New York City Ballet’s winter season is celebrating the music of Tschaikovsky. The Balanchine triple bill performed last Wednesday included a personal favorite, Serenade, which also happened to mark the return of principal dancer Sara Mearns after a nearly year-long absence due to injury.
Tschaikovsky’s score for Serenade, the first ballet that Balanchine choreographed in America, is transcendent on its own, but even more so with the ballet’s stunning opening: the corps, scattered across the stage in long blue tulle skirts, stands in parallel while looking up at their raised right hand, which appears to be blocking the sun from their eyes (the first performance of Serenade, in 1934, was outdoors). In Wednesday’s performance, the corps was remarkably calm and precise throughout the rush of movement that follows the opening.
Along with Sara Mearns, Ashley Bouder and Megan LeCrone performed the leads. Their stylistic differences make them all a joy to watch side by side. Mearns’ movement quality is lush and lyrical, while LeCrone’s angular features lend themselves to her dark, edgy style. Bouder is sprightly and lightning-quick, making her jumps in the first section particularly thrilling.
The emotional richness and variation of the score was evident in Mearns’ performance. Bright optimism in the first section turns to sadness and loss in the pas de deux. Mearns looked joyful and alert as she leaped through two rows of women in her first entrance, and then later more subdued – and perhaps tearful – as she danced with Jared Angle. The first performance back after an injury is probably moving for any dancer. Mearns’ return seemed even more poignant in a ballet as transcendent as Serenade. It’s wonderful to see her back on stage. She was dearly missed.