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George Balanchine's black-and-white ballets represent the pinnacle of neoclassicism. Elaborating upon the geometric perfection at ballet's core, Balanchine challenged the boundaries of classical technique with startling invention. Without sets and danced in practice clothes in the moment with the music, these dances established a prototype of aesthetic simplicity inextricably associated with the choreographer. The beauty of these so-called abstract ballets evokes human interaction at its most poetically luminous.

On mixed programs, these works are arresting for their bracing forthrightness. Seen together in the Balanchine Black + White Celebration, the opening week of New York City Ballet's fiftieth-anniversary year, their combined richness, spanning the years 1928 to 1975, was breath-stopping. A skein of Balanchine's choreographic ideas winds through clusters of these ballets: the lineage of exotic distortion from The Four Temperaments to Episodes, Agon, and Symphony in Three Movements; of exquisite passion from Apollo to Stravinsky Violin Concerto and Duo Concertant; Monumentum pro Gesualdo, Movements for Piano and Orchestra, and Le Tombeau de Couperin, a playful working of bodies in meticulous spatial design; and in Concerto Barocco and Symphony in C the intricate harmony between soloists and corps. In each ballet sublime musicality is an essential component as master choreographer meets master composer.

Casting for the week was hampered by illness and injury. The ballet that suffered most was Apollo. Substituting for Peter Boal in the title role, Nilas Martins failed to convey Apollo's godliness, either in his playfulness at the start or his nobility at the conclusion. There was little grandeur in his dancing. The pas de deux with Terpsichore performed by Yvonne Borree was fraught with transitions so awkward that at its conclusion, rather than celebrating their harmonious union, one felt relief that they had made it through. By contrast, in Duo Concertant their dancing was perfectly in tune. Aura Dixon, a member of the corps, substituted for principal dancer Monique Meunier in the "Choleric" variation of The Four Temperaments. The role demands an Amazon, but the strength and control that render the vitality of each robust physical image with absolute clarity (particularly those big battements a la seconde) are as requisite for the ballerina as her size. Sebastien Marcovici stepped in for Boal in the Agon "Sarabande," realizing the brash courtliness of that choreography with precision and wit.

These ballets inevitably evoke remembrances of performances past, images that are not easily replaced or relinquished. Occasionally a dancer realizes something fresh, becoming a new standard-bearer. Albert Evans did that time and again this week. In the "Phlegmatic" variation of The Four Temperaments, he articulated each joint of his collapsing body. Matching that deterioration with positive physical power, he recentered his body, elegantly upright. In pas de deux with Wendy Whelan in Episodes and with Miranda Weese in Symphony in Three Movements, his strength complemented theirs, creating symbiotic relationships that heightened the physical drama inherent in these intricate dances. What might he do as Apollo?

Whelan, dancing nonstop throughout the week, proved again and again her physical mettle. But, in the second movement of Symphony in C, her sweeping falls lacked the generous pliancy of predecessors. Maria Kowroski, although less secure technically, was more luxuriant in the role. There were moments in Monumentum and Movements when Helene Alexopoulos cut corners rather than boldly extending herself, as others have done in those roles. Not so in Episodes, where she was all mystery and quirky angles. Her partner in Movements and in Episodes was Charles Askegard, who, though featured prominently, has yet to look comfortable dancing Balanchine.

Although substitutions in leading roles were not always satisfying, the corps de ballets was invariably well rehearsed and exuberant. The impression conveyed was that they, who were toddlers when Balanchine died, knew not only what they were doing, but why. The entire company seemed charged by the significance of the magnificent ballets they were privileged to perform.
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Title Annotation:New York State Theater, January 5-11, 1999
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Apr 1, 1999

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