Last night I went to the New York State Theater to watch New York City Ballet dance Apollo, Prodigal Son, and Serenade on the hundredth anniversary of the birth of George Balanchine. It was bitterly cold in Manhattan, but the house was still full of familiar faces: balletomanes and critics, aging ballerinas and budding bunheads, old friends of Balanchine and young choreographers looking for inspiration. Though I’d seen all three ballets danced the week before, I couldn’t imagine staying home. I’ve witnessed most of the great occasions of state since Balanchine’s death–the company’s 50th-anniversary celebration, Suzanne Farrell’s last Vienna Waltzes and Jerome Robbins’ last bow, the memorial services for Robbins and Tanaquil Le Clercq, Balanchine’s fourth wife–and so I thought it right to be on hand to celebrate the birthday of the man who opened my eyes to ballet 17 years ago.
On paper, it was just another repertory program, the kind that rarely inspires anything remotely approaching a sense of occasion nowadays, but no sooner did the lights go down than I knew something was different. The orchestra launched into the fanfare-like introduction to Apollo, the curtain flew up to reveal Nikolaj H