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New York City Ballet: Valery Gergiev Conducts "For the Fun of It"

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 23, 2007
Lincoln Center
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Featured Dance Company:

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New York City Ballet
(NYC Ballet Website)
For the Fun of It

Founders, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress, Rosemary Dunleavy
Children's Ballet Mistress, Garielle Whittle
Orchestra, Music Director, Fayçal Karoui
Marketing and Communications, Managing Director, Robert Daniels
Assoc. Director, Communications, Siobhan Burns
Manager, Press Relations, Joe Guttridge
New York State Theater, Lincoln Center
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(Read More NYC Ballet Reviews).
Guest Conductor: Valery Gergiev
(See February 14, 2007 Review of This Program).

About the Author:
Circus Polka (1972): Music by Igor Stravinsky, Choreography by Jerome Robbins, Lighting by Ronald Bates, Ring Master: Robert La Fosse, Performed by Students of School of American Ballet. "Circus Polka" was originally choreographed by Balanchine for elephants in Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus, and Stravinsky wrote the music to be danced by young elephants. In 1972, Jerome Robbins created a contrasting ballet for young students and a Ringmaster to Stravinsky's same score. The children spell I. S. at the end, Stravinsky's initials. (NYCB Notes).

Tonight's Guest Conductor, Valery Gergiev, is one of the most dynamic and versatile conductors currently seen. Maestro Gergiev is Conductor and Artistic Director of the Mariinsky Theatres, Kirov Opera and Ballet. He is also affiliated with orchestras around the globe, and his appearance tonight ensured textured and nuanced music to accompany the dance. As soon as he lifted his hands and conducted these seasoned musicians, I heard a real polka, more buoyant, extra rhythmic. The 48 students of School of American Ballet, all young girls, were once again poised and proud, just as they were on the 14th. They danced with confidence, charisma, and charm.

Walpurgisnacht Ballet (1980): Music by Charles François Gounod, Choreography by George Balanchine, Costumes by Karinska, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Kyra Nichols, Philip Neal, Abi Stafford, Alina Dronova, Ana Sophia Scheller, Saskia Beskow, Amanda Hankes, Glenn Keenan, Gwyneth Muller, and the Company. This is a Balanchine choreographed scene from the last act of the opera "Faust" on the eve of May Day, a dance of wandering souls, joyful revelry. (NYCB Notes).

On last viewing, February 14, Kyra Nichols took the lead in this rapturous ballet. Tonight's ballerina was Sara Mearns, and so the "baton" of dance is passed to the next generation, as Ms. Nichols nears retirement and Ms. Mearns is a youthful rising star. Ms. Mearns took the role to its fullest dimensions, with rapid spins, lyrical lifts (thanks to Charles Askegard), and exquisite presence. Mr. Askegard was acutely attentive and helped showcase Ms. Mearns, while Abi Stafford held her own nicely with technical prowess. The energy level was pronounced and propulsive, a different result from first viewing, but not necessarily better. Ms. Nichols will always be a star, and her singular presence had been remarkable. However, Ms. Mearns is an artist to now watch. Ana Sophia Scheller is also an artist to watch, with stage awareness and coy confidence. She is growing in seamless skills. The corps, including Alina Dronova, enhanced the Gounod score, while Maestro Gergiev happily expanded this operatic score.

Jeu de Cartes (1992): Music by Igor Stravinsky, Choreography by Peter Martins, Scenery and Costumes by Ian Falconer, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Sterling Hyltin, Jared Angle, Benjamin Millepied, Andrew Veyette, and the Company. Stravinsky composed this score for the first Stravinsky Festival at the Met Opera, organized by Balanchine. Dancers represented the four card suits, and the joker led the dance. (NYCB Notes).

This time around, Sterling Hyltin, coy and cat-like, light and lyrical, was much more balanced than on her debut about a week ago. With the same cast as on the 14th, everyone was more relaxed. Mr. Millepied dove into his lead with bravura buoyancy, and he partnered Ms. Hyltin in their pas de deux effortlessly. Mr. Veyette was again the dynamo, and Mr. Angle exuded more personality than on the 14th. I truly believe that the Conductor, especially a Guest of such major renown, as Maestro Gergiev, can make a difference in the entire gestalt of the ballet experience, for artists and audience alike. The corps, as white cards of various suits, was split-timed and precise, as Stravinsky has sharp musical edges on which to focus. Peter Martins' exceptional choreography was truly celebrated this time.

Firebird (1949): Music by Igor Stravinsky, Choreography by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, Scenery and costumes designed by Marc Chagall (1945), Scenery executed by Volodia Odinokov, Costumes executed by Karinska, Firebird costume supervised by Dain Marcus, Original Lighting by Ronald Bates, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Maria Kowroski as Firebird, Charles Askegard as Prince Ivan, Henry Seth as Kastchei the Wizard, Dena Abergel as Prince's Bride, and the Company as Maidens, Youths, and Subjects. Balanchine's Firebird was one of his earliest creations for NYC Ballet that used such elaborate costumes and sets. Russian folklore is integrated in this ballet. Balanchine used Stravinsky's orchestral suite instead of the three-act score. In 1970, Chagall came to NYC to supervise the new costumes and sets for a new production, and Robbins contributed some new choreography. This new production was staged in 1985. (NYCB Notes).

The plot centers on Prince Ivan, who captures a Firebird in the woods. When she begs for freedom, and her wish is granted, he receives a magic plume. Kastchei, the wizard, has enchanted a Princess and the maidens, but Prince Ivan rescues them all and marries the Princess. (NYCB Notes).


It was here, at this moment, when the audience was treated to a Russian Maestro with an internalized oneness with the music. Maestro Gergiev hummed the Stravinsky music, perhaps even sang, throughout the ballet. This is music he has conducted on numerous occasions, for the Kirov, and we heard different tones. Moreover, we saw a different Firebird. Ashley Bouder, as an emotionally vulnerable, rippling, and exotic Firebird, was ethereal. In the quietest music, Ms. Bouder provided the choreographic nuance that thrived in more textured orchestral accompaniment. The audience was breathless. Drama and daring were generated, with the magnificent Chagall sets and detailed Karinska costumes.

Sara Mearns was a flowing Prince's Bride, using soft lines, rather than the edgy ones of Ms. Abergel, in the role on the 14th, and Jonathan Stafford was youthful and vulnerable, as Prince Ivan, a fresh take on the role. Throughout the ballet, Maestro Gergiev supplied moodiness and foreboding in this magical tale. When Kastchei the Wizard appeared with his creatures, there was a Russian soul musically sweeping each moment. Ashley Bouder has been a virtuosic dancer this season, and tonight she underlined that belief. Kudos to Maestro Valery Gergiev. And, kudos to Peter Martins and New York City Ballet for another fine Season.
Sara Mearns and Charles Askegard in NYCB's Walpurgisnacht Ballet

Sara Mearns and Charles Askegard in NYCB's Walpurgisnacht Ballet

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik


Sterling Hyltin and Benjamin Millepied in NYCB's Jeu de Cartes

Sterling Hyltin and Benjamin Millepied in NYCB's Jeu de Cartes

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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