Last night away from home?or did I forget to mention that I had left? I spent the first four days of the week in Washington D.C., where I helped decide the merits of nearly 100 dance applications submitted to the National Endowment for the Arts. It?s the second time I?ve served as a panelist, and again I left in awe of my fellow application-readers? knowledge, and thoroughly convinced that our NEA tax dollars are going to good use.

Yesterday I rode the train to Manhattan in order to rendezvous with my editor this afternoon. And tonight, purely for my own enjoyment, I bought a ticket to the New York City Ballet ?Nutcracker.? Midway through the second act I was so glad I did. True, Madame Karinska?s costumes can?t be topped, and I can?t imagine a more satisfying ?Waltz of the Flowers? exists in the world. But the clincher was Janie Taylor as Dewdrop, moving with such verve and elasticity that her legs seemed constructed of rubber bands rather than joints. For a tiny firefly of a girl, she emits a big glow.

Yvonne Borree danced Sugarplum, and though I would much rather have witnessed, say, Ashley Bouder?s debut in the role, the warmth of the ballet was hardly dampened. In fact, blame holiday cheer?or blame the folly of trying to judge a company you are only able to see on occasion?but I had a strikingly different reaction to City Ballet tonight than I did at the Orange County Performing Arts Center this fall. Tonight, watching Bouder dancing on such a thin edge, every step a feat of boldness and courage, it seemed miraculous that a New York City Ballet dancer would still move just as I imagined Balanchine would have wanted, more than 20 years after his death. A company that can nurture that performance must be doing something right. This is a superficial way of saying that even a critic?s assessment of a company is constantly shifting.

You might expect a dance critic to bemoan the yearly onslaught of ?Nutcrackers,? but I rarely weary of the ballet. How can you with all those yards of gorgeous music? I?m looking forward to the opening of San Francisco Ballet?s all-new production next Friday. I?ll be reviewing for the Chronicle?look for the link here. In the meantime, I?m bound for home, with bells on.

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