The distressing aspect of “Jewels” — and it is major — is its new scenery. Gone are the elegant, necklace-like garlands of jewels that floated in the background. Instead, there are garish decors that give it a Las Vegas look, as if the company thought the choreography was not good enough to stand on its own.
When NYCB came up short last week, it’s probably, in part, because our expectations were so high. It is, after all, the company Mr. Balanchine founded.
Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that absence has perhaps made our hearts grow fonder, and to recognize that NYCB may not be the holy grail but is still a superb company with an unequalled repertoire.