Uncharacteristically consenting to the fuss made over his 80th birthday this month, the redoubtable Lincoln Kirstein sat in his usual seat at the New York State Theater on Monday evening as New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet paid tribute to him by turning the theater's normally "dark" night into one of celebration, reminiscence and promise.
In his opening remarks, Peter Martins, now a ballet master-in-chief of the New York City Ballet, which Kirstein helped found, underscored the complexity of holding such an event. Mostly he said, there was a question of what to give Kirstein: "He has everything. He doesn't want anything." And the Danish emigre added wryly, "He doesn't like much."
The answer to the dilemma--and indeed the centerpiece of the evening--was already in the air. Preceding Martins' appearance, Robert Irving had led the company's orchestra in a large segment of the music from the Prologue to Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty." And so, Martins said, "We decided to give (Kirstein) 'The Sleeping Beauty'."
Before proceeding to detail the company's plans for its first production of Petipa's ballet masterwork, Martins allowed one more "problem" for Kirstein: "He'll have to wait a few years."
What followed was a carefully produced slide presentation of David Mitchell's set designs and Patricia Zipprodt's costume sketches for the proposed production, complete with musical track and overvoiced by Martin's retelling of the ballet's scenario.
The actual dancing Monday took the form of the ballet's first-act "Garland Dance," which Balanchine had choreographed in 1981 for his Tchaikovsky Festival, but with 10 of the company's principal women dancers now appearing in corps de ballet roles, much to the audible delight of the audience.
Beyond the big presentation of Kirstein's big present, the celebration entailed a toast, an award, and a piece d' occasion. The toast was a shot of vodka downed from the stage by Martins with bemused assistance from ballerina Suzanne Farrell and ballet mistress Rosemary Dunleavy.
The award was a belated presentation of New York City's Handel Medallion, which Mayor Edward Koch said was never publicly accepted by Kirstein when it was conferred in 1967 because of a labor dispute.
The party piece was a performance of Jerome Robbins' "Circus Polka," with guest Mikhail Baryshnikov as the whip-bearing ringmaster--more proudly parental than strictly taskmasterish with the 48 girl ballet students who ended their paces by lining up to form a huge L and K.
After more words of appreciation by co-ballet Master-in-Chief Robbins, Kirstein said he wished "everyone was 80 and could look back on making this house and our company possible."
The pitching of posies and a rain of balloons ended the ceremony and started a reception.