Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New York City Ballet Returns to London

As New York City Ballet return to London for the first time in 25 years, veteran critic John Percival recalls the thrill of their first visit and the genius of the choreographer who made them the best in the world.

Here's something remarkable. Those of us who were lucky enough to see New York City Ballet's first London season open at Covent Garden in 1950 cannot forget the thrill of seeing George Balanchine's Serenade for the first time.

The curtain went up on those lines of long-legged girls and we watched them gather into fresh groupings as Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings led them into some of the most exhilarating ensembles ever made for a large corps de ballet.

Entries for the principals included a long sequence with a man withheld by one of three women from his longing for another; we recognised allusions to the statue over Tchaikovsky's grave. There's no story, Balanchine wrote, but we felt a lot of emotion.

This had been the first ballet Balanchine made in America, and now that same work opens the company's return to London after a gap of more than 25 years - transporting a 90-strong company is costly.

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