New York City Ballet 2021 Digital Season: Stravinsky Violin Concerto

March 11, 2021

David Mead

After considering George Balanchine in narrative and classical Russian moods in Prodigal Son and Theme and Variations, the final week of New York City Ballet’s Three Sides of Balanchine series turned to his neoclassical outlook, specifically Stravinsky Violin Concerto.

It’s a landmark piece, classical at heart but laced through with Russian folk and jazz influences; a dance of various moods, from sprightly and full of crackling energy, to heartfelt and soulful.

The ballet’s fast-moving opening and closing ensemble movements are both notable for the symmetry and balance in the choreography. Unusually, the men get as good choreography as the women. If anything, in the sprightly opening Toccata, it’s better.

The ballet’s heart lies in the two remarkably innovative pas de deux, however. In the First Aria, Sara Mearns, strong and powerful, folds and unfolds her limbs, legs especially contorting and going everywhere. Taylor Stanley’s twisting, turning, tricky partnering cannot be faulted, but I struggled for connection.

Sara Mearns and Taylor Stanley in Stravinsky Violin ConcertoPhoto Erin Baiano
Sara Mearns and Taylor Stanley in Stravinsky Violin Concerto
Photo Erin Baiano

Sterling Hyltin and Ask La Cour in the more deeply felt Second Aria suggest far more of a relationship. They are exploring each other as well as the possibilities in the movement and all its sinewy reaches and strange angles and positions. In doing so, they look at each other much more. It’s intimate and feels like we are intruding on some private conversation, one that most certainly has its ups as well as its downs. They are clearly ‘talking’ to one another, actually dancing with one another, not only in the same space.

The final movement Capriccio is a whirlwind of playful energy, the ensemble attacking the choreography and giving it rare life. It’s a blast.

Accompanying the performance is an Inside NYCB film, in which principal Sara Mearns, soloist Claire Kretzschmar, and repertory director Rebecca Krohn discuss the ballet, and specifically the first pas de deux, with NYCB principal Russell Janzen. The conversation includes a lot of references back to Karin von Aroldingen, on whom it was made.

Given it is such a landmark work, it comes as a surprise to hear all three say they hadn’t seen the ballet before joining the company. Krohn makes the point that the most important thing is to learn the music. The counting is tricky. “Sometimes, you just need to know that a particular note is coming.” She goes on to say that there really is no ornamentation. While it naturally looks different on different bodies, “It’s all in the set choreography.” After the discussion, Kretzschmar is seen rehearsing with Krohn.

Also available on ‘City Ballet The Podcast’ is a ‘Hear the Dance’ episode on the ballet, featuring former NYCB principal Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, who originated the leading male role in the ballet’s ‘First Aria’.

New York City Ballet in Stravinsky Violin Concerto and ‘Inside NYCB – Stravinsky Violin Concerto’ are available at and YouTube until Thursday, March 18.

‘City Ballet The Podcast – Stravinsky Violin Concerto’ is available at