I watched the New York City Ballet doing George Balanchine’s *Stravinsky Violin Concerto* on March 12, 2021. It was a performance from September of 2018. The New York City Ballet Orchestra was conducted by Clotilde Otranto with Kurt Nikkanen playing the solo violin part. The solo dancers were Sterling Hyltin, Ask la Cour, Sara Mearns, and Taylor Stanley.
I’ve been a fan of Balanchine for years but have seen relatively little of his work, probably because I’ve seen so little ballet in general. I look forward to the day when I can see works like this in person.
Mearns was the only dancer I knew. I had first seen her in *I Married an Angel* at City Center Encores, in the Merce Cunningham centennial celebration at BAM, and most recently in a performance of Molissa Fenley’s *State of Darkness* (Fenley’s version of *The Rite of Spring*). She’s an extraordinary dancer, full of strength and personality and eager to express herself and do something out of the ordinary. Her partner in the pas de deux was Taylor Stanley. I love that Balanchine gives the men something interesting to do, rather than just lifting the woman and jumping around.
Is it rude to say that the music was the star of the performance? This is from Stravinsky’s “neo-classical” period. I wouldn’t say it’s less modern than what came before, but it feels like it’s honoring and looking back at the past in a way that his earlier work doesn’t do in such an overt way. It’s the harmonies, the structure, the overall flavor. The music has that thing I value so highly and hear so rarely: it has WIT.
Balanchine was a huge admirer of Stravinsky and created dances to his music throughout his career. This piece was part of a Stravinsky festival in 1972, just a year after Stravinsky’s death. As often with Balanchine, there’s no story, it’s pure dance, but somehow it’s so expressive and meaningful.
Here's a somewhat shaky performance (in terms of the video) from 1978, danced by (mostly) the original 1972 cast: