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Balanchine, The City Center Years: NYC 2018


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Last night the programme, BALANCHINE: THE CITY CENTER YEARS, opened as part of City Center's 75th Anniversary programme.  Sadly I don't have time to write a full review.  (I'm on a train.)  It was a glittering affair in front of a packed house and all the works presented last night - Serenade (MCB); Tchai PDD (Mariinsky); Tarantella (RB) and SinC (NYCB) looked especially welcoming on the stage they had first graced in front of NYC audiences; nay, in many instances; a lucky world.  They literally reached out and touched you. 

 

I felt MCB's effort was definitely uncertain in the sense if had notable rough edges and the Mariinsky's contribution was I fear far too much of the 'show me' school of dance - replete with demanding curtain call pauses as is their wont.  This especially in front of audience who had recently celebrated that same with the likes of (T) Peck de Luz who dazzle from within the core of the choreography.  Nothing muddied there. 

The highlights for me (a personal take) were (i) Sambe and O'Sullivan in Tarantella ...  (They proudly made the piece a dramatic whole. O'Sullivan as ever proudly and inclusively welcoming the entire house with her eyes - and Sambe in his native effervescent fizz; each and all greeting with the gleeful rapture their audience's spontaneous bursts of sincere applause throughout.) ... and NYCB's crowning Symphony in C.  This was very much the A list of current NYCB ballerinas.  Mearns as ever took us on a daredevil adventure in the second movement and (happily returned) Bouder rock solidly bewitched in the third every bit as much as Lauren King did in the fourth.  And then, of course, there is Tiler Peck.  As ever - she stands but never dances alone - gracing us as much as her lucky partners (here Tyler Angle).  Due to the incredible toy of music encapsulated in Peck's own capacity for zealously detailed speed her mind's voice speaks loud from within.  She can literally hold sway in a way no other currently can because she's endowed with the maximum capacity from within Balanchine's own avowal; that of dancing 'through' music.  They are both Bards in deed.  It is a privilege simply to be in their all too rare rare presence.  As ever the work, speaks for itself through them with a majestic ease seeing our hearts simply sweep along in glee.  

 

It will be lovely to hear what any other BcoF readers who may have been present thought.  

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Last night's audience thronged to both O'Sullivan and Sambe of the Royal Ballet in the Tschai PDD and the dancers excelled in their own excitement.  True, this was not on a level with T. Peck/de Luz or, say, Nicholls/Woetzel or (as was the cast when I first saw it) McBride/D'Amboise - but then, forgive me, what is?  I suspect that this was the first time both RB artists had danced this demanding piece and they did brilliantly.  Here you had the rapture of their virginal experience and the devoted - and very knowledgeable crowd present - ate it up in a way that had been notably muted when the same work was etched the night before by personnel from the Mariinsky.  O'Sullivan and Sambe were the only group to have two calls front of curtain and that only by virtue (legitmately IMHO) of audience demand.  I heard one person calling them 'the darlings of this enterprise' ... and - on the way in - I heard another ballet-goer (in a programme that is completely sold out - not a seat available in anyone's sight) comparing Sambe in Tarantella to Villella.  The thrill on O'Sullivan's face when the Tschai PDD was finished was visceral.  She'd MADE IT! ... and then some.  

 

Many were saying it was such an improvement - in terms of delivery of the piece's core values - from the night before.  I agree.  Here too Sambe/O'Sullivan were dancing with the NYCB orchestra - and - more crucially - a NYCB conductor who made NO allowances as per Balanchine's dictate.  As ever the music came FIRST. I was sorry to miss the RB's Bayadere opening - and so look forward to seeing that stellar cast on my return - but I would NOT have missed this for the world.  NEVER.  This first won't be happening again.  [I pray there was UK press there to cover this event of international impact.  I will be very disappointed if there was not ... but do understand that times have changed and the cultural preferences of the world are now quite different.  I accept that.]

 

The rest of the programme was a mixed affair.  The Mariinsky simply shouldn't have been let do Apollo in this company.  They are ill suited and - as we have seen in London - have for some little time been in decline.  Parish gave it his best try - his football kicks were admirable but it was, I fear, on the whole a masterwork in sorry state; one that certainly here shouldn't have been allowed to go awry as it did.   This wasn't on the better side of anyone's compromise.

 

T'was a thrill to see Concerto Barocco again in all its original glory - a work sadly not seen for some time in the UK - but one oh, so akin to, say, the heights of Ashton's Symponic Variations.  It's sad that many in the UK now only know it through the Trocks affectionate spoofing.  Fine, but I fear not the same.  Here the life enriching original was danced to a fare-thee-well by NYCB - with Maria Karowski and Abi Stafford (both gloriously refreshed having become mothers) carefully ensuing the virtues of their different and differing instruments.  

 

The true highlight of the evening was SFB in the masterwork that is Balanchine's Divertimento No. 15.  What a glory this piece is and the Company did nothing if not dazzle in it.  So nice to see Madison Keeler (late of ENB) in the dedicated corps.  The principals - of which there are a goodly number - and the soloists ALL glittered in this extraordinary case of jewels.  Frances Chung's solo variation was worth the price of anyone's ticket (PLUS international airfare).  Still, this is a company celebration and this Company was transfixing.  We have so much to look forward to when they make their visit to Sadler's Wells.  

 

Once again the works came alive in the intimacy of the City Center stage; one that makes it a notably different experience from that in what was formerly known as NY State Theater - as stunning as it remains.  The combination of the two makes - thanks to this worthy initiative - a complete and - well I know - privileged whole.  

 

 

Edited by Bruce Wall
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45 minutes ago, Bruce Wall said:

The true highlight of the evening was SFB in the masterwork that is Balanchine's Divertimento No. 15.  What a glory this piece is and the Company did nothing if not dazzle in it.   Frances Chung's solo variation was worth the price of anyone's ticket (PLUS international airfare).  Still, this is a company celebration and this Company was transfixing.  We have so much to look forward to when they make their visit to Sadler's Wells.  

 

 

So glad you liked SFB's Canadian ballerina Frances Chung, Bruce. I'm a huge fan of hers. She can do anything: classical, contemporary and she deserves to be more widely known and appreciated. She will be in the David Dawson piece at Sadler's Wells and will rock it. Here's a youtube clip of her which I hope you will all enjoy:

 

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Thank you Bruce for the great reviews, I am very jealous.  Good to hear that O'Sullivan and Sambe seem to have gone down well and that the inimitable Ms Peck is still as delightful as always.  I will look forward to perhaps seeing San Francisco Ballet over here!

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Great to hear that O'Sullivan and Sambé  did so well.

 

Bruce thank you for your heartfelt review.

Is there any prospect of seeing Serenade live in the UK or even a recorded version other than this beautiful, but fairly blurry, one?  

 

Edited by Richard LH
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3 hours ago, Ivy Lin said:

I attended the first three performances. I thought O'Sullivan and Sambé were absolutely glorious in the Tchai pas. Here's what I thought of the rest of the festival:

https://humbledandoverwhelmed.blogspot.com/2018/11/international-festival-of-balanchine.html

 

Thank you so much I really enjoyed reading this detailed and interesting review ! 

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19 hours ago, toursenlair said:

So glad you liked SFB's Canadian ballerina Frances Chung, Bruce. I'm a huge fan of hers. She can do anything: classical, contemporary and she deserves to be more widely known and appreciated. She will be in the David Dawson piece at Sadler's Wells and will rock it. Here's a youtube clip of her which I hope you will all enjoy:

 

I adore Lambarena and love Frances Chung. I’d like to see the piece live but SFB has always had a bit of strange timing in its season that I’ve only ever managed to see the company abroad and never in it’s home city. 

Passing through London on June 8th 2019 and hoping to fit in a SFB performance  and RB performance on the same day!

