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The DanceView Times, New York edition

Mozartiana Revisited

New York City Ballet
New York States Theater
New York, NY
June 12, 2004 evening
(and American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
May 2005)

by David Vaughan
copyright © 2004 by David Vaughan
published June 15, 2004

The 1981 Mozartiana was Balanchine’s last masterpiece; perhaps not a perfect ballet (you could say that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole), but a masterpiece nonetheless. It was not the first ballet that he had made to Tchaikovsky’s Suite No 4, which is essentially an orchestration of various works by Mozart himself. The first version was one of the six ballets Balanchine choreographed for Les Ballets 1933, the company he formed in Paris with Boris Kochno. The title of that company might be thought to have guaranteed that its repertory was disposable, but in fact Balanchine returned to four of the new ballets in later years--he seems to have brought the scenery and costumes with him when he came to New York at Lincoln Kirstein’s invitation the following year, and three of them, Mozartiana, Les Songes, and Errante, became part of the original repertory of the American Ballet in 1935.

Although Kochno did not apparently sign their libretti, the 1933 ballets all reflected his sensibility in subject matter and choice of designer, especially the “neo-romantic” painters Christian Bérard and Pavel Tchelitchev. Mozartiana, in subsequent stagings for the American Ballet, Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and Alexandra Danilova’s Concert Company, retained its original mysterious, faintly morbid atmosphere, as well as its form, which followed the original order of the four movements of the suite, giving the third movement (Preghiera) to one female dancer and the pas de deux in the fourth to the ballerina and her partner (originally Toumanova and Jasinsky), with individual variations distributed among the six women who danced the Menuetto.

Formally, much was changed in the entirely new ballet made for New York City Ballet’s Tchaikovsky Festival in 1981. Balanchine rearranged the order of the movements, as he had with Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. The Bérard designs were replaced by new costumes by Rouben Ter-Arutunian. (The Bérard costumes, in typical New York City Ballet fashion, had been used for Caracole in 1952, to Mozart’s Divertimento No 15.) The ballet was without dramatic content, but something of what Cyril Beaumont called the “style-atmosphere” of the earlier ballet could still be found, particularly in Suzanne Farrell’s performance of the ballerina role. That role now consisted of the opening solo Preghiera and all of the final Tema con variazioni, shared with her partner. We have seen a lot of this new Mozartiana lately: it entered the repertory of American Ballet Theatre this season, and has been part of the “Russian Music Festival” section of New York City Ballet’s “Balanchine 100” Centennial Celebration. ABT’s production came with the requisite imprimatur of the George Balanchine Trust and was authoritatively staged by Maria Calegari, a distinguished interpreter of the ballerina role. Even so, one hears murmurs of dissatisfaction with some of the performances; Nina Ananashvili, for example, is suspected of having Russian tendencies to over-dramatize the ballerina role. It’s true that in the Preghiera she rather wore the soulful expression that you used to see on the faces of dancers in Fokine’s Les Sylphides, but frankly I didn’t find this so very inappropriate, and she brightened up in the last section. In any case, I think you have to give her credit for wanting to extend her range beyond the 19th century classics that are part of her birthright. No quarrel, surely, with either Ethan Stiefel or Angel Corella in the leading male role. The Gigue, for the other man in the cast, is a demi-caractère dance; when he has finished, and the four women come on to dance the Menuetto, he stands for a moment of reflection, and even looks back at them before he goes off. Jesus Pastor made the most of this.

Actually, you can’t say that at City Ballet the dancers ignore this aspect of the piece. Nikolaj Hübbe, after all, is a Dane, and knows what it is to invest a role with a sense of character. Kyra Nichols is now the company’s senior ballerina, which means that she is one of the few left in the company who worked with Balanchine himself. And she is also one of the few who uses her eyes expressively--there was at least as much “soul” in her performance as there was in Ananashvili’s. When she danced Scotch Symphony earlier in the year, there were those who felt she no longer had the technical aspects of the role in hand. No apology was necessary for her performance in Mozartiana, even if it lacked the element of risk that made Farrell’s so breathtaking--those vertiginous pirouettes!—but then that was Farrell. All in all, these different performances of the ballet made clear once again that there is more than one way to dance a masterpiece.

First, Kyra Nichols. Photo: Paul Kolnik
Second:  Kyra Nichols and Nikolaj Hübbe.  Photo:  Paul Kolnik
Volume 2, Number 22
June 14, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by David Vaughan



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