New York City Ballet in George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, photo by Paul Kolnik
In 1948, New York City Ballet performed George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco at the company’s first performance. This past Sunday afternoon, it was a fitting opening to the spring season. With two other Balanchine classics – The Four Temperaments and Symphony in Three Movements – this superb program served as a reminder of Balanchine’s remarkable legacy, especially before the company looks ahead by presenting seven new ballets by seven distinguished choreographers throughout the eight-week season.
The three pieces, which debuted between 1941 and 1972, were presented in chronological order and reflected a growing maturity and complexity in Balanchine’s movement over the course of those decades. Concerto Barocco started as an exercise for students at the School of American Ballet. The movement is so pure, so academic, so responsive to and reflective of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Minor that it’s easy to see why it started in the studio. With Wendy Whelan and Ellen Bar in the principal roles, however, it’s just as easy to recognize that this timeless work deserves a place in the company’s repertoire. They crisply echoed the two violins in the first section – Bar quietly reserved and Whelan more extroverted – and both matched the music’s sheer energy.
By comparison, The Four Temperaments is emotionally richer and its movement more layered than that of Barocco. The ballet makes incredible use of Paul Hindemith’s wonderfully moody score (according to Peter Martins in this informative conversation, Balanchine paid the composer $500 for the commissioned music and said it was the best money he ever spent). Four variations illustrate the four medieval humors. In Sanguinic, Jennie Somogyi and Tyler Angle were both powerhouses, eating up the space with precision and attack. Sébastien Marcovici was achingly dramatic in Melancholic, while Albert Evans was appropriately detached in Phlegmatic. But most impressive was Teresa Reichlen’s interpretation of Choleric. With a newly discovered ferocity, she whipped through the lightning-quick spins that end on the floor, yet always remained in control. Her stunning extensions and jumps revealed a fire within, while her intense focus never let up.
NYCB in George Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements, photo by Paul Kolnik
Of the three works on the program, Symphony in Three Movements has the most flair, from the opening diagonal line of women who rapidly swing one arm and then curl their torsos, to the closing whirlwind of movement for the entire cast. The ballet looked chaotic at times (perhaps it was under-rehearsed) but the dancers were so in tune with Stravinsky’s dynamic score that it didn’t matter. Sterling Hyltin and Daniel Ulbricht’s competitive jumps colorfully echoed the changing piano chords in the first movement, while the large cast revealed angular limbs, precise lines, and touches of quirkiness (spidery hands and inward pointing knees!). In the past, Abi Stafford has seemed too youthful and sweet to match the maturity of the second movement’s pas de deux with Jared Angle, but on Sunday she showed intriguing depth while conveying the playfulness and charm that Balanchine wove into the duet.
At the beginning of a new season, there’s always an abundance of enthusiasm and passion emanating from New York City Ballet’s dancers, but on Sunday afternoon it seemed more pronounced than usual. Perhaps it’s due to the excitement surrounding the highly anticipated seven new works, or maybe it’s because the dancers have the opportunity to perform some of Balanchine’s greatest ballets. Or more likely, it’s both. How lucky they are to be a part of the company’s past while also shaping its present and future.