Maria Kowroski (Odette) in Swan Lake, choreography by George Balanchine, New York City Ballet (photo by Paul Kolnik)
For this streamlined Swan Lake based on Lev Ivanov's choreography, Balanchine crunches most of Act II and part of Act IV together, leaving out the mirror role of Odile. Once you get past the jarring effect of the curtain opening with the iconic music that starts the second act, the compactness gives the work greater impetus. (Surprisingly, Balanchine left out one of the most famous sections of the score, the fourth movement, Allegro moderato, of the Dance of the Swans, but all the other popular sections are there.) Maria Kowroski was an elegant and tragic figure as the Swan Queen, matched by an athletic and warm Siegfried in Tyler Angle, although the most striking choreography is given to the corps, in their somber black costumes, entering in a snaking line to identical movements carefully timed to the music. The pas de deux, placed at the violin solo in the fifth movement of the Dance of the Swans, was particularly affecting, with Angle lifting up Kowroski, who had gone into a crouch, and propelling her about.
Sarah Kaufman, New York City Ballet’s all-Tchaikovsky program: A firm concept falls short in execution (Washington Post, March 28, 2013)
Sarah Halzack, New York City Ballet program showcases Balanchine-Tchaikovsky artistic chemistry (Washington Post, March 23, 2013)
Sara Mearns, Barre None: My Magical Moment (Huffington Post, March 22, 2013)
Ryan Wenzel, Romanticism, Balanchine Style: Two Tchaikovsky Triple-Bills at New York City Ballet (rpwenzel.com, February 1, 2013)
Alastair Macaulay, From Lakeside to Ballroom, Taking Tchaikovsky in Many Directions (New York Times, January 19, 2013)
Apollinaire Scherr, Balanchine's one-act "Swan Lake" (foot in mouth, February 15, 2009)
Anna Kisselgoff, Balanchine's One-Act Compression of 'Swan Lake' (New York Times, January 21, 1993)
The longest work came last, Balanchine's ensemble choreography set to Tchaikovsky's Orchestral Suite No. 3. Balanchine, like all great choreographers, loved music and gives it pride of place: all of these pieces open with the music and nothing else, a closed curtain, swan models gliding past on the lake, an empty stage. Suite is about longing on one level, beginning with the first movement, Élégie, where a man pursues one woman of a group, in long hair and flowing purple dresses. The couple meet and are separated, most poignantly the last time, both bending over backward in a dramatic gesture to a forlorn English horn solo. A similar pattern is repeated in the second movement, Valse mélancolique, and the Scherzo third movement, with the dancers vanishing gradually like the music. All of the groups of women form a large corps de ballet in the grand fourth movement, the Tema con variazioni, in blue and white tutus with red accents, set in a large ballroom with three arches, revealed after the smoky scrim is lifted (scenery and costumes by Nicolas Benois). Variations, of course, are ballet's bread and butter, and it is no surprise that this movement, with its rapidly shifting musical qualities, makes such good ballet. The third variation, all woodwinds, received a choreography for twelve women, in four groups of three, hands held and making lovely patterns. Once again a violin solo, leading into Variation 10, inspired a lovely pas de deux, mesmerizing in its own way, leading into a grand conclusion for the corps.
This program will be repeated this evening and Sunday afternoon, with the B program -- Carousel, Glass Pieces, and Vienna Waltzes -- on March 28 to 30, in the Kennedy Center Opera House.