The season, which opened with the New Year and closes Feb. 24, has provided a balanced program of old and new works, building on the company's repertory established by its founder, George Balanchine, and such resident choreographers as Jerome Robbins, who died in 1998, and Peter Martins, the company's current artistic director.
None of the other six top-ranking companies -- England's Royal Ballet, Russia's Kirov and Bolshoi, Denmark's Royal, the Paris Opera Ballet, and the American Ballet Theater -- even have resident choreographers at the present time.
NYCB also has nurtured choreographers within its ranks such as Richard Tanner and Christopher Wheeldon. It also commissions works by six to a dozen choreographers a year for its Diamond Project festivals.
Martins' latest contribution to NYCB is a slender work titled "Viva Verdi," the final premiere of the company's season at the New York State Theater. Set to the music of Giuseppe Verdi's "La Traviata" arranged for solo violinist and string orchestra, the work was commissioned by the Verdi Festival in Parma, Italy, for NYCB's engagement there last fall.
This is a plotless ballet, despite its operatic inspiration, and the only allusion to "La Traviata's" hopeless love affair is made by a pas de deux for the leading couple of dancers, Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard, that has some dolorous passages. The rest of this corsage of a ballet is upbeat and the final movement provides the happy ending that eluded Violetta and Alfredo.
Martins' choreography is crisp and dynamic, a response to Verdi's glorious music rather than to the words of the many familiar arias used in the musical arrangement. He gives his dancers the opportunity to display their best classic movements in an abstract work that demands nothing more of its audience but to sit back and enjoy. Lindy Mandradjieff, an up and coming corps member, was impressive in a brief solo.
The season opened with works by Balanchine, whose memory is evergreen 18 years after his death, set to the music of his favorite composers from his native Russia.
They placed on display the great choreographer's wide stylistic range, from his spare, even austere dance approach to three short works by Igor Stravinsky, to his bravura interpretation of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Pas de Deux." Kowroski and Askegard's dancing in Stravinsky's "Momentum pro Gesualdo" was particularly grand in formality of movement.
"Cortege Hongrois," Balanchine's ballet set to selections from Alexander Glazunov's ballet music for "Raymonda," was, as always, a showpiece for the choreographer's talent in reinterpreting the 19th century ballet in which he was rooted. Its series of classical and character dances were perfectly performed by Monique Meunier, Albert Evans in the character dances, Kathleen Tracy and Askegard.
Other Balanchine works that have been performed are "Mozartiana" (music by Tchaikovsky), notable for a duet danced by Wendy Whelan and Damien Woetzel, and "Symphony in C" (music by Georges Bizet), illuminated by Tom Gold's witty performance of the ballet's comic solo, "Gigue," and Darci Kistler and Jock Soto's stately duet in the second movement.
Christopher Wheeldon, who has proved himself a prodigious choreographer for the company, has been represented by "Polyphonia," a new work last season set to a piano score by Gyorgy Ligeti. This ballet marks Wheeldon's first venture onto Balanchine turf where complex dance patterns unfold into variations accompanied by surprising twists and thrusts by the dancers. Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto were paired in two duets of amazing tension.
An absolutely new name in choreography emerged in the person of Melissa Barak, a 21-year-old corps dancer, whose first work, "Telemann Overture Suite in E Minor" was given its premiere after development at the School of American Ballet, NYCB's affiliated school. It is an amazingly polished plotless work that calls for precision performance by four trios, made up of a man flanked by two women, and two free-moving ballerinas.
Jerome Robbins was remembered by performances of his joyful "Twelve Seasons" to music by Verdi and his dreamy "Dances at a Gathering" to music by Chopin, and Sean Lavery was represented by the balcony scene from his "Romeo and Juliet," enchantingly danced by Yvonne Borre and Peter Boal. Dance bills were filled out by several other Peter Martins ballets, notably "Jeu de Cartes,"(Stravinsky) "Valse Triste," (Jan Sibelius), and "Hallelujah Junction."
This latter work is the eighth ballet Martins has choreographed to music by John Adams, one of America's leading contemporary opera composers ("Nixon in China," "The Death of Klinghoffer"). It is named for Hallelujah Junction, a truck stop on the California-Nevada border near Adams' home. Martins created the work for the Royal Danish Ballet for performance last spring.
It is an abstract work danced in leotards, full of interlocking structures of unexpected elegance performed in a black and white setting with two pianists barely visible on a platform at the rear of the stage. Martins brought two of the principles from Copenhagen to perform, Gitte Lindstrom and Andrew Bowman, costumed in white as the lovers, and NYCB's Benjamin Millepied was costumed in black as the intruder.
The finale was particularly exciting with Bowman and Millepied (what a name for a dancer!) engaged in an orgy of leg beats, known as brises voles, that creates a helicopter effect as the two dancers propel themselves in different directions. It's one of those innovative moments that can make a visit to the New York City Ballet more exciting than attending a week of ballets performed by most other companies.