New York City Ballet returns to Washington this week for its annual visit to the Kennedy Center with two programs that include two works from the company’s legendary founder George Balanchine, a Justin Peck ballet, a new work from Kyle Abraham, and a number of offerings from Jerome Robbins. There is a lot to see and some of it is thrilling.
The company’s opening night program on Tuesday began with Composer’s Holiday by the fledgling choreographer Gianna Reisen. Trained at the School of American Ballet, City Ballet’s affiliate school, Reisen’s work is clearly informed by her time there and the dynamic patterns and fast-paced style of movement Balanchine’s ballets and those of his imitators are known for.
Composer’s Holiday is interesting and lively if somewhat derivative. It’s a good early effort but could use some editing. On the plus side, Reisen has cast dancers from the company’s corps de ballet in all of the work’s principal and other roles which gives it an eagerness and youthful energy that is pleasing to watch.
Balanchine’s 1978 ballet, Kammermusik No. 2, which is rarely done, is fascinating, intense, and stressful. The contrapuntal music, written in 1924 for piano and 12 instruments by the composer Paul Hindemith, is difficult listening in places.
Two couples dance in counterpoint to an eight-man ensemble that simultaneously dances to the orchestra. The choreography in some sections is frenetic and quirky (and a little dated). Coupled with the music, this ballet’s impact on a viewer is either dizzying or monotonous depending on the cast. On Tuesday night Abi Stafford, Joseph Gordon, Teresa Reichlen, and Russell Janzen were the leads and in their capable hands the ballet mostly avoided the sense of mayhem the music inspires.
Jerome Robbins’ lush Opus 19/The Dreamer provided welcome relief to the noise and chaos of the previous two ballets on Tuesday night. The stellar principal dancers Sterling Hyltin and Gonzalo Garcia led a group of six men and six women through a radiant series of ethereal dances to Sergei Prokofiev’s beloved Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major.
Without a doubt the evening belonged to Symphony in C, one of George Balanchine’s early masterpieces. Originally called Le Palais de Cristal, Balanchine created the ballet on the Paris Opéra Ballet in 1947 and reworked it for City Ballet one year later.
Symphony in C exemplifies the grandeur and integrity of classical ballet. Set to Georges Bizet’s Symphony in C Major, 52 dancers are separated into groups of 12 or so throughout four movements with the entire group coming together for a dramatic and heart-stopping finale.
There were numerous standouts among the cast on opening night, chief among them Sara Mearns and Jared Angle in the ballet’s second movement, an adagio of impossible beauty. Mearns brought to bear the full force of her trademark mystery and elegance on this section and with Angle’s confident partnering she danced with an abandon that was at once steely and delicate. There was an audible sigh of awe among the audience at that movement’s end.
Baily Jones, a corps de ballet member who joined the company in 2015 was a happy surprise in the principal female role in the third movement and shows true promise, and veteran soloist Erica Pereira dazzled in the fourth movement with her usual precise footwork and gracious demeanor. The lead men exhibited spirited jumps and vibrant dancing throughout, as did the entire male and female corps de ballet.
One among them deserves a special mention. Mary Elizabeth Sell, a member of the corps de ballet for 13 years, never fails to stand out among the crowd in the ballets in which she is cast and her performance on Tuesday night in one of the secondary couples highlighted in the third movement was no exception. With beautifully arched and articulate feet, a gorgeous and graceful line, and an innate musicality this dancer has Balanchine in her blood and bones.
I hope we get to see Sell and other currently underused dancers featured much more in the future as the company emerges from a particularly gruesome period of scandal and embarks upon a new era with new leadership and a revived outlook. More than ever these dancers deserve our applause as well as the attention and care New York City Ballet’s newly appointed directors have publicly promised to provide.
The New York City Ballet is onstage at the Kennedy Center through April 7, 2019. “New Yorks/New Productions performs April 4, 5, 6
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New York City Ballet. Artistic Director, Jonathan Stafford; Associate Artistic Director, Wendy Whelan. Choreographers featured: Kyle Abraham, George Balanchine, Justin Peck, Gianna Reisen, and Jerome Robbins. Reviewed by Maria Di Mento.