- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

For so many years — 17 to be exact — this city had to do without what had once been annual visits from the New York City Ballet. Its reappearance on the local scene the last three years still is cause for celebration.

The company’s priceless repertory of works by George Balanchine and the deeply musical way it performs them have filled the week with moments of dance at its noblest.

The first ballet Wednesday evening, “Allegro Brillante,” opened on a high note. On an airy, unadorned stage, the company gave a breathtaking performance, combining refined virtuosity and great freedom. Each member of the small corps danced with beautiful abandon, led by one of the company’s finest ballerinas.

The rich program, to be repeated this afternoon, emphasized the collaboration between Mr. Balanchine and his favorite contemporary composer, Igor Stravinsky.

In “Duo Concertante,” four performers are onstage — two dancers, a man and a woman; a pianist; and a violinist. The dancers listen to the musicians for a while, then begin to dance. Their steps make music visible; at the end, in a moment of unabashed sentiment, the man shapes the woman’s hand, kisses it.

As danced by Yvonne Borree and the dramatic Nikolaj Hubbe, it was transformed from a gentle meditation to a vivid encounter crackling with high energy. While I admire Mr. Hubbe’s keen perceptions, this approach seemed to clash with the choreographer’s gentler vision of dancers inspired by music and a man in thrall to a woman.

In “Monumentum pro Gesualdo” and “Movements for Piano and Orchestra,” the daring choreographic patterns are riveting. The performances are competent rather than fearless, with Charles Askegard, partnering Teresa Reichlen in the first, and a promising member of the corps, Rebecca Krohn, in the second.

Following this was a puzzling addition that seemed to come from a different aesthetic, a “Romeo and Juliet” pas de deux by former dancer Sean Lavery, set to Serge Prokofiev’s score. The choreography was uninspired and its performance, by Stephanie Zungre and Sebastien Marcovici, indifferent.

The program concluded with Marc Chagall’s enchanting curtains and costumes for Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” the tale of a magical firebird (Sofiane Sylve) who befriends an earnest, bumbling Prince (Jonathan Prince) and then encounters a bevy of colorful maidens and some wonderfully unfrightening creatures who threaten them. The ballet has a naive charm and was danced in that spirit.

The second program opened with “Ballo della Regina,” Mr. Balanchine’s lyric response to Giuseppe Verdi’s “Don Carlos.” Movement ranged from the sweet simplicity of the dancers whirling their hands in response to the music’s whirling, to variations for four intrepid soloists that made fierce technical demands at breakneck speeds. The four women, still only members of the corps, danced with elan, looking like star ballerinas.

Leading this romp were an unfettered Megan Fairchild, tossing off miracles of movement with breezy assurance, and her dashing, incisive partner, Benjamin Millepied.

In his new “Klavier,” choreographer Christopher Wheeldon fails to plumb the depths of the music — the third movement of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” sonata — as he has done in some of his other works. He uses it instead more as mood music — and more’s the pity.

The mood is somber — a large chandelier lies askew on the floor at the back of the stage, the cast of two couples and two trios is clothed in translucent material, intimating something ghostly. “Klavier” begins and ends with the dancers facing us, advancing and receding, suggesting a timelessness to their plight.

The work only comes alive with a long, intricate duet for Wendy Whelan (a frequent Wheeldon muse) and Mr. Marcovici, a strong, involved partner. “Klavier” somehow feels like an exploration, one that may find fruition in Mr. Wheeldon’s next ballet.

The program concluded with the extravaganza of “Union Jack” and a stage jammed with stylish marching clans, a raucous costermonger duet (Nilas Martins and Jenifer Ringer) and a grandly patriotic finale showcasing a high-flying Damian Woetzel stealing the show.

Both programs are being repeated this weekend, which will also see the performance of a third program featuring works by artistic director Peter Martins, Jerome Robbins, Mr. Balanchine and Mr. Wheeldon’s “An American in Paris” to the Gershwin score.

***1/2

WHAT: New York City Ballet

WHEN: Today and tomorrow at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

TICKETS: $29 to $99

PHONE: 202/467-4600

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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