From Balanchine: scope, drive, suspense

If any one program could give some indication of George Balanchine's scope, it was opening night of the New York City Ballet at the New York State Theater, where the company holds fort until Feb. 15.

"Symphony in Three Movements," To Stravinsky, almost splatters the audience with its dirve. Thytms are relentlessly charged. Even the quiet parts have inner tension. "Raymonda Variations," to Glazunov, has the force of virtuosity, which is softened by lilting rhythms. The Stravinsky stage is bombarded by throngs. The Glazunov stage is prettily decorated by trellises of girls.

"Symphony in Three movements" keeps you in suspense as to what will happen next, while "Raymonda Variations" is neatly laid out in variations and finale.

Yet it would be a mistake to label one modern and the other old-fashioned. For all its modernisms in step vocabulary and emotion, "Symphony in three Movements" is baroque in design and, in sheer abundance of power, like a 19 th-century opera house showstopper. "Raymonda Variations" has the mdesty and economy of means one associates with contemporary sensibility. Just look how Balanchine builds to a climax in this ballet -- simply by having two lines of girls crisscross each other on a diagonal, the weight of their steps punctuating the music's insistent downbeat. The means is simple, the effect thrilling.

If one is drawn more to the dancers in "Raymonda Variations," it's because Balanchine intends that "Symphony in Three Movements" be anonymously populated, whereas "Raymonda Variations" treats many of the cast as unique flowers in a spring bouquet.

As much, it's a good measure of soloist strength, and the pickings were delicious -- the serene strenth of Lourdes Lopez, the commanding repose of Maria Calegaria, lisa Hess's sparkle, and the slightly breathless intensity of darci Kistler, who at age 16 has just joined the company and already is slated for starring roles.

The Stravinsky and Glazunov ballets were enough to fill the eye for an evening, but there were also two premieres. Peter Martins's "Lille Suite" was made to celebrate the City Ballet's visit to Copenhagen last summer. The composer (Carl Nielsen) as well as the choreographer are Danish, but gracious choice of music doesn't necessarily make of good art. The music is somewhat insipid and may have forced Martins into a more pallid expression of romanticism than is his wont. Much of "Lille Suite" is an unconvincingly melancholy love duet for Heather Watts and Ib Andersen, another Dane. The other part of the ballet experiments with pattern for a large ensemble of girls. Martins devises all kinds of groupings for them, which is interesting. What is not interesting are the steps they do to get from one pattern to the next.

Jerome Robbins came up with a surprise premiere in a surprising format. "Rondo," to Mozart's Rondo in A minor, is a duet for two women, Stephanie Saland and Jyra Nichols. Many lovely things are in it -- the way the two resonate against each other as though in conversation, and the way Robbins can intensify the choreography and still maintain a cool temperature.

Yet its cool, simple aura is often too self-conscious to be pleasing. At times Robbins treats Mozart as though he were Chopin, and that is as much of a strain as the ballet's pretensions toward unpretentiousness.

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