It has been decades since I faithfully attended NYCB performances, and the company seems to have gotten a lot bigger. There were a few names I recognized from the stage: Jock Soto and Darcy Kistler, but as large as this company has gotten, the quality of the dancer's technique and the dancing itself is as high or higher than it ever was. And I remember McBride, Martins, Ashley and Farrell in their prime.
It's hard to believe that this company's dancers are so young (average age, we learn, is only 21) and so good. Many of them were not born when the revered "Mr. B." passed away, but under the able stewardship of Peter Martins, this company has more than kept Balanchine's legacy vibrant.
This is a documentary about the return to Russia, to the Maryinsky theatre where Balanchine danced his first steps, as well as Pavlova, Nijinsky, and Baryshnikov. The return commemorates Balanchine and the tour will take place during the "White Nights" festival (so called because at that time of the year, the sun sets after midnight and rises soon afterwards).
For most of the company, it is about dancing. But for some older company personnel who had visited Russia during prior NYCB visits, there seems to be an anxiety about presenting Balanchine's work in the country of his birth in a way that will both honor Balanchine, and not ruffle too many Russian feathers. (Some Russians interviewed in sound bites sound a little skeptical of American dancers' ability to perform the work of a native Russian as it should be performed, and a couple of Russian ballet students make little digs at this or that about the Americans' technique, but I guess it is awkward in a way to go back to perform the work of someone who left Russia to form this company. But awkward or not, the Maryinsky audience definitely knows its ballet. And most of the audience members interviewed are quite gracious in their comments. (Sometimes it's hard to tell, since the subtitles are in a drab color, and they don't stand out well, they're not up for long enough to read them, and they are miniscule to boot.)
With the exception of a local conductor who inconsiderately disappears at intermission for 20 minutes, leaving the dancers to involuntarily literally 'cool' their heels (and other muscles) behind a closed curtain just before a performance, the performances go off well.
I was hoping that I would see the full "Serenade," one of the loveliest of Balanchine's works. But we do see the first part in performance, and it is absolutely beautiful. Other parts of ballets were shown as well, and the sequences were extended enough not to be frustrating, but I wish I could have seen the entire ballets. There are generous slices of NYCB classics like "Symphony in C," "Agon," "Symphony in Three Movements," and "Western Symphony" as well as newer, non-Balanchine ballets like "Hallelujah Junction," set to the piano music of (I believe) John Adams. Unfortunately we never see "Dances at a Gathering" (Robbins to Chopin) or "Other Dances" (ditto) though I believe they were performed.
This is a lively and entertaining documentary. I recommend it.
One more word: the editing was very clever. Editing can make or break a ballet video, and they did a great job here in the performance sequences, especially in the cuts from a dancer leaping offstage to his suddenly seeming to leap right at you as if you'd been in the wings instead of in the audience. I enjoyed this little trick very much.