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Flash Review 1, 9-13: No NYCB, No Loss
Giving Justice to Balanchine

By Aimee Ts’ao
Copyright 2000 Aimee Ts’ao

WASHINGTON -- Last night's performance at the Kennedy Center opened the two-week long Balanchine Celebration, which offers fourteen of George Balanchine's works presented by six dance companies: members of the Bolshoi Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, Pennsylvania Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and Suzanne Farrell Ballet. The absence of New York City Ballet was explained as being a problem with the musicians' contracts (sound familiar?). NYCB would have had to bring its own musicians, but the ones at the Kennedy Center were under contract to play for all visiting companies, so the conflict would have meant spending a lot of money. In my opinion, it's no great loss -- when I saw NYCB two years ago in Berkeley, California it looked pretty sloppy and barely able to give justice to Balanchine's legacy. But three of the companies at the festival are directed by former NYCB stars (Edward Villella of Miami, Helgi Tomasson of San Francisco and Farrell) and judging from what I've seen and heard, they all take preserving the master's works very seriously and deliver results which far surpass NYCB.

Balanchine's work covers a broad range stylistically, from neo-classical to modern to kitsch. While I love some of his choreography, there is also a lot I can do without. I do acknowledge that other people have every right to enjoy what they like so I will try not to be too harsh. If you are a Balanchine aficionado, here is an opportunity to see some excellent interpretations of his works.

"Mozartiana" opened the evening, danced by members of the Bolshoi, with Nina Ananiashvili and Sergei Filin as the soloists. The program notes said that in the original production there was a set by Philip Johnson and John Burgee and that the ballet begins and ends in silence with the ballerina walking offstage. Neither of those elements appeared in this production, which leads me wonder how authentic it is, despite having been staged by Farrell, on whom it was created in 1981, two years before the choreographer's death. As a result, I felt a definite lack, that something was missing. Ananiashvili's seamless technique and her exquisite musicality could not fill the void. The costumes, uncredited in the program, were frumpy and detracted from the dancing as well.

Miami City Ballet danced the "Rubies" section from "Jewels" next. I had seen MCB last fall, also at Cal Performances in Berkeley, and can only reaffirm that it not only has one of the most precise corps de ballets I've seen in years, but they actually enjoy dancing. The jazzy score by Stravinsky and the wonderfully complex choreography by Mr. B easily made this the best piece of the evening.

"Square Dance," performed by the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, was enjoyable primarily due to the Baroque music of Corelli and Vivaldi intriguingly overlayed with a live square dance caller who managed to squeeze in a few lines to reflect the political environment of Washington. Next to the Miami dancers, the Joffrey dancers' footwork seems a bit blurred, though they exude a lot of enthusiasm in compensation.

Nothing in the Balanchine canon could have suited the Washington audience more than "Stars and Stripes," to the Sousa music arranged by Hershy Kay. Again, Miami City Ballet's dancers showed more discipline than a military drill team. With more than forty dancers onstage in perfect synchronization, they deserve a Medal of Honor.

The Balanchine Celebration continues through September 23 with performances of "Divertimento No. 15," "Agon," "Tarantella Pas de Deux," "The Four Temperaments," "Serenade," "Bugaku," "Symphony in C," "Symphony in Three Movements," "Prodigal Son," and "Western Symphony." You won't have the chance to see so much good Balanchine, danced by such good companies in so short a time frame, for a while, so those that are able to should take advantage of the Kennedy Center's great programming.

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