March 3, 2016

Watching a New York City Ballet Rehearsal at the Kennedy Center

Peter Martins -- now NYCB's Ballet Master in Chief -- taking 
direction from the great George Balanchine many decades ago.  

On Tuesday, I got to see the New York City Ballet – one of the world’s great troupes – in rehearsal. It was a first for me; usually, as part of my regular Kennedy Center ballet subscription, I sit up in the first balcony to watch the polished, finished product.

This time – my first wheelchair experience at the Kennedy Center -- the usher showed me to row HH, at the very back of the orchestra section, and into a plush, comfortable, movable seat with lots of leg room. He then stowed my wheelchair in a convenient spot close by. 

I much prefer the excellent vantage point from my regular seat in the first balcony, where you can better appreciate the formations – the geometry – when lots of dancers are on the stage together. But I liked the big cushioned seat and extra space in wheelchair-accessible row HH.

When the opera house doors opened to admit us, the orchestra was rehearsing – something else you don’t get to observe at regular performances. Soon, a few dancers came out on the stage to stretch or to practice a particular moves, either alone or with a partner. Most were in their regular rehearsal clothing -- another new element – not in their fancy costumes. No tutus at this rehearsal.

Soon, the legendary Peter Martins, for many years the NYCB’s “Ballet Master in Chief” walked out onto the stage with one of his assistants. As the dancers began to perform particular scenes with orchestral accompaniment, Martins and his assistant stood motionless at either side of the stage, carefully observing. From time to time, they’d stop the action to review a move or a position with a dancer. 

Several times, they stopped the music to consult with the orchestra conductor about the pace or volume of a musical segment. From our seats in the back of the hall, we could make out the occasional suggestion.

Danish-born Peter Martins has enjoyed a long association with the NYCB. He first danced with the company as a guest soloist – this is hard to believe – 49 years ago. He officially joined the NYCB in 1970. In 1981, he was named Ballet Master, and worked closely with two of the greatest-ever choreographers – George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. Dance has been good to Martins. He looks great.

During one segment, one of the female soloists took a hard fall – something else you don’t see very often during real performances. She got right up, but started shaking one hand, as if it were injured. She left the stage, and we wondered how badly she was hurt, even if she’d return. But within a minute, she was back on stage and dancing again, like nothing had happened.

We witnessed a few other elements you don’t see at performances. Occasionally, the crew raised and lowered set curtains to make sure they were operating properly. At the start, the lighting director came on stage to test or calibrate several spotlights.

It was a fun, new experience.

I’ll see the real thing – costumes and all – on Saturday afternoon.

Which reminds me... I have changed my three theater subscriptions: the Kennedy Center ballet series, the Shakespeare Theater and Studio Theater from evening performances to either Saturday or Sunday matinees. I'm less likely to doze off during an afternoon performance.

But -- typical of me these days -- I managed to schedule Shakespeare Theater's Othello for this Saturday as well as NYCB. I'll sign off now and call the box office.

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