David  Koch Theater, New York, NY; September 28, 2014 (m)

Colleen Boresta

New York City Ballet had a special treat for its audience on Sunday afternoon – a whole program of Balanchine ballets, each set to the music of Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky.

“Serenade” was the first ballet Balanchine choreographed in the United States. The work still has the power to bring tears to my eyes, starting with those seventeen girls in blue, lifting their right arms to the evening sky accompanied by the music of the “Serenade for Strings”.

As the Waltz Girl, Sara Mearns was a hauntingly beautiful creature of the moonlight. I know Balanchine said there is no story to the ballet, but I find meaning in Mearns’ every step and movement. She loves and loses two suitors, then seems to die. During the final moments of three men lift up her body and remove her from the stage. Where does she go? I like to think that her destination is the afterworld.

Others in “Serenade” who deserve mention include Sterling Hyltin as the Russian Girl, who stood out for her quicksilver footwork and lovely light leaps. Teresa Reichlen presented a  Dark Angel with glorious extensions and arabesques lasting to infinity. The female corps de ballet, often reminiscent of the Wilis in “Giselle”, danced flawlessly.

“Mozartiana” is set to Suite No. 4 Op. 61, Tschaikovsky’s arrangement and orchestration of several Mozart pieces. Balanchine first choreographed to this music in 1933, but revisited the score nearly 48 years later and created “Mozartiana”. Many consider it to be his last masterpiece.

I have not seen the ballet for several years and find it to be a bit slow. The highlight of the ballet was Tyler Angle’s performance. In his solos he clearly presented the difficult footwork and the several changes in direction. His dancing showed a wonderful understanding of Balanchine’s petit allegro steps. In the ballerina role, Maria Kowroski danced well, but there was nothing special about her performance. Perhaps this is because her footwork is so cautious. Balanchine’s choreography for the ballerina’s solos is also very repetitive.

“Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux”, is a small gem of a ballet. The music was written for an early version of “Swan Lake”. It is only eight minutes long, but is a very exciting work which gives the dancers plenty of opportunities to display their bravura technique. Ashley Bouder and Gonzalo Garcia looked like they were having the time of their lives. Garcia is all high energy leaps and brilliant turns a la seconde. Bouder stood out for her sparkling steps performed at the speed of light. She charged into the final fish dives with great verve and wit.

The afternoon concluded with Balanchine’s magnificent ‘Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3’. In 1947 he created ‘Theme and Variations’ for American Ballet Theatre to the last two movements of the music, adding the rest of the music to create this new ballet in 1970. The first three movements are performed behind a scrim to add to the otherworldly atmosphere.

Rebecca Krohn and Ask la Cour were achingly romantic in the ‘Elgie’. La Cour clearly showed the pain of lost love with his every move and facial expression. In ‘Valse Melancolique’, Abi Stafford was only adequate. I missed seeing Rebecca Krohn’s sultry suppleness in the role. In the ‘Scherzo’, Antonio Carmena was all lightning quick turns and wondrously high leaps. I do not understand why he has not been promoted to Principal dancer. His partner, Erica Pereira, proved herself to be Carmena’s match in the virtuoso department.

When “Scherzo” ends the scrim goes up and a chandeliered ballroom is revealed. The final part of “Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3” is “Theme and Variations”. I always love this ballet, whether it is danced alone or as part of the larger work. Sunday’s performance was the best “Theme” I have ever seen.

All of the cast were terrific, but Tiler Peck and Joaquin De Luz were absolute perfection. Peck’s footwork was pristinely precise and the way she played with the tempo of the music was delightful. As befits this Balanchine work, her demeanor was that of the grandest ballerina. De Luz was a graciously attentive partner and at 40 his technique is as strong as ever. His pirouette/double air turn variation was completely amazing.

It was a fantastic afternoon at the ballet.