PNB’s "All Balanchine" is Almost Tutu Beautiful to Bear (Photo Gallery)
I haven’t read that he was socked in the jaw very often, but I have to think that in dancers’ dreams at least, George Balanchine was as much abused as adored.
I’m thinking of the moment in Serenade when Ariana Lallone pivots en pointe, one leg languorously outstretched, as a male dancer kneels behind her and, unseen, ever so slowly rotates her. Lallone’s face is a perfect mask, her wrists, her fingers, not too tense, she’s a living sculpture–and her body’s weight shoots down through a single trembling, balancing ankle to a toe shoe.
My ankle sprained in sympathy.
PNB’s “All Balanchine” (through April 25) may be the strongest of their celebrations of the celebrated choreographer’s work that I’ve seen. The program of Serenade, Square Dance, and The Four Temperaments shows off Balanchine’s remarkable ability to marry that Balanchine aesthetic to music. In each case, it’s not a shotgun wedding, it’s a love match. The audience on Saturday afternoon arrived head over heels, and applauded the curtain going up.
Serenade (from 1934) is a romantic vision set to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, the stage loaded with ballerinas in long tutus. When it was new, audiences reacted to it the way PNB audiences respond to William Forsythe. At one point, heedless of symmetry, Balanchine has everyone crowd into the far corner of the stage and crouch, while a soloist performs downstage. Oh, the humanity!
If there’s a trained expectation he doesn’t leave unsatisfied, I’m not sure what it is. Instead, there are chords of dancers, patterns and intersections drawn from the music, and contrasts between steps and rhythm. A few themes cut across each piece: Balanchine’s regard for stillness, the way he uses it as a dash rather than a period at the end of a series. Those challenging one-legged landings from a leap. Extension that, even flat-footed, creates a sense of elevation.
Here, you see too the way he uses the dancers to delineate space. When they chain hands and arms in 1957′s Square Dance, they create human-sized, charged arcs and arches.
Mark Morris has a similar fondness for this, which isn’t a Cunningham-esque abstraction, but an infusing of space with human presence. In fact, I don’t think you can see Square Dance and not imagine a young Mark Morris’s eyes widening as he sees what you can do. It’s not especially folksy–it’s ballet, 17th-century court dance, and what might be called the spirit of American folk dance.
The music by Vivaldi and Corelli doesn’t call to mind square-dancing, but the way the dancers swing around might, and their footwork (really, shinwork, too) is complex and fast, like a jig partly transposed into the air.
Finally, The Four Temperaments (1946) is a chance for PNB’s stars to make their marks in the firmament. The Saturday matinée brought Jonathan Poretta, Lesley Rausch and Seth Orza, Olivier Wevers, and Lindsi Dec, all doing their interpretations of what are at least called Melancholic, Sanguinic, Phlegmatic, and Choleric. What they each do is find their inner Balanchine, stay clean and clear and simple, and surprise. Balanchine picks up on the angularities in Hindemith’s music for string orchestra and piano, and his vocabulary becomes more contemporary, with Poretta dropping and hitting the floor repeatedly, Wevers traipsing, then losing his tensile strength, the current turned off.
The orchestra, under Alastair Willis, sounded as if they were playing for their own amusement–it was that good, loose and in the moment, all afternoon, no matter what they tackled.