Balanchine Black & White: All Stravinsky, Sept. 29

My first live NYCB performance ever was Balanchine Black & White: All Stravinsky a couple of weeks ago. The program included five ballets.

First was Stravinsky Violin Concerto, which has four sections. The first, Toccata, starts with groups of five (one soloist plus four). At first these were groups of all women or all men, but then there was more mixing, a female soloist with a group of men or a male soloist with a group of women. I really enjoyed seeing the different arrangements and patterns Balanchine made with the groups of five.  Throughout Stravinsky Violin Concerto Adrian Danchig-Waring and Chase Finlay did flying leaps and amazing turns, and the leaping started here. The next section was Aria I, a pas between Sara Mearns and Danchig-Waring. This was a tense pas, like a pair of people trying not to break. I didn’t particularly like Sara Mearns in this role, though. I preferred Aria I, more unified and mournful, danced by Lauren Lovette and Chase Finlay. The piece ended with Capriccio, with everyone on stage again. This was my favorite part; there was so much movement and weaving back and forth. It was a strong ending.

The next two pieces, Monumentum pro Gesualdo and Movements for Piano and Orchestra, were paired; they weren’t created together, but they’ve been performed together for 50 years now. They’re both very typical of Balanchine but quite different from each other. The first felt continuous, classical, and courtly; the second was much more discrete, angular, and focused on shape. I thought both pieces embodied the music well, but I wasn’t particularly moved by either. I’m also not sure much is gained by pairing them.

Duo Concertant was my favorite piece of the night. I love the progression of it, and Ashley Bouder and Robert Fairchild seemed so natural in their parts. This is a piece that really relies on the music; the violinist and pianist are onstage, and the dancers stand at the piano, watching and listening, for several very long stretches. When they begin to dance, it often feels like spontaneous interpretation of the music, and Bouder and Fairchild did an incredible job of dancing to each other. There’s a Jerome Robbins quote along the lines of “You should dance only to each other. As if the audience weren’t there. It’s very hard,” and that’s what I felt, watching Duo Concertant.

The first part of the piece felt like a fun, casual dance. The next part was longer, more low-key, but very natural, as if these were two people who were used to occupying the same space. The next part was more playful, and the sense of spontaneity increased as the piece went. The end slowed down, though, and became far more mournful. The dancers were separated both in movement but especially in how the lighting was done, and though the love and the vows between them were still evident, there was a strong sense of loneliness.

Symphony in Three Movements is the piece I would most like to see again. It felt the most layered, so I think there would be parts of the ballet I would appreciate more on a second (or even third) viewing. Often there is dancing by members of the three lead couples (with women in shades of pink), by a group of secondary couples (women in black), and then by the corps (women in white), and no group is stage furniture; all of it is worth watching and adds to the full piece.

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