Twenty ballet masters have been involved in making all of this possible. The company's rehearsal staff has been augmented by former Balanchine dancers who returned to coach specific ballets they know well. "When we brought back ballets that none of us had been around for, I felt it was appropriate to bring in those people who danced and remembered them," explains Martins. Edward Villella, Maria Tallchief and Tanaquil LeClerq are among those who have participated in rehearsals.
Balanchine was known for adapting his choreography to suit specific dancers. For him, the ballets were not etched in stone but rather were living texts. Without him, there can be confusion about how a specific ballet or step should be approached.
"We're getting flooded with stories," Boal remarks about his experiences in rehearsals. "I think it's great. I like to hear everything I can from people the ballets were made on and then make the decision personally, or with Peter's consensus, to accept some things and disregard others."
He admits there can also be a downside: "Sometimes it's not helpful, because what was required of dancers 40 or 50 years ago isn't necessary today. Sometimes the people who were in the original casts can't see that making changes is OK. They may ask for a certain head or arm gesture that doesn't look good on a particular dancer. I trust that Balanchine would have agreed."
"It's very hard. You really can't take license with what's already been done," Saland comments. "We can all have opinions as to what might have happened, but we can't really project. Everyone has a personal vantage point. It can be healthy, but it's also a little like 'too many cooks.' Balanchine knew his work would eventually take another shape once he was gone."
Indeed, he could be quite philosophical about the future: "You see, everything finally will be different. It wouldn't be any good 50 years from now to do what we do now. It will be something else," Balanchine is quoted in an interview.
Martins, for whom the future has been an ongoing concern, has appreciated the current opportunity to step back and focus exclusively on Balanchine. He describes the preparation of the season as "a reaffirmation of his greatness. I'm astonished at the consistently high level of his output. There were never any major slumps. Starting from way back, his work was of a tremendously high quality."
Contemplating the company's profile and the Balanchine legacy beyond this special season, Martins says that "Balanchine still dominates the repertory and without a doubt he always will. There is no set plan. It's an evolving process and depends on so many things." Saland appears confident about NYCB's reputation, remarking that "we are incredibly blessed by the talent that's here. No matter what happens to the structure for a while, that's bound to carry the company for a long time, if we keep getting such an influx of talent."
The question of "what next" haunts any ballet choreographer faced with Balanchine's accomplishments. Martins recognizes the burden, but adds, "I also think you can turn it around and look at it as a guide, an inspiration, a learning tool. Absolutely, there are pros and cons to having someone like Balanchine in front of you all the time. There are many ways of choreographing, and there's room and need for choreographers in the future."
Boal, who dances an extensive Balanchine repertory and has also been in a number of recent works choreographed for the company, offers this perspective on the future: "This celebration gives Balanchine the attention and respect he deserves. Also, it's a clever move, because it makes Balanchine something to be 'celebrated' and have an occasion for.
"I believe that probably in upcoming seasons there will be less Balanchine than we've had. I don't think his ballets can ever be lost, because they're the best and they're the backbone of the repertory. At the same time, this company was created to serve an innovative choreographer, and it would be wonderful if one as innovative came along. Hopefully, someone will emerge to carry the company forward."