New York City Ballet Review: Balanchine, Robbins & Reisen April 2, 2019 | Kennedy Center – Washington, D.C.
It is opening night of New York City Ballet’s 2019 annual engagement at the Kennedy Center and the first people to appear from behind the curtain are the newly appointed Artistic Director of NYCB and the School of American Ballet and the Associate Artistic Director of NYCB, Jonathan Stafford and Wendy Whelan, respectively.
They speak to how since 1974, NYCB has come to the Kennedy Center to show the Washington D.C. audience a representation of what is going on in one of the world’s most recognized ballet institutions.
Naturally, the company often showcases George Balanchine ballets, and this evening’s performance is no different. Sandwiched in between the Founder’s pieces is a work by Jerome Robbins and to open the program is young choreographer Gianna Riesen’s ballet – the first she made for the company.
Gianna Riesen demonstrates in her ballet Composer’s Holiday that some ballerinas are also naturally proficient choreographers. In 2017 at the ripe old age of eighteen, freshly graduated from the School of American Ballet, Ms. Riesen became the youngest person ever to have a NYCB commissioned piece.
The result is a playful dance set to Lukas Foss’ Three American Pieces that displays an impressively unique vocabulary. It is also an opportunity to show off the young talent of the company – the entire cast (including the four featured dancers) are corps de ballet members except for one apprentice. To note is Emma Von Enck who is delightful to watch in her clean, assured technique.
If you have ever wondered what a mash-up between Balanchine’s Concerto Barroco, Rubies and The Four Temperaments would look like, Kammermusik No. 2 may be the closest you get. As is to be expected from a Balanchine ballet, there is lightning speed choreography that so intelligently echoes the music it is being danced to.
There is a lot of canon going on (reminiscent of Barroco but to an extreme), especially between the two principal dancers, Abi Stafford and Teresa Reichlen; their focus is impressive – especially Reichlen’s who must resist the temptation of dancing to her counterpart’s music. It is actually a bit of a distraction as there are few moments when the viewer has a moment to relax into synchronous movement.
Those familiar with Rubies will recognized some of the unmistakably distinctive port de bras, while ears that are attuned to music will instantly hear themes similar to those in The Four Temperaments, both choreographed to composer Paul Hindemith. Overall, this piece deftly demonstrates the athleticism that NYCB has been known for over the years; the men especially are dynamic and in-sync except for what seems awkward moments during their bows (did they not rehearse them?)
If it weren’t for Gonzalo Garcia’s dominance of the stage, Opus 19/The Dreamer risks being a work that is best left in the archives. Jerome Robbins’ piece – most likely a contemporary marvel when it was created in 1979 for Mikhail Baryshnikov and Patricia McBride – feels a bit antiquated in the realm of the 21st century. (Being that its choreography does not completely fall into the classical ballet vernacular, it eludes being put into the category of a “classic”.)
Luckily, Garcia immediately captures the audience with his first steps, full of emotion and a buoyancy that is at once powerful and graceful – not a sound is heard when he lands. It is he that carries this ballet from beginning to end.
Closing the program is Balanchine’s Symphony in C, his 52-member cast dancing to Georges Bizet’s beautiful work. For those of you who read my review of Symphony in C back in September, you may be happy to hear that this evening’s presentation is better (granted, considering my opinion of the performance I saw in the fall, I went in with little expectation).
The company appears to be more cohesive minus the Second Movement corps who seem to struggle with their bourrées and demi à la second arm position while in repose. Most impressive is the finale which essentially reprises each of the four movements and highlights the memorable moments. It is amazing to see that many dancers executing such rapid, difficult choreography at the same time – they don’t miss a beat.
New York City Ballet presents two different programs at The Kennedy Center this year. This reviewed show – Balanchine, Robbins & Reisen – will be on stage again April 3 and 7, and New Works & New Productions (featuring works by Jerome Robbins, Justin Peck, and Kyle Abraham) is scheduled for April 4, 5, and 6 (matinee and evening).
Cherilyn's lifelong passion for ballet has opened the door to the next chapter of her journey. Her strong foundation includes training at the School of American Ballet, being a featured dancer with Hartford Ballet and Carolina Ballet, and being co-director/owner of City Ballet Raleigh. She was granted the Affiliate Teacher Award after successfully completing the ABT National Training Curriculum®. A professional career in the industry along with extensive global travel provide her with a unique set of experiences to draw upon as a journalist and audience member. Cherilyn is excited to be sharing her insight about ballet around the world.