Balanchine once said, “See the music, hear the dance”. The audience at the Koch Theater on the afternoon of February 22nd 2014 had the opportunity to do exactly that when the works of three very different choreographers brought treasured violin concertos to life. Kudos to Concertmasters Arturo Delmoni and Kurt Nikkanen, who offered admirable solo violin performances. 

As for the ballets, I have never been much of a fan of Peter Martins’ choreography but I do find his pleasantly amusing “Barber Violin Concerto”, created in 1988 for NYCB’s American Music Festival, to be worth seeing. Two couples in white, one of them classical with the ballerina on pointe and the other as modern dancers with bare feet, eventually switch partners while the distinctions between the two disciplines begin to blur. My take on this is that Martins wanted to document how the once rigid divide that kept contemporary works and classical ballets in separate camps had given way in the 20th century to a melding of the styles. The original casting included noted modern choreographer and dancer David Parsons, then of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, with fellow company member Kate Johnson as his partner. What’s interesting is that today, as though the 1988 message was prophetic, the modern roles are ably and accurately performed by City Ballet members cross-trained in contemporary movement.

Even so, the Martins’ work was no match for the other two ballets on the program. I continue to be amazed that Martins has the temerity to put his ballets on the same bill with those of the masters, in this case Robbins and Mr. B himself. “Opus 19/The Dreamer”, which Robbins choreographed in 1979 to Prokofiev’s “Violin Concerto No.1 in D Major”, depicts a man’s yearning search for the elusive and ethereal woman of his imaginings. Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild, as well as the corps of six couples, expertly executed the undulating moves that evoke an otherworldly ambience.

The final ballet on the program was Balanchine’s “Stravinsky Violin Concerto”, which premiered on the opening night of the 1972 Stravinsky Festival. This is quintessential Balanchine with intricate patterns, moments of flexed feet, the signature hip thrusts, black and white practice clothes, and ample evidence of his innate musicality. As such, although the ballerinas are on pointe, the piece actually looks more contemporary than the modern passages in the Martins’ ballet that was choreographed a full 16 years later. Mr. B truly was a genius and changemaker well ahead of his time.

The New York City Ballet’s Winter Season continues at the Koch through Sunday March 2nd. If you go, don’t miss the chance to take the elevator to the Fourth Ring and look down at the artist JR’s installation, part of NYCB’s Art Series, on the floor of the upstairs lobby. The 6,500 square foot mural features life-size images of the NYCB dancers in various poses within crumpled sheets of white paper. You can also go down to the lobby and walk in and among the images, which is a sort of labyrinthine experience. You’ll be stepping on some very famous toes! Enjoy.

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