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Fisher Center, Bard College, Fall Events 2014
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The New York City Ballet’s All Balanchine and Stravinsky Festival

From Balachine's Firebird. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

From Balachine’s Firebird. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Lincoln Center

Friday 28 September
Scherzo à la Russe
Music – Igor Stravinsky
Choreography – George Balanchine
Students from the School of American Ballet
Guest Conductor – Ogren

Divertimento from ‘Le Baiser de la Fée’
Music – Igor Stravinsky
Choreography – George Balanchine
T. Peck, Garcia, Arthurs, Dronova
Guest Conductor – Ogren

Danses Concertantes
Music – Igor Stravinsky
Choreography – George Balanchine
M. Fairchild, Veyette
Conductor – Otranto

Firebird
Music – Igor Stravinsky
Choreography – George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins
Reichlen, la Cour, Lowery, Scordato
Guest Conductor – Ogren

 

Saturday 29 September
Stravinsky Violin Concerto
Music – Igor Stravinsky
Choreography – George Balanchine
Taylor, R. Fairchild (replaced la Cour), Krohn, Marcovici (replaced Ramasar)
Conductor – Capps
Solo Violin – Nikkanen

Monumentum pro Gesualdo
Music – Igor Stravinsky
Choreography – George Balanchine
Kowroski, la Cour
Conductor – Capps

Movements for Piano and Orchestra
Music – Igor Stravinsky
Choreography – George Balanchine
Kowroski, Marcovici
Conductor – Capps
Solo Piano – Moverman

Duo Concertant
Music – Igor Stravinsky
Choreography – George Balanchine
M. Fairchild (replaced Hyltin), Finlay (replaced R. Fairchild)
Solo Piano – Walters
Solo Violin – Delmoni

Symphony in Three Movements
Music – Igor Stravinsky
Choreography – George Balanchine
Hyltin (replaced A. Stafford), T. Peck, Lowery, Ramasar (replaced J. Angle), Ulbricht, Danchig-Waring
Conductor – Sill

The New York City Ballet began its fall season at the David H. Koch Theater with a three-program tribute to the legendary choreographer/composer duo of Balanchine and Stravinsky. The first installment (which this reviewer unfortunately did not see) featured the classic Greek trilogy of Orpheus, Apollo, and Agon. The second program comprised the most overtly Russian collaborations of the two artists, drawing upon their common background in rich folk and fairy tale traditions.

Friday evening began with the ebullient “Scherzo à la Russe” from 1972, performed  by students from the School of American Ballet and two apprentices. Dressed in fresh and innocent white, with long flowing colored ribbons, the young dancers were ideally suited to embody the joyful and energetic character of the work, in which the predominance of brass reminds one of a band at a village wedding.

Next on the program was the Divertimento from “Le Baiser de la Fée.” Having already created a full-length ballet in 1937 to Stravinsky’s original score, Balanchine later followed the composer’s precedent of extracting a concert suite from the ballet, choreographing a new work for the 1972 Stravinsky Festival. As a result, the Divertimento no longer retains the narrative content of the original ballet, but nevertheless preserves its prevailing moods of poignancy and tragedy.

Stravinsky’s score was based upon a number of works by Tchaikovsky, including the famous song known to English speakers as “None But the Lonely Heart.” Balanchine’s choreography sympathetically reflects the composer’s tribute to an earlier period, and much of the interaction between corps and principals is reminiscent of the golden age of Russian ballet. Illustrating the theme of unattainable love, the two solo dancers are repeatedly separated from each other by the corps, and dramatic lighting effects, dimming gradually to darkness at the end of the piece, heighten the poetic sense of isolation and abandonment.

Guest conductor Jayce Ogren’s sensitive reading of the score brought out its pathos and rich timbral palette. The flute duet and clarinet solo were particularly lustrous in color and effect, and the exuberant French horn solo matched the lithe virtuosity of Gonzalo Garcia’s turning jumps and leaps.

Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette in Danses Concertantes. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette in Danses Concertantes. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Homage to the past dominated in the final two works of the evening: “Danses Concertantes” and “Firebird.” In both cases, the exquisite original scenery and costumes (by Eugene Berman and Marc Chagall, respectively) provided such a delight to the eye that one felt transported back to the days of the Ballets Russes. Notable in the “Danses Concertantes” was the combination of wit, perkiness and elegant sophistication expressed by the four pas de trois ensembles (one male and two female dancers), each of which convincingly conveyed the particular whim and caprice of its combination. The different expression and character of each pas de trois was further underscored by Berman’s choice of color (red, blue, purple, and green).

According to ballet lore, Balanchine was so captivated by Chagall’s designs for “Firebird” that, in a reversal of customary procedure, he adapted his choreography in response to the scenery and costumes. Indeed, when watching “Firebird” in its original setting, one is so completely immersed in the exotic, fairy tale atmosphere that it is nearly impossible to regard the dancing critically. Nevertheless, the outstanding performance of Teresa Reichlen in the title role was so compelling, both technically and dramatically, that it remains etched in memory. Ms. Reichlen inhabited the role of the Firebird with a brilliant blend of otherworldly sovereignty and tender vulnerability. Her impressive jumps and attenuated lines communicated the power and majesty of a supernatural being, while her carefully nuanced gestures of head, arms, and upper torso conveyed the delicate fragility of a bird. The pas de deux of the Firebird and Prince Ivan (the latter role masterfully danced by Ask la Cour) evoked the full range of supplication, attraction, elusiveness, negotiation, and tenuous resolution that is implicit in Balanchine’s complex choreography.

Opulent color and lavish sets and costumes gave way to the austere purity of black and white against an azure background in Saturday’s Balanchine/Stravinsky program, which featured some of the composer’s most challenging works. The evening opened with the monumental violin concerto, performed with great sensitivity and intelligence by concertmaster Kurt Nikkanen. An extremely familiar work to concertgoers, the concerto revealed new intricacies and sensuality when juxtaposed with Balanchine’s expressive choreography. No body part or gesture seemed too insignificant or diminutive to underscore the polyrhythmic nature of the composition, while at the same time conveying a maximum of emotion. The difficult Toccata was well executed by principals and corps, and the two pas de deux in the middle movements (Arias I and II) of the concerto were danced with clarity and grace by Maria Kowroski and Sebastien Marcovici, and Janie Taylor and Robert Fairchild, respectively. The supporting corps came into its own in the final Capriccio, displaying a vibrant energy that amply reflected the brio of the music.

Following the concerto were two shorter works from an earlier period in Balanchine’s oeuvre: “Monumentum Pro Gesualdo” and “Movements for Piano and Orchestra,” dated 1960 and 1963, respectively. These rare jewels of the ballet repertoire exemplify the perfect marriage of choreography and composition. In “Monumentum,” Stravinsky’s ample appropriation of polyphony and nascent chromaticism in his tribute to the 16th century master was mirrored beautifully in the intricate and stately movements of the dancers. The performance proved to be the gem of the entire evening — an experience of pure perfection in its lyricism and elegant restraint.

“Movements for Piano and Orchestra” is a work from Stravinsky’s serial period, and Balanchine’s choreography matches its thorny complexity in every respect. Contrasting sharply with “Monumentum” in its angularity and clarity, it has been habitually paired with the former work since 1966, according to Balanchine’s preference. As in “Firebird” the previous evening, Teresa Reichlen carried the performances of both works with a blend of technical precision and expressive musicality.

