Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
It's clear the New York City Ballet believes in giving fair value. The company's program at the Kennedy Center Thursday included five ballets, among them three Washington premieres, each of them first class.
The evening was also a further testimonial to the matchless caliber of the troupe as a performing unit - there is simply no other ballet company in the world today with such an abundance of virtuosity, finesse and spirit at all levels.
The premiere of chief interest, being the newest work, was George Balanchine's "Ballo della Regina," set to music from Verdi's opera "Don Carlo," and it proved to be a scintillating delight, marked by a profusion of joyful choreographic invention.
The original version of the opera had an obligatory ballet scene for its Parisian premiere, an undersea affair involving a fisherman, dancing pearls and the Queen of the Waters. Balanchine has retained some gentle allusions to all this in the aqueous scenery and costumes, and ends the piece with a regal procession. But essentially, this "Ballo" is an elegantly formal divertissement for a lead couple - Merrill Ashlev and Robert Weiss - four female soloists and an ensemble of 12.
The choreography has picked up on the bright symmetry and dancy ebullience of the music, but its highlights are plainly tailored to the special gifts of its principals. In recent seasons, Ashley has acquired a deserved reputation as the company's technician par excellence. She has amazing velocity, perfect legs that flash like musketeers' blades and a long, stretched line. The fine, square cut of her looks and a certain partician reserve, giving her some resemblance to the young Grace Kelly, make her the ideal Queen for "Ballo."
Balanchine has designed for her step combinations and blinding speed and intricacy, and Ashley whizzes through them with truly startling precision and aplomb. Her partner aerialist, makes repeated entrances flying like a lance along the stage diagonal, alighting briefly only to rebound into a flurry of beats and embellished turns. Sheryl Ware and the increasingly impressive Stephanie Saland were especially eye-catching in their trickly solos.
The other premieres, the always paired "Monumentum Pro Gesualdo" and "Movements for Piano and Orchestra," showed us the austere radicalism of Balanchine's imagination by contrast. Both are costumed in black and white, and both match the lean, spare idiom of their Stravinsky scores with choreography of singular purity and conviction. The principals, Suzanne Farrell, Sean Lavery and Jacques d'Amboise, danced with brilliant authority.