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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Fall NYCB: New Works, Old Classics

Sterling Hyltin and Adrian Danchig-Waring in Lopez-Ochoa's Unframed
Fall Season for the NYCB has coincided with one of the busiest, most frantic times I've ever experienced professionally. Too bad, because the fall season has by far the strongest programs compared to the somewhat repetitive Winter Season and the Spring Season which has the potential to be a lot of misses. I did make it to three programs -- two all-Balanchine, and the evening of new works that premiered at the fall gala.

Lauren Lovette and Peter Walker are both dancers within the company making their choreographic debuts. Peck and Lopez-Ochoa are more well-known quantities. I saw the program on 9/27. My impressions: The four new works mixed the forgettable (Lauren Lovette's For Clara), with the mediocre (Justin Peck's The Dreamers) with the excellent (Peter Walker's ten in seven and Annabel Lopez-Ochoa's Unframed).


First of all, a rant: WHY DID SO MANY DESIGNERS THINK IT WAS A GOOD IDEA TO PUT DANCERS IN TRACK PANTS? Ok, rant over.

Not much to say about Peck's The Dreamers -- it's a pas de deux between Mearns and Ramasar where a good minute or so is spent with Mearns and Ramasar lying on the floor. Not a bad idea right? Except the ballet is only seven minutes. Anyway it's a rather frantic, aggressive piece set to Martinu's Quintet No. 2. The pas de deux had no intimacy or feeling. It just sort of exuded the athletic enthusiasm that Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar bring to every ballet they dance. It was generic. I didn't hate it but I don't need to see it again.

Lauren Lovette's For Clara was more ambitious -- corps of six men and women who weave in and out during this 12 minute ballet (set, predictably, to Schumann). I know this is Lovette's first choreographic effort but I couldn't discern much structure to the piece, and I also thought there was a disconnect between the music (a romantic chamber piece) and the rather aggressive partnering that was the choreography. Unity Phelan was dragged, dropped from the air into a leg straddling lift, had her arms and shoulders twisted (by Zach Catazaro), all to prove that she's, well, Unity Phelan, the toughest most athletic chick in the company. Indiana Woodward flitted about like the bubbly sprite she always is and Chase Finlay and Emilie Gerrity were the more generic lovers. But at the end of the ballet, what was the point? As I said, no structure. And why were the men bare-chested? It added nothing.

ten in seven, photo @ Paul Kolnik

Corps de ballet member Peter Walker's ten in seven (set to a jazzy score by Thomas Kikta, father of corps member Emily Kikta) had none of the ambitions of the other works on the program and that was the charm. The onstage band played and these kids just started dancing. If you wanted to nitpick you could say that some of the choreography seemed derivative of Jerome Robbins' West Side Story and Glass Pieces (down to the iconic opening crouches of WSS with the Philip Glass-lite last movement), but overall the ballet had a unity of purpose (have fun, boys and girls), a clean aesthetic (loved the costumes, especially the colorful dresses on the girls), a jaunty score, and crowd-pleasing choreography. The energy on the stage was strong and that transmitted across the footlights. Emily Kikta and Russell Janzen sizzled in their pas de deux. This one's a keeper.

Chamblee, Lauren King, Jared Angle, photo @Paul Kolnik
Unframed was the most large-scale piece of the night. It's in six sections, with several different composers -- Boccherini first section, then Vasks second section, then Boccherini again, then Elgar, and the finale is set to Vivaldi. There are ten soloist parts. Unframed is one of those ballets where the pretensions (like having the dancers strip more and more of their costumes until they are finally in underwear) distract from the actual steps. But once I trained my eye to ignore the costumes I saw corps formations and soloist choreography that was well-constructed and visually pleasing. Highlights: the all-male baroque dance, the quiet pas de deux between Sterling Hyltin and Adrian Danchig-Waring and the exuberant finale. I don't think Lopez-Ochoa really mined the talents of her incredible cast -- for instance, blink and you might miss Tiler Peck in there dancing somewhere. But this ballet I also think is a keeper. At times it reminded me of many of the wonderful baroque works of Paul Taylor.

Checking in on the old works: the all-Stravinsky program (9/21) showed the company in fine shape. Teresa Reichlen was particularly impressive in Monumentum pro Gesualdo and the corps was wonderful at capturing the courtliness of the ballet. That sequence where the woman has to be half thrown and half caught by several men looked so smooth and effortless.  Tiler Peck, Taylor Stanley and Danny Ulbricht also charged through Symphony in Three Movements with great energy.

The program of Divertimento #15/Episodes/Vienna Waltzes (9/23) was also at a very high standard. First of all, plaudits to the cast of Divertimento for doing justice to this sublime work. The trio of men (Harrison Ball, Joseph Gordon and Chase Finlay) danced with a one-ness and unison that made them seem almost like brothers. The women (Megan Fairchild, Ashley Laracey, Indiana Woodward as a last minute sub, Erica Pereria, Ashly Isaacs) varied in height and appearance but also managed to perform all the petit batterie with a similarity of motion and style that is so important for this work. Ball and Laracey in particular performed with Apollonian grace. The overall harmony and geometric cleanness of the performance was really Mozartean. In Vienna Waltzes Ashley Bouder made a very welcome return after maternity leave by turning and jumping her way through "Voices of Spring." Gonzalo Garcia was her classy partner. Tess Reichlen doesn't have the ideal back flexibility for the Suzanne Farrell role in VW but her unforced beauty and elegance nevertheless made an impact.

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