At the Kennedy Center Opera House last night, the New York City Ballet presented one of several "thematic" evenings it has scheduled for its current visit, in this case an all-Ravel program, rather like a sampler of the company's Ravel Festival of 1975 honoring the French composer.
On the whole, the idea looks better on paper than on stage. With the exception of Balanchine's "La Valse," a ballet that only seems to grow in stature with the passing years, the rest of the program -- Jerome Robins' "Mother Goose" and "In G Major," and Balanchine's "Sonatine-Ravel" -- dwelt on decidedly "lesser" compositions by these two master choreographers.
It's almost self-evident that, Ravel, Balanchine, Robbins and the company being what they are, the evening had its far from meager share of rewards. Prominent among these was the pleasure of seeing Patricia McBride and Mikhall Baryshnikov dancing together with such easy, understated harmony in the modestly scaled "Sonatine."
Even there, though, the delight wasn't entirely unalloyed. McBride's extroverted presence doesn't seem quite right for the powdery contours of her part (created originally for Violette Verdy). Baryshnikov gave us moments of starburst brilliance, such as the cadential pirouettes of the second movement, and the breathtaking aerial circle at the very end. But for the most part, his demeanor and dancing reflected fatigue -- understandably so, given his recent schedule.
A fine cast that included Alexia Hess as Princess Florine, Judith Fugate as Beauty, and Richard Hoskinson as her divertingly gnarled Beast, captured the fey, funny charm of "Mother Goose," which is saved, barely, from preciosity by its witty distancing devices. But not all the spiffy exuberance of Merrill Ashley, Sean Lavery and their dozen excellent collaborators could disguise the rather mechanical friskiness of "In G Major." It was left to "La Valse," with Kay Mazzo as the doomed dancer, Adam Ludels as her hapless partner, and Francisco Monicon, still magnificently chilling in his original role as the Death figure, to remind us of what greatness in ballet signifies.