New York City Ballet, David H Koch Theater, interior multi-tiered lobby space, intermission, 8 February 2011. image: Martha Wade Steketee

I am not a total ballet neophyte.  Yet Tuesday evening February 8, 2011 is, indeed, my first visit to the New York City Ballet in its iconic space occupying the southern boundary of the Lincoln Center plaza that is my neighborhood “yard”.  I’m getting to know the performance spaces one at a time (some I’ve known for years, some I’m just meeting for the first time).  And next week I enter the Metropolitan Opera space, that stands catty-corner, to experience “Nixon in China”.  More on that then.

Here and now, this evening, I rise to the “Fourth Ring” (as my colleague says: “the best row in the worst section”) at the front edge of a section high up, pitched to see the gorgeous gold curtain, and when it opens the delightfully scuffed grey floor, the deep blue background (for the first piece at any rate, before everything goes all twee and Technicolor Disney), and multiple curtained entrance locations.  And my verbal theatre dramaturg critic’s brain doesn’t have the framework or the background to truly review what I see in any meaningful way from a dance critic’s point of view.  And yet I am charmed.

from Grimm’s Fairy Tales (1923) illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren. source:

I take notes reflecting, in sequence, my response to color and arrangement and particular moments.  On the whole I like simplest (this raises the most abstract “La Source” to a point of privilege), I don’t want mimed stories (ah this “The Magic Flute”), and I am easily bored by costumes that look like they have been lifted out of illustrations to a Grimm’s Fairy Tales through a Hollywood lens (again I call out “The Magic Flute”).  I will follow  a story in movement and lifted by melody.  And much of this evening provides this to me.

I adore the dramaturgical historical notes provided in the playbill for this evening’s performances — the fact that in the bare listing of pieces (this evening “La Source”, “Prodigal Son”, and “The Magic Flute”) one receives character (if pertinent) and performer; credits for music, choreography, costumes, lighting, and scenery/decor of course; and information about premiere dates etc.  The intellectual history related to past performances in there, part of the playbill, before the attendees eyes before, during, after the performance.  A history is built and refined and maintained in this way.  Glorious.

And I watch all the little girls in their little dresses, and the little boys in their little coats, perhaps dreaming of a life like the dancers there on the stage.  Dreams of futures, in the face of presents we can only guess.  Yes.  I shall return here soon and have plans to visit the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in March.  I am challenging myself to find the words to react to this art form.

This musical loving gal from the Midwest, who learned to love A Chorus Line from its original cast recording and saw the original cast somewhere at the end of the first year of the show’s run in the 1970s, thought many times during the evening of that lovely show.  And dancer revelations.  And Sheila and her comrades.  Join me “At the Ballet” in a sequence filmed for television news, with the original Sheila telling us that, for her, “everything was beautiful at the ballet.”  Yes.

© Martha Wade Steketee (February 10, 2011)

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