Back to the ballet!

The ceiling of the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, one of my NYC pleasures

By Caitlin Kelly

Ohhh, how I missed watching live ballet.

Last week a good friend, a New York Times colleague of my husband and I went to our second New York City Ballet performance; we also attended Sept. 20’s opening night, which opened to rapturous, grateful, relieved applause, every red velvet seat filled.

After 18 months of a dark theater, what an intense joy it was to be with thousands of others as happy and grateful for such beauty and this powerful and emotional shared moment.

The two nights cost me $190 for two tickets…yes, a lot of income for many people, I know! But worth every penny for me and for my friend.

We both cried when the first notes of Tchaikovksy’s Serenade in C began, the music for the 1938 Balanchine ballet, Serenade.

I defy anyone to hear those first few notes and remain unmoved, dammit!

The opening moment of Serenade has the entire female corps de ballet bathed in blue light, standing on an angle, their right arms raised at an an angle, flat hands, wrists cocked — as Balanchine saw them initially trying to block sunlight from their eyes, and retained the gesture.

I love this ballet so much and my friend does as well, which made my pleasure even greater.

The first program also included After the Rain (slow, lovely) and Symphony in C, which he loved and I liked.

The interior of the theater…each balcony is called a Ring, so you sit in Rings 1, 2, 3 or 4

The Sept. 30 evening was Pieces of Glass, choreographed brilliantly by Jerome Robbins (West Side Story’s legendary choreographer), to Philip Glass’ distinctive and unmistakable music and two world premieres, much heralded. I love Nicholas Britell’s music for the HBO series Succession, so I had high hopes for the piece he scored…

I have to admit — agreeing with the Times’ scathing review — that the latter two were…not good. At all. Garish costumes, tedious choreography, OK music. The dancing, of course, strong, but in service of not very much.

This is the true cost (if you buy tickets to any live art form) that you might not actually like or enjoy what you see! It’s a risk. But, and yes this sounds elitist and bourgeois (sorry!) how else can you educate your eye but by through seeing a fair bit of whatever it is you want to better know and understand, and then deciding not only what you most enjoy and why, but also what just doesn’t work, sometimes despite lavish production values.

I studied ballet for many years and did ballet criticism and reviews for The Globe and Mail, so I did get to see a lot of ballet in my 20s, free of charge. Now, my eye sharpened after 18 months without it, I am seeing things quite differently (and analytically.)

But one of the many reliable pleasures, for me, of attending ballet at the Koch Theater is also just how beautiful the theater is, all white marble and lacy gold balcony railings and light fixtures that look like massive jewels. It’s 50 years old but still so perfect, not at all dated. It gives you such a sense of elegance and anticipation.

People dress way, way up! Oh my, the gowns and furs and black tie and stiletto heels.

Then the orchestra is there (masked!) and the maestro finally comes out, to our applause. The waiting is part of the ritual pleasure. Then the performance, and the curtain call, then bouquets for the women principal dancers.

It was just wonderful to be back.

11 thoughts on “Back to the ballet!

  1. I know how you feel. My mom, sister and I have tickets for BalletMet’s upcoming season. We’ll be seeing Nutcracker, Giselle and Cinderella, and we can’t wait. Not only are the shows amazing, but the theaters are so beautiful and we miss the experience of going out to see these shows (along with the touring Broadway shows). I may have to blog about it and talk about what it’s been like going to the theaters again to see a show.
    Speaking of which, both BalletMet and Broadway in Columbus are requiring those who attend to not only be masked, but present proof of vaccination/negative COVID-19 status before entering the theater. And, seeing as my state is full of people who somehow equate the health of the community with tyranny (I guess a city full of plague and rotting corpses like in 17th century Europe would be a democratic utopia to them), there have been so many people cancelling their subscriptions and ticket orders. To which my mom, sister and I say, “Oh well, smaller crowds and possibly better seats for us!” We realize these shows are privileges and that we only get to see them if we take certain measures, not just paying for them.

      1. For sure. I am only still healthy because we live in a place where people trust in science, wear masks, socially distance and are getting vaxxed. I would lose my mind to live in a place like Utah or Alabama….but never would anyway!

  2. David Holzman

    It does look like a lovely theater, but I wish it had a different name.

    There’s something quite soulful about your Broadside accounts.

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