Donizetti sunshine and a mixed bill of recent work rounds off New York City Ballet’s Digital Spring Season

May 26 & 29, 2020

David Mead

“A dance ballet, pure and simple, to some pleasant music by Donizetti.” That was the very understated description by George Balanchine of his Donizetti Variations. Set to music from the opera Don Sebastien, the ballet is a tribute in part to August Bournonville and is appropriately sunny and full of quick footwork, not mention some bravura moments.

It is 25 minutes of balletic joy, for audience and dancers, as the dances come one after another, often with little pause for breath. Ashley Bouder and Andrew Veyette led the cast with flair and grace. Their pas de deux opens lyrically but it’s the solos that light it up. She was not only thrillingly pinpoint accurate but radiated a sense of delight at being allowed to dance in this way. He gave her a serious run for her money as he sailed through the space with his leaps, before launching into an impressive (and seriously tiring) series of beaten jumps and turns; again, all right on the button. Ten out of ten for the corps too, who also danced with verve and élan.

Ashley Bouder and Andrew Veyette in George Balanchine’s Donizetti VariationsPhoto Paul Kolnik
Ashley Bouder and Andrew Veyette
in George Balanchine’s Donizetti Variations
Photo Paul Kolnik

The season rounded off with a collection of excerpts from 21st Century works that got off to a colourful and energetic start with Justin Peck’s Easy, created for the 2018 Jerome Robbins centennial and a tribute to his style. With Prelude, Fugue and Riffs by Leonard Bernstein as the music, it is impossible to remember the iconic West Side Story as you watch. Danced in sneakers and featuring six dancers, it’s about a night on the town. As they chat each other up, the dance ‘talks’ superbly. The excerpt also featured the complex and repeated corkscrew move for the three men. Easy it may look but easy it is not.

Unity Phelan and Preston Chamblee in Justin Peck’s EasyPhoto Paul Kolnik
Unity Phelan and Preston Chamblee in Justin Peck’s Easy
Photo Paul Kolnik

Pam Tanowitz’s Bartók Ballet has the feel of a Balanchine ‘black and white’ danced at speed. It’s full of steely, near robotic movement as she subverts the usual ballet vocabulary with such as flexed feet and moves on plié where least expected. Indiana Woodward stood out, not for the first time this digital season, but the clip lacks anything in the way of feeling and didn’t make me want to see the rest of the piece.

From a female choreographer to a dance for women about the female spirit, and a solo from Alexei Ratmansky’s altogether more intriguing Voices. The voices of the title are those of six female artists, all famously reclusive: new music pioneer Bonnie Barnett, Iranian feminