February 11, 2015

An Evening at the New York City Ballet

One of the greatest benefits of living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan is its proximity to Lincoln Center.  While I have certainly not become blasé about this choice location, I must confess that I do not avail myself of the cultural treasure trove as often as I should.  But with the winter of 2015 dragging on and no end in sight, it was time to brave the cold and ice and head over to the David H. Koch Theater for an evening of enchantment with the New York City Ballet.

Founded in 1948 by the choreographer George Balanchine and impresario Lincoln Kirstein, the New York City Ballet is one of the premier ballet companies in the world known for its uniquely athletic and contemporary style.  This season's repertory offered a program of "New Combinations" featuring three different ballets, one of which was new as of last October and another had its world premiere just last week.

I was really looking forward to my big night out and the magic of a live ballet performance.  I was even happier when I discovered that I would also be treated to a very special installation on the Promenade level entitled "Psychogeographies" by Brooklyn artist Dustin Yellin.

Part of the NYCB's Art Series commissions, Mr. Yellin has created fifteen 3,000-pound sculptures made of giant "slides" of glass with bits and pieces of paper, feathers, leaves and other found objects pressed between the layers to create human forms.  

The results are three-dimensional figures that are as beautiful and as ethereal as ballerinas and together the group is like a ballet in itself.  But no sculpture can replace the music and movement of a live performance and as it was just minutes to the curtain I took my seat.

First on the program was "Pictures at an Exhibition", a new production choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky to piano music by fellow Russian, Modest Mussorgsky.  Ten dancers in costumes by Adeline Andre, dance against a projected backdrop based on Wassily Kandinsky's "Color Study Squares with Concentric Circles".  The sixteen movements are mesmerizing and range in emotion from playful to soulful with fast and powerful dancing.

Next up was Justin Peck's brand new interpretation of Aaron Copland's beloved score "Rodeo".  Now presented as "Rõde, õ: Four Dance Episodes" Peck seeks to freshen and build upon Agnes de Mille's original choreography with 21st century vitality.  With only one female dancer among fifteen men, this abbreviated version is meant to evoke imagery like recurring weather patterns and two birds in flight.  I don't know if it is truly an improvement on the Western theme, but it was an inspiring effort.

Finally we were treated to Christopher Wheeldon's marvelous "Mercurial Manoeuvres".  When it premiered in April, 2000, it was the last work created by Wheeldon while he was still a soloist with the NYCB and it remains popular to this day.  Based on the score "Concerto in C Minor for Piano" by Dimitri Shostakovich, the music was actually performed by a full string section, a piano and a very fine trumpet player who took a well deserved bow with the dancers at the end!  This witty and absolutely charming piece featured twenty one dancers in nautically-inspired costumes who leaped and twirled to the dramatic music with breathtaking abandon.

It was a transporting evening and unfortunately over before I knew it.  As I left the theater I vowed not to let so much time go by before the next visit to Lincoln Center and the extraordinary New York City Ballet.

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