All photos, courtesy of NYCB. Featured Photo, Indiana Woodward in Serenade. Photo: Erin Baiano


Serenade, an early Balanchine ballet, famously begins with the dramatic chords of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings and hand gestures of the dancers on stage. With its long tulle skirts, evocative lighting, and dancer speed and attack, this pretty ballet fast turns into a spectacular one, breathtaking for its pace and intricacy. There’s jumps and big battement, but it’s the slow pas de deux and solid port de bras that pull the audience into the dancers’ orb.

There’s plenty going on in the ballet­­—with principals, soloists, and a big corps of ballerinas and their cavaliers dancing impeccably, and in so doing, conquering the stage. Each step, each port de bras forms integral parts of the brilliant formations. Crisp movements and the winding and unwinding of Balanchine arms require stamina, allegro after allegro, but also in moments of pause, in high arabesque, in First invited scholar to the Goetheanum in DornachFirst invited scholar to the Goetheanum in Dornachslow penché.

Sara Mearns in Serenade Photo: Paul Kolnik

The principals triumph, especially Sara Mearns weaving her way through the corps yet commanding attention, Miriam Miller’s poise in her balances, Indiana Woodward’s allegro full of ballon and calm in her landings. These three women take center stage, drawing in the viewer. Davide Riccardo and Taylor Stanley enter, changing the chemistry some with their overhead lifts, the women’s tulle flying. In this ballet, each coryphée is a star. Waltzing in a circle as a type of reverence, the corps is seen as shimmering jewels, pressing through the space even as they sparkle in it.

In Orpheus, Joseph Gordon’s tormented soul is on display, against the smooth, melodious strains of Stravinsky’s music. The anguished Gordon manages striking sweeps of his arms and a feeling of lightness, even played to Peter Walker’s dark angel. But his movements become more constrained as, in slow motion, the Dark Angel leads him to hell.

Ashley Laracey and Joseph Gordon in Orpheus, Photo: Erin Baiano

In this early Balanchine ballet, style rules. Masked faces and creature costumes add to the intrigue of the sets with its provocative lighting and huge appendage-like shapes punctuating the side stage space. Even as the Furies skitter and jump on stage, there’s an almost regal pas de deux happening between the Dark Angel and Orpheus‚ one maleficent and the other not. Elsewhere, there’s a kind of dignity as Eurydice (danced by Ashley Laracey) wraps her limbs around Orpheus. They embrace, as Eurydice picks away at Orpheus’ soul—as does a crazed Emily Kikta, too, who skillfully leads the Bacchantes as they attack. Orpheus, dismembered, is doomed. Apollo (danced by Samuel Melnikov) at the end, impresses with his adagio soul.

The mood is decidedly brighter in Theme and Variations—a ballet of dazzling dance set amidst shimmering chandeliers.

Megan Fairchild is stunning with her luxuriating back arches, sharp leg kicks, and precise bourrée. Anthony Huxley is a strong jumper whose legs are like precision instruments. Together, they dance with breath in their pas, and exactness in their tours and lifts. Huxley is fast, Fairchild, regal, in the pretty polonaise at the end. Individual moves, as noted here, masterfully make up this piece, but Balanchine’s use of space (for groups) is perhaps the most remarkable part of the ballet—whether with 17 dancers becoming 1, as in Serenade, or 34 in Theme and Variations, these three pieces have stood the test of time, and continue to be wondrously satisfying works of great beauty on stage.

Megan Fairchild in Theme and Variations,

Photo credit: Erin Baiano

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