Thursday evening longtime New York City Ballet principal conductor Maurice Kaplow gave his final performance with the company. I had never been to a conductor’s farewell before, and, of course, part of what made this extra sensational was that the newishly mobile orchestra pit (photo above) was raised to stage level for part of the program.

There were four pieces in the program: Melissa Barak’s recently premiered Call Me Ben (the only piece Kaplow didn’t conduct), which was followed by Euryanthe, the Barber Violin Concerto, and ending with Western Symphony.

Euryanthe was only an orchestral piece – no dancing, by Carl Maria von Weber. When Kaplow first took the podium, everyone cheered, which grew into a standing ovation as the orchestra pit rose. One thing I didn’t realize (we’ve only seen the pit rise once before, during the first NYCB program following the Koch theater’s renovations last year) was that the conductor can’t stand at the podium while the pit is rising and falling; he must step down into the musicians’ area. When the pit was finally level with the stage and he climbed up to the podium, he looked out toward the applauding audience and took a grateful bow. Euryanthe was really beautiful, with a lovely, almost sentimental (given the occasion) violin section, followed by an exciting drum-heavy climax. It was nice to see the orchestra for once, and to be able to focus on the music.

Peter Martins’s Barber Violin Concerto really blew me away. I’d never seen it before, and I have to say it’s now one of my favorites of his.

Pictured from front to back: Megan Fairchild, Sara Mearns, Jared Angle, and Charles Askegard. There are two couples in this piece – one a classical ballet pair, the other a modern dance duo, and at first they dance each with their rightful partner, then the two members of the modern couple break apart and dance with the opposite sex ballet dancer. When I interviewed So You Think You Can Dance’s Billy Bell a while back, he’d laughingly said something to me I found funny, that as a hopeful choreographer he sought to “break” ballet dancers, meaning he wanted to get them to loosen up, not be so rigid and controlled with such straight, upright posture, and get them to really move. This piece reminded me of that. At first Sara Mearns’s classical ballerina in pretty satin pointe shoes wants nothing to do with this crazed barefoot Jared Angle, but eventually she realizes he’s not so bad and they do a quite nice pas de deux together.

Same with Megan Fairchild and Charles Askegard, except choreographically they were more fun, and Megan totally blew me away and made me think she is really a modern dancer. She was the most compelling person onstage and I couldn’t take my eyes off her, despite the fact that one of my big favorites, Sara Mearns, was up there with her. Megan looked like a real Paul Taylor dancer but even more stunning. Her character really taunted Charles Askegard’s classical danseur, jumping on his back, wrapping her flexed feet around his middle, darting in between his legs, really kind of climbing all over him. He looked tormented, then eventually relented and they danced a pas de deux together too. Interestingly, people giggled throughout this part – where Megan’s modern girl is taunting Charles’s classical man –  and the critic next to me who’d seen the ballet many times before said he’s never heard people laugh at that section, that he didn’t think it was supposed to be amusing but more raw. Maybe it was because of their size difference — Charles Askegard is the tallest dancer in the company (I think he’s 6’4) and Megan’s this tiny little thing who looks rather doll-like. I found it cute and flirtatious and now I don’t think I’d like it if I saw it done more raw, though I’d love to see other dancers do it. I’d love to see this ballet again.

Also, as the title of the piece would imply, there’s a really beautiful violin solo (played by Arturo Delmoni), where the violin almost sounds like a human voice.

Last on was Balanchine’s Western Symphony. Andrew Veyette danced the male “Rondo” role and after seeing Robert Fairchild in this role last week I thought I’d never be able to see another dancer do that part. But, whoa, Veyette completely floored me. He was on fire as he kicked his heels up high in the air, sexily do-se-doed toward Teresa Reichlen (who was stunning as well as the female lead in that section), then whipped her off into the wings where he pretend kissed her. She’ taller than he is and at first I thought they weren’t a good match, but they kind of played up their height differences. I loved it.

As usual during the curtain call, the maestro came out onstage and took a bow. But of course this time he didn’t merely motion down toward the orchestra, directing the applause at them, but took the stage alone, and, like the retiring dancers, was greeted by a row of dancers bearing bouquets. Eventually, the entire orchestra came up bearing flowers as well. Peter Martins came out onstage and hugged him. Very sweet. Then, Martins led the orchestra (joined by the audience) in singing “Happy Birthday,” so apparently it was Kaplow’s birthday as well. He’s been with the company for 20 years. I’ll miss seeing him in the house.

Photos by Paul Kolnik.

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