"Choreography by Balanchine, Part IV," which airs at 8 on Channel 26 tonight, brings to 12 the number of works by this century's master of choreography recorded in whole or in part by public TV's "Dance in America" series. That's a formidable sampling of the New York City Ballet repertoire, and given Balanchine's stature and influence, an invaluable archive.
The achievement also confirms the virtues of the series -- bringing American dance to vast audiences; preserving masterworks; and compensating for the inherent limitations of a stage medium.
Tonight's installment includes "Ballo della Regina," the airy piece set to music from Verdi's opera "Don Carlos"; "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," a curio about dancing toys set to Bizet; and a three-part tribute to Tchaikovsky adjoining the "Elegie" movement from "Suite No. 3" to the virtuosic "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux" and "Allegro Brillante." Soloists include Mikhail Baryshnikov, Patricia McBride, Suzanne Farrell, Peter Martins, Karin von Aroldingen, Sean Lavery, Merrill Ashley and Robert Weiss. Robert Irving conducts members of the NYCB Orchestra.
The new segment upholds the standards of its series predecessors. Director Emile Ardolino has obviously benefited from experience with capturing dance for video -- there's a minimum of fussiness, and the scaling of the imagery is always clearly thought through. He's been a bit more adventurous this time in the use of dissolves, superimpositions and close-ups, particularly in "Elegie" and "The Steadfast Tin Soldier."
Decor, however, is still problematical. The wiry abstract pavilion used as backdrop for the Tchaikovsky tribute seems esthetically out of keeping with all three ballets.
Things to keep a particular eye on: Ashley's incredibly scissoring legs in "Ballo"; and Baryshnikov's and McBride's wonderfully deadpan wit and pathos in "The Steadfast Tin Soldier."