New York City Ballet Review: Classic NYCB II
October 1, 2022 | David H. Koch Theater – New York, NY, USA
The New York City Ballet Fall Fashion Gala has raised over $24 million dollars in its 10 years and recently, on September 28th, the company added $3.4 million to its donation funds.
Following NYC Fashion Week, and the similar Met Gala which occurred in the Spring, it’s unsurprising that the company’s fall fashion gala is both successful and popular. New York City fashion is its own genre and who better to display new silhouettes than the creative-forward NYCB?
And laying at the heart of the gala is just that, creativity.
The choreographic challenge is to create new work alongside collaborating with an illustrious fashion designer. Past collaborations include Virgil Abloh, Carolina Herrera, Christopher John Rogers, and more. For the designers, it’s an opportunity to see their pieces move beyond a runway and for the choreographers, new inspiration and, at times, new limitations.
I attended the matinee re-run of the gala’s performance, so I won’t be able to comment on the star-studded guest list but what happens on stage is really the most important part anyway.
Opening with a classic, and operating as an introduction to the company, the curtain rose on ten ballerinas donning crystal-lined white tutus for George Balanchine’s Symphony in C.
Composed of four sections the number is incredibly musically inclined, as all his dances are, and begins with a standard Balanchine call and response format. The five dancers on the right move and then the dancers on the left answer back. The corps and soloist dancers are polished and crisp, led by the confident Megan Fairchild and sharp Joseph Gordon.
Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle ooze elegance in the second section, a story-like, Swan Lake-ish pas de deux. Although there is no story here, an innate romance filled the stage exaggerated by the comfort between Mearns and Angle.
Unfortunately, the group dancing was a bit lacking, particularly in the large-stepped, labored bourrés (what should be a light move composed of several tiny steps) and “ginchy” feet – which look to be caused by ill-fitted shoes.
For the third section, Ashley Hod and Sebastian Villarini-Velez bounded around the stage in large grand jeté jumps, two gazelles in tutu and tights.
Emilie Gerrity and Chun Wai Chan lead the fourth movement; Chan with cheerful athleticism, Gerrity with elegance and force as she introduced the first instance of “the turn”.
The repeated step, completed eventually by all the principal females, is a tricky moment including a single turn, the passé leg opening side, and then returning to a passé for a second turn (all while on pointe), then landing on one knee. It has the capability of making the audience nervous, but everyone accomplished “the turn” that show, and the joyous finale (another classic Balanchine move: put all fifty-two dancers on the stage at once) was welcomed with cheerful applause.
"Play Time", the much-anticipated collaboration between choreographer Gianna Reisen and composer Solange Knowles, served as an introduction to another adventurous side of the company.
The curtain went up to reveal five dancers posed on center stage, dressed in shimmering, head to toe Swarovski adorned androgenous costumes designed by Alejandro Gómez. The shine from the costumes gave off a kinetic energy, turning the dancers into elegant, animated disco balls. The audience released a communal gasp and anticipatory applause before a note had dropped.
This is Knowles’ first ballet work and her composition (smooth, rhythmic, energetic) begged movement from it. At the Guggenheim Works & Process preview, Reisen stated
“the music, for me, comes first”.
Having chosen existing music for her previous works, she was fortunate to click with Knowles whose nuanced sound helped give birth to a constellation of movement.
The costume silhouettes also influenced Reisen, the weight and width making traditional partnering a challenge. Exaggerated shoulders on a zoot suit leotard and what I can only describe as square pants, were just two examples of the humorous whimsy created by Gómez.
Every dancer shines, literally and figuratively, in the piece; each getting a feature or duet.
Most notable were two solos performed by Harrison Coll and Unity Phelan. Coll’s section is meditative, introspective, a solo conversation we were privy to view while Phelan’s is tormented and extroverted.
Reisen buttons up the piece thoughtfully and simply, focusing on the power of the human gaze, leaving a sweet period at the end of an animated paragraph.
A sublime palate cleanser, Justin Peck’s Solo (originally made for film, receiving its live premiere at the fashion gala) featuring Anthony Huxley showcases two players, the dancer and the space he occupies.
Raf Simons’ costume evokes the shadow of a costume, as if stuck in a memory somewhere between rehearsal and performance. It is an ensemble on the edge of characterization, with a black vest and boxy shorts, red sleeves, and amusing polka dot tights.
Immediately we are brought into Huxley and Peck’s world. I mention both because the piece is catered to Huxley’s personal experience, subtly inspired by snippets of choreography throughout his career.
Make no mistake, Peck’s signature swirly, direction-changing stamp is there leading the movement but the essence is very intimate. There is no presenting outward, instead we get sporadic glances in our direction and dreamy pondering, a reverie for the relationship between dancer and dance.
Samuel Barber’s swelling Adagio for Strings has an iconic build up, peaking with aching strings which might prompt height or stillness but Peck instead matches it with fevered steps.
Once coined the saddest music ever written, perhaps because it was used at Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s funeral and after JFK’s assassination, Adagio has since seen a resurgence and now represents something more hopeful although the melodic strings will still tug at your heart.
Huxley is feline quiet with every leap and it is that same commanding quietness that shrouds the stage when he curls up, head to knee seated on the floor, disappearing with the spotlight.
Aptly named, watching Kyle Abraham’s Love Letter (on shuffle) feels like listening to a playlist. The sections shared thematic qualities but felt disconnected especially so with every blackout at the close of a song, the visual interpretation of hitting next.
Abraham paired up with designer Giles Deacon and music by James Blake, both previous collaborators. Deacon’s costumes featured abstract Renaissance prints as well as nods to the time period’s wardrobe with ruffles, bows, and extra-large romantic tutus. With falsetto notes and bubbly electronics, Blake is inspiring accompaniment.
Jonathan Fahoury absorbs Abraham’s technique, expertly switching from balletic gargouillades to rippling undulations and electric locking. But the highlight of the work are the three central pas de deux.
Quinn Starner and Cainan Weber are the sweet, young, enamored couple – Starner often running to the side to giggle with girlfriends. The work here is quick, twisty, and bright with the two playing off each other, an on-stage frolic.
Emily Kikta and Peter Walker, both expansive and long-legged, show a more mature relationship. Blake poetically lulls:
“I reserve a table for old time
Back then, it wouldn’t have even crossed my mind
But I promise you, your place is safe”.
The third coupling featured Fahoury and Harrison Ball. Their repeated theme step is a synchronized adagio, hands on each other’s shoulders and standing side by side, they slowly developpé their legs in the air. This duo feels a bit more troubled, a bit more challenged by a mysterious pressure. Their foreheads press against each other in beautiful simplicity and a last embrace is what closes the number.
Three new works, three peaceful endings. It’s rare to see a mixed bill of new works that end with similar closing tones. Almost like we’ve been yearning for some stillness.
Featured Photo for this New York City Ballet review of dancers in Gianna Reisen’s Play Time. Photo by Erin Baiano.
You write as beautifully as you dance!!!!!