Once upon a time, USA television viewers could take for granted that the nation’s leading dance companies be showcased on television, thanks to the seminal Dance in America series on PBS. It was great while it lasted, but eventually dance programming became a rarity on PBS. Their Great Performances series broadcasts ten or more of the Metropolitan Opera’s productions each season. It hardly ever turns its focus to dance.
So this Friday’s Great Performances airing of “New York City Ballet in Madrid” is momentous and most welcome – and also very timely, since it offers a large audience the opportunity to experience the company as it celebrates its 75th anniversary.
(At its home base, at New York’s Lincoln Center, NYCB has just concluded its all-Balanchine fall season, the first portion of its anniversary programming. Winter and Spring seasons, each lasting six weeks and featuring the increasingly varied repertory through which NYCB has evolved, will follow.)
The program offers three ballets filmed in performance at Madrid’s Teatro Real last March. International touring has become rare for the company, and the Madrid performances marked its first one since 2018, as well as the first time the company has appeared in the Spanish capital.
You couldn’t ask for two finer, more enduringly significant Balanchine works than Serenade (1934) and Square Dance (1957). The Serenade cast features three leading ballerinas of the company’s younger generation: Unity Phelan, Miriam Miller and Indiana Woodward. Each made important debuts, revealing new authority and depth, during the recent season. The leading male roles are performed by Russell Janzen (a poignant opportunity to savor his elegant refinement one more time following his retirement from NYCB last month) and Aaron Sanz.
Square Dance is led by two of the company’s established principals and leading interpreters of the roles, Megan Fairchild and Anthony Huxley. Their partnership flourished during the recent season, and they are ideally suited to this ballet’s fleet, often witty, virtuosic demands.
Closing the program is a 21st-century work by NYCB resident choreographer Justin Peck, whose The Times Are Racing (2017) is a blazingly contemporary work for 20 dancers set to a recorded electronica score by Dan Deacon (the final four tracks of his 2012 album, America). The central roles are performed by Tiler Peck, Roman Mejia. Harrison Coll and Peter Walker. Marked by urgency, bravery and communal energy, Times struck a chord when it premiered at the dawn of the Trump presidency. It still sustains its on-the-edge electricity and evocative energy.
The program will stream at pbs.org/gperf and the PBS app 28 days before entering PBS Passport.
New York City Ballet in Madrid | Great Performances on PBS | Fri Oct 27