Review: ‘New York City Ballet: Works by Balanchine, Peck, and Ratmansky’ at The Kennedy Center

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Last evening’s ballet concert at The Kennedy Center was one of those magical evenings of dance. Sipping champagne and not talking politics, balletomanes gathered on the sprawling deck that surrounds the Center’s Opera House before, during, and after the New York City Ballet unveiled Program A in its much too short residency through the weekend. As the sun set over the Potomac, my mind turned to that familiar song from A Chorus Line, “Everything is Beautiful at the Ballet.”

Sterling Hyltin and Joaquin De Luz in Odessa. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Nobody ever said the New York City Ballet was like any other dance company in the world, and for my money, “City Ballet,” as it familiarly called, remains the ultimate cool, sophisticated company, always au courant and adored in the ballet world. One of its hallmarks incorporates new works mixed with classics every season. Last night’s concert featured four distinctive ballets, spanning 60 years of repertory, by three choreographers with themes ranging from the exotic to the erotic, from traditional to trendy, from comic to classy.

This time around, the NYCB offers two separate programs, Balanchine, Peck & Ratmansky and Balanchine, Peck & Wheeldon. My recommendation is to see both – you’re guaranteed at least one Justin Peck performance, worth the price of the ticket. Attendees will get a look at three of the hottest choreographers around (Peck, Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon) and, of course, savor legendary co-founder, George Balanchine who, with current artistic director Peter Martins, molded these dancers into today’s chic, cultured company.

Balanchine was the greatest strip artist of them all. In last night’s opening music visualization, Square Dance, he took away all superfluous trimmings – sets, costumes, lighting effects – and left a masterpiece of pure movement. Its simplicity and purity, its coy sexiness make other ballets look cluttered.

Conductor Andrews Sill – his hair flying this way and that as he waved the baton for the New York City Ballet Orchestra – followed the furiously fast steps of Megan Fairchild and Chase Finlay, the leading couple in this beautifully crafted 1957 ballet from The George Balanchine Trust. The petite ballerina reminded this writer of Patricia McBride who always managed to keep up (and smile) with the stirring score by Coreli and Vivaldi.

Dancer Erica Pereira in Tarantella. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Balanchine’s Russian heritage and classic ballet touches were evident in Tarantella, created in 1964 and set to a glorious Gottschalk score, orchestrated by Balanchine and Hershy Kay. This pas de deux is pure delight with multiple turns, high-flying leaps and a tambourine that dancer Hoxha Spartak banged so hard pieces fell to the stage floor. He was an amazing artist who partnered Erica Pereira with the sensitivity the piece deserves.

Peck’s 2015 Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes, set to the familiar score by Aaron Copeland score, closed program A, though this writer would have preferred it as the opening ballet. Here is a celebration of the company, including ballerina extraordinaire, Tiler Peck, and the choreographer as a performer. It’s a romp that captures the brilliance of design, much like Balanchine would have created. Or Jerome Robbins, perhaps, whose influence was seen in this DC premiere.

If Justin Peck represents the brilliant mind of “Mr. B,” as he was known to his NYCB dancers, then Alexei Ratmansky captures Balanchine’s Russian soul. The DC premiere of Odessa proved once again that Ratmansky has a gift for dance and drama from his homeland. And what a gift it is, his fifth work for the NYCB, both haunting and poignant. The music, Leonid Desyatnikov’s “Sketches to Sunset” is a collection of incidental music from the 1990 Russian film, based on Isaac Babel’s tales of Jewish gangsters in Odessa after the Russian Revolution. The ballet for 18 dancers features period costumes by Keso Dekker and blood-red lighting by Mark Stanley.

I loved everything about this ballet, mostly the exceptional dancing by Ashley Bouder, Tyler Angle, Sterling Hyltin, Joaquin De Luz, Taylor Stanley, and my favorite ballerina, Sara Mearns. A tip of the hat also goes to the French horn and Tuba musicians, and Violin Soloist Arturo Delmoni, conducted by Andrew Litton.

Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, with two 15-minute intermissions.

The New York City Ballet: Two Programs of Works by Balanchine, Peck & Ratmansky, Program A, plays on Wednesday, June 7, and Saturday, June 10, 2017, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 11 at 1:30 p.m. in The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online

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