It’s incredibly difficult, I think, for anybody under 40–and especially a non-New Yorker–to write about New York City Ballet these days. There is the omnipresent shadow of the many persuasive detractors of Peter Martins’s leadership, coupled with the handicap of not having witnessed the company while Balanchine was alive.
I tried to write this Voice of Dance review of the company’s Orange County performances squarely from my limited perspective–which for better or worse is also the perspective of future ballet-goers:
“We have entered an age of the Balanchine smorgasbord. You can walk down the buffet line and pick your favorite Jewels as Miami City Ballet?s, your favorite Stravinsky Violin Concerto as San Francisco Ballet?s; your favorite Serenade as Suzanne Farrell Ballet?s. You can make a case for preferring these renditions based not on uniformity of technique, but on subtle yet crucial shadings of interpretation, intention, and mood. Whatever your argument, the conditions for it remain the same: NYCB no longer holds the monopoly of authority on how these ballets should be danced. Whether it relinquished this authority or whether that authority was bound to fade during the Balanchine diaspora remains, to me, an open question.
Perhaps to keepers of New York City Ballet history, this new laissez-faire Balanchine market is but another symptom of the sad slide they lament. But to those who came of age after Balanchine?s death, it is impossible to mourn a golden age you didn?t witness. Freed from memories of New York City Ballet under Balanchine, I was delighted to discover new dancers and to see new choreographic details in ballets, such as Rubies, that I had previously seen only other companies perform.
This West Coast tour is all about Balanchine: on Saturday and Sunday?s slates, the only non-Balanchine offering was artistic director Peter Martins?s swollen Thou Swell, a shrewd but choreographically vacuous package of sentimentality set to Richard Rodgers songs. The audience gave it a roaring standing ovation. Christopher Wheeldon?s Polyphonia was replaced by a repeat of Stravinsky Violin Concerto at the last moment due to injuries, and a second viewing proved NYCB?s rendition of it no less dull. Serenade, seen twice, fared better, as did Rubies and Symphony in C. That most sure-fire of Balanchine crowd-pleasers, Stars and Stripes, showed the company at its sharpest and strongest, while the bookends of Jewels, Emeralds and Diamonds, languished with undistinguished performances framed by Peter Harvey?s swampy new sets. All told, this was a chance for a Southern California audience far more accustomed to Swan Lakes than mixed bills to see a striking range of Balanchine?s genius?classicist, modernist, spiritualist, campy populist. Many, I?m sure, left as converts.”
Do let me know what you think.