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New York City Ballet

'Red Angels', 'Sonatas and Interludes', 'In Creases', 'A Fool For You'

by Jerry Hochman

May 29, 2013 -- Koch Theater, New York, NY

There was a New York City Ballet Gala at the David H. Koch Theater last night. No, it wasn’t another 2013 Spring Gala. It wasn’t a celebratory two weeks-before-end-of-season Gala. It wasn’t even an enough-rain-already-we-need-some-good-old-fashioned-hot-and-humid-NYC-summer-weather Gala. But if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck,…it’s a Gala. A Gala for people who don’t usually see ballet, or who can’t afford to pay high prices for tickets (all tickets were $29 – and the house was sold out). A Gala where Peter Martins, NYCB’s Ballet Master in Chief, welcomed the great unwashed, and where Justin Peck, a newly promoted soloist and nascent choreographer, and Gretchen Smith, a member of the corps, introduced/explained to them the dances that were to follow. A Gala where the usual champagne was replaced by beer. Free beer. Brooklyn beer. It was a Gala for the rest of us.

Except for Mr. Peck’s ‘new piece’ (it premiered last summer at NYCB’s annual summer residence at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center – but last night was its New York City premier), which is wonderful, the dances weren’t that great. But that wasn’t the point. Mr. Martins and the powers that be decided to dedicate an evening to showing that ballet could be a living, contemporary art, not one encased in classical music and tutus. In conjunction with its multi-season ‘alliance’ with the contemporary artists known as Faile (more on that below), the performance was filled with a combination of bonhomie and welcome invitations to ‘come back, we’re not so bad’. Whether it works will be seen – I would have done it slightly differently, but it was what it was intended to be – fun.

First Mr. Peck’s piece. In Creases is the first ballet that Mr. Peck created for the company, preceding his Year of the Rabbit, which In Creases resembles in terms of ingenuity, irreverence, and choreographic skill. It’s also as difficult to describe as ‘Rabbit’. [After thirty seconds, I gave up trying to take notes and just sat back and enjoyed it.] Four women and four men (Sara Adams, Emilie Gerrity, Brittany Pollack, Ms. Smith, Daniel Appebaum, Robert Fairchild, Taylor Stanley, and Christian Tworzyanski) combine in various permutations and in novel ways, constantly moving and constantly changing focus, to amplify the score (the 1st and 3rd Movements of Philip Glass’s “Four Movements for Two Pianos”). Everyone in the piece shined (including the on-stage pianists, Elaine Chelton and Alan Moverman). It is an effervescent piece, one that leaves you both smiling and wondering how Mr. Peck came up with these ideas.

The program began with the late Ulysses Dove’s Red Angels. Although I don’t like the piece much (abstract; angles), it does move fluidly from one pose to another, and the stagecraft (the positioning of the bodies within spotlighted circles, or emerging from an upstage ‘doorway’; the ‘red’-washed stage and costumes) maintains interest. It was a fine introduction to an evening dedicated to showing that ballet isn’t what you think it is. But except for the staging, and the superlative execution by Maria Kowroski, Jennie Somogyi, Jared Angle, and Adrian Danchig-Waring (as well as the lighting by Mark Stanley and the sleek red costumes by Holly Hynes), it was nothing I haven’t seen in other similar ‘contemporary ballet’ pieces (including pieces by Mr. Martins). It looks stunning, as if red-tinged dancing aliens were presenting an exhibition of an ensemble dance from another planet, but it’s cold and mechanical and after awhile it all tends to blend together.

