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Photo Credit :: NYCB
Arts & Entertainment
New York City Ballet
By Mark Thompson & Robert Doyle
May 9, 2009 
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So let’s say you’re a lifelong Manhattanite and you’re about to hit fifty—what better way to celebrate than with a $900 million facelift?

On May 11, 2009, Lincoln Center, the world’s largest performing arts complex of twelve resident organizations, celebrated fifty years—and while the old gal had been showing signs of age, there’s nothing like a massive renovation and a considered rethinking of purpose to attract new admirers. As those who have recently wandered the sixteen-acre campus will attest, there’s a lot going on at Lincoln Center these days—and a recent Saturday afternoon at the former New York State Theater, now rechristened David H. Koch Theater, home of the New York City Ballet, attests to the fact that everyone’s feeling young again, and full of promise.

Celebrating its 61st birthday, the NYCB has enjoyed many years of brilliant seasons—as well as several lesser seasons during which dance aficionados found themselves bemoaning the loss of certain favorites while arguing about perceived changes in the company’s direction.  Of late, however, a consensus from true balletomanes seems to be emerging: the NYCB is back and better than ever.  On the Saturday of that birthday weekend, the matinee program featured four pieces choreographed by Balanchine, as well as a fifth by new critical sensation Alexei Ratmansky. 

In keeping with the themes of revival sweeping around Lincoln Center, the afternoon opened with “Scotch Symphony,” a ballet set to music by Mendelssohn that beautifully evokes a romantic evening in the Highlands, or Balmoral.  NYCB principal (and upcoming choreographer) Benjamin Millepied portrayed a Heathcliffian hero, dancing with bravado and sensitivity. 

To witness the NYCB in fine form and elegant line is to comprehend how it is that corn-fed Ohio boys and California beach girls, and boys from small towns in Europe, become princes and princesses onstage. Their carriage more regal, their facial planes more pronounced, dancers exist as a sort of other species—and when they dance and soar through air, our own desires for transcendence often accompany them. 

The smallest gestures, the littlest bits of business take on resonance when performed by dancers.  Take the moment in Balanchine’s “Monumentum Pro Gesualdo” when Maria Kowroski kneels upon the back of Ask la Cour’s extended calf, as if upon a prie-dieu—whereupon you are left with an elegiac image that lingers long after the dust has settled and the toe shoes hung up. 

And then there was last season’s critical favorite, “Concerto DSCH,” choreographed to Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which was written for Shostakovich’s 19-year-old son.  As danced by a corps of fourteen, with five principals, the ballet is as poignant as witnessing adolescents at play—think Tadzio and his friends frolicking along Lido island at the end of Mann’s Death in Venice—and particularly during the andante movement, a soulful mix of strings, piano and solo horn.  There’s a sense of loss as the gloaming approaches, beautifully expressed by the gradual separation and parting of the dancers as they take their leave—before returning for the invigorating allegro finale. In short, an apt metaphor for the times, both on Lincoln Center’s campus and throughout the country: as one chapter ends, another commences.