New York City Ballet Digital Fall Season: Modern Innovation

October 6, 2020

David Mead

For a programme titled ‘Modern Innovation’, it may come as a surprise to find that the most recent of the six works is already 26 years old. I’m sure that must tell us something. Although they are all modern in the sense of not being out-and-out classical, they could never be described as modern in the sense of being contemporary. No matter, because the three excerpts and three complete ballets in this second Digital Fall Season from New York City Ballet simply get better and better.

The six pieces have another connection: they all feature a solo musical instrument. In some, the whole score is played out on such. As principal dancer Jared Angle points out in the introduction, when that happens there is an immediate connection between dancer and instrument. Nowhere in the six pieces is that more apparent than in Ulysses Dove’s Red Angels.

Maria Kowroski in Ulysses Dove’s Red AngelsPhoto Paul Kolnik
Maria Kowroski in Ulysses Dove’s Red Angels
Photo Paul Kolnik

That I remember it so clearly and so fondly speaks volumes. It was the afternoon of May 19, 1994. I was fortunate enough to be sat in the first ring of the then New York State Theater watching the dress rehearsal of that evening’s show. Red Angels blew me and everyone else there away.

The opening, in silence, created tension and expectation, but as soon as Mary Rowell (who also plays on this 2013 recording) kicked in on her electric violin, the atmosphere crackled, even in an almost empty theatre. That evening, the voltage was turned up even more.

Created for New York City Ballet’s Diamond Project and danced to Richard Einhorn’s Maxwell’s Demon, the 14-minute work highlights the powerful athleticism of its cast of two men and two women.

The ballet, and especially the music, doesn’t quite have the same impact on film as live but dressed in scarlet leotards and bathed in white and red light, Maria Kowroski, Jennie Somogyi, Adrian Danchig-Waring and Jared Angle ooze presence. The technically demanding and quite formal choreography is delivered with precision, speed and authority. At times they seem pulled to the earth by gravity but at others they fly, almost hanging in the air. It is utterly compelling. They and the choreography demand to be watched.

Immediately preceding Red Angels on this programme is another Diamond Project ballet that premiered that same May 1994 week: Chiaroscuro by Lynne Taylor-Corbett.

Holly Hynes’ costumes may be muted greys, but there’s nothing grey about the choreography. In visual art, the term ‘chiaroscuro’ refers to the play of light and shadow, and that sums the ballet up precisely. For six dancers, it follows the alternating fast and slow movements of the music, Francesco Geminiani’s arrangement of an Arcangelo Corelli concerto grosso.

Teresa Reichlen and New York City Ballet in George Balanchine’s Kammermusik No. 2Photo Paul Kolnik
Teresa Reichlen in George Balanchine’s Kammermusik No. 2
Photo Paul Kolnik

The easy on the eye flowing movement is filled with emotion. It is difficult not to read narrative or relationships into scenes, especially as the central figure, here Andrew Veyette, has an other-worldly expression, the other five seeming to drift around him, and in and out of his arms, like memories returning in a dream. Essentially, however, the also 14-minute Chiaroscuro is simply a ballet of moods and visual patterns, albeit gorgeous ones.

There is some unusual partnering too. At one point, Andrew Veyette, very much the central figure, lifts one of the women over his head onto his shoulders, she then draping herself down his back before returning upright and shifting to perform an arabesque with her supporting foot in his hand. And there’s more.

The programme opens with the first movement of George Balanchine’s Kammermusik No.2,. Danced to Paul Hindemith’s solo piano score, it’s a playful affair that suggests leads Sara Mearns and Teresa Reichlen are in some sort of competition. With their hair in high, long ponytails they hint at a couple of cheerleaders taking time out for a bit of fun as they serve up a dish loaded with jazzy, swivel hips, lunges, skips.

Almost about as different in mood as you can get is the first movement from Opus 19/The Dreamer by Jerome Robbins. Gonzalo Garcia is suitably lost in his own world as the dreamer of the title. In one delightful moment, the corps scatter like wisps as he moves among them. At other times, though, he seems to be wrestling with something, the dance more dynamic, faster, with speedy turns.

In full is Movements for Piano and Orchestra, featuring Maria Kowroski and Ask la Cour. The Balanchine’s short is sleek modernism at its best, the simple white leotards emphasising line and length.

New York City Ballet in Jerome Robbins’ Glass PiecesPhoto Erin Baiano
New York City Ballet in Jerome Robbins’ Glass Pieces
Photo Erin Baiano

The streaming concludes with the driving third movement from Robbins’ 1983 classic, Glass Pieces. Right from the opening as the men respond to the pounding drums of Philip Glass’ music by running and jumping in unison, this finale to the ballet captures superbly what used to be (and what we all pray will be again) the pulsating energy of the city. The streamlined energy and pace continues as the women join them for the dazzling conclusion.

This Modern Innovation selection from New York City Ballet’s Digital Fall Season, is available on YouTube until October 13, 2020.

Week 3, available on YouTube from Wednesday October 14 (1am UK, 8pm Tuesday New York) will feature Balanchine’s Duo Concertant and excerpts from Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering and Balanchine’s Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet and Symphony in C. The same week also sees a new episode of City Ballet The Podcast focused on Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet, ballet class Signature Steps taught by a member of the company, and interactive movement workshops for all ages and abilities. For more details, visit