More problematic was Sonatas and Interludes, which followed Red Angels on the program. A pas de deux danced by Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar, it was choreographed by Richard Tanner, a former NYCB dancer, for the Eglevsky Ballet in 1982 (it had its NYCB premiere in 1988), to a selection from a compilation of ‘prepared’ piano compositions of the same name by John Cage. The piano is ‘prepared’ by the insertion of bolts, screws, rubber, wood, and other items at various specified locations within the piano strings. It sounds much better than it reads, and although to my ear it has a metallic tinge, this is one of Mr. Cage’s more accessible works. But the ballet is a different matter. Despite the talents of the dancers, the choreography looks tentative and wilted, as if the dancers were confined to specified lines in space and had to make the best of it. The overall aura (whitish costumes with grayish lighting) served only to make the dance look dull – particularly in comparison to the striking look of Red Angels. Although it fits within the ‘ballet isn’t what you think it is’ theme, I would have replaced it with something more exhilarating. Considering that the bulk of NYCB’s repertory is Balanchine/Robbins, and that if this ‘new’ audience returns it will likely see Balanchine/Robbins ballets (which is not a bad thing), I would have whetted their appetite through this program with Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux (or, alternatively, with Robbins’s Interplay).

The program concluded with Mr. Martins’s A Fool For You. The ballet, a tribute to Ray Charles, premiered in 1988. It’s not particularly inventive, and it’s repetitious, but who cares? It’s great fun, and, more importantly, was brilliantly executed by Tiler Peck, Taylor Stanley (who had a fabulous night), Joaquin De Lu, Daniel Ulbricht, Brittany Pollack, Jonathan Stafford Rebecca Krohn, Mr. Ramasar, Lauren Lovette, Erica Pereira, Anthony Huxley, and Allen Peiffer. It served several purposes – to, again, show the audience that ‘ballet isn’t what you think it is’, to leave them smiling, and to introduce them to the young, unstarched, NYCB dancers.

The piece is choreographed to ten familiar songs sung by Mr. Charles , including “Hit the Road Jack,” “Mess Around,” “I Got A Woman,” and “What’d I Say”. Mr. De Luz and Mr. Ulbricht were appropriately explosive in their respective pseudo-solos (framed by Ms. Lovette, Ms. Pereira, Mr. Huxley, and Mr. Peiffer), and if Ms. Peck’s vivacity could be bottled and sold, it would be worth its weight in gold. Mr. Stanley controlled his usual intensity and was fun to watch (and partnered Ms. Peck both effortlessly, and perfectly). But the surprise of the piece, for this viewer, was Brittany Pollack, who was promoted to soloist at the end of last season. She showed a flair and a frivolity I had not previously seen (in keeping with her role in the piece), and is yet another example of the company’s plethora of talented and engaging ballerinas at the soloist level. And speaking of ballerinas at the soloist level, I’ve commented previously on how Ms. Lovette and Ms. Pereira, knowingly or not, complement each other when they’re on stage together. Seeing them in this piece as street-girl bookends with totally different, though somehow complementary, stage personalities was alone worth the price of admission (or what the price would have been had regular pricing been in effect).

When A Fool For You ended, the audience joined the company for refreshments on the Grand Promenade (which, with the Faile artwork, looked like an oversized ‘please touch’ art gallery). I was not enamored of the Faile work that had adorned the theater in the Winter – an ‘obelisk’/tower dominated the mezzanine; and artwork mounted along walkways flanking the orchestra entrances celebrated Faile more than ballet in general or NYCB in particular. But this Spring’s replacements clearly have some connection with ballet and NYCB (even if the connection is somewhat bizarre), look more interesting (especially in contrast to the titan-sized sculptures that anchor both ends of the mezzanine), prompt audience interest, and aren’t quite as obviously self-promotional as was the Winter installation. Between the audience touching and feeling the artwork (rotating cylindrical objects, called ‘Faile Wheels’, mounted on pedestals scattered around the central area of the space), meeting and greeting some NYCB dancers, listening to music (mixed live by NYCB principal Sebastien Marcovici), fondling the free art (each attendee was given an ‘original’ Faile cube), and downing the free beer – while other audience members watched from the surrounding tiers, like gawkers from hotel rooms at Mardi Gras – it all had the ambiance of an artsy street party. Whether the efforts bears fruit remains to be seen, but it was a valiant, attention-grabbing, and commendable effort.

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