Between Wednesday evening and last night, the New York City Ballet presented three seasonal "firsts," and they turned out to be highlights of the current Kennedy Center visit.
On Wednesday, "Square Dance" had its first showing of the engagement. It brought us back the New York City Ballet we remember and love so well, but which has been only fitfully visible this time around. Merrill Ashley, Bart Cook and the six couples from the corps de ballet gave a lesson in high voltage dynamics, technical wizardry, interpersonal rapport and dance magnetism that will be very hard to forget.
The ballet, created in 1957 and combining country dance floor patterns with acadenic ballet steps, has had several revivals. In its current version with the present cast, it stands out as a tour de force even for Balanchine, fusing unerring musical intuition (the score mixes Vivaldi and corelli) with geometric -- kinetics of the utmost ingenuity and excitement. It's also a dazzling vehicle for Cook and Ashley. Ashley's performance, involving footwork, beats and jumps in blindingly fast and amazingly extended flurries, bordered on the uncanny.
Last evening saw the first "Other Dances" of the run, and this gem of a Chopin pas de deux by Jerome Robbins, with its Slavic colorings and amorous nuances, received a sensitive, beautifully contoured performance from Patricia McBride and Helgi Tomasson.
Also last night came the first "Vienna Waltzes," and this extravagant Balanchine tribute to a city and its romantic myths seemed as visually entrancing and esthetically paradoxical as on initial acquaintance. Nothing in the intervening sections -- not the "classical" poetics of the "Voices of Spring" movement, nor the blatantly vulgarized "Explosions-Polka," nor, despite a bewitching Kay Mazzo as the Merry Widow, the languid sentiment of the Lehar interlude -- comes close to matching the inspiration of the opening and closing scenes.
But these two visions -- of lovers aswoon in a moonlit park and of a ballroom aflame with rhapsodic reverie -- are enough to reconfirm the genius of Balanchine in the full. Karin von Aroldingen, Sean Lavery and Suzanne Farrell, as the involved principals, divined the psychological intricacies with complete understanding.