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New York City Ballet enters the next phase

Gonzalo Garcia and Sterling Hyltin in Jerome Robbins, Opus 19/The Dreamer. Photo: Paul Kolnik

New York City Ballet returned to the Kennedy Center Opera House Tuesday night, as it has done regularly since 1974. Everyone involved with the company seemed a little nervous, starting with a slightly awkward pre-curtain announcement from newly appointed artistic director Jonathan Stafford and associate artistic director Wendy Whelan. They took the reins after longtime ballet master Peter Martins retired from the company in 2018, following allegations he had abused dancers both physically and sexually. Martins denied the charges, and an internal investigation by the company did not corroborate them.

The selection of ballets seemed tailor-made for touring, mostly abstract and without any set pieces. Opus 19/The Dreamer, choreographed by Jerome Robbins, was a highlight because of the graceful, searching movements of Gonzalo Garcia in the title role. In the only white costume, he was seemingly all muscle as he sought among the other dancers dressed in shadowy blue-purple (costumes by Ben Benson). Set to the gorgeous music of Prokofiev, the ethereal Violin Concerto No. 1, the shimmering violin solo (played ably by Kurt Nikkanen) mirrored Garcia's dream-like motions, in fascinating color pairings with harp, piccolo, and other instruments. Principal dancer Sterling Hyltin, taking the lead role often danced in the past by none other than Wendy Whelan, was elusive and pretty.

Other Reviews:

Sarah L. Kaufman, It’s hit or miss for New York City Ballet in first Kennedy Center program under new directors (Washington Post, April 3, 2019)

Alastair Macaulay, The Unstuffy Gala: City Ballet Delivers Youth and Style (New York Times, September 29, 2017)
It made a bracing pairing with George Balanchine's Kammermusik No. 2, with a more abrasive score by Paul Hindemith and somewhat similar costumes in light blue or gray-black, also by Ben Benson. Abi Stafford and the tall, striking Teresa Reichlen excelled as the tandem pairing that shadowed the contrapuntal part of the piano solo from the virtuosic Stephen Gosling, often with hand following hand just as ballerina followed ballerina gesture for gesture. A small group of male dancers, often with interlocked arms, formed complicated shapes echoing the dissonant musical clusters.

For an appetizer, NYCB brought Composer's Holiday, a commission from the young choreographer Gianna Reisen. The three sections showed a pleasing balance and variety, in a poised, short ballet that moved from intriguing vignette to intriguing vignette. It opened with dancers on one side pointing to a woman lifted in the air, for example, and the first scene closed with a woman hurled into the air just as the lights went dark. The choice of Lukas Foss's Three American Pieces for Violin and Piano (played capably by Arturo Delmoni and Susan Walters) was also savvy, music that is just as enigmatic as the movements Reisen chose.

Two dancers took falls in the evening, unusual for this company, and only one that looked painful. That was in the otherwise triumphant final work, Balanchine's Symphony in C. It showcased the NYCB corps of women, all in sparkly white costumes, in the active first movement of Bizet's Symphony in C, an early work in Mozartean style. The second movement, with its plangent oboe theme, inspired in Balanchine, that most musical of choreographers, a scene of heart-breaking tenderness, spotlighting in this case the graceful dancing of Sara Mearns and Jared Angle. Through a sleight of hand, Balanchine does not make clear until late in the work just how many dancers are involved. In the fast changes of the finale's episodes, the numbers on stage grow and grow to a delightful climax.

This program by the New York City Ballet repeats only on April 7, with a different program scheduled for April 4 to 6.

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