21st-century dance from Peck, Ratmansky and Wheeldon: New York City Ballet Digital Fall Season Programme 5

October 20, 2020

David Mead

The fifth programme of New York City Ballet’s Digital Fall Season features excerpts from seven ballets by the three choreographers most influential in shaping the company’s 21st century repertory. The highlights come in two pas de deux from Justin Peck and Christopher Wheeldon.

Year of the Rabbit is the second piece that Peck made for NYCB, back in 2012, while still a member of the corps. It remains one of his best.

Performed to music by Sufjan Stevens, the ballet is subtitled ‘Selections from the Chinese Zodiac’. Thus, besides the rabbit, we get the expected ox, tiger, dragon, rooster, pig, and this unexpected gatecrasher: ‘Year of Our Lord’. It’s a slow, sustained duet that has the two dancers in a pool of light surrounded by darkness. The choreography doesn’t have a particularly contemporary feel (as indeed does much in the programme, at least when discussed in European terms) but what it does have is an aura, a sense of mystery, of magic in the air. Indiana Woodward and Taylor Stanley are divine, the dance breathing beautifully, not least when Woodward is lifted in a way that makes her seem like she’s floating.

Indiana Woodward and Taylor Stanley in Justin Peck’s Year of the RabbitPhoto Paul Kolnik
Indiana Woodward and Taylor Stanley
in Justin Peck’s Year of the Rabbit
Photo Paul Kolnik

The following pas de deux from Wheeldon’s Polyphonia similarly opens with the dancers surrounded by a sea of black. Again, there is a sense of mystery, the enigma heightened by the way the couple look at the audience as the light fades at the close. Here the shapes are more dramatic, with more straight lines and sharp angles, reflecting the György Ligeti score. Th dance also has a coolness to it as Lauren Lovette is lifted, tipped upside down and otherwise twisted, turned and manipulated by Andrew Veyette. The following brief ensemble section is sharp and clean, the neoclassical choreography hinting powerfully at Balanchine’s black and white series.

The programme opens and closes with more Peck. Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes is his take on Aaron Copland’s well-known score. Comparisons with the iconic Agnes de Mille ballet are inevitable, but Peck wisely puts all the cowboy motifs to one side and instead opts for largely playful dance that’s all about competition. It’s also very much a dance for the men, there being only one woman in the cast of 16.

New York City Ballet in Justin Peck’s Rodeo: Four Dance EpisodesPhoto Paul Kolnik
New York City Ballet in Justin Peck’s Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes
Photo Paul Kolnik

In the Third Episode, a pas de deux danced here by Peck himself and Brittany Pollack, the sense is very much of a young couple in the throws of first love. The easy on the eye choreography speaks volumes without resorting to big or virtuoso steps. It’s tender, light and buoyant; and there’s a lovely moment, as things calm down, when they stop and gaze longingly into each other’s eyes before she rests her head on his chest.

The spirited Fourth Episode is fun. Led by the boyish trio of Gonzalo Garcia, Andrew Veyette, and Daniel Ulbricht, the whole cast come together to have a good time. There are moments of wit and humour as they are let loose on some fiendishly fast petit allegro, all carried off brilliantly. What I am not so keen on are the costumes. The grey and blue ones in particular look like a football strip dredged up from the 1950s.

Closing the programme is the finale from Peck’s Everywhere We Go. To more music from Sufjan Stevens (a Peck favourite), it’s a whirlwind of complex and fast-paced movement full of comings and goings that keeps the watcher on their toes. Super designs too. Karl Jensen’s patterned cut-out drops almost look three-dimensional as they create geometric shapes, while Janie Taylor’s horizontal-striped tops for the women are decidedly stylish and chic.

Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle in Christopher Wheeldon’s Mercurial ManoeuvresPhoto Paul Kolnik
Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle
in Christopher Wheeldon’s Mercurial Manoeuvres
Photo Paul Kolnik

More Wheeldon comes via the pas de deux from Mercurial Manoeuvres with Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle. It’s beautifully sensual, the couple’s two bodies intertwining as expressively as anyone could wish. Every moment seems to have meaning. Peck almost seems to stretch the music as she finds time to extend every gesture, ever reach.

Completing the programme are excerpts from two Alexei Ratmansky ballets. In ‘Tuileries’ from Pictures at an Exhibition, Tiler Peck flits nicely as if a firefly attracted by a night-time lamp. I certainly did not get ‘Children’s Quarrel after Games’, the subtitle of Viktor Hartmann’s lost picture that inspired the Mussorgsky score. Adeline Andre ‘s costumes, loose bell-shaped affairs that resemble sacks, must be some of the most unflattering ever. Later, five men have a romp to ‘Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks’.

Also danced are sections IX and X from his Russian Seasons, which combines classical ballet with folk traditions using music and texts from traditional sources arranged by Leonid Desyatnikov.

This Programme 5 of New York City Ballet’s Digital Fall Season is available on YouTube until October 27, 2020.

Programme 6 on October 24 is the second Saturday matinee, and features the opening of Jerome Robbins’ Fanfare; George Balanchine’s adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier, a tale of a toy soldier’s love for a ballerina; and the ‘Donkey pas de deux’ and ‘Scherzo’ from his A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Visit www.nycballet.com for details.