- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2009

The New York City Ballet has just finished a stunning week of dance at the Kennedy Center, a dazzling if uneven display of some of the best choreography and best dancing to be seen anywhere.

The emphasis here, as always in this House of Balanchine, is on choreography. The week was full of his masterpieces as well as a work apiece by two of today’s most inventive and impressive choreographers - Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon.

Both men are strikingly innovative. Synergy is at work here; their fast-moving, soaring demands are being met by a new generation of the company’s strong, risk-taking dancers. Partly because of the movement demands, they look sharper and more savvy than ever.

Mr. Wheeldon, who has been choreographer in residence at City Ballet, created “Mercurial Manoeuvres” for the company nine years ago. It opens with a dancer, Gonzalo Garcia, silhouetted against a glowing red column of light, a dramatic stroke signaling Mr. Wheeldon´s innate dramatic instincts. From there the piece builds with phalanxes of dancers sweeping across the stage, a cast of 18 looking like a universe.

In the middle of this romp comes a tender pas de deux with Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle creating the kind of close rapport Mr. Wheeldon is so good at invoking.

Peter Martins, the company’s director, whose official title is ballet master in chief, created the role of company choreographer for Mr. Wheeldon; now Mr. Wheeldon has moved on to direct his own small company, Morphoses.

The Russian-born Mr. Ratmansky is another choreographer Mr. Martins first brought to the fore here; now Mr. Ratmansky has just begun a five-year resident-choreographer agreement with American Ballet Theatre.

His “Concerto DSCH,” created for City Ballet less than a year ago, is a beauty, a riveting display of both his almost magical gift of capturing wordless emotions and his technical skill at creating breathtaking movement. Wendy Whelan, Ana Sophia Scheller, Benjamin Millepied, Joaquin De Luz and Mr. Garcia are impressive in bringing this work to life.

“Brahms/Handel”, a 1984 work by Jerome Robbins and Twyla Tharp, preceded the go-for-broke style prevalent in the company today. Abi Stafford and Mr. Garcia, Miss Whelan and Andrew Veyette led the group while phalanxes of dancers moved at top speed with dangerous, split-second timing. Its wonderfully shaded turquoise-and-green costumes are by Oscar de la Renta.

Added to these later works, City Ballet has the greatest collection of George Balanchine’s 20th-century masterpieces in the world, and several were danced this week, including “Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet.” Its Andante section features a brilliant, brief male solo, created for Edward Villella, brought to a pinnacle by Nikolaj Hubbe and danced valiantly this week by Mr. Veyette.

Among an extraordinarily impressive week there also were a few disappointments.

“Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet” had new, bland scenery by David Mitchell that made it look anemic.

Mr. Balanchine’s “Chaconne” was performed by two casts: Ms. Whelan and Philip Neal were rapturous, while Maria Kowroski was regal but woefully undersupported by Sebastien Marcovici. The ballet has one of the most mysterious moments to be found in any Balanchine ballet, when the ballerina leans back trustingly against her partner and slowly picks her way across the stage on point. These two ballerinas didn´t believe in trusting and waved their legs skyward, destroying one of this ballet’s most magical moments.

The sumptuous “Vienna Waltzes” dazzled as usual, although the heart of the last section - a lone ballerina in an empty ballroom, dancing with a half-imaginary partner - was lost by Darci Kistler’s playing directly to the audience.

A special pleasure was the large and skillful City Ballet orchestra and a bevy of fine soloists playing the many challenging scores under the conductors Faycal Karoui and Maurice Kaplow.

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