George Balanchine Serenade
NYCB dancers in George Balanchine's “Serenade.” Photograph by Paul Kolnik

Abstraction & Americana

New York City Ballet classics

Performance
New York City Ballet: Classics II
Place
David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, New York, NY, May 19, 2016
Words
Oksana Khadarina

“NYCB Classics II” program which the company performed during its spring season at David H. Koch Theater included four dances: George Balanchine’s “Serenade,” “Duo Concertant,” and “Western Symphony” as well as Peter Martins’ “Hallelujah Junction.” All these pieces, with their own strength and merits, are the company’s staples, loved by the audiences and performed with affection and competence by the dancers; yet, in my opinion, only “Serenade”—a ballet of unparalleled beauty and invention—can be rightfully regarded as a timeless classic. Given the selection of the works, “NYCB Favorites” would have made for a more appropriate name of this musically and stylistically diverse program that featured compositions of Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Hershy Kay and John Adams.

The choreographic imagery of “Serenade” never fails to render a true visual magic. Bewitching and mesmerizing, this is a ballet in which Balanchine’s extraordinary talent for balletic abstraction—and balletic theatricality—brightly shines through. A keen observer of the human condition, the choreographer builds upon narrative lines embedded in the music—Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C Major—and masterly weaves the episodes of romantic relationships, depicting love, longing and loss, into the pure-dance movement thus plunging the viewers into absorbing theater full of countless secrets and pleasures.

In the process of creating “Serenade,” Balanchine was governed not only by Tchaikovsky’s music but also by improvisation and accident, having at his disposal a random number of dancers—a group of students of the School of American Ballet on whom the ballet was created in 1934. Its opening scene evokes a ballet recital or a graduation exercise; yet as the ballet progresses, the choreography, which cleverly incorporates some of the incidents and mishaps that happened during the rehearsals, gradually becomes intensely romantic, establishing the atmosphere in which “passion is expressed, denied, or transcended in rupture and loss.”

Teresa Reichlen in George Balanchine’s “Serenade.” Photograph by Paul Kolnik

In her debut as the Waltz Girl, Rebecca Krohn colored her role in undistinguished, dull hues in the opening movement, but slowly came into her own, dancing with captivating luminosity in the final, mournful “Elegy.” She was touching and piteous as a fallen heroine, the girl who desperately longed for but couldn’t be saved by a young, handsome man (the excellent Adrian Danchig-Waring, appropriately somber and aloof in his role) who, in turn, was guided—and guarded—by a mysterious woman (the chillingly calm and poised Teresa Reichlen). A tall and willowy beauty, Reichlen was strikingly compelling as the implacable agent of Death, her unique artistry and phenomenal plasticity and technique elevated this role to a new dramatic high. Erica Pereira was a perky but somewhat bland Russian Girl; and Russell Janzen made a distinguished debut as the Waltz cavalier in the ballet’s second movement.

In “Serenade,” the corps de ballet claims the most prominent role, never dissolving into the background. During the performance, the superb female ensemble, clad in translucent blue tulle, danced with appealing verve, skill, and passion, rendering each movement with wind-swept ardor and brilliant lustre.

The second part of the program consisted of two chamber ballets—“Hallelujah Junction” and “Duo Concertant”—stark, “black-and-white” minimalist pieces, named after their music.

Peter Martins created “Hallelujah Junction” for the Royal Danish Ballet in 2001. The following year, NYCB premiered this work as part of the company’s “New Combinations” series. The dance lasts approximately fifteen minutes and is set to John Adam’s spare, propulsive score written for two pianos. (The music during the performance was played by two pianists on a platform located at the rare of the stage.)

It’s a vigorous work for three principal dancers (Sterling Hyltin, Amar Ramasar and Andrew Veyette) and four supporting couples. In it, the choreographer channels the inexorable energy of Adams’ score into an increasingly intense and rapid flow of movements—an exhausting aerobic workout. The wonderful cast rose to the challenge, conquering with verve and stoicism the multiple hurdles of Martins’ brutally taxing steps. Everyone onstage—and in the audience—seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when the piece came to an end.

Balanchine’s “Duo Concertant” brought a welcome change of pace onstage, establishing the hushed atmosphere of an intimate music soirée. It’s a quiet and meditative duet performed to Stravinsky’s acerbic score for piano and violin. Unlike the previous piece, it’s a wonderfully nuanced and emotionally rich choreographic miniature, with a hint of a love story and a beautiful interplay of light and shadow in the final movement.

Lauren Lovette and Anthony Huxley, two young principals of the company, were no less than riveting in it. Theirs was not only an animated dialogue that aptly mirrored the musical conversation between the pianist (Nancy McDill) and the violinist (Arturo Delmoni); it was a slowly unfolding romance between two young lovers. You could sense the dancers’ vulnerability and youthful excitement, as well as their ever-growing attraction to each other even when they stood motionless behind the piano, listening to the music in the ballet’s opening part. In their duets, Lovette and Huxley were technically nearly flawless as well as spontaneous and expressive, their rapt movements translating their characters’ personal feelings and desires. This was a truly memorable performance.

The exuberant and show-stopping “Western Symphony” capped the evening with a bang. Choreographed to Hershy Kay’s orchestrations of American folk songs, this is Balanchine’s foray into the imaginary Old West, populated by cowboys and dance hall girls, and a cheery salute to Americana.

Imbuing classical steps with cowboy swagger, the NYCB dancers just know how to pull “Western Symphony” off. It’s an undisputable crowd-pleaser and, with its rousing finale, a perfect way to end any program. The entire cast was golden. Lauren King and Chase Finlay gave an air of youthful buoyancy to the opening “Allegro,” dancing with sunny attitude and charm. Brittany Pollack and Jared Angle nailed all the jokes of the middle “Adagio;” and the unrivaled Sara Mearns, sporting a cute little hat, literally stole the show in the final “Rondo.” What a night!

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