|Wheeldon's American Rhapsody, photo @ Paul Kolnk|
But the big "event" of the spring season was the world premiere of two ballets: Nicholas Blanc's Mothership and Christopher Wheeldon's American Rhapsody. I missed the splashy spring gala but did catch the 5/7 performance which featured both new works, Justin Peck's Belles Lettres, and Ratmansky's Concerto DSCH.
|Belles Lettres, photo @ Paul Kolnik|
Belles Lettres was obviously Peck's attempt to do something different. Peck's ballets are usually distinguished by their energy and youthful vigor. Belles Lettres (set to César Frank's lush score) is like a cross between Liebeslieder Waltzer and Serenade -- four waltzing couples (the women eventually let their hair down), plus a lone disruptor (the always astonishing Anthony Huxley). I liked the mood and romance of the piece ... until I didn't. Eventually the swoony, emo waltzing and Huxley again disrupting the couples overstayed its welcome, and that's hard to do in a 20 minute ballet. Perhaps it's the lack of truly distinguishing choreography for the 4 couples (Lovette/J. Angle, Laracey/Danchig-Waring, Pollack/Stanley, Krohn/T. Angle). They're all the same, and they don't grow during the ballet -- curtain up, curtain down, and there's no sense that these couples have gone on an emotional or spiritual journey.
|Backstage rehearsal for Mothership|
Christopher Wheeldon's American Rhapsody. Ugh. Where do I start. This is a classic case of striking when the iron is hot. As the program notes, "American Rhapsody is Christopher Wheeldon's 20th work for the NYCB and his first since directing and choreographing the Tony-Award winning music An American in Paris, which is currently running at the Palace Theatre on Broadway." Get it? It even gives you directions. So of course Wheeldon's new ballet is set to another iconic Gershwin piece (Rhapsody in Blue) and stars (you guessed it!) Robert Fairchild, the erstwhile (and future) star of An American in Paris -- in March 2017 he will again reprise Jerry Mulligan in London's West End production.
Too bad that Wheeldon's choreography is as slick, trite and empty as his choreography for An American in Paris. Everything about this ballet was a big fail. Janie Taylor's hideous costumes didn't help -- the tops made all the women appear thick and trunk-like, while the peplum skirts made them look like they were in junior high. Balanchine once said that choreography is supposed to make you "See the Music." Wheeldon's choreography is so busy and pointless that it makes you un-see the music. The grand sweeping melody of the piece is lost when for so much of the ballet you have the dancers lying on the floor (why?) or being lifted in awkward, static lifts. When the music soars the dancers are on the floor. When the music speeds up to a climax the dancers are stiffly posing.
|Ramasar, Phelan, and Peck in American Rhapsody|
|Concerto DSCH, photo @ Paul Kolnik|
The real miracle, however, was Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle in the second movement. The choreography calls for the woman to be repeated twirled in the air (Ratmansky revisits this step often -- it's also in Pictures at an Exhibition). It's a picture of young love at its most joyful. Usually this role is assigned to very light, sparrow-like dancers (Wendy Whelan, for example). Mearns is not that kind of dancer, but Angle managed to twirl Mearns over and over as if she were a little child. Mearns, who at her worst tends to gracelessly punch out the steps while over-emoting (she did that again in Flower Festivals of Genzano two nights ago) was in this ballet lyrical, playful, even sweet, and with Tyler's expert partnering she flew. You not only saw the music, you saw the dancers responding to and being inspired by the music. That's great choreography.