George Balanchine lives!

Dance: At least his ballets still do, and that lasting legacy will be celebrated at the Kennedy Center this month.

September 11, 2000|By Kristy Montee | Kristy Montee,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

No one is really sure what George Balanchine meant when he echoed King Louis XV's famous quote, "Apres moi, le deluge." The choreographer of the world's most precise and eloquent ballets was notoriously - even gleefully - obtuse when it came to talking about his art.

The naysayers who feared a decline for the New York City Ballet under Balanchine's successor, Peter Martins, saw it as an apocalyptic prediction. Even the most optimistic saw it as a simple statement of fact. After Balanchine's death in 1983, how could ballet ever be the same?

But the "deluge" turned out to be a revitalizing flood. Eighteen years after the 20th century's greatest choreographer died, the company he founded still thrives. And perhaps more important, the ballets he created endure as a rich fount, feeding the repertories of companies around the world.

It is this legacy that Stephanie and Charles Reinhart seek to honor beginning tomorrow when the Kennedy Center offers its Balanchine Celebration. The two-week festival will showcase six companies performing a program of Balanchine ballets that run the stylistic gamut from the dramatic biblical parable "Prodigal Son" to the austere abstraction of "Agon."

The Reinharts, co-artistic directors for dance at the Kennedy Center, conceived the Balanchine Celebration as part of the center's millennium dance program, which also pays tribute to Frederick Ashton, Antony Tudor and Jerome Robbins.

"But with Balanchine, we knew we had to have a special party," says Charles Reinhart. "No other choreographer has had the influence and impact on 20th-century dance that he has had. And what better way to celebrate than to have different companies come together to honor that genius? The Balanchine repertory is a living museum, and this is a chance to walk through many different galleries and see how different artists see these works."

Indeed, the festival's participants are a diverse group, some longtime Balanchine acolytes, some more recent Balanchine initiates: the San Francisco Ballet, the Miami City Ballet, the Pennsylvania Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and members of the Bolshoi Ballet.

Although the New York City Ballet remains the prime repository of the Balanchine repertoire, it has fallen to smaller, more mobile companies outside New York to broaden his legacy by touring. And the diaspora of former Balanchine dancers has created a well of artistic directors and coaches spreading the stylistic gospel around the world.

This fall, in fact, you can see the American Ballet Theatre dancing "Prodigal Son" in Hong Kong, and the Birmingham Royal Ballet hoofing it in "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" in New York City. You can catch "Serenade" in Salt Lake City, "La Valse" in Seattle, or a "Theme and Variations" in Boston.

For the festival, audiences will see some of the best touring ballet companies in the world and get a neat survey course of the Balanchine canon.

But what may prove most intriguing is comparing how different Balanchine dancers, now directing companies, have imprinted the master's style on their own progeny.

Edward Villella, who was one of the New York City Ballet's greatest danseurs and now directs the Miami City Ballet, calls his Balanchine stewardship "a great responsibility."

The company, which has toured its extensive Balanchine repertory for most of its 15 years, is critically acclaimed for its understanding of Balanchine's neo-classic style.

The 46-dancer Miami troupe will perform "Agon," "The Four Temperaments," "Stars and Stripes" and "Rubies" from "Jewels." The company will present the full-length "Jewels" when it returns to the Kennedy Center for a week's residency next May.

"I've spent my entire professional life with the Balanchine repertory, and it's the single greatest example of art in dance history," Villella says. "Right from the start, it was my intent to build a company that could dance the ballets as he intended."

Helgi Tomasson, who has led the San Francisco Ballet since 1985 and spent 15 years with the New York City Ballet, takes a different tack. He has steered a broader course for San Francisco, the country's oldest professional ballet company, with Balanchine ballets forming only one branch of a varied repertory.

"Without the master himself being in the studio, it can never be exactly as he might have wanted," Tomasson says. "The further we get from his death, the more the dances will change. We have a very good understanding of what he wanted. And then all you can really say is, well, `That's how I see it.'"

San Francisco will bring in its full contingent of 48 dancers for "Symphony in C," "Bugaku," "Prodigal Son" and "Symphony in Three Movements."

Rounding out the two weeks will be the Pennsylvania Ballet performing "Serenade" and "Western Symphony"; the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago performing "Square Dance" and "Tarantella"; the Suzanne Farrell Ballet dancing "Divertimento No. 15"; and members of the Bolshoi Ballet performing "Mozartiana."

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