Beside her was Harrison Ball, a soloist replacing Anthony Huxley at short notice, elegant and notably buoyant. Even after all these and the redoubtable but relentlessly pert Ashley Bouder (first movement), Brittany Pollack in the fourth movement set sparkling standards of top-speed precision.
Ballets as Pure Form
It’s always tempting to keep the talk on dancers; their performances change from one day to the next, and seasons contain alternative casts. But deeper than dancers are the ballets themselves. Most Balanchine ballets are like a demonstration of Plato’s theory of forms: They draw us into pure essence in a way that’s phenomenal by the standards of any art.
And the skill of their construction is such that you keep finding new facets in them. I began watching “The Four Temperaments” 40 years ago, but only now am I struck by how the image of physical slumping — the torso falling forward heavily, the knees buckling, the arms hanging loose — occurs at least once for the lead dancer of each temperament (Melancholic, Sanguinic, Phlegmatic, Choleric). It’s an image of dejection, torpor; it seems anti-ballet, and especially alien to the outgoing luster of Balanchine ballet.
Yet it occurs in a few other Balanchine works, notably the early, seminal “Apollo” (1928); I would guess that for this choreographer it’s a portrait of the artist’s exhaustion. And it’s always temporary. Each of the lead dancers of “The Four Temperaments” has a collapse of this kind — artists drained of inspiration — which then adds drama to their recovery. Each in a singular way shows the rebirth of inspiration.
No such slumps occur in “Allegro Brillante” or “Symphony in C.” Balanchine called “Allegro Brillante” “everything I know about classical ballet in 13 minutes.” You could pack a book with a close analysis of its expertise about the management of centrifugal stage space, gender, exuberant energy, numbers (just 10 dancers, but how many combinations?) and inflamed classicism. Yet “Symphony in C” — grander, more formally hierarchical, in four marvelously contrasting movements — shows how much else about classical ballet Balanchine already understood.
Music Meets Dance
Central to the construction of every Balanchine ballet is its intimate dialogue between dance and music, sometimes like question and answer, sometimes like spirit and flesh, sometimes like a pianist’s right and left hands. This isn’t the only way in which Balanchine makes ballet a revelation of pure form — these ballets have no scenery, and their costumes (even the shining white tutus of “Symphony in C”) are subordinate to their physicality — but it’s the…