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A Farewell Serenade

The opening to George Balanchine’s “Serenade”—dancers standing feet parallel, right arm reaching up with the palm facing out as if to block the light—sometimes looks like a goodbye. It certainly did on Saturday, as 29-year-old principal dancer Lauren Lovette performed for the last time with New York City Ballet.

Performance

New York City Ballet: “Amaria” / “Opus 19/The Dreamer” / “Serenade”

Place

David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, New York, NY, October 9, 2021

Words

Ilena Peng

Lauren Lovette and Russell Janzen in “Serenade” by George Balanchine. Photograph by Erin Baiano

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The opening formation of “Serenade repeats minutes later, but this time with Lovette brushing onstage, searching and then settling into her place among a sea of dancers in blue tulle. It is a poignant moment, seeing Lovette finding her place for the last time among NYCB’s dancers, whom she joined in 2009 as an apprentice before being promoted to soloist in 2013 and principal in 2015.

Though Saturday was Lovette’s last performance with NYCB, audiences can expect to keep seeing her name as she pursues other artistic endeavors and furthers a choreographic career that first began in 2008 with a ballet she created as a School of American Ballet student. Since then, she has choreographed for NYCB, Vail Dance Festival and more. Most recently, her ballet La Follia Variations was premiered by American Ballet Theatre.

Lauren Lovette and Joseph Gordon in "Opus 19: The Dreamer" by Jerome Robbins. Photograph by Erin Baiano

Opening the program Saturday, Lovette and principal dancer Joseph Gordon performed “Opus 19/The Dreamer,” choreographed by Jerome Robbins to Sergei Prokofiev’s first Violin Concerto, played by Kurt Nikkanen and the NYCB orchestra. In the ballet, Gordon is magnetic, with his interactions with the other dancers evoking the process of thinking. He parts groups of dancers with his movements, he parallels their steps, he leads them onstage. In one moment, a beautiful turn in attitude derrière draws a deep inhale from the audience. In another moment toward the end, Gordon, lit by a spotlight, whirls center stage, searching, it seems, for Lovette.

Also in the program Saturday was a performance of Mauro Bigonzetti’s “Amaria, danced by principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Maria Kowroski, who will also be retiring this season after 26 years at NYCB. The dancers open the piece by taking turns dancing solo, the other pacing around the stage. But the ballet soon evolves into something reminiscent of moving sculptures. With pianist Craig Baldwin onstage playing two of Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas, they intertwine in a tranquil and personal pas de deux.

Lauren Lovette with Jovani Furlan and Emily Gerrity in “Serenade” by George Balanchine. Photograph by Erin Baiano

“Serenade” closed the program and tied it together. Awash in blue, “Opus 19/The Dreamer” and “Serenade” carry the same contemplation accompanied by different types of playfulness. Where Prokofiev’s music in “Opus 19/The Dreamer” deepens into a grounded, rich rhythm, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s in “Serenade” remains light. As the Russian Girl, principal dancer Tiler Peck appears more often as if she is floating than touching the ground. This is in no small part because of soloist Jovani Furlan and principal Russell Janzen, who performed and partnered with almost a posture of ease.

“Serenade” and “Amaria” also share a similar intimacy at times, like when the Dark Angel—danced by soloist Emilie Gerrity—blindfolds the male dancer with her hand so as to leave the Waltz Girl, danced by Lovette, alone on the floor. Lovette’s decade-long career, culminating in this performance of a quintessential Balanchine role, has cemented her place among NYCB’s greats.

Of all Lovette’s magical qualities, her most exquisite is the ability to reinterpret a ballet’s existing narratives onstage. It is a blessing to audiences that this will not be lost as Lovette steps into a choreographic career where she can create these storylines from scratch, rather than push and pull with predetermined narratives.

Lovette’s work, for example, subverts the traditional gender roles that classical ballet reinforces. In “Not Our Fate,” a ballet choreographed for NYCB in 2017, two men perform a romantic pas de deux. At the 2018 Vail Dance Festival, Lovette choreographed and performed a pas de deux with Patricia Delgado, set to the words of non-binary poet’s Andrea Gibson.

A quote from Lovette on her website reads: “In one studio, you are the clay, and then in another studio, you are the sculptor.”

Lauren Lovette's farewell performance at Lincoln Center. Photograph by Erin Baiano

As the beautiful blue spectacle that is “Serenade” came to an end, Lovette arched into a seemingly infinite backbend and then was lifted, arms rising above her head, toward the literal backstage and a figurative future. It’s interesting that the end we hear when the curtain falls is what Tchaikovsky had originally intended as the third movement; Balanchine reversed the order of the last two movements for the ballet, playing the Finale first before the Élégie.

In that sense, Tchaikovsky’s finale is only the ending to a movement in Balanchine’s “Serenade” rather than a true finale, just as Saturday’s matinee was a finale only to this chapter of Lovette’s career. What we are left with is an ending that isn’t triumphant, but is bittersweet with all that has happened before and all that is to come. And for Lovette, there will certainly be more to come.

Ilena Peng


Ilena Peng is a freelance journalist whose writing has appeared in Pointe Magazine, The DC Line and Washington City Paper, among others.

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