A full house was patiently waiting to enter the New York City Center to watch the first night of “Balanchine: The City Center Years”, the first of six performances celebrating both the 75thAnniversary of Manhattan’s first performing arts center and George Balanchine’s years leading to the birth of the New York City Ballet.
This festival-like event hosts eight of the best ballet companies in the world, all coming together to celebrate 13 of the many masterpieces by the choreographer created or premiered at that same stage: American Ballet Theatre, Joffrey Ballet, Mariinsky Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, and of course, New York City Ballet.
There were hidden gems and important figures of the dance world sitting in the audience, including Twyla Tharp, Kevin McKenzie, Lourdes Lopez, and Sasha Redetsky, as well as ballet masters and mistresses such as Christopher Sounders and Kathleen Tracey. Clearly, they were not only accompanying their respective dancers, but they were all guests of this important party.
The evening opened with welcome words by Arlene Shuler, President and CEO of the New York City Center; followed by a speech by non-other than Wendy Whelan, former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and who spent her whole professional career devoted to Mr. B.
Wendy’s words were warm and welcoming, highlighting the importance of the New York City Center for the foundation of NYCB, which helped Balanchine create “something truly American and truly modern.”
The curtain raised to the iconic 17 women of Serenade, an image we all know well. Miami City Ballet’s corp de ballet opened the piece with delicacy. If one knows the choreography, one knows that the corp does not stop moving; and although Miami City Ballet’s women could be more precise and together in both their steps and formations, they maintained the right ambiance of the piece.
Jeanette Delgado stood out from the three soloists, making every step clean and precise yet elegant and fluid with high artistry. As a dancer, I could not take my eyes off her. The piece culminated with emotional trios and quartets, followed by the peaceful, famous ending procession. There are no doubts that Serenade is highly technical, and it is a romantic piece that lets the audience create their own interpretation of the story-less piece.
The evening continued with the iconic Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux performed by Viktoria Tereshkina and Kimin Kim from the Mariinsky Ballet. This pas de deux is performed worldwide in many different galas, performances and even competitions, and it is definitely interesting to see how different dancers deliver the choreography.
Mr. Kim’s performance was a gem to the audience as every time he jumped or turned the gasps could be heard at all corners of the house. Ms. Tereshkina kept Mariinsky Ballet’s style with long attitudes and port de bras, culminating her variation’s last turn sequence spotting to the corner, instead of to the audience, as Mr. Balanchine would state. This “Tchai Pas” was kept truly Russian, such version that is performed in many parts of the world.
The Royal Ballet proceeded with a precise Tarantella pas de Deux. Marcelino Sambé and Anna Rose O’Sullivan entertained the audience from the moment they entered, full of sassy, playful expression and movement. Ms. Sullivan demonstrated quick, excellent footwork, while Mr. Sambé executed extremely precise jumps. The two of them had a fantastic connection as dance partners, delivering their coordination and enthusiasm to the audience. Balanchine’s Tarantella is rhythmic, enthusiastic, high-spirited and full of stamina. The couple did not miss a beat with the tambourines and the audience seemed to be up in their seats for the whole time they were on stage.
New York City Ballet closed the evening with a mesmerizing Symphony in C. Clearly, the company was demonstrating Mr. Balanchine’s spirit in every step. The ladies in the corps de ballet made no mistake, and Mr. B’s quick footwork and positions were highlighted from the beginning to the end.
The three Principals Tiler Peck, Sara Mearns and Ashley Bouder along with Soloist Lauren King, lead the four movements of the Symphony, each delivering their uniqueness to the audience along with their partners: Tyler Angle, Jared Angle, Anthony Huxley and Taylor Stanley, respectively.
Ms. Peck, showed high technique on every step; Ms. Mearns delivered elegance, Ms. Bouder strength, and Ms. King precision. Seeing them together in the grand finale was interesting, as they were all different, but dancing like one. The company concluded the piece with grand bravura.
The evening closed successfully and the audience seemed to be eager for the next five performances. There is still a lot more to come from this unique celebration for Mr. George Balanchine and New York City is ready for it.