Mr. B’s last belle
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New York City Ballet’s annual Gala was a bittersweet affair on Saturday night. The dancing was top shelf. So too where the four ballet selections. As the audience cheered, they also cried because the devoted Saratoga Performing Arts Center audience bid Darci Kistler adieu.
The beautiful ballerina, the last in a special line of George Balanchine’s chosen ones, danced her last dance here. And as the rains started to come down, Peter Martins, her husband and the company’s ballet master-in-chief, remarked “Mr. Balanchine opened the heavens to say good-bye.”
Fittingly, she danced one of Balanchine’s ballets, “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.” She was spectacular. She captured the role of the stripper, in heels no less, with an exuberance and energy that honored her nearly 30-year career.
The ballet is a novelty, an excerpt from the Rodgers and Hart musical “On Your Toes,” a Broadway show that Balanchine choreographed. The comedic scenes are a play within a play. And while there are many funny bits, all eyes were centered on Kistler, her high kicks and shimmying flapper moves. With her hair trailing down her back and her fringed skirt jangling, she looked happy.
She was whisked along by Philip Neal as the hoofer. He is a peerless partner and took great care to ensure he was there to lean on. It was touching. At the curtain call, rather than bow, they hugged.
Her retirement marks the end of a magical era — when Balanchine was alive and creating. She is a solid link to that past. But as demonstrated on Saturday night, what Balanchine forged is sealed in the talented fibers of the current crop of New York City Ballet artists. Consider Ashley Bouder and Andrew Veyette, who were beyond marvelous in the fourth campaign in “Stars and Stripes.” To music by Sousa, the two showed off their faculties with flair. Veyette stood aside as Bouder sustained balances beyond physical norm. She was also sprightly as she bounded about and turned fiendishly. But once it was Veyette’s turn, he matched her va-voom with his own. He added his own touches — an extra revolution to his turn or a little kick in his jumps — to his acrobatic variation.
The amazing dancing continued in Martins’ “Hallelujah Junction” and Balanchine’s “Tarantella.” In “Hallelujah Junction,” Cameron Grant and Richard Moredock played the complex John Adams composition on two raised pianos. Below, the dancers, led by Sterling Hyltin, Robert Fairchild and Daniel Ulbricht, reflected the running of the piano keys.
“Tarantella,” with Megan Fairchild and Gonzalo Garcia, was also wonderful to take in. This brief caper is hard to dance, but easy to love.
This season, the dancers have been performing their hearts out. So too has the orchestra, directed by Faycal Karoui. Bravo all.