- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 6, 2005

If ever there was a harbinger of spring it was the New York City Ballet in bloom at the Kennedy Center this past week, bringing along its own vibrant orchestra and generously performing three different programs. Its single week was filled with more brilliant, diverse choreography than other companies show here in a fortnight.

New York City Ballet dances as its birthright the stripped-bare, modern, neoclassical work of George Balanchine, and other choreographers such as Jerome Robbins and Christopher Wheeldon who sometimes mine that vein. And when it comes to capturing the flavor of New York, its glamour and its grit, the company lives up to its name. In both these modes it is unsurpassed.

The company also performs Mr. Balanchine’s beautiful classical works (so many of them to music of his beloved Tchaikovsky) with the crisp clear attack and lan they learned from him; recently other companies have shown us an alternate way of seeing these ballets, danced in a more luscious, expansive style.

In a case of saving the best for the last, NYCB danced a third program Friday and Saturday evenings that covered a broad range of styles; each danced to perfection.

Leading off was Mr. Balanchine’s “Divertimento No. 15,” set to Mozart’s exquisite music. The ballet occupies hallowed ground: its response to the music so limpid, its invention unforced, its beauty radiantly sustained.

This masterpiece for five women, three men and a corps, incorporates a series of solo variations, each one fresh and different. The most sublime moment of all is the andante, with one couple soaring offstage as another one enters, sustaining the paradisiacal flow of sight and sound, supported by the singing lines of the violin and viola.

Friday evening’s performance had a special glow, danced by Ashley Bouder, Megan Fairchild, Carla Korbes, Janie Taylor, Jared Angle and Arch Higgins, with Miranda Weese and Philip Neal first among equals.

Mr. Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia,” to piano music of Gyorgy Ligeti, was the evening’s tour de force, daring in its exploration of movement never seen before. Mark Stanley’s gray shadowed background with the dancers brilliantly lit added to the edgy look. Mr. Ligeti’s score (played by Alan Moverman and Susan Walters) with its spareness and sharply contrasted moods gave the choreographer’s imagination free rein.

A work for four couples, “Polyphonia” has at its heart two remarkable duets for Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto. Both are superb performers with striking, non-conventional ballet bodies. Miss Whelan is lean like a greyhound with amazing flexibility; Mr. Soto has a center of gravity low to the ground.

Their duets became a riveting intertwining of bodies, he giving her support so she looked as if she was swimming underwater, or folding her body into a pretzel indistinguishable as a human form. In a repeated motif he carried her stiffened form like a horizontal log, at another moment he rotated her body with her legs split at a 180-degree angle.

When it was first created Mr. Balanchine’s “Violin Concerto,” with a man manipulating a puppet-like woman —sliding her across the floor, bending her body at his will —was a breakthrough ballet. A quarter of a century later Mr. Wheeldon has taken that impulse and carried it to electrifying extremes, using bodies to unusual abstract effect.

The suite of 10 dances ranges over the moods of its music. In a quiet, breathtaking section, Alexandra Ansanelli stands motionless on pointe for an eternity then silently bourres across the stage, staying on pointe as her feet move in tiny swift steps. It’s a simple movement, devoid of bravura, but the moment is magical.

Following its splendid display of classical ballet and cutting-edge work, the company showed prowess in another form —Broadway dancing. In his remake of some numbers from his “West Side Story” Jerome Robbins gave these highly trained dancers the assignment to look like Broadway hoofers and to sing as well. They carried off both with dash, delivering the toughness of New York gangs and the bright rhythms of Puerto Rican dance halls.

Outstanding on Friday night was Nikolaj Hubbe who as the ill-fated Riff danced with fierceness and tremendous impact. He also belted out “Cool.” Damian Woetzel played Riff Saturday evening. He was convincingly casual but not as intense. Jennifer Ringer as Anita both sang and served up a whirl of Latin energy, abetted by several singers in the pit.

For 17 years NYCB didn’t appear here until Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center, resolved the contracting problems that kept it away. So there’s a lot of catching up to do. Perhaps in the future the Kennedy Center will add a second NYCB week (standard in years gone by) and we could see more of its rich, unique repertoire and fewer “Swan Lakes” and all its 19th century buddies.

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