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NYC Ballet does double duty

December 10, 2009 |  6:00 am
Nutcracker

Where is the New York City Ballet performing this week? That depends on whom you ask. Forty of the company’s 93 dancers  -- including 20 of its 30 principals – are onstage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, giving seven performances of two mixed bills. Meanwhile, their colleagues are dancing more traditional December fare back at home at Lincoln Center: this week's eight performances of the company’s ever-popular “Nutcracker,” choreographed by George Balanchine.

Doing double duty this way in the midst of NYCB’s 47-performance run of that holiday staple (through Jan. 3) is a first. The balancing act called for some careful repertory planning – and sophisticated mathematics when it came to divvying up the roster. The Kennedy Center repertory was chosen with an eye toward showcasing the principal dancers and minimizing the size of the corps de ballet -- whose members are in particular demand back in New York to fill out the roles of parents, snowflakes and flowers in “The Nutcracker.”

LiebesliederWalzer The Washington programs are quite diverse;  each opens and closes with bona fide masterworks by Balanchine, with ballets by Jerome Robbins, Peter Martins and Christopher Wheeldon in between. Only two works require a corps de ballet of any size --- “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” calls for 16, while “Concerto Barocco” has an eight-woman ensemble framing its three leads. The other ballets have casts ranging from two to nine dancers, so the programming emphasizes the ballet equivalent of chamber music rather than symphonies.

 As with the dancers, it will be all hands on deck this week for NYCB’s music staff.  The company has four conductors, so two are available in each city, and while its own orchestra is playing the Tchaikovsky all week, the Kennedy Center’s own orchestra is on call for the repertory programs.

NYCB had been performing regularly at the Kennedy Center in late February, after its winter season in New York concluded. But when scheduling changes preempted them this year (the dates were taken by one of the center’s resident organizations), “they couldn’t give us another slot when we were available until 2011,” explained Brooks Parsons, NYCB’s chief financial officer. “We didn’t want to miss a year there, and they offered us a week in December.” Despite NYCB’s longstanding commitment to “Nutcracker”  (which provides a substantial portion of its earned income) this month, “we decided we could split up the company if the repertory and casts were chosen with care. We wanted to maintain our annual presence at the Kennedy Center, where we have a regular audience.”

The company was last in Los Angeles in 2004 and at this time has no plans to return.

-- Susan Reiter

Photos, from top: A scene from NYCB's "The Nutcracker." Credit: Paul Kolnik. The company's "Liebeslieder Walzer," which is part of the Kennedy Center program. Credit: Erin Baiano / Paul Kolnik Studio

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