Capped by a performance of arguably the last great Balanchine/Stravinsky ballet, an unusual program Sunday afternoon in Westwood showed how dance forms and rhythms have enriched 20th-Century music--specifically compositions for violin and piano.
Unfortunately, the instruments sounded dry in Wadsworth Theater and the interpretations of scores by Stravinsky and Ravel consistently cut and dried. Korean violinist Young Uck Kim demonstrated enormous technical expertise but, in the absence of any interplay with the curiously diffident Staffan Scheja, a native of Sweden, the music seldom came to life.
However, Darci Kistler and Nikolaj Hubbe offered an object lesson in spontaneity and intimate rapport when they danced "Duo Concertant" at the end of the afternoon. Kistler, of course, was the last ballerina to become Balanchine's protege and Hubbe the most recent Royal Danish Ballet principal to enrich the roster of New York City Ballet.
Together, they splendidly met the intricate technical challenges of a 1972 duet in which Balanchine celebrated music as the inspiration for dancing and then, in a haunting final section, showed the power of music to draw us into our deepest feelings and fantasies.
With the musicians on stage and the dancers continually referring to them as they tried out increasingly daring movement combinations, Balanchine created the illusion of a ballet evolving on the spot. In the same way, Kistler and Hubbe made the unorthodox partnering gambits and flurries of high-speed footwork seem improvisational--until the music took them into another world and defined their destiny.
You could argue that Kistler lacked vulnerability in this final section and instead of reaching for her partner out of need, offered her hand like a goddess rewarding a worshiper. Maybe so, but Hubbe's intensity, and that startling low jump in which he seemed to float just above the floor at her feet, caught the full heat and mystery of this 15-minute masterwork.
Without dancers, Kim and Scheja played Stravinsky's "Suite Italienne," an adaptation of music from the ballet "Pulcinella," based (in part) on music by Pergolesi. Kim's energetic attacks and aristocratic phrasing proved admirable but somehow Scheja played as if he were a fine accompanist rather than a full-fledged colleague.
Technical mastery aside, Ravel's "Piece en forme de habanera" and, especially, his Sonata for Violin and Piano suffered from Kim's unidiomatic stiffness in passages incorporating New World folk forms. Scheja managed the ragtime in the latter far more convincingly--when you could hear him.