Yesterday afternoon marked the end of an era as Darci Kistler, the last dancer to be hired, trained, and made into a star by George Balanchine, gave her last performance with New York City Ballet, where she’s danced for the past 30 years. Kistler, originally from Riverside, California, began studying at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in 1976, was hired to dance with the company in 1980, and was made into a principal in 1982, at 17 years of age. She remains the youngest principal ever at NYCB.
It was a huge event, needless to say — practically every critic and blogger was there, longtime donor patrons were greeting each other right and left (and there was a party for them afterward). The house was completely packed, and the plaza was filled with people asking if anyone had a ticket for sale.
The program consisted of Balanchine’s Monumentum Pro Gesualdo and Movements for Piano and Orchestra, the Titania / Bottom pas de deux from his Midsummer Night’s Dream, his Danses Concertantes, and the beautiful final act of Peter Martins’s Swan Lake (which almost made me cry, and I don’t think I’m the only one).
Monumentum Pro Gesualdo and Movements for Piano and Orchestra is an abstract leotard ballet in two parts that Balanchine set to Stravinsky. I always prefer the second part, which its flirtatiousness, its angular lines and sharp shapes, to the more lyrical first part. Darci danced that second part with Sebastien Marcovici, and the first part with Charles Askegard. I’d only ever seen Maria Kowroski in the female lead in this ballet and it was interesting seeing another body in the role. Kistler danced it more smoothly lyrical and her edges were more rounded, but she played it up really well, really “acted” it, like she was really responding to Marcovici’s movement and he to hers, as if they were in conversation.
That Titania / Bottom pas de deux is one of my favorite parts of Balanchine’s Midsummer Night and I’m glad she chose it. She was sweetly hilarious as she fell head over heels for Henry Seth’s ‘donkey persona’ after both had spells cast on them by the mischievous Puck.
Danses Concertantes was the only ballet she didn’t dance; it was danced well by Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette.
And the program ended with the last act of Martins’s version of Swan Lake. The Martins is one of the only versions of this ballet I know of that doesn’t have some kind of happy ending, and it was really fitting here, this being the most bittersweet of farewells. In Martins’s version, Odette and Prince Siegfried can’t be together because he has been unfaithful to her with Odile. So the ballet ends with her bourreing backward, away from his outstretched arms, into her flock of swans, who envelop her. Jared Angle’s Siegfried continues reaching out toward her, in sorrowful outstretched lunges, but he’s unable to reclaim her. She literally retreats into the wings, and metaphorically returns to her ethereal, otherworldly place. So poetic, and so fitting for a prima ballerina retirement. And so sad…
All photos by Paul Kolnik. (Bottom photo I scanned from an earlier program)