The New York City Ballet was in residence at the Kennedy Center recently. I stopped by rehearsal on the afternoon before opening night as has become a custom for me for every dance presentation. I have always loved watching dance rehearsals -- there is a certain freshness and sense of abandon that is often missing for me in performance. Dancers try things in rehearsal that they may not feel comfortable attempting in performance. And watching dancers in rehearsal clothes always strips the movement to its barest, most wonderful essentials. I don't need costumes to appreciate choreography.
Lucky for me, NYCB was rehearsing George Balanchine's "Allegro Brillante" (as part of an all-Tchaikovsky, all-Balanchine program) and the remarkable Tiler Peck was dancing the leading role.
"Allegro Brillante" means a great deal to me. It was the first ballet performed by the Kansas City Ballet after I arrived as the company's executive director in 1985. I knew virtually nothing about ballet at the time and Todd Bolender, the artistic director, used "Allegro" to teach me about feet and arms and Balanchine and movement. It was the perfect ballet primer and Todd was a vigorous guide. If I am not mistaken, Suzy Strain and James Cameron--both new to the company -- danced the leads. I was not qualified to judge anyone's performance but there was an energy and spirit that made me fall in love with the art form. It was the springboard that had me working with dance companies for decades to come and I have seen too many performances of it to count.
Today, I watch dance with a more experienced, and perhaps more jaded, eye. I have a harder time being swept away by dancers than I did 28 years ago. I have been fortunate to see, and to collaborate with, so many astonishing dancers in my career. And I have participated in so many discussions that dissect a particular performance that watching dance is often more analytical than emotional, these days.
But watching Tiler Peck move across the stage -- so beautifully, so simply, so expansively -- brought me back to the joyful naiveté of three decades ago. I was no longer the tired, over critical, arts manager but the amazed and inspired observer. I am sure the many dancers sitting around me could not understand the smile in my face or the tears in my eyes. For me, it was 1985 all over again and I was seeing "Allegro Brillante" for the very first time.
But those moments reminded me about the astonishing gift arts professionals receive, not every day nor even every month. We get to see that life-changing dance, or hear that one perfect note. These experiences are amplified because we know the artists -- we care deeply for them and are so happy when they achieve that transcendancy. We don't need entire performances to reach that apex, and they rarely do. But we know when it happens that we have chosen the right paths for ourselves.