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 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.