At The Orange County Center for the Performing Arts, The New York City Ballet celebrates it's 50th season with a repertory program that opens with "Agon." These pieces were modeled after examples in the French Dance Manual of the mid-17th century by Igor Stravinsky and choreographed by George Balanchine. This is very classical ballet with a decidedly modern flair, as evidenced by the music. The first part features a pas de quatre with four men, a double pas de quatre with eight women, and a triple with the combined forces. The first four kick, turn and twirl in opposition while the second eight mirror each other. The twelve symmetrically combine the attributes of the first two groups. The second part has two pas de trois, two women and a man, who does a solo like a very classically graceful mechanical man. The three form a pyramid and the women are like marionettes with spikey movements. The second has two men and a woman. They spin her on pointe, let her go, quickly switch sides, and catch her as she falls. They lift her, toss her, one to the other, carry her to the front, and she splits and gets back up. The pas de deux with Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans is scintillating. They crisscross their bodies, arms, and legs. She splits straight up, out to the sides, down to the floor, on her back, and up again on pointe. Her leg reaches to the sky as he lays on his back and she sweeps down with the only point of contacts, her hand to his and her toe to the floor. This is one of the most understated and most gracefully athletic pieces I have seen. It's very sensual and smooth, and the apparent ease with which the dancers do it is breathtaking. The finale has the ensemble, but it's solo ensemble, with each of the dancers and groups independent of each other, but at the same time seamlessly integrated. "Agon" is a very elegant piece that's quite athletic in an understated way that makes it wonderfully smooth.
"Fearful Symmetries" is some of the best music I've ever heard from John Adams. The choreography is by Peter Martins. The work debuted in 1990, but it could have been written looking back at the 90's. The pulsating rhythms and urgency leads us out of the go-go 80's to the end of the Cold War and beyond. The ensemble dancers that open are almost stiflingly close. We have black side panels, red ceiling panels, a blood red backdrop, men with wine red costumes, and women in peach and pink. The dancers are getting turned upside down and spun around as they enter and exit, flying across the stage, while Russia boils, South Asia is poised on the nuclear brink, and one of the most popular Presidents in history is being brought down over consensual sex. The angular, crisscrossing groups leap and kick to a frenzied crescendo, but in the end we're left with art and dance to make sense and beauty of the chaos.
Tchaikovsky's "Pas de Deux" was originally intended for the third act of "Swan Lake." It was not published with the score and was not known to Petipa and Ivanov, so they substituted music from Act 1 which became the famous "Black Swan Pas de Deux." This is a love duet, and has none of the sinister undercurrents of von Rothbart or Odile, which is probably why it was left out. It starts slow as both Miranda Weese and Damian Wetzel do solos. He leaps high, rolls over in the air and does scissors kicks and twirls. He's like a flying dervish as he leaps, splits, spins, and twirls around the stage. She's not far behind as she flies into his arms, he catchs her, turns her upside down, and the curtain falls on this beautiful "Pas de Deux" which was unkown until Balanchine choreographed and premiered it in 1960.
"Western Symphony" with music by Hershy Kay and Balanchine's choreography is a Pops hoedown. It has a set of an old Western town with the barren mountains of Nevada as a back drop. We have groups of cowboys and dance hall girls in variously colored costumes with silvery skirts. This piece is decadently sultry with classical elegance, and pure Americana. There's a lot of body language and gestures. The first part has four cowboys with two groups of four girls. Soloists Rachel Rutherford and James Fayette do a provocative pas de deux while two girls from each group pair off with the cowboys, and the others posture themselves and stare contemptuously at the soloists. The Second Movement features Kipling Houston and Alexandra Ansaneli. She's an unabashed flirt and her wonderfully overexaggerated facial expressions and gestures run the gamut from rejection to love, to disbelief, to bewilderment. She flutters into and out of his arms, and around and off the stage. The final movement features Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard and the ensemble. This piece moves fast with a lot of spins, twirls, and leaps, both solo and ensemble. "Western Symphony" has a lot of dancers and absolutely sizzles with excitement. Maurice Kaplow conducted the orchestra in this scintillating evening with The New York City Ballet at the Orange County Center for the Performing Arts.