A Miami City Ballet production. Presented by Ballet B.C. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Friday, February 20. Continues February 21
When the curtain rose on George Balanchine's masterwork, Serenade, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre emitted a collective "Ahhhhhh" and broke into applause before the piece even began.
In front of the enraptured audience, set against a dusty blue screen, were five diagonal rows of white-tutu'd, bunned ballerinas, frozen in position. This was the almost mathematical precision and feminine perfection the crowd had come for, presented with crispness and polish by the Miami City Ballet.
As the piece, a mind-blowing eight decades old, begins to move it shows Balanchine's genius for musicality and arranging bodies through space: the white sylphs float around the stage in mesmerizing, kaleidoscopic patterns and fold in on one another to the strains of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky's Serenade in C Major for String Orchestra. In one elaborate bit of patterning, they swiftly tippy-toe off the stage while a man passes the opposite way through the formation to meet the sole dancer left at centre stage.
This acclaimed company helps you see why this piece was celebrated for its genius: later, it even becomes a heady reference to the fallen heroines of Swan Lake or Giselle, the two lead females now swishing their unfurled hair around a lovestruck man. So it's a triumph choreographically and thematically, a piece that changed the face of classical ballet and brought it into the contemporary era.
The point here is that dance-philes rarely get the chance to see Balanchine's ballets, let alone so rigorously executed. And though the program here definitely has a vintage feel, especially in its first two numbers, his works still have an amazing ability to thrill.
In fact, the retro vibe of the monumentally complex Symphony in Three Movements, a large-ensemble work from 1972, is part of its appeal. The dancers wear black, white, or pink leotards with slim buckled belts and throw around ponytailed hair, looking part ultravixen, part Olympian, part supermodel. Set to the unpredictable strains of Igor Stravinsky's work of the same name, it's a vision of intersecting rows of semi-marching dancers, constantly moving and reforming in angular drills. In the middle, Nicole Stalker finds intensity in the strange pas de deux with Kleber Rebello, as they wrap and unwrap necks or squat and flex feet, Balinese-style. Except for some of the elaborate patterning, the epic piece dwells in a completely different universe than Serenade—a testament to Balanchine's range.
The opener, Ballo della Regina, set to Giuseppe Verdi, is different again—more classically pleasant, a joyous celebraton of complex footwork and the female form, dressed in shades of turquoise and rose-pink.
In all, it's a pleasing trip back into an optimistic time when ballet was being revolutionized. And if you aren't able to get down to the Queen E. tonight to see it, the portal is about to close.