The New York City Ballet has such a big and rich repertory by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins that it can sustain its long seasons at the New York State Theater without having to resort to premieres. Watching Peter Martins restore nobility and coherence to Balanchine's truncated version of "Apollo," or discovering young male talents in Robbins's newly condensed "Suite of Dances" from "Dybbuk Variations" is novelty enough.
On the other hand, Balanchine's fecundity has always been the company's basic spur toward excellence and a basic source of delight for everyone.
Atypically, no new Balanchine ballets had been planned for the current season , which runs until Feb. 17. Typically, plans change. At a benefit performance for the School of American Ballet, the official academy of the City Ballet, Balanchine's "Walpurgis Nacht Ballet" from Gounod's opera "Faust" was premiered in New York, having been originally created for the Paris Opera in 1975. A delicious surprise addition, the ballet itself contains a delicious surprise.
The"Walpurgis Nacht" scene was made famous by the Bolshoi Ballet for its almost campy scenes with playful satyrs, maidens, and a naughty Pan. But Balanchine decided to clear the air by listening to Gounod with clean ears. When you come right down to it, the music is actually delicate, gracious, and really quite ladylike. And so Balanchine has made a simple, dignified pageant of dances in pure classical style. In the finale the girls come rushing on with hair flying, but that's about it for local color. The rest is b-a-l-l-e-t.
In all probability, Balanchine proceeded in utter seriousness, for the music certainly bears out his formal approach. Yet all those familiar with stock "Walpurgis Nacht" goings-on will be amused, if not delighted, by the ballet's deadpan refutation of past models.
This "Walpurgis Nacht" consists of noble adagios for Suzanne Farrell and Adam Luders and solos for her and Heather Watts in which largesse and piquancy are ingeniously combined within the same phrases. While the leads are playfully heroic, the corps is plain playful. It's amazing how Balanchine can create a world of Pans simply by contracting the scope of one common step, the pas de chat. Well, that's the methodolody of classicists, and Balanchine is the supreme example.
The benefit night also revealed a classicist in the making -- Peter Martins. His "Eight Easy Pieces" proves that imaginative, complex choreography can cut through a potentially cute situation. The Stravinsky score for two pianos, played for this occasion by Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, can easily be trivialized into arch naivete. Furthermore, Martins cast his ballet for the tiny girls in this show. How adorable can you get?
Yet because Martins rests his case on the innate dignity and sophistication of classical technique, "Eight Easy Pieces" is spicy rather than saccharine. The syncopations are invigorating; Russian peasant flavorings are delicately handled; and the punch lines have punch. The troika of dancers -- Susan Gluck, Roma Sosenko, and Stacy Caddell - could become spokeswomen for short-women's lib. Their sharp, proud bearing testified that short is not small.