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New York City Ballet's Tchaikovsky Fest

Maria Kowroski (Odette) in Swan Lake, choreography by George Balanchine, New York City Ballet (photo by Paul Kolnik)
The New York City Ballet is in town this week, performing two different programs in the Kennedy Center Opera House. Last night was the opening of its all-Tchaikovsky sampler, three shorter works choreographed by George Balanchine, grounded on the legendary choreographer's one-act version of Swan Lake, premiered in 1951. These are heritage pieces, perfect to showcase the company on a tour that goes from Washington to the Royal Danish Theater in Copenhagen, and they looked beautiful in their current incarnation.

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.

Other Articles:

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 (, 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)
In the middle slot came the shortest work, Allegro Brillante, set to Tchaikovsky's one-movement Piano Concerto No. 3. In contrast to the ice-cave set for Swan Lake (designed by Alain Vaes), this taut, abstract work played out on a bare stage, with a blue-lit back screen, with vaguely folk-like costumes in pastel colors (costumes designed by Karinska, lighting by Mark Stanley). The extended solos were danced strongly, with the high-jumping Amar Ramasar partnering the lithe, spritely Tiler Peck, light as a feather in the long solo passage accompanied by the piano solo's cadenza (played ably by Elaine Chelton). The company is traveling with its orchestra, a fine ensemble that has been without a music director for a while. The night's guest conductor, David LaMarche, did fine, but one hopes that the ongoing search for a permanent leader bears fruit soon.

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.

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