City Ballet: Concerto Barocca, The Magic Flute and Stars and Stripes

City Ballet’s first ever fall program comes to an end this week. Last week, I saw my last ballet of the fall, a three-piece bill consisting of “Concerto Barocco”, “The Magic Flute” and “Stars and Stripes”. The latter two pieces were big, schmaltzy-production kind of ballets, as I anticipated, and made for a fun, whimsical and patriotic final fall fete.

“Concerto Barocco” is a classic Balanchine ballet and was performed on the opening night of New York City Ballet in 1948. This minimal production was very pretty, simple and elegant, but not particularly impressive or exciting. The most interesting thing to watch as the dancers moved gracefully and classically to Bach’s score was just how outmatched soloist Ellen Bar was by principal dancer Abi Stafford.

Stafford is graceful and soft in her movements and her dance seems to come from within. Bar, on the other hand, has a boney, more angular frame which makes her dancing look uncomfortable. (I’ve seen other women with her body type dance and they look downright amazing. There was something off about Bar.) Bar looked as if she was supporting her arms with her shoulders, not her core. Those differences aside, “Concerto Barocco” was a nice, gentle warm up leading in to two very showy ballets.

First up in the showy ballet department was “The Magic Flute”. Production notes say that this ballet has “nothing to do with Mozart’s opera”. Set to a score by Riccardo Drigo (music) and Robert Irving (orchestrations), this Peter Martins ballet first premiered at the School of American Ballet in May of 1981 and went on to premiere at City Ballet the following January. I found “The Magic Flute” to be not quite magical but still very cute, funny and playful, and good for the whole family.

The story is fairly simple: Lise and Luke are an item and want to marry but Lise’s parents won’t oblige. The fancy schmancy Marquis comes a-calling and Lise’s parents try to pair her up with the wealthy Marquis, much to her and Luke’s displeasure. Finally, Lise, her family and the Marquis retire to her house, the townspeople go on their merry way and Luke is left alone on stage. When a Hermit (basically a beggar) approaches Luke, he is kind and generous. The Hermit then entreats Luke to look up to the sky, from which appears the titular magic flute. The flute is attached to a sign saying, “When you play this, people will dance against their will” (or something like that). Intrigued, Luke tests the flute’s powers with Lise; amused, he then uses it on the Marquis and townspeople – who are not amused. The Marquis heads to the Judge, asking him to punish Luke. The Judge sentences Luke to be hanged (it’s a mild gesture, really) but the Hermit reappears. She reveals herself to be Oberon (a revered spirit of some sort), stays the execution and implores Lise’s parents to let the kids wed. Celebratory wedding dances ensue.

This is a narrative ballet so I was bracing myself, at first, for an over reliance on pantomime to tell the story. While there was plenty of it, there was also a lot of dancing. Most excitingly, Tiler Peck danced the role of Lise, skipping around the stage like a teen in love. Plus she had great attitude when refusing the Marquis. It’s always such fun to watch her dance. And playing Luke to her Lise, Joaquin De Luz was charged and buoyant, taking equal delight in dancing with Lise and making fools of the Marquis, et al.

The costumes here were a bit of a mish mosh, with the town girls looking like St. Pauli girls, the policemen looking like British Bobbies and a Confucius-looking clerk of the court. Despite the multiple-personality costume design, this production of “The Magic Flute” was fun and entertaining – and the corps of little kids dancing alongside the pros was very cute!

Going out with a patriotic bang, the final piece of the afternoon was “Stars and Stripes”, a Balanchine ballet that I’d seen before and that is excerpted in the cult favorite Center Stage. This ballet was inspired by John Philip Sousa’s music and adapted and orchestrated by Hershy Kay. The ballet Americana is divided into four movements: Corcoran Cadets (who look like a corps of majorettes); Rifle Regiment (who look like dancing treats in their chocolate brown leotards); Thunder and Gladiator (basically a Marine corps with the dancing skills of Mikhail Baryshnikov); Liberty Bell and El Captain (a guy and a gal jumping around on stage); and Stars and Stripes (“all regiments”).

I like “Stars and Stripes” because of its fun, over-the-top patriotism, and its lively, exciting and thoroughly athletic dancing. The Liberty Bell and El Captain movement is probably my favorite. It finishes with a contest – ultimately it’s a flurry to the finish to see who can do more jumps, leaps and turns. It’s a real crowd pleaser. Ashley Bouder was technically good as the Liberty Bell, but I wanted more personality from her. Her Captain, Andrew Veyette, though, jumped like a frog – in a good way! I love the music from this, particularly the Sousa piece that inspired it all. This ballet, choreographed by a Ruskie, is unequivocally the quintessential July 4th production number.

That’s all from City Ballet… until January. In the meantime, you can check out their production of “The Nutcracker”, and visit nycballet.com to order your tickets for winter.

Comments

  1. I never realized Stars and Stripes was the ballet in Center Stage. Now I really need to go see it :)

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