- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2009

Fred Astaire’s dance extravaganzas brought cheer to Depression-era movie audiences. Similarly, the beauty and glamour of George Balanchine’s breathtakingly beautiful “Vienna Waltzes” are a worthy antidote to today’s troubles.

Mr. Balanchine was almost awestruck by Mr. Astaire, and his finale of “Vienna Waltzes” — the stage awash in crystal chandeliers, mirrored reflections and fabulous swirling ball gowns — can be considered his balletic tribute to the Astaire magic. The ballet builds to a climax in a scene that becomes a ballet fantasy of a Fred and Ginger (Rogers) movie.

The ballet’s five scenes take us from a dreamlike Viennese woods setting in the time of Emperor Franz Joseph — the men in dashing military uniforms, the women in lovely ball gowns — and then to a delicious airborne frolic. A lowbrow comic interlude leads to an art-deco ballroom and a smoldering encounter between a dashing officer and a merry widow.

“Vienna Waltzes” will receive three performances by the New York City Ballet at the Kennedy Center Opera House during the troupe’s annual visit to Washington Wednesday through March 8. “Vienna Waltzes” concludes the program on opening night and the Saturday matinee and evening performances. Also on those programs are “Chaconne” and “Brahms/Handel.”

Mr. Balanchine’s “Vienna Waltzes” choreography is wonderfully enhanced by the contributions of the gifted set designer Rouben Ter-Arutunian and fabulous costumes by Karinska, not to mention the music of Johann Strauss II and Franz Lehar and Richard Strauss’ thrilling waltzes from “Der Rosenkavalier.”

The Russian-born choreographer’s “Agon” brought a new definition of glamour to the dance world when it was premiered by the New York City Ballet in 1957. Instead of Tchaikovsky and tutus, Mr. Balanchine had commissioned a score by Igor Stravinsky and dressed the women in black leotards, the men in black tights and white T-shirts. It was framed by a simple deep-blue background. Variations of that minimal look now can be seen all over the world.

Mr. Balanchine’s black-leotard ballets were partly, of course, a reaction to economic concerns. They were relatively cheap, but they also were right for the look he was seeking. Turn to early pictures of his neoclassic ballets — such as “Apollo” and especially “The Four Temperaments” — and our eyes reject the fussy costumes used when the ballets were created.

Mr. Balanchine’s “Symphony in Three Movements,” again to a Stravinsky score, is another of his leotard ballets, although with more colors in the leotards than usual. It will be danced next week, as will the relatively simply staged but exciting “Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet” and “Chaconne.”

City Ballet still has the largest collection of Balanchine works in the world. Under Artistic Director Peter Martins, the company maintains its emphasis on new works by leading choreographers, including “Concerto DSCH” by Alexei Ratmansky, “Brahms/Handel” by Twyla Tharp and Jerome Robbins, “Mercurial Manoeuvres” by Christopher Wheeldon, and Mr. Martin’s own “Barber Violin Concerto” — all of them included on next week’s programs.

Yet Mr. Balanchine’s works and his aesthetic remain at the company’s heart and soul.

WHAT: New York City Ballet

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through March 8, 1:30 p.m. March 7 and 8

TICKETS: $29 to $99

PHONE: 202/467-4600

WEB SITE: www.kennedy-center.org

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