Barber Violin Concerto – 21st Century Choreographers, NYCB


Barber Violin Concerto
21st Century Choreographers I
New York City Ballet
29 April 2014
Lincoln Center, NYC

Music: Samuel Barber
Choreography: Peter Martins
Principal Casting: Sara Mearns, Ask la Cour, Megan Fairchild, Jared Angle
Solo Violinist: Arturo Delmoni

Costumes: William Ivey Long
Lighting: Jennifer Tipton

Premiere: 1988, American Music Festival, New York State Theater, with Merrill Ashley, Adam Lüders, Kate Johnson, David Parsons

Peter Martins’ ballet on Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra was one of four pre-21st century works presented in last week’s program.

Originally performed by Merrill Ashley and Adam Lüders of NYCB as the classical couple, with Kate Johnson and David Parsons of the Paul Taylor Dance Company as the modern couple, Barber Violin Concerto improves with age, if a quick reading of reviews over the years is any indication.

Check out a couple of sentences from Anna Kisselgoff‘s scathing review of the premiere:

“What Mr. Martins had in mind in ‘Barber Violin Concerto’ is almost too clear in its definition of modern dance and ballet… Ballet is elegant and aristocratic while modern dance is primitive and uncouth? Not to anyone who has seen any dance for the last 50 years.”

Then compare Roslyn Sulkas, writing in 2010:

“‘Barber’ demonstrates Mr. Martins’s best attributes as a choreographer: a gift for ingenious partnering; an unpredictable responsiveness to the music; a craftsmanship in moving dancers around the stage. Each pair first dances alone. Then the couples meet, ultimately exchanging partners. The heart of the work is the pas de deux by the ballerina and the modern dance man, in which his faunlike primitivism is tamed by, but also incorporated into, her fluid expansiveness. The breadth and sweep of Ms. Mearns’s dancing is extraordinary here, and she has an apparently instinctive sense of how to imprint a movement momentarily on the eye, even as it seems part of an ineluctable flow. Mr. Angle, a wonderful partner who can often be a muted personality onstage, brought real force to his weighted, hooked-arm movement. And in the final cross-genre duo of the Barber concerto, Mr. Askegard and Ms. Fairchild were potent and funny as a dreaming prince and the buzzing-fly irritant that he must finally acknowledge.”

Time and the evolution of culture are the differentiating factors. It’s that context of zeitgeist that I love about ballet.

(Hold that thought! More to come about Megan Fairchild and Sara Mearns, as well as about the New York City Ballet Orchestra, in future posts.)