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New York City Ballet

'Serenade', 'Firebird', 'Symphony in C'

by Colleen Boresta

May 13, 2012 (m)-- David Koch Theatre, New York, NY

New York City Ballet had a special treat for moms on Sunday afternoon – a whole program of Balanchine ballets. (‘Firebird’, however, was choreographed by both George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.)

The first ballet is ‘Serenade’, set to the music of Tschaikovsky. ‘Serenade’ is the first dance Balanchine created in America (1933). The work is just as glorious as ever, beginning with the opening – those 17 young women in blue raising their right arms to the moonlight. ‘Serenade’ contains no narrative, but Balanchine has found the passion, mystery and drama in Tschaikovsky’s music.

As the waltz girl Janie Taylor rockets onto the stage – an ethereal creature of the twilight. She loves and loses two men and at the ballet’s end is lifted high into the air and carried from the stage by three young men. Has she died? Is she being taken to the afterlife? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Great art is open to varying interpretations.

Dancing the more earthbound roles are Sterling Hyltin as the Russian girl and Rebecca Krohn in the role of the dark angel. Both give beautifully layered performances. The all important corps dancers, whose movements are sometimes reminiscent of the willis in ‘Giselle’, are absolutely perfect. No one put a foot or hand wrong. ‘Serenade’ is a ballet that should live forever.

The second ballet of the afternoon is ‘Firebird’ with music by Stravinsky. It is the only story ballet on the program. In my opinion it is the weakest of the three dance pieces. ‘Firebird’ is based on a Russian fairy tale. While hunting Prince Ivan catches a firebird, half woman and half bird. The Firebird begs for her freedom and the Prince lets her go. The grateful creature gives Ivan a brilliant red feather. She tells him it is a magic charm. If he is ever in trouble all he has to do is wave the feather and the Firebird will come to his rescue.

Ivan then comes across a princess and her handmaidens. The young women are under the control of the evil wizard Kastschei. With the help of the Firebird and her feather, Ivan defeats Kastschei, frees all the girls and marries the Princess.

Strangely enough for a Balanchine ballet, the dancing is overpowered by the scenery and costumes (both designed by Marc Chagall). The roles of Prince Ivan and his Princess are primarily character roles. Acting is required – well delivered by Justin Peck and Gwyneth Muller – not dancing. The only performer on pointe and in a tutu is the Firebird herself. In the title role Teresa Reichlen is somewhat bland. Her movements don’t seem birdlike enough. When she is captured by Ivan, Reichlen lacks both energy and a sense of frenzy.

‘Firebird is memorable for the Stravinsky score as well as the Chagall costumes and scenery. It is a nice ballet for children, but in my opinion it is one of Balanchine’s very few misses.

The afternoon ends on an extremely high note with ‘Symphony in C’, set to music by Georges Bizet. ‘Symphony in C’ is one of Balanchine’s glorious tutu ballets. It is divided into four sections, based on the Bizet music. Each movement is led by a ballerina, a premier danseur and  the corps de ballet.

In the first movement, Allegro Vivo, Megan Fairchild stands out for her sparkling footwork. Jared Angle is not only an attentive partner, but a spirited performer as well. His dancing has improved wonderfully during the 201-2012 seasons.Maria Korowski is magnificent in the second movement: Adagio. Her meltingly expressive upper body, gorgeously fluid movements and lyrically lovely extensions make ‘Symphony in C’ a work of haunting beauty.

Ashley Bouder and Joaquin De Luz are perfectly matched in the ebulliently bouncy third movement. Their lightning speed, incredible elevation, musicality and playful sense of fun – all are in total and complete sync. In the last movement Tiler Peck whirls across the stage at an astounding pace, spitting out diamond sharp pirouettes. Then the dancers from all four movements join together for an unforgettable finale. Sunday afternoon saw New York City Ballet at its very finest.

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