After Tuesday evening's relatively lackluster opening, last night's program by the New York City Ballet at Kennedy Center was like a draught of fresh sea air, restoring one's sense of excitement over this extraordinary company by the best and most direct of means -- dancing and choreography of the highest order.
The evening was the occasion for the American premiere of Peter Martins' "Lille Suite," choreographed to commemorate the troupe's visit to his native Denmark this past summer, and given its first performance there in August. It's an ambitious work for a lead couple, a female soloist, and an ensemble of 14 women, set to Carl Nielsen's "Little Suite, Op. 1." Though the ballet tells no story, there are suggestions of romantic longings and vicissitudes throughout, in a manner nor dissimilar to, say, Jerome Robbins' "The Dreamer," and even more conspicuously, since it was on the same evening's program, to Balanchine's "Divertimento from 'Le Baiser de la Fee'"
The choreography attests to Martins' decidedly ripening command of his craft, melding as it does solos, duets and large ensemble configurations into a balanced and organic whole. Martins' dramatic intentions, however, are unclear. The relationship between Lb Andersen and Heather Watts has obvious ins and outs, but the drift and the outcome seem wholly ambiguous. The solo part assigned to Sandra Jennings, moreover, not only locks extraneous to the conception, but fails also to justify itself on choreographic grounds. Still, as Martins' first major attempt in a neo-romantic vein, the ballet holds its own, and it was much abetted last night by the ravishing dancing of Watts and Andersen in roles that became them splendidly.
"Lille Suite" was preceded by the Washington premiere of Martins' "Eight Easy Pieces," set to a dance suite for pinao duet by Stravinsky and briskly performed by Stacy Caddell, Susan Gluck and Roma Sosenko. The work is crisp, professional and clever, combining academic steps with fleeting suggestions of "character," i.e., folkoric, dancing evoked by the score. Mostly, however, it has the look of a compositional exercise, and the consequent limitations. Sosenko's fetching "Balalaika" solo was a high point.
The major impact of the evening actually came with the opening performance of Balanchine's "Divertimento from 'Le Baiser de la Fee,'" which featured Patricia McBride and Helgi Tomasson in the parts they created for the Stravinsky Festival of 1972. With the profound new coda Balanchine added in 1974, the work is something of a "sleeper"; it doesn't get talked about much, but it ranks with the master's choicest ballets. And it takes you by surprise, starting out as if it were going to be a fluffy, charming, neo-Petipa divertissement, and gradually deepening and darkening into the haunting melancholy of the coda. The choreography throughout is breathtakingly musical and inventive, and it gives both McBride and Tomasson some of their finest moments ever -- certainly they danced as if divenly inspired last night.
The evening's concluding performance of Balanchine's "Symphony in C" was often on the rickety side, technically and in other ways, but the work is so captivating in its kinetic exhilaration and euphoric brilliance that not much was lost. It had, moreover, the radiance of Kyra Nichols and Joseph Duell (so vastly improved!) in the first movement, and the sublimity of Suzanne Farrell in the second, to lift it above any shortcomings.