The first movement, comprised of simple yet shifting patterns of pairs, trios, and so forth, is often believed to exhibit hegemony. And in some sense there was.
The dancers moved harmoniously together, demonstrating not symmetry but authority and precision in their non-linear movements. The heterogeneity was not perceived in the choreography itself but in the strength of the soloists far surpassing that of the corps de ballet as well as in the variation in the physique of the women on stage.
Balanchine is largely credited with constructing the notion of a stereotypical slender ballet body, though the capacity of the dancers to perform such a technically and artistically challenging piece proved that such an ideal does not exist.
It was refreshing.
On the opening evening, the Waltz Lady was performed by Carolyn Judson whose delightful effervescence and theatrics quickly captivated the audience. There is no story in Serenade, yet somehow the audience cannot help but empathize for the dancer who has fallen and disrupted the careful patterns.
As “Sontina” ends, the other dancers purposefully walk off stage and abandon the Waltz Lady to perform the following movement alone. That is until she is met by the Waltz Man of the evening Carl Coomer.
Immediately, I was struck by the juxtaposition between Judson’s vivacity and Coomer’s more mature sense of being grounded. Together, they dance a relatively simple waltz. There is an ebb and flow as the other dancers rejoin the couple and depart the stage. Eventually, the music signals a shift from the second movement.
Now, the Russian Lady becomes the central figure.
The Russian Lady is performed by Nicole Van Enck whose dynamism is a beautiful blend of the neo-classical and Russian characters of dance. She, along with four other women, perform an intimate circular series of steps by which they appear to flow as one body.
This phrase is swiftly contrasted by the quickening beat of Tchaikovsky’s score that calls the other dancers to return to the stage for a sequence of spirited choreography that devours the space. There is much momentum as the dancers briefly revisit their opening positions followed by a sharp break as Judson – aggressively attempting to tear the pins from her tidied hair – falls to the floor, left alone once again.
The final movement, “Elegy,” has begun.
As Judson is lying crumpled in the corner of stage right, the Dark Angel, performed by Samantha Pille, and the Elegy Man, performed by Alexander Kotelenets, emerge from the wings upstage left.
With her arms draped intimately around Kotelenets from behind and one hand covering his eyes, Pille guides her Elegy Man across the stage on a long diagonal toward Judson. They move as one. With Pille still wrapped around him, Kotelenets now stands ominously over the Waltz Lady who has been revived. She rises, and they begin to dance together.
Pille’s movement is authoritative, enabling a beat between each calculated arabesque and pose.
The women are the central subjects of Serenade, so it is difficult to attest to anything but Kotelenets’ mere presence on stage and his ability to support the three women – Judson, Van Enck, and Pille – who passionately and repeatedly fling themselves at him. To this, I can say he is unshaken.
At the end of “Elegy,” Pille and Kotelenets disappear from the stage as they entered and leave the Waltz Lady on the floor once more. The other dancers return to the stage, though Judson remains the principal figure.
Those in the audience hold their breath as Judson is effortlessly lifted by her feet to float through a sea of blue. Once she is carried offstage, the remaining women adopt the iconic image of arms opened and chests raised toward the sky. With that, the curtain closes.