New York City Ballet
is celebrating the centennial of the birth of George Balanchine, the greatest choreographer of the 20th century, with two full seasons’ worth of Balanchine-heavy programs. I’m in the process of writing a brief life of Balanchine for Harcourt, so I expect to be going to NYCB two or three times a week throughout the next couple of months. I just returned from my first performance of the winter season, an all-Balanchine triple bill of Prodigal Son, Serenade, and Scotch Symphony, two masterpieces and a lesser but nonetheless delightful effort. I brought with me a jazz musician who’d never seen any of Balanchine’s choreography, and was eager to find out what she’d been missing.
Most serious balletgoers (if not all) have felt for some time now that NYCB was in decline, and tonight’s performance did little to prove them wrong. I don’t need to go into particulars, since Tobi Tobias nailed all the myriad deficiencies of the current staging of Scotch Symphony in a posting on “Seeing Things,” her artsjournal.com blog:
I had been looking forward to my favorite Scotch Symphony moment. Two of the kilts lift the Sylphide high–she seems to be standing on air–and toss her, still vertical, into her ardent suitor’s arms. “She sails forward as if the air were her natural home,” Walter Terry wrote in 1957, “and [her partner] catches her high on his chest as if she were without weight.” I recall the exquisitely gentle Diana Adams in that moment. For two unforgettable seconds, she seemed to be not falling but floating–softly, lazily, serenely, swept crosswise by an idle breeze. It didn’t happen last night. They didn’t even attempt it. I wonder if whoever is setting the ballet even knows that moment existed. Or cares.
I was one year old in 1957, but anyone who’s seen the old Bell Telephone Hour video
of Maria Tallchief and Andr