A night at the ballet

One of the greatest talents of a ballet dancer is to make the most complex, grueling movements appear effortless. Judging based on this criteria, the New York City Ballet dancers are masters of their craft; their Winter Repertory performance on Friday evening at the New York State Theater was a wonderful demonstration of the gracefulness, agility, and remarkable talent that characterizes the company’s dancers.

The Winter Repertory featured three distinct works: the charmingly classical “Scenes de Ballet,” the elegant, contemplative “Tala Gaisma,” and the flashy, regal tribute to British heritage, “Union Jack.”

Just as a chef takes care in assembling a diverse dinner menu, the selection of these three works was a fitting choice, as all three showcased a range of diverse choreography and ballet flavors.

“Scenes de Ballet” was a great first course in the evening of performances. Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon to music by Igor Stravinsky of the same name, “Scenes de Ballet” is set in a Russian ballet studio. Two parallel ballet barres stand in center stage, separated by an imaginary mirror through which “real” dancers on one side of the barre work in synchronous opposition to their “reflections” on the other side.

The classical inspiration of Wheeldon’s work is clearly seen in his choreographic emphasis on traditional ballet arm movements and leg positions, including wonderfully graceful arabesques and turns.

Adding to the setting of the Russian ballet studio are the 62 dancers from the School of American Ballet who perform in the work. “Scenes de Ballet” begins with a group of very young but very impressive dancers performing in simple white leotards and traditional pink ballet skirts. As the work progresses, the younger dancers are replaced by increasingly older ones, whose movements grow in complexity.

This pleasing Wheeldon appetizer is followed by a heavier second course in the form of Peter Martins’ “Tala Gaisma.” Martins, Ballet Master in Chief of the New York City Ballet, choreographed his work to the composition “Tala Gaisma” by Peteris Vasks. The ballet features three ballerinas and one male dancer and is composed of solos, pas de deux, and pas de trois. A ballet with psychological overtones, it features Sebastien Marcovici as a man whose attention is divided among three different women. The ballerinas, principal company dancers Darci Kistler, Sofiane Sylve, and Miranda Weese, each have distinct characteristics that correspond with the different elements of the string instruments in the music. Kistler has a gentle, sweeter style to match the vulnerable sound of the violin. Sylve’s style is one of strength and sensuality, and Weese is energetic and lively in her movements.

“Tala Gaisma” places an emphasis on fluidity, flexibility, and extension. Slow and sustained leg movements with along with expressive and intense motions dominate the choreography. The set and costumes are minimal; the ballerinas are dressed in beige leotards and tights with a thin, red outline of a heart to provide a splash of color. Marcovici wears a black one-piece leotard.

Throughout their solos and entwined portions, Marcovici and the ballerinas demonstrate their mastery of the craft by performing with grace, poise, and technical expertise a range of difficult and demanding turns, leg lifts, and bends. “Tala Gaisma” was a display of the rigorous training and remarkable talents of four ballet virtuosos.

If the Winter Repertory were a multi-course meal, “Union Jack” would be the night’s rich dessert. George Balanchine, the founder of the New York City Ballet, choreographed the flashy spectacle as a tribute to British heritage in the United States.

The dramatic, complex ballet is divided into three parts. The first is based on Scottish military marches and folk dances; the second is a theatrical music hall dance complete with a donkey; and the third act takes place on a dock to a series of jigs, sea songs, and Royal Navy drills.

“Union Jack” begins with long lines of dancers in ornate Scottish military attire of gray, red, green, and yellow plaid filling the stage. They march sternly and in sync, keeping impressive ballet form with exaggerated turnout. Both Balanchine and Martins deserve credit for organizing and producing the work so well.

The elaborate costumes, rigid movements, traditional British music, and complex choreography make “Union Jack” one of the most energetic and entertaining works in the Winter Repertory selection.

The New York City Ballet offers an attractive selection of diverse ballets that both novices and aficionados can appreciate and enjoy, as the rows of intent faces watching Friday’s show could attest. Student Rush tickets are available for select performances for $12.