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NYC Ballet Touches Down on CSUN Stage

Now Northridge can call itself a performing arts magnet.

Really? It took only a year since opened, for the storied New York City Ballet to descend on its wide stage?

Well, that says something. Because last time we saw the company that Balanchine built was eight years ago at the Music Center downtown – and that appearance came as a first time ever!  

So it’s no wonder that VPAC was sold to the walls Saturday – now Northridge can call itself a performing arts magnet, drawing audiences even from far beyond the area.  

The truth is, however, that NYCB wants to have a national presence these days, and so has devised a small touring contingent to carry out its goal. But that doesn’t mean we had the pleasure of a typical bill at Lincoln Center, the kind New Yorkers and tourists regularly get.  

For starters, this road show called “Moves” did have the obligatory live music (sine qua non at NYCB), but it consisted of three pianists and a violinist – not the usual pit orchestra. And that necessarily limits an evening-long program.  

Pretty soon the view can seem like a night of piano ballets and the genre can look too confined and confining. At least that was the case up to intermission – what with “Polyphonia,” Christopher Wheeldon’s ensemble work, set to 10 piano pieces by the noted Hungarian composer György Ligeti, followed by the  Balanchine/Ravel “Sonatine.”  

Yes, we can see great contrast between “Polyphonia” – which was the strict, stern stuff of modern ballet visualizing Ligeti’s clashing, aggressive chords, then devolving into witty waltzes and finally spelling out nothing more than ballet-ercises, complete with finger sign-language – and “Sonatine,” which showed off Chase Finlay, in an elegantly lyric duet with Abbi Stafford. But it was still all piano ballets, all the time – with stellar dancing, to be sure.  

The program’s second half featured two by NYCB director Peter Martins (who, by the way, sat out front). Just to mix things up, he offered his “Zakouski,” (Russian for hors d’oeuvres). And what I think he might have been suggesting was an homage to his Russian master Mr. B. with these violin-piano pieces by Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky, and even his own take on “Tzigane,” the gypsy-ish number Mr. B. created for his muse, Suzanne Farrell.

Tiler Peck, the willowy, hyper-articulate (Bakersfield-born) dancer boasted some of Farrell’s qualities here, and her partner, the small, dark Joaquin de Luz, brought to the picture a confident brashness that had to remind us of Eddy Villella.  

Zesty and full of folk character, “Zakouski” took us out of the generic ballet doldrums. It made a terrific showing for Martins, the choreographer. So did his “Hallelujah Junction,” to John Adams’ two-piano score -- which, incidentally, we last saw at that Music Center performance. Both music and choreography were, and are, a thing of whiz-bang propulsion.  

Welcome back, NYCB. Now you’ve got more venues than ever flagging you down. And thanks for the live music, though necessarily limited, and the excellent program-book information, rarely seen these days.

Donna Perlmutter is an award-winning critic, journalist and author. Formerly the chief music/dance critic for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, she contributes to the Los Angeles Times and many other publications.

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