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Robert Abrams
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New York City Ballet - Opening Night of the Winter Season - Serenade, Bugaku, Symphony in C

by Robert Abrams
November 25, 2003
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023

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New York City Ballet - Opening Night of the Winter Season - Serenade, Bugaku, Symphony in C


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, Andrea Quinn
Manager, Press Relations, Siobhan Burns

New York State Theater, Lincoln Center
(See Other NYC Ballet Reviews)

Robert Abrams
November 25, 2003

This evening, the opening performance of the New York City Ballet's Balanchine 100: The Centennial Celebration began with a speech by Peter Martins, NYCB's current fearless leader. Mr. Martins spoke about how the New York State Theatre was built for Mr. Balanchine, and how Mr. Balanchine felt that he couldn't have built NYCB anywhere else in the world. Mayor Bloomberg and Libby Pataki joined Mr. Martins on stage and said a few words. Mr. Bloomberg commented that both police officers and dancers have to always be alert, but dancers have to do this while also being beautiful. The full house gave these remarks appreciative applause on behalf of both groups of hard working professionals.

Serenade was the first ballet performed tonight. From my seat at the side of the first ring, I had a great view of the orchestra's bows moving in unison.

Serenade is one of those classic Balanchine ballets that is at once abstract and suggestive of concrete form and meaning. Herewith are some observations in a modestly matching style.

The ballet began with a graceful flick of the wrist of each of the assembled dancers. A snap of the feet. Poses and paths. Paths created by the dancers own bodies through which dancers dance. A sea anemone created with hands and arms, but elongated with many fronds. The ethereal blue lighting enhanced this sense of being under the sea for a moment, even if the effect was unintentional. Dancing sprites take command of the stage, pushing the previous set away like the tide.

This dance is full of intricate formations that move and morph like a marching band. Fitting for Balanchine's first American ballet. Convincing partnerships swept across the floor. Solo dancers, but many of them in turn, leapt into the air. Dancers in formation spun slowly for most of a turn and then accelerated by drawing their hands and arms into their body to create a repeated pulsing rhythm. Often a soloist with partner would be offset from the ensemble, but performing a variation on the move being performed by the ensemble.

Some ways into the ballet (7:32 pm), the ensemble showed great energy and musicality (the company's energy never flagged throughout the entire night - some other time I will write a review with a complete set of embedded time codes). I liked the way one of the couples used pulling away resistance to work off of each other. There was a passage late in the ballet with beautiful supported slow turns en pointe with one of each woman's legs extended parallel to the ground. There was also a short section I particularly liked that looked a little like a merry go round and perhaps presages the more elaborate version of the same idea found in Carousel (A Dance). For those looking for flights of fancy slightly more conventional than a sea anemone, there were sections in which the dancers' use of their arms suggested eagles or angels, depending on your point of view. In the same passage, the male dancer appeared to be blinded by dance. A blind seer, an embodiment of justice or the natural consequence of an excess of joy? You will need a good glass of wine and a table of friends to debate the meaning of such a suggestive image.

In the final image of the dance, one dancer was carried held upright into what could only have been the dawn.

While Serenade does not have any one fixed meaning in most respects, there is one way in which it does have a clear meaning: the education and progression of dancers. While not stated in any obvious way, there is a clear progression of young dancers from the School of American Ballet, to more experienced students, to company members. As such, it was a fitting choice for a first work in this new season since the New York City Ballet arose out of Mr. Balanchine's earlier creation: the School of American Ballet. It seems to me that this work clearly sends the message that dance is as much about promise as it is about accomplishment. The entire company showed both in abundance tonight.

Music by Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky
Choreography by George Balanchine
Costumes by Karinska
Original Lighting by Ronald Bates
Lighting by Mark Stanley
Conductor: Hugo Fiorato
Dancers: Yvonne Borree, Kyra Nichols, Sofiane Sylve, James Fayette, Philip Neal, Amanda Edge, Deanna McBrearty, Carrie Lee Riggins, Elizabeth Walker, Dena Abergel, Ellen Bar, Melissa Barak, Saskia Beskow, Mary Helen Bowers, Alina Dronova, Pauline Golbin, Dana Hanson, Dara Johnson, Glenn Keenan, Rebecca Krohn, Gwyneth Muller, Jamie Wolf, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Seth Orza, Jonathan Stafford, Andrew Veyette
School of American Ballet students: Emily Adams, Marika Anderson, Abigail Crutchfield, Adrianna De Svastich, Katy Foster, Coco Gonzalez, Evelyn Kocak, Olga Krochik, Lindsay McGrath, Tiler Peck, Cassia Phillips, Chantelle Pianetta, Rachel Piskin, Morgan Richardson, Abigail Simon, Erica Takakjian, Alies Van Staveren, Amanda Weingarten, Taryn Wolfe
Students prepared by Suki Schorer
Premiere: 1935

Bugaku was one of Balanchine's attempts to marry East and West. The music started with two plaintive violins, swelling to a chorus of expectant grasshoppers. The sound was, in any case, radically different than the norm in Western music.

The dance was clearly Western ballet, but with subtle differences. For instance, the men often stepped with a bent leg. There was a courtly cadence to the movement. Both men and women carried themselves in a refined manner that suggested great power beneath the surface. To my eye the fusion looked very respectful of the Japanese traditions that had inspired Mr. Balanchine to create the work.

Jock Soto was perfect for the lead role he was asked to dance. One section looked like ballet married to martial arts. Mr. Soto led his company of men ably here.

One image I especially liked was a passage where the women were bent over beating and fluttering their hands in front of their chests. The women's costumes were ornate, suggesting flowers, crysthanthemums perhaps.