 

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Richard LH,

Ashton acquired Serenade for the company in the early years of his directorship . It  is part of its active repertory so with any luck it won't be too long before it is revived. The few recordings of Balanchine repertory available on DVD largely owe their existence to the "Dance in America" series shown on public service channels in the US. As far as I am aware there is no recording of Serenade available on DVD from that source and certainly no modern one from an official source. However a considerable number of Balanchine ballets were recorded in Montreal during the 1950's and 60's for transmission on Canadian television. If you think of Margaret Dale's work for the BBC you won't be too far off the mark. VAI has released them on DVD in a series called "Balanchine in Montreal". Serenade was issued on the first DVD in the series. While the series is best seen as an historic record of the company and its legendary dancers it contains some gems as the dancers bring a freedom and vivacity to their performances which have been lost as Balanchine has been transformed from major choreographer into all American genius. Of course they are in black and white and  the images are not as sharp as they would have been if ICA had got its hands on them and cleaned them up, the camera does not capture everything but at least it isn't all of a fidget. How much of a problem that is for you will of course depend on what you are looking for in terms of image quality. For me they are a fascinating document of the company for you they may be unwatchable.

Edited by FLOSS
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I agree with Ivy Lin’s fetchingly phrased review that Scotch Symphony is – in and of itself – a treasure.  I can’t remember seeing the work in the UK myself short of an outing by the Mariinsky (then Kirov) that was so misshapen as to be irrelevant to the original’s core cause/glory – not unlike the Tschai PDD which representatives from that once great Company delivered again last night.  My own memories of the Scotch Symphony are still haunted by the dramatic seal of Kyra Nicholls and Lindsay Fischer in the 1993 Balanchine Celebration at NYS Theatre … and, yes – like Ivy Lin – Maria Tallchief’s account in that stellar film.  How well I remember a free session in the NYPL where she watched segments of it and then recounted memories.  SFB’s account for me did not disappoint and Joseph Walsh lived up to my memories of his genius – last glimpsed in Paris - by so stunningly delivering those three consecutive quarter and a half turns with such fervent skill – and that having not long ago returned from considerable injury. 

I, too, was somewhat disappointed with the Parisian Dream PDD.  At best it seemed mechanical … and it is – at root – anything but – and Marchant needs to employ his hands with much more extracted largess than certainly was there evident last night.  While it is always nice to catch up with the Joffrey I felt that their 4Ts lacked overall attack – such as was certainly present when they did Interplay and Glass Pieces in Paris this summer.  I will look forward to seeing a crew of different Joffrey principals in the work today.

Speaking of the Robbins – and the real point of this posting - I would encourage anyone who can to attend to the free – and rich – Robbins exhibition VOICE OF MY CITY in the NYCL right beside the Met in Lincoln Center.  It runs until 30th March.  What a feast it is.  You enter and watch home films from the 40’s of a young Robbins not only SMILING but dancing on a roof-top – AND PARTNERING HIS PARENTS.  It is totally priceless – as are segments of his poetry, paintings, sculpture and diary entries – all with their originals present.  You can even see the lease agreements to his apartments … and his conscription call papers.  There is also a heart wrenching film of him dancing the small sailor in Fancy Free.  It is placed right next to a colour version with Chris D’Amboise doing the same.  It is fascinating to watch Robbins come out of the shadows.  At one point Robbins writes ‘I’m afraid I’ll be found out … but what will be found out?’  …. There are VAST riches here to discover and they are ALL FREE – for the greater edification of the public.  Still, of course, the generosity of the man was – although never trumpeted – legendary.  We are all in his debt. 

Other things that are FREE are ‘In-Sight’ like programmes run in concert with the Robbins’ exhibition.  For example you can walk around the exhibition with people who worked and knew Robbins well (one being Robert La Fosse, a former partner), or you can attend two different sessions hosted by NYCB principal – the wonderful Adrian Danchig-Waring – talking about Robbins’ ballets and having NYCB dancers to exhibit segments as well as extracts drawn from the vast amount of film in the Robbins Dance Collection housed therein.  There is a programme where Justin Peck among others talk about how Robbins visualised NYC and another entitled Robbins Judicia – which will deal directly with the various alienations that Robbins had to deal with be it with his faith, his sexuality or anything else.  There are so many events - La Fosse is holding a session teaching members of the public (should they be interested) segments of Robbins’ rep … and EVEN one session with Baryishnikov in conversation about the master choreographer he worked so closely with.  To my mind this kind of access is perhaps the best way to build audiences who will return to the work itself … because it will have been engendered – or certainly based in a conversation of understanding readily available to all.  Well done Lincoln Center;  Well done NYPL.   