Maria Kowroski and Sébastien Marcovici in Movements for Piano and Orchestra. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Maria Kowroski and Sébastien Marcovici in Movements for Piano and Orchestra. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

“Duo Concertant,” on the other hand, proved to be a disappointment for a variety of reasons. Balanchine’s unusual incorporation of the violinist and pianist onstage, with the two dancers alternately listening and dancing to the music, requires an utterly uncontrived interpretation and stellar performance by all of the protagonists in order to be convincing. Unfortunately, the musical aspect of the work suffered greatly from the diffident, lack-luster rendition by concertmaster Arturo Delmoni and pianist Susan Walters. It left the listener with the idea that the piece was simply a score for a dance, rather than one of the landmark virtuoso masterpieces of 20th century chamber music. Unlike his colleague Kurt Nikkanen, who rose effortlessly to soloistic heights in his performance of the violin concerto, Delmoni had a weak sound that betrayed a fundamentally orchestral approach to playing the violin, and his interpretation lacked both intensity and flair. Although he clearly seemed to be enjoying his appearance onstage and in the limelight (particularly at the conclusion of the piece) — and who can blame him, when he normally has the thankless task of playing invisibly in a pit? — it was at the expense of the musical performance.

Megan Fairchild and Chase Finlay seemed supremely ill at ease and awkward in their moments at the piano, attempting to listen rapturously to the music, but conveying more the impression of reluctant teenagers at a recital. When the choreography finally allowed him to dance, however, Chase Finlay redeemed himself completely by his breathtaking virtuosity and graceful elegance, bringing verve and vitality to the music. Megan Fairchild gave a less credible performance, with movements more jerky than perky. In light of what appeared to be a lack of understanding of the musical score, her histrionic responses to the music in the intervals between dancing seemed particularly ironic. Ms. Fairchild’s lack of conviction throughout painfully reinforced the sense of contrived artificiality that is always a potential risk in rendering Balanchine’s unique vision of the piece.

Fortunately, the evening ended on a high note, with an exemplary performance of the majestic and grandiose “Symphony in Three Movements.” As in the violin concerto earlier, the ensemble dancing in the outer movements of the piece was riveting and compelling, overshadowing the well-executed, but less gripping pas de deux of Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar in the second movement.  The corps masterfully executed the complex and snappy rhythmic moves required by Balanchine’s demanding choreography. This work in particular showcases the choreographer at his most consummate: the eye is dazzled by constantly transforming geometric patterns which exactly match the motoric rhythms of the music. “Symphony in Three Movements” provided a fitting climax to the Balanchine/Stravinsky celebration, and one left the performance feeling that the NY City Ballet well deserves the conservatorship of its extraordinary artistic heritage.

Victoria Martino

Victoria Martino

Victoria Martino is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University and the University of California. A specialist in interdisciplinary studies, she has academic degrees in art history, literature and music. She has curated numerous international exhibitions, and has published over sixty catalogue essays and scholarly articles in more than six languages on artists and composers, including Wassily Kandinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Jackson Pollock, Richard Pousette-Dart, Sean Scully, Mimmo Paladino, John Baldessari, Josef Capek, and Zoran Music, among many others. An art, music, dance and theater critic, she has been a regular contributor to THE Magazine and various journals in Europe. Ms. Martino has participated in numerous international scholarly symposia and lectured widely. She has taught music, art history, and innovative humanities courses at universities in Australia and the United States. As a violin soloist and chamber musician, she has performed throughout Europe, Australia, Japan, and North America. A specialist in early and contemporary performance practice, Ms. Martino has a broad repertoire spanning six centuries. She is internationally known for her monographic performances (“marathons”) of the complete works for violin by various composers, including Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Schumann. Ms. Martino has presented a number of interdisciplinary programs (lecture-concerts) in conjunction with exhibitions at many international institutions, including the Guggenheim Museums of New York, Bilbao, and Berlin, the National Art Gallery of Victoria (Australia), the National Art Gallery of Ontario (Canada), the National Art Gallery of Slovenia, the Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, the Albertina in Vienna, the J. Paul Getty Museum and MOCA Los Angeles, to name only a few. Since 2004, she has presented an annual subscription lecture-concert series on the interrelationship between music and art throughout history at the Athenaeum Music and Art Library in La Jolla, California.
Victoria Martino
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