Saturday, May 16, 2015

Balanchine and Stravinsky at the NYC Ballet

 Last Saturday afternoon I attended the New York City Ballet. They performed four of the great Igor Stravinsky, George Balanchine collaborations: Apollo, Agon, Duo Concertant, and Symphony in Three Movements. These classic works, that collectively have come to be known as the "black and white" ballets, due to the fact that the dancers are costumed in primarily these two colors, are staples of this company, and are brought back year after year to the delight of seasoned ballet aficionados and young audiences coming to these works for the first time.

Apollo is the oldest of these ballets.  Stravinsky composed the music in 1927, and the twenty-four-year-old Balanchine choreographed it a year later.  A host of great dancers have passed through this iconic role throughout the decades. It is the only Balanchine creation that puts the male dancer on the forefront. The short video below features Chase Finlay, a NYC Ballet principal dancer, explaining his approach to dancing this role.

Duo Concertant is a unique creation that features two dancers as well as a pianist and a violinist, all on stage. The short work examines the equal relationship that exist (or ought to exist) between music and dance. The piece takes the musicians out of the pit and places them side by side with the dancers. Saturday's results also included an interesting juxtaposition between the seasoned age of the musicians versus the youthful quality of the dancers. I'm not sure if this was an original intention of Mr. Balanchine.

The performance concluded with the amazing Symphony in Three Movements, a hyper-kinetic Stravinsky composition from 1945 that on the one hand looks back to his atonal beginnings back with Sergei Diaghilev and The Ballets Russes and dares to look forward toward the future of music. Listen closely with your eyes closed, and you will hear the nervous minimalism of a John Adams.  However most ballet goers will not close their eyes especially when a dancer of the caliber of Amar Ramasar is dancing in it. Mr. Ramasar has been a soloist since 2006, and he was a principal dancer in Chichester Psalms, the Leonard Bernstein, Peter Martins ballet that I performed with the NYC Ballet when I was a member of the Juilliard Choral Union.

If you missed the black and white Stravinsky, Balanchine ballets this season, I would not worry.  I am certain that they will be performed again next year to the delight of young and old.

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