- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The yearly visit from the New York City Ballet reaffirms dance’s claim to be the liveliest of the arts. We have been wallowing in a lot of 19th century classics recently — from “Giselle” to “La Bayadere.” But this week the company founded by George Balanchine arrives with a generous 13 ballets from the 20th and 21st centuries, eight of them by the master himself.

When Mr. Balanchine was alive, every season was packed with drama — new ballets poured out of him, and new dancers he had developed came into the spotlight.

Although he died 23 years ago, the ballets he created still have the capacity to startle with their inventiveness and piercing clarity.

We may not see that level of genius soon again, but the New York City Ballet, now directed by Peter Martins, continues to put a premium on creativity. In addition to supplying the company with his own ballets, Mr. Martins has commissioned seven new works for his company’s spring season in New York and has as resident choreographer the promising Christopher Wheeldon, two of whose works are being danced here.

The company’s brief week, opening tonight at the Kennedy Center Opera House, features three different programs. They are listed as all-Russian, all-European, and all-American; plus a final evening, with ballets from the first two programs, called all-Balanchine.

Tonight’s Russian program, to be repeated Saturday afternoon, offers a generous look at the fertile Balanchine-Stravinsky collaboration. It’s a chance to see the cool but compelling brilliance of the paired “Monumentum pro Gesualdo” and “Movements for Piano and Orchestra,” plus Mr. Balanchine’s moving tribute to music and the romantic ideal in “Duo Concertant.”

Contrasting with these streamlined collaborations between composer and choreographer is their elaborate production of “Firebird” with colorful sets and costumes designed by Marc Chagall.

The program also includes “Allegro Brillante” and a pas de deux from “Romeo and Juliet.”

Tomorrow night’s European program (repeated Saturday evening) is loaded with tempting ballets.

The newest work on the program is Mr. Wheeldon’s latest ballet, “Klavier,” which premiered a little over a month ago and is set to an exalted score (or part of a score) — the Adagio Sostenuto of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” sonata. Featured in the work is the remarkable dancer Wendy Whelan, a muse who inspires Mr. Wheeldon to some of his best work. She has danced often with Jock Soto (the two were memorable here last year in Mr. Wheeldon’s “After the Rain”). Since Mr. Soto’s retirement last year, Miss Whelan often appears with Sebastien Marcovici.

What makes this program such a standout is the rare chance to see Mr. Balanchine’s “Union Jack.” It is one of those ballets calling for such a mighty marshaling of resources that its appearance is indeed an “event.” Set in three sections, the first calls not only for 70 dancers on stage, but 70 dancers clad in distinctive Scottish kilts.

Each clan of nine has a leader and they appear in strict formation, radiating energy; Mr. Balanchine then sends them striding across the stage in shifting patterns, a master choreographer playing with all the variations that can be made on marching phalanxes.

The piece, which premiered in 1976, ostensibly celebrated the 200th anniversary of our independence from Great Britain. Mr. Balanchine chose to make it a salute to that country.

The scene remained a favorite, and his “Union Jack’s” second act is an affectionate tribute to London music halls with two rambunctious Cockneys (Pearly King and Queen).

The final section of this extravaganza features sailor hornpipes and an unfettered display of exuberant dancing, concluding with the entire cast holding small flags and semaphoring “God save the Queen” while the orchestra rolls out “Brittania Rules the Waves.”

If you miss “Union Jack,” you still have a last chance to see it at the company’s final performance Sunday evening.

The third program, Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, is focused on pure American entertainment, with Jerome Robbins’ street-smart “N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz,” Mr. Balanchine’s effervescent “Tarantella,” and Mr. Wheeldon’s somewhat conventional setting of George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.” The evening begins with Mr. Martins’ 1990 “Fearful Symmetries” to music of a favorite composer, John Adams.

WHAT: New York City Ballet

WHEN: Tonight through Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

TICKETS: $29 to $99

PHONE: 202/467-4600

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