On Wednesday, May 1 I was able to attend a 2019 Spring Season performance by New York City Ballet at the David H. Koch Theater. Included in the program were four pieces premiering on New York City Ballet between 2002 and 2018.
Opening the concert was Hallelujah Junction, with choreography by former Ballet Masterin Chief, Peter Martins premiered on NYCB in 2002, rigianlly on the Royal Danish Ballet in 2001. With unmelodic, punchy piano music from composer John Adams, and monochramtic costume and lighting design by Kirsten Lund Nelson and Mark Stanley, respectively, the piece exemplified the aesthtetics of New York City Ballet. The simple practice-wear of the costume showcased the form and function of these spectacular bodies without distraction. The choreography was filled with clean geometric shapes in formative lines and within each individual dancer. Interestingly, the most lush and fluid port de bras came from the lead male, danced by Taylor Stanley. This was a beautiful contrast to the bright sharpness of lead female, Sterling Hyltin and the powerful buoyancy of soloist, Daniel Ulbricht. Overall, the work was dynamic, impressive, a little boring. What I remember is technical feats of brilliance from the musicians and dancers, a nice spatial construction of movement, and mostly, wanting it to be over in the hopes that whatever came next offered a little more personality, as is in keeping with my own personal bias and preference.
Fun fact, this piece of music was named after a truck stop near the California-Nevada border. Composed for two pianos, the work, “centers on delayed repetition between the two pianos, creating an effect of echoing sonorities”. During the ballet, the two pianists play on elevated platforms behind the dancers, dimly lit, facing each other. Seeing the source of the music hovering over the dancers suggested the importance of the music in this work, as it if compelled the mood and motion rather than working as accompianment. In this piece, and so many Balanchine pieces the music is the boss. Oops, I mean, Martin’s pieces, because they aren’t essentially the same thing.
Interesting that this work is about echoes and here, it was so easy to see the lineage from Balanchine to Martins. There is something of subconscious manifest destiny in this composition.
*I did not write a post on the removal of Peter Martins from his position as Artistic Director of New York City Ballet or the #MeToo Scandal festering in the company but he definitely got a mention that might explain where he got the idea for some of his ‘behavior’ from this post: Balanchine’s Women
Second the program was Judah, choreographed by Gianna Reisen. I can only suppose that the title comes from a shared title of one musical selection, ‘Judah to Ocean’ from ‘John’s Book of Alleged Dances’. The vague interpretation doesn’t stop at the title. I have no idea what was going on in the frequent hand gestures, or where or what time period this piece was supposed to represent. I don’t know why they were wearing those colorful fringed costumes with a headscarf. They looked like flappers from an ‘Under the Seaweed’ party. I don’t know why the large stony staircases were necessary besides a nerve-wrecking moment when soloist INdiana Woodward had to execute an on-pointe arabesque that then dipped off the backside of the staircase. I’m not sure if it was sloppy partnering or if she fell off the stairs, or if that was the actual choreography. My guess is the latter, but as with most of this piece, who knows?
Third on the program was a newer work, Matthew Neenan’s, The Exchange. I did not see any exchange happenning but I did see interesting nuanced choreography and the first attempt at some personality onstage. To be honest, I was not sure at the opening, if this was supposed to be a comedy piece or if it was perhaps, trying a bit too hard to be artsy. I personally liked the bold costume choices with the female soloist’s long red dress, the striped track suit pants and red turtleneck of the ensemble men, but the little hats they wore in the opening movement were one element too many to take the piece seriously. Maybe we weren’t supposed to, but I could focus on the dancing and interest of the choreography once they lost the headgear. There was, for me, enough quirk in the choreography that the additional costume just made it comical or fetishized in a non-enjoyable way. They reminded me of this comedic gem from Alice in Wonderland:
Off with their heads! I mean….hats.
There was a nice blend of classical line and almost cartoonish, exaggerated awkwardness in the choreography. Amongst these elite ballet dancers, the men were impressive in groundwork and the women incorporated contraction and tension in their normally graceful and delicate upper bodies and hands. The movement seemed to suit the athleticism of Russell Janzen best, who stood out as most convincing in utilizing the strength of his ballet echnique while completely transforming to contemporary. Overall, the pice was intricate but cohesive, a step outside of the border of normalcy for classical ballet, intriguing and more interesting for the risk.
Closing the show was Concerto DSCH, choreographed by ALexie Ratmansky in 2008. The title comes from a ‘musical motif used by (composer) Shostakovich to represent himself, with four notes that, when written in German notation, stand in for his initials in the German spelling’. The music itself was composed as a birthday gift for Shostakovich’s son. There is a youthful, childlike energy in both music and choreography. The piece was playful, especially in group sections, and soulful in a pas de deux. the music and choreography lent story and melody for a sense of character, the dancers seemed to be toying with each other and the audience. The choreograpy was filled with whimsy and fun, such as the partnered trio between two male dancers and one tiny female dancer, all taking turns ifting each other. The piece played with expectations of gender and seriousness in ballet,in the way that children are sometimes too naïve to know about social, or their own physical, constraints. The spectacular dancing and animated performance of music and dancers made for an exuberant closing.
Overal, the performance offered a wide range of music and movement styles. It is wonderful to see New York City Ballet honoring both past and pushing boundaries, and across the board, the dancers look capable of every challenge. It will be especially interesting moving forward with new management and with consistent evolution of audience tastes, which type of pieces, which attitudes, which aesthetic presentations resonate with the company.