New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
New York, New York
September 30, 2010
“Serenade,” “The Magic Flute,” “Stars and Stripes”
“The Magic Flute,” which New York City Ballet returned to its repertoire last night, has a pedigree that seems to take longer to describe than the one-act piece itself. The ballet originated in the early 19th Century, and may trace its roots back to opera buffa, as a variation on a standard theme -- boy and girl are in love, girl's father wants her to marry a clownish rich old man, boy and girl outwit both of them and marry, and the town then celebrates the wedding. If the plot sounds similar to other comic story ballets, that’s because it is. The resemblance to sweet pantomime ballets from the same general period (e.g., “La Fille Mal Gardee,” “Coppelia,” “Don Quixote”) is not coincidental.
Choreographed to music by Riccardo Drigo (an Italian-born composer who did the bulk of his composing and conducting for the Russian Imperial Ballet), "The Magic Flute" has nothing to do with the Mozart opera of the same name. The initial production by Lev Ivanov debuted, according to the NYCB program notes, as a curtain-raiser for a performance of the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg on March 10, 1893, joined the Mariinsky Ballet repertory a month later, and, in various modifications was performed for many years thereafter. Its original performance included 13 year olds Michael Fokine and Stanilava Belinskaya (as the leads Luke and Lise), Agrippina Vaganova, aged 14, and AARP member Serge Legat, then 18. Since then, dancers who have appeared in one or another of its productions included Nicholas Legat, Enrico Cecchetti, Anna Pavlova (who created her own version, which was performed at the Met -the original - in New York in 1913), and George Balanchine, who danced the roles of Luke and the Marquis (the rich old man) with the Mariinsky before he moved on to the Ballets Russes.
Balanchine decided to reinvent “The Magic Flute,” and purportedly assigned to Peter Martins the task of re-choreographing it virtually from scratch, bound only by the story and the Petipa style, in order to force him out of his choreographic comfort zone. The piece premiered at a benefit for the School of American Ballet on May 9, 1981, and, somewhat revised, was given its NYCB premiere on January 21, 1982.
As I recall, Mr. Martins’s production opened to fair to middling reviews. I missed the original performances, and am not aware of any changes that may have been made between the initial performances and this revival. But I found the piece to be a delightful condensation of its full-length antecedents. Of course it’s silly, and of course it’s cotton-candy sweet, but it’s supposed to be, and it never takes itself too seriously. More importantly, it showcases some nifty choreography – particularly for Lise – that grafts the intricate Martins movement quality onto NYCB-style speed, all the while looking like Balanchine’s “Coppelia” choreographed with a Danish-modern edge.
Megan Fairchild danced Lise, the girl next door with a bit of Kitri in her, who also happens to be more clever than anyone else in town. Her stage personality, and her execution of Martins’s wickedly complex choreography for Lise, dominated the piece. Ms. Fairchild was superb in every way.
Andrew Veyette performed Luke as a charming nice guy who may have less between the ears than the girl he loves, but his Luke has a lot of looks and personality and can dance really well. More importantly, Luke is a good soul who’s nice to doltish people, animals, and ogres bearing unseen gifts (like a flute that, when played, makes those listening to it dance until they forget they want to hang him). Adam Hendrickson played the Marquis as a dandified lecherous old man, sort of a cross between Gamache and Dr. Coppelius. Henry Seth and Gwyneth Muller were appropriately cartoonish as the Farmer and his Wife (Lise’s parents).
And did I mention that there were 18 children from SAB appearing as, well, children? They appeared to range in ages from around 7 to 12 (but dancers always look younger than they are), looked great, and danced with typical SAB enthusiasm and competence.
All in all, “The Magic Flute” may not be the most important or most intellectually challenging of the works one will see in the NYCB repertory, but it’s well worth seeing.
“Stars and Stripes,” which was also revived at last night’s performance, and which, like “The Magic Flute,” is scheduled to be performed again later this fall and during NYCB’s winter season, is not one of Balanchine’s masterworks. Its unabashed jingoism isn’t the problem (choreographed to marches by John Philip Sousa, adapted and orchestrated by Hershy Kay, one would have expected nothing less); the fact that half of it looks like a tribute to the Rockettes is. But the piece is somewhat rescued by its second half, which added fireworks to what otherwise would have been the staged equivalent of a Fourth of July parade.
“Stars and Stripes” is divided into five “campaigns,” The first two, titled “1st Regiment: Corcoran Cadets” and “2nd Regiment: Rifle Regiment,” look like high class Radio City Music Hall. That’s not to say that the performances weren’t good – on the contrary, it was very well danced, particularly by Erica Pereira, who led the first campaign (except she should tone down the lipstick). The piece came to life with Daniel Ulbricht leading the third Campaign, titled “3rd Regiment, Thunder and Lightning. Thunder and lightning was exactly what it was, with Mr. Ulbricht and the corps of men behind him firing Balanchine’s choreographic ammunition. Mr. Ulbricht was simply awesome.
But Sara Mearns, partnered by Charles Askegard, as Liberty Bell and El Capitan in the piece’s Fourth Campaign, provided the piece’s firepower. The pas de deux is loaded with enough choreographic pyrotechnics to bring any ballet audience to its knees. But Ms. Mearns and Mr. Askegard delivered the punch. Ms. Mearns is an extraordinary dancer, with the ability to couple strength and power with typical NYCB speed. She dominates the stage whenever she’s on it, as she did last night.
The evening opened with Balanchine’s “Serenade,” which, as always, is alone worth the price of admission. Led by Jennifer Ringer, Ashley Bouder, and Rebecca Krohn, the piece could not have been danced better (which, I recognize, is what I say with every cast I have the opportunity to see). Ms. Krohn, who debuted in the piece last night, brought a lyrical emphasis to her role, matching the same quality in Ms. Ringer and Ms. Bouder. The result was a wonderfully well balanced performance of one of Balanchine’s masterpieces.
Last edited by balletomaniac on Wed Oct 06, 2010 7:10 pm, edited 3 times in total.