Abstract dance can set off unexpected associations, as noted above. At one point a thought leapt unbidden: this dance would fit perfectly into a Star Trek episode. The dancer's makeup gave the impression of stylized raised eyebrows. That combined with the slightly pale and severe expressions made the dancers, especially the men, look slightly Vulcan or perhaps Romulan. This dance is exactly the kind of culturally rooted, bold art that Star Trek strives for.

This dance was not just about formality. Near the middle of the dance the music swelled into a forest full of birds while the principals danced a royal union draped in gossamer veils. The veils of the lead man and woman were removed by their respective entourages. This section started out formal, but slowly the dancers portrayed giving into their cravings (in a manner suggestive and more natural, but still artfully stylized). This consumation climaxed to a release into solos accompanied by great percussion. The entourages returned the leads' gossamer wings of fabric. Everyone danced together to bring the work to a close.

Bugaku was consistent with Balanchine's other works and clearly belongs in NYCB's repertory, but it was like nothing else I have seen them do. I loved it. The crowd's cheers seemed extra loud at the curtain call. While standing on the coat check line after the evening was over, I did overhear one patron complaining that she didn't like this work, but when you put strong flavors on the table, you can't expect everyone to like all of them. Personally, I would love to see this work performed again.

Music by Toshiro Mayuzumi
Choreography by George Balanchine
Scenery by David Hays
Costumes by Karinska
Original lighting by Ronald Bates
Lighting by Mark Stanley
Conductor: Hugo Fiorato
Dancers: Darci Kistler, Jock Soto, Melissa Barak, Amanda Edge, Pauline Golbin, Deana McBrearty, Christopher Boehmer, Darius Crenshaw, Kyle Froman, Adam Hendrickson
Premiere: 1963

Symphony in C was the final work of the evening. The ensemble had a vibrant bounce in their step. I often got the impression that individual dancers were happy to be dancing.

I kept noting the use of groups of threes. According to a person overheard during intermission, Balanchine felt that even in an abstract dance, if you put a man and a woman on stage you had plot, but if you put three dancers on stage, you had drama. Based on this, it might be interesting to analyze this work by categorizing each group of three to see what sequences emerge. I would find it interesting, anyway.

There was an entire section where dancers created a series of gates with their bodies through which other dancers moved. For instance, in one subsection, dancers moved through a hoop formed from other dancers' arms. This was followed by a formation in which two pairs of dancers formed double circular gates in the middle of the stage as other dancers moved through these gates parallel to the front of the stage. This was presaged by two pairs of dancers at far stage right turning in small circles while another pair moved back and forth in a line. The beauty they created was almost crystaline.

Several dancers performed a series of very high leaps. Shortly thereafter they came back on stage and performed them a second time as if to prove the first time wasn't a fluke.

Another section made much use of framing (dancers standing still at the sides of the stage). This allowed the company to simultaneously show off activity and stillness. The frame grew as the active dancers melded into the still frame to be replaced by new active dancers. Initially the frame was all women, but later the women were framed by the men.

As anyone who has read my previous reviews will know, I am generally in favor of dance which shows emotion and humanness. Viewing this performance tonight helped me to identify a specific way to achieve such humanness. There were several points in this dance where the dancers were clearly making eye contact with each other. Those were the moments when they especially looked like people dancing, and not just moving forms. The role of eye contact in creating believable humanness was a central tenet that Jim Henson stressed for the Muppets. If eye contact can create believable humanity out of inanimate fabric, it can surely aid such creation in abstract dance.

The entire dance can best be described as graceful and energetic performed, mostly, in a bright white light. The ending of the dance demonstrated conclusively the talent of NYCB as an ensemble. They moved together in a tight formation without holding back.

Music by Georges Bizet
Choreography by George Balanchine
Costumes by Karinska
Lighting by Mark Stanley
Conductor: Andrea Quinn
Dancers: First movement - Jennie Somogyi, Robert Tewsley, Rachel Rutherford, Jonathan Stafford, Dana Hanson, Ask la Cour, Faye Arthurs, Ellen Bar, Mary Helen Bowers, Amanda Hankes, Glenn Keenan, Rebecca Krohn, Gwyneth Muller, Jamie Wolf - Second movement - Maria Kowroski, Charles Askegard, Amanda Edge, Darius Crenshaw, Pauline Golbin, Kyle Froman, Melissa Barak, Alina Dronova, Megan Fairchild, Genevièvev Labean, Lindy Mandradjieff, Elizabeth Walker - Third movement - Janie Taylor, Benjamin Millepied, Dena Abergel, Henry Seth, Ellen Bar, Andrew Veyette, Sophie Flack, Dara Johnson, Carla Körbes, Savannah Lowery, Gwyneth Muller, Teresa Reichlen - Fourth movement - Pascale van Kipnis, Albert Evans, Lindy Mandradjieff, Adam Hendrickson, Carrie Lee Riggins, Christopher Boehmer, Katie Bergstrom, Jessica Flynn, Sterling Hytlin, Ashlee Knapp, Ashley Laracey, Ellen Ostrom, Georgina Pazcoguin, Stephanie Zungre
Premiere: 1947

After the many and well deserved bows (with truly enormous flower arrangements given to lead ballerinas), Peter Martins came on stage to raise a glass to a larger than life image of Balanchine that descended from the heavens as silver glitter fell from the rafters. The dancers bowed respectfully to Mr. B's memory while the orchestra played a fanfare led by the always able conductor Andrea Quinn. The end of this evening was truly a fitting commencement of what should be a great season.

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