New York City Ballet Digital Season gets off to a flyer with Allegro Brillante and Rotunda

Streamed on-line
April 21 & 24, 2020

David Mead

The performance strand of New York City Ballet’s Digital Spring Season got off to a cracking start with George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante. It may be only sixteen minutes long, but it’s light, bright and effervescent; a perfect release and just what’s needed at the moment.

Full of gorgeous geometry, the choreography speeds along, building as surely as Tchaikovsky’s accompanying Piano Concerto No 3. It’s not only the fast passages that sparkle, though, even the slower moments have a brightness about them.

Tiler Peck and Andrew Veyette in George Balanchine’s Allegro BrillantePhoto Paul Kolnik
Tiler Peck and Andrew Veyette in George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante
Photo Paul Kolnik

That feeling is helped enormously by having Tiler Peck in the lead role. Anyone who has dropped in on her on-line classes or who has seen the film, Ballet Now, especially her collaboration with clown, Bill Irwin, will have witnessed her enthusiasm for her art. It comes across here in spades too. It’s really difficult to communicate on film, but you sense she’s having a whale of a time; and that’s on top of everything else. She’s expansive but equally dances with incredible precision. Pirouettes are fast but with finishing balances held beautifully.

Against Peck, Andrew Veyette seems almost modest, if attentive partner. He too proves he can be exciting, though, not least in those scenes where he leads the male ensemble.

A joyous ballet, joyfully danced.

Also often light, although in a much less formal, more playful way, is Justin Peck’s Rotunda, which was to have been danced at Sadler’s Wells as part of the cancelled Nico Muhly programme.

Sara Mearns and Gilbert Bolden III of NYCB in Justin Peck’s RotundaPhoto Erin Baiano
Sara Mearns and Gilbert Bolden III of NYCB
in Justin Peck’s Rotunda
Photo Erin Baiano

Whereas Allegro Brillante is full of precise patterns and shapes, Rotunda has a much more spontaneous looseness about it. It opens with Gonzalo Garcia lying on his back, alone. When he gets to his feet, he joins the other eleven dancers in a circle. The dancers scatter and reform in one circle or two, a motif that returns again and again between each of the ballet’s multiple sections, and from which solos duets and smaller groups emerge.

Muhly’s score is playful and full of different textures and rhythms with each movement featuring different soloists. From the tootling of the wind section in the opening to the deeper brass, it’s a choreographer’s dream and Peck takes full advantage of it. The flightiness of the ensemble sections especially reminded me of birds murmuring, flocking, splitting, then gathering again.

Rotunda also has a sense of Jerome Robbin’s Dances at a Gathering about it. Each of the duets or smaller groups feels like an encounter between friends, or in the case of one solo in particular someone left alone with their own thoughts.

New York City Ballet in Justin Peck’s RotundaPhoto Erin Baiano
New York City Ballet in Justin Peck’s Rotunda
Photo Erin Baiano

Best are the chirping ensemble sections. I also enjoyed three dances in the centre of the ballet, a dance for five, a long duet for Sara Mearns and Gilbert Bolden III, and a male solo that follows.

Peck revels in the slower music for the duet, which is riveting. There’s a give and take, and push and pull about the dance that suggests a conversation. Deep lunges capture well the heavier, more thoughtful music. It ends with them heading in different directions. We’re back to Robbin’s Dances.

A minor gripe here that applies to almost (but not quite) all the digital offerings that are around right now: why no proper programme note or cast list by dance or section? It would be so easy to make a pdf available.

Costume designers Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung’s colourful but simple practice-wear keeps the foucs on the dance.

It ends almost where it starts, with Garcia alone, as if woken from a dream; a dream about friends. Perhaps that’s it. Whatever, Rotunda makes for a delightful thirty minutes. It’s a shame London never got to see and hear it.

Rotunda is available on New York City Ballet’s website or YouTube channel until Monday April 27.