For a few years now, American Ballet Theatre has presented a two-week season at New York’s City Center. It has become an opportunity for the company to try-out new works and to revive shorter pieces that have been absent from its repertory at the Met and other large auditoriums. City Center does provide a welcome intimacy between stage and audience, but it comes at some cost. Even after partial renovation, the sight lines at City Center are far from ideal, even from the best seats. However, it is a treat to see the dancers close up---the energy from the stage reaches out to the audience and seems to bounce back to the stage, resulting in a warm, enthusiastic interaction between performers and viewers.

As previously mentioned in this site, Nina’s arrival in New York was delayed by bureaucratic matters, so she learned and danced only two pieces new to her, both pas de deux---Stevenson’s Esmeralda and Balanchine’s Sylvia. She reprised the second movement of Symphony in C on both opening (Oct. 23) and closing (Nov. 4) nights.

The contrast of character in the two pas de deux set off Nina’s special qualities as a dancer. Esmeralda (seen Oct. 24, 27) is in the Kitri mold: full of bravura dancing and posing, difficult, held lifts and turns. In a gorgeous, emerald-green tutu and bodice crisscrossed with diamantine crystals, with a bright orange flower in her dark hair, Nina embodied the flamboyant Gypsy. Eyes flashing and dancing with her full body, she executed the jumps, turns and quick changes of direction with her usual élan. She and partner Jose Manuel Carreño set a playfully flirty tone in the opening pas de deux, then they took turns dazzling the public in their variations. Carreño excelled in a series of high turns in the air. Nina’s variation with a tambourine culminated in a series of fouettés accented by taps on the tambourine; later she crossed the stage in off-kilter turns while tapping the instrument above her head. This show-stopping number naturally drew cheers from the audience.

Sylvia (seen Nov. 2) demanded and got an entirely different mood. Although the piece (choreographed in 1951 for Maria Tallchief and André Eglevsky) also requires strong technique and musicality, especially in a series of hops and turns on pointes, it is of a quieter, more lyrical vein. Nina was particularly radiant in the opening adagio, where her partner (Carreño) gently supports her in beautiful poses, then releases her to hold the balance on her own. Their dancing spoke of love and trust, as befits this extract from the story of the nymph Sylvia, and her lover, Amyntas. The costumes of elegant, silvery gray enhanced the atmosphere of the ballet.

ABT’s presentation of Symphony in C was apparently a premiere for the company. Though the City Center stage is too small for this piece, the company acquitted itself honorably for the most part. Some of the casting for the principals seemed strange, but, of course, Nina shone in the ballerina role of the second (adagio) movement. Her elegant carriage, her superlative control and the unbroken cantilena of her dancing are truly breathtaking to behold. It was a short, but memorable season.