- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2004

When good balletomanes go to heaven, what they find might well look like New York City in May. This sentiment is prompted by four balmy dance-packed days last week that yielded transcendent performances of masterworks; a premiere of a ballet by Christopher Wheeldon, arguably the finest classical choreographer today; and an engrossing backup of dance films and exhibits.

New York City Ballet’s centennial celebration of George Balanchine’s birth is ongoing at Lincoln Center, while across the plaza, American Ballet Theatre’s annual spring season takes place at the cavernous Metropolitan Opera. A few die-hard dance fans, intent on capturing every special moment, even have been seen dashing from one hall to the other at intermission.

Last week, NYCB was dancing some of George Balanchine’s most tenderly romantic and haunting ballets, including “La Source,” “La Sonnambula,” “Chaconne,” “Divertimento No. 15” and “Davidsbundlertanze.” When these masterworks were matched by inspired performances, it was as sublime as ballet gets.

Nikolaj Hubbe, Miranda Weese and Ashley Bouder made “La Source” one of those moments. Miss Weese’s phrasing was melting, Miss Bouder was enchantingly quicksilver, and Mr. Hubbe was in heroic form cleaving through the air. The score by Leo Delibes for “La Source” might seem merely a pretty bagatelle, but once illuminated by the enchanting choreography, the moment was pure bliss.

A similar moment came with Mr. Hubbe’s performance in Jerome Robbins’ beautiful “Dances at a Gathering.” His nobility and intensity make him one of the most riveting performers on the stage today, and his deep understanding brings depth to his roles. The entire cast of “Dances” was inspired, save for the important “Boy in Brown,” danced by Benjamin Millepied with beautiful technique but no passion.

Muted passion is at the heart of Balanchine’s remarkable “Davidsbundlertanze,” a work he made toward the end of his life.

Set to the Robert Schumann piano score, it is an impressionistic work for four couples who seem to represent aspects of the composer’s life. It was given an eloquent performance by some of the company’s finest dancers, Darci Kistler, Jenifer Ringer, Alexandra Ansanelli, Nilas Martins, Peter Boal and Jock Soto, with Charles Askegard as the troubled Schumann and the luminous Kyra Nichols as his wife. Another memorable moment to savor.

Christopher Wheeldon, the brilliant and prolific 31-year-old resident choreographer at NYCB, has created a heroically ambitious new work, “Shambards.” Each of its three sections is stunning, and Mr. Wheeldon has assembled a strong set of collaborators. The vivid score is by James MacMillan, the atmospheric set by artist Michael Nagle, the costumes by Holly Hynes, and the imaginative lighting by Mark Stanley.

The mood is dark: a look at the violence and cruel undertones in Scottish history. The title refers to lines in a poem by Edwin Muir: “Burns and Scott, sham bards of a sham nation, And spiritual defeat wrapped warm in riches, No pride but pride of self. … ”

The images are striking, and Mr. Wheeldon’s choreographic skills are huge. Some were put off by its misogynist tone, but there is no denying that “Shambards” is the work not of a promising dance maker but of an accomplished master. His bold formations, inventive use of folk motifs, Highland flings, and sword dancing combined with images of broken bodies and broken spirits produce a powerful effect. The company gave it a strong performance, led by Miss Weese, Mr. Soto, Carla Korbes, Ask la Cour, Miss Bouder, Megan Fairchild, Joaquin De Luz and Daniel Ulbricht.

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