New York City Ballet Digital Spring Season Week 5: Diamonds, Liturgy, Carousel (A Dance)

May 19 & 22, 2020

David Mead

To the second programme first, and a quite superb Christopher Wheeldon double-bill, kicked off by his bewitching duet, Liturgy, made in 2003 set to Arvo Pärt’s Fratres and danced here by Maria Kowroski and Jared Angle. In his introduction, Wheeldon called “an experiment in sculpting music,” which sums it up nicely. While sparse of design but the choreography is intensely complex. It also has an air of finality about it, of sadness, of a spiritual journey, of going away.

Maria Kowroski and Jared Angle in Christopher Wheeldon’s LiturgyPhoto Paul Kolnik
Maria Kowroski and Jared Angle
in Christopher Wheeldon’s Liturgy
Photo Paul Kolnik

A busy opening sees the pair separated, at first in near darkness. Kowroski in Holly Hynes’ grey and flesh-colored leotard and Angle in maroon both dancing more of less on the spot but separated by the depth of the stage. The echo each other without ever quite coming together as one. Arms plunge and rise sharply and quirkily. There’s a lot of use of shoulders.

When the music suddenly turns pointed, Angle grabs Kowroski. As she bends into a deep plie on pointe, she hooks her arms backwards across his shoulders. The image is of an insect, but that is not where Wheeldon is going. Now together the dance takes on a deeper aura.

There’s a lot of complicated partnering with a lot of backward arm grips for the man. That arms hooked around him pose returns several times. Much use is also made of circles and the couple swaying back and forth towards each other. He helps her skim across the floor and wrap around his body in ever inventive ways. It could have been gymnastic but in Wheeldon’s and the dancers’ hands it is stunningly beautiful, and while there’s a hint of a relationship, it’s left nicely vague.

The end echoes the beginning, but with more dramatic movement, before the couple part, disappearing into the blackness from whence they came. Utterly compelling.

Wheeldon’s Carousel (A Dance) is a distillation of the early moments of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. It was originally created as a piece d’occasion to be danced just once for New York City Ballet’s Richard Rodgers Centennial gala in 2002. Fortunately, someone was wise enough to bring it back because it’s a ballet impossible not to fall in love with.

Lauren Lovette and Tyler Angle in Christopher Wheeldon’s Carousel (A Dance)Photo Rosalie O'Connor
Lauren Lovette and Tyler Angle in Christopher Wheeldon’s Carousel (A Dance)
Photo Rosalie O’Connor

To an orchestration and arrangement of Rodgers’ music from the musical that includes ‘The Carousel Waltz’, ‘Soliloquy’ and ‘If I Loved You’, the ballet explores briefly the first shoots of romance between the leading couple, danced by Lauren Lovette and Tyler Angle.

Carousel (A Dance) does not set out to tell their story, however. It’s a ballet about dance and music. And what music! As the melody flows, so do Wheeldon’s steps, for the corps and Lovette and Angle, who both oozed personality, even on film

Wheeldon wastes no time. We see Lovette in yellow separated from her friends, watched intently by the red neckerchiefed Angle. As the ensemble, at first in the shadows, circle faster and faster, the couple find themselves together. The duet that follows is tender yet initially uneasy with her tentative and nervous at first. As love blossoms, she is swept along with the music in a rush of lifts and throws, before giving in as love blossoms.

Just before the end, the corps return, the women holding poles as they sit astride their men’s shoulders, their ‘horses’ rising and falling as they circle. It is a bit gimmicky but it works.

Sara Mearns in George Balanchine’s DiamondsPhoto Erin Baiano
Sara Mearns in George Balanchine’s Diamonds
Photo Erin Baiano

The first performance streaming of the week featured Sara Mearns and Russell Jantzen in George Balanchine’s Diamonds. Set to one of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no 3, one of his less well-known compositions and not without good reason, it has a bit of a melancholy feel, even more so on film than live.

Mearns is coolly composed. Is she just a dream? Whatever, it is certainly her that takes the eye, but only because of her perfect partner. Jantzen is almost unassuming; quiet but always there, always giving her just the right support.

Away from the pas de deux, watching online the ballet sometimes struggles. The opening waltz is actually only eight minutes but feels soon starts to drag. It’s run close by the closing polonaise, which at least has the benefit of numbers and more complex patterns; and it certainly glitters.

The final week of New York City Ballet’s Digital Spring Season sees the streaming of George Balanchine’s Donizetti Variations from Wednesday May 27 (1am UK).

To finish, from Saturday May 30 (1am UK) it’s a programme of excerpts of works by Justin Peck, Pam Tanowitz, Alexei Ratmansky, Gianna Reisen, Kyle Abraham and Mauro Bigonzetti.

Both will be available for 72 hours at, NYCB’s Facebook page, and NYCB’s YouTube channel.