The overly ambitious 100 work season is now beginning to take its toll amongst the dancers. Some of the works looked if they were in need of further rehearsals. It is not just the large number of works that is causing problems but the type of ballets they are doing. The Goldberg Variations needed 32 separate dance numbers and their Swan Lake was the most dance focused classical ballet I have seen. The New York City Ballet do themselves no favours!
It is inevitable that some works were beginning to look rather ragged. In particular “Theme and Variations” and “Ballet Imperial" did not look very good. But the genius of Balanchine’s choreography did come through and so I look forward to seeing “Theme and Variation” again when the San Francisco Ballet come over in October.
The highlight of the weekend trio of ballets I saw was Serenade. I really liked it when I saw it in Bristol two years ago. But on the large New York State Theatre Stage it looked wonderful. It has all the best aspect of Balanchine – energy, excitement but it also had warmth and feeling. It was a perfect marriage of music, choreography and costumes (the long airy skirts moving in a wave like motion as the dancers jumped was incredibly beautiful). I simply cannot wait to see it again in July.
Diamonds is the third act of Jewels – the first three act plotless ballet. It is quite a low key work – totally different from Theme and Variations. And that is where the problem lies – the glittering costumes do not reconcile with the sombre music and relaxed choreography. In particular the music (Tchaikovsky 3rd Symphony – his best in my view) is a brooding work far removed from the Sleeping Beauty glitz which Diamonds seems to be all about. It is like having La Fille Mal Gardee set to Tchaikovsky Pathetique Symphony. But it is still a work of great beauty. I particularly Wendy Whelan, a big powerful dancer who moved with great authority and presence.
Allegro Brillante and Tchaikovsky pas de deux was highlighted by the spectacular performance of Alexandra Ansanelli. In Allegro brillante (set to the first movement of Tchaikovsky 3rd Symphony) she stunned the normally reserved and tough City Ballet audiences with her power. She received 4 curtain calls. I have never seen this before at the New York City Ballet. In the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux she was even more stunning. I am afraid to say that she completely outclasses Darcey Bussell (I have seen her live twice and have two videos of her in it). Ansanelli has all the power and extension of Bussell but with a far greater turn of speed. Bussell looks very heavy compared to Ansanelli. Ansanelli is only a soloist so she is a dancer who is going places.
Aurora’s wedding is the third act of Sleeping Beauty. Rather surprisingly Peter Martins uses the English version of the pas de deux. The British version is harder then Russian version as it has is the two double pirouettes into the Fish dive and the fiendishly difficult rise on bended knee by the Princess. The Russian version replaces the fish dives with supported attitudes and the princess rises straight up Of course Margaret Tracey, one the finest technical dancers around , makes absolute mincemeat out of these difficult movements. I also thought that Benjamin Millipeid and Jeannie Somogyi were the best Blue bird Pas de deux I have seen. Somogyi is another dancer going places. Peter Martins has added two more numbers to the third act from the original score. One of them a minuet before the grand pas de deux was very effective because it gives the Lilac Fairy a role in Act 3. But overall the production was not quite as successful as I had hoped it to be. I think it was because there was a lack of regal splendour. The fast tempos, the relatively bare sets and the comparatively small number of dancers on the stage conspired to make it a look like a wedding of a minor Royal!
But overall this was a most successful weekend of ballet for the New York City Ballet. The company is in very good shape technically. What it needs is more consistent new choreography. I hope it does not come a museum like the Kirov has become (their own description).
One of the things I admire about the New York City Ballet is the importance they place on the music. They have what must be the best ballet-only orchestra in the world (The Kirov and ROH orchestra are primarily opera orchestras). I note that the concert master is Guillermo Figueroa. He is also the concert master of the world famous conductor less Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. The playing in the Diamonds was outstanding. But it is not just the fine orchestra that sets the NYCB apart but also their insistence on using the complete score of Swan Lake, Goldberg Variations, Sleeping Beauty (more or less) etc. I think too many ballet companies consider music as an afterthought. It also infuriates me that the Anthony Dowell mutilates the scores of these great classics in the name of dramatic expedience or authenticity.
Of interest to us is that Andrea Quinn made a guest appearance conducting Serenade. That raised a few eyebrows amoung the politically correct New York audience! The other works were conducted from the steady hand of Hugo Fiorato.