With more than 100 dancers, New York City Ballet is the largest dance organization in America and "possesses a wonderfully rich, deep treasury of ballets. Strong performances...what strikes you most is the dancers' sweep" (The Washington Post). The Company, co-founded by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, returns March 4 _8 to the Opera House with its own orchestra to perform three of its signature mixed programs, which reflect its musical inspirations and celebrated history.
In "Balanchine and Robbins/Founding Choreographers" (Mar. 4 at 7:30 p.m.; Mar. 7 at 1:30 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.), the Company performs two works by Balanchine: Chaconne and Vienna Waltzes: and the Jerome Robbins _Twyla Tharp collaboration Brahms/Handel. Danced to a score by Gluck, Chaconne moves from a lyrical and flowing pas de deux to the spirit of court entertainment, with formal divertissements and bravura roles for the principal dancers. With music by Richard Strauss, Johann Strauss Jr., and Franz Lehšr, Vienna Waltzes transforms from a sylvan forest glen and sassy dance hall to a glittering society caf_ and majestic mirrored ballroom. The music selected for each section of the ballet is associated with the transformation of the waltz across society and over the years. Tipping its hat to the Kennedy Center's "Modern Masters of American Dance" celebration, the Company performs 1981 Kennedy Center Honoree Jerome Robbins and 2008 Kennedy Center Honoree Twyla Tharp's Brahms/Handel. Called "exhilarating" by the Village Voice, this exuberant tongue-in-cheek ballet is filled with clever imagery, technical innovation, and an atmosphere of constant surprise.
The second program is "Wheeldon, Elo, Balanchine" (Mar. 5 at 7:30 p.m.; Mar. 8 at 1:30 p.m.). Christopher Wheeldon's witty and cheerful Mercurial Manoeuvres opens with an explosive male variation: a series of bravura leaps performed to a trumpet solo: that is followed by rapidly shifting ensemble work for a corps of women. Danced to music by Shostakovich, it "is a playful, buoyant group work that is elegantly designed" (The New York Times). Slice to Sharp, choreographed by Jorma Elo to music by von Biber and Vivaldi, "is an exhilarating exercise in flat-out virtuosity" (The New York Times). Balanchine's Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet is a dance extravaganza in four elaborate movements, evoking what Kirstein once described as "a world drunk on wine and roses." It was the first abstract work Balanchine designed for the stage of the New York State Theater. Balanchine often said that chamber music was not suitable for large ballets, since chamber pieces typically are "too long, with too many repeats, and are meant for small rooms." Schoenberg crafted his orchestration of the Brahms G minor piano quartet in the 1930s out of a similar dissatisfaction.
A highlight of the "Ratmansky, Martins, Balanchine" program (Mar. 6 & 8 at 7:30 p.m.) is Alexei Ratmansky's critically acclaimed Concerto DSCH, hailed by the New York Times as "an endlessly suspenseful choreographic construction, with passages of breathtaking dance brilliance." The work is danced to Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major, Op. 102. Barber Violin Concerto, choreographed by NYCB Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins, contrasts classical composure and modern sensibility. It is a work in three movements for two couples performed in a series of mixed and matched pas de deux. All are dressed in white with the classical dancers performing in point shoes and ballet slippers, while the modern dancers are typically barefoot. The first two movements are sensuously melodic and passionately inquisitive. The work's third movement, a fast-moving scherzo, provides the opportunity for a rousing comedic chase that brings the work to its breathless conclusion. Balanchine's Symphony in Three Movements is a large ensemble work of angular and athletic movement performed to Stravinsky's bold score. Stravinsky composed the symphony's three movements at different times for three different films, although they were never actually used on screen. He said the music expressed his impressions of World War II, but he vigorously denied that the composition was programmatic in any way: a denial shared by Balanchine. "Choreographers combine movements, and the ones I arranged for this music follow no story line or narrative," Balanchine said. "They try to catch the music and do not, I hope, lean on it, using it instead for support and time frame."
The New York City Ballet appears at the Kennedy Center March 4-8. For tickets and information, visit the Kennedy Center.
Jeremy D. Birch is the writer/editor for Kennedy Center News.