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January 31, 2011 5:46 pm
|Jared Angle and Janie Taylor|
Balanchine ballets may be timeless but they are also deliciously of their moment, especially the experimental works – where you least expect it. Created for New York City Ballet’s 1972 Stravinsky Festival, Symphony in Three Movements (which repeats on Tuesday and in the spring) comes late to the modernist party. Balanchine celebrates this with a pop-Modernism, decked out in bubblegum-pink as well as the usual black and white.
Stravinsky includes in his symphony odds and ends accumulated during the war years: a soundtrack for a US newsreel of Hitler’s advancing army, a rejected score for the 1943 Hollywood movie The Song of Bernadette. Balanchine responds with his own mainstream mash-up, but circa the late 1950s and beyond, when the automobile and automation were encouraging whole new species of frivolous motion.
A boy and girl (on Saturday Anthony Huxley and Erica Pereira) compete at jumping high, knees to their chests. The large ponytailed corps lap the stage in concentric circles, crouch prettily as if about to burst into a Broadway number, and form a chorus line to semaphore mysteriously. The three male leads catapult their partners into the air in a balletified form of swing dancing – Megan LeCrone is especially riveting.
For the central pas de deux to Stravinsky’s plucky adagio, Balanchine concocts an Orientalist analogue to this sporty excess. A couple engages in ritual intimacy with crooked limbs and hinging wrists. Janie Taylor, opposite Jared Angle, made an intriguing combination of impetuosity and doll-like dumbness, as if she were doing whatever popped into her head – except the pops came so slowly we could glimpse the void that preceded them.
The whole ballet works by that principle – or would have if Saturday’s corps had enjoyed enough rehearsals to risk split-second timing and more recklessness. In the first and last movements, pockets of activity should coalesce without warning into circles, lines and wedges before lapsing back into chaos – the architecture as tenuous as a soap bubble.
Balanchine is experimenting with how long he can put off cohesion. He is asking how many elements he can throw on to stage before a work disintegrates – a postmodern question. Symphony in Three Movements grows more timely with age.
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