- The Washington Times - Friday, December 11, 2009

Three masterworks of dance created for the extraordinary New York City Ballet by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins to the music of Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Stravinsky — “Mozartiana,” “Dances at a Gathering” and “Violin Concerto” — that is the Christmas plum pudding being served this week at the Kennedy Center Opera House.

It’s hard to avoid superlatives in talking about these great works and the famous dancers on whom they were created — Edward Villella, Patricia McBride, Violette Verdy, Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins, who is now the artistic director of NYCB.

But several dance generations later, these ballets still live, marked by subtle changes and more obvious ones, like the infusion of more direct athletic energy reflecting today’s swifter pace.

The three ballets cover a range of styles.

“Mozartiana,” Balanchine’s last major work (created for Suzanne Farrell) is a kind of hymn, reflecting the sweet gravity of Tchaikovsky’s musical tribute to Mozart. Wendy Whelan, a leading member of the company, dances with four young girls, all of them dressed in black bell-shaped tutus. Although the role was created for a different, plushier dancer, Miss Whelan finds shimmering new elegance in the work and brings her own clear focus to the role. The following male solo by Daniel Ulbricht was full of zest, and the marvelous Theme and Variations of the last movement was a tour de force for Miss Whelan and Jared Angle. He and others in the company have enlarged many male roles with their authoritative presence, going beyond the somewhat anonymous support for their dancing partners in the past to establish their own individuality.

The centerpiece and highlight of the evening was Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering” for five women and five men, sometimes dancing as couples but mostly danced by shifting groups of two or three or four or five. There even was a solo: Created by Mr. Robbins to capture Ms. Verdy’s remarkable musicality, it became, as danced by Abi Stafford on this occasion, a vapid charm number with no musical nuance.

Aside from this disappointing moment, “Dances at a Gathering” was a glorious holiday present — shining, joyous, funny, tender and loving.

Robbins was a man of the theater and knew all its tricks, but this ballet was created after he left commercial dance and became the second choreographer at NYCB. Today’s dancers can play with all of his genius, and they throw themselves into the assignment with zest and high good humor. They get all the delicious jokes and seem to enjoy them as much as we do. All deserve mention — Yvonne Borree, Megan Fairchild, Maria Kowroski, Jenifer Ringer. Of the men, Tyler Angle, (brother of Jared) was a strong presence, along with Antonio Carmena, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Christian Tworzyanski and Benjamin Millepied, who reprised Mr. Villella’s striking role as the man in brown.

NYCB, which has been the most creative ballet company in the world, concluded its program here with “Stravinsky Violin Concerto,” the first dance Balanchine made for Mr. Martins. It was created in 1972, within a year of the death of Stravinsky, the composer with whom the choreographer had collaborated through most of his life. It’s a work bursting with energy in its first movement, with a soloist backed by four corps members bounding onstage, then exiting, to be replaced by five more dancers, repeated several times over.

At the heart of the work are two arias, the first danced with vibrant humor by Rebecca Krohn and an exuberant Amar Ramasar; the second by Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild, who gave a mesmerizing performance of this Stravinsky tribute.

This program is repeating tomorrow evening and concludes Sunday evening.

A second NYCB program, with Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco” and his lovely “Liebeslieder Walzer,” Christopher Wheeldon’s “Liturgy” and Peter Martins’ “Les Gentilhommes,” will be danced tonight and at matinees tomorrow and Sunday.

★★★★
WHAT: New York City Ballet in two programs
WHEN: Tonight through Sunday at 7:30 p.m., matinees this Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House
TICKETS: $29 to $85
PHONE: 202/467-4600
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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