Edited by Bruce Wall
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For the sake of historic accuracy I want to correct one point in Ivy Lin’ review. San Francisco Ballet by no means is a Balanchine offfshoot company. It is the first and oldest professional ballet company in the US founded in 1933 before Balanchine’s arrival in NYC. It is true that SFB founders Harold and Lew Christensen performed with Balanchine’s American Ballet and that its current Artistic Director Helgi Thomason is a former principal dancer of NYCB but it doesn’t mean that the company can be characterized as based on Balanchine’s repertory, style or technique. 

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1 hour ago, news2me said:

For the sake of historic accuracy I want to correct one point in Ivy Lin’ review. San Francisco Ballet by no means is a Balanchine offfshoot company. It is the first and oldest professional ballet company in the US founded in 1933 before Balanchine’s arrival in NYC. It is true that SFB founders Harold and Lew Christensen performed with Balanchine’s American Ballet and that its current Artistic Director Helgi Thomason is a former principal dancer of NYCB but it doesn’t mean that the company can be characterized as based on Balanchine’s repertory, style or technique. 

 

I know about SFB's history but it is a company that specializes in a lot of Balanchine works. Helgi Tomasson is a former principal dancer of NYCB and there has been a lot of dancers switching between companies -- Ana Sophia Scheller, Sofiane Sylve, Gonzalo Garcia, etc. are just some of the principals who have danced at both companies. But for accuracy's sake I've now edited the post. Thanks for the correction.

Edited by Ivy Lin
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4 hours ago, Richard LH said:

Thanks Floss. So nothing to stop Serenade being danced by the RB ... but on checking their Collection online it seems whilst there have been more recent Russian stagings at the ROH, the last time the RB did it themselves was 1964!....Time for some lobbying?

 

Richard, the RB performed Serenade at Covent Garden in 2014. Some gorgeous pics here: https://www.roh.org.uk/productions/serenade-by-george-balanchine

It would be lovely to see it again soon.

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35 minutes ago, Timmie said:

 

Richard, the RB performed Serenade at Covent Garden in 2014. Some gorgeous pics here: https://www.roh.org.uk/productions/serenade-by-george-balanchine

It would be lovely to see it again soon.

Thanks Timmie.....pleased to find that this lovely work was  performed relatively recently by the RB. Hopefully it will be picked up again as the repertoire cycles....

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Just a brief note to say that O'Sullivan/Sambe again delighted last night in Tarantella and ABT glistened in Balanchine's Symphonie Concertante.  What a lovely ballerina Christine Sheychenko is ... and wonderful to see Brit Thomas Forster hold the fort as the sole man in that piece.

 

Talking of EXTRAORDINARY ballerinas ... here's a very brief clip of the miraculous Tiler Peck who was put though her paces in for different Balanchine masterworks by Heather Watts as part of City Center's 'in sight'-like programme - Studio 5 - but  part of the full compliment of CITY CENTER: THE BALANCHINE YEARS.  The young lad partnering in the Tschai PDD segment is Roman Meija - a NYCB first year corps member. 

 

 

Edited by Bruce Wall
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On 03/11/2018 at 17:53, Richard LH said:

Thanks Timmie.....pleased to find that this lovely work was  performed relatively recently by the RB. Hopefully it will be picked up again as the repertoire cycles....

 

Fingers crossed.  Also Richard I saw it live for the first time when BRB were performing it not that long ago...maybe 2015.  It was part of a double bill with Carmina Burana....it was so good.  So maybe they'll tour it again at some point and you'll get to see it 😊

 

Anyway, thanks Bruce and Ivy for the reports, would have loved to have gone...

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