George Balanchine, founding artistic director of the New York City Ballet, would have been 113 years old this past Sunday, Jan. 22. In honor of Balanchine’s birthday, NYCB is presenting a program with three of his most essential pieces at its nucleus. Representing his versatility in choreography, the evening showcases the tenacity, romanticism and neoclassicism that is still alive and well at the David H. Koch Theater.
The first piece of the evening, “Allegro Brilliante,” was once described by Balanchine as “everything he knew about ballet in 13 minutes.” Seeing the ballet in person, it is clear what Balanchine meant. “Allegro Brilliante” inhabits what makes the unparalleled Balanchine aesthetic so distinctive — a slew of arabesques one after the other, a deeply exaggerated Balanchine fourth, his signature five-fingered Michelangelo hands, fast pirouettes and pique turns. Each are very challenging feats on their own, and to have them all in a single composition is astounding.
The small-but-mighty technician Megan Fairchild and her partner Andrew Veyette dance in the principal roles. Fairchild’s agility and talent for moving across the length of the stage establish her as a true Balanchine ballerina. The dancers effortlessly perform the playful saute double cabriole — a true highlight of the performance.
The next ballet of the evening is the Tchaikovsky classic “Swan Lake” — with a Balanchine twist, of course. The typically two-hour, four-act ballet is compressed into an exhilarating 30 minute, one-act version. To make things more exciting, the usual corps of white swans are instead garbed in black.
Principal dancer Teresa Reichlen is radiant as Odette, the Swan Queen, with her hyperextended legs and beautiful feet. Prince Siegfried, performed by soloist Russell Janzen, is her ideal dreamy counterpart. Balanchine’s “Swan Lake” begins like the traditional ballet, with the famous overture and large corps of swans. But at the coda, Balanchine’s version gives the audience chills. Odette’s variation here — 180-degree grande sissonnes and fast entrechats — is the pinnacle of the evening. The coda is a haunting final image out of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” with black tulle swarming the stage. The piece is easily a crowd favorite.
The final ballet is Paul Hindemith’s modern-sounding “The Four Temperaments.” Juxtaposed with neoclassical choreography, the structure of the ballet revolves around four humors of medieval medicine: Melancholic, Sanguinic, Phlegmatic, and Choleric. Each section has a soloist or couple supported by a corps of black leotards. Although all of the dancers proved exquisite, powerhouse femmes Sara Mearns and Savannah Lowery awed with their respective performances of Sanguinic and Choleric.
The entire program proves to be a perfect sampler of all that Balanchine is known for as the father of American ballet. The New York City Ballet is clearly in good hands with its passionate artistic director, Peter Martins.
The winter version of the “All Balanchine” production runs at the David H. Koch Theater at 20 Lincoln Center Plaza through Feb. 5 and an updated spring version will run during late April.
Email Ryan Mikel at [email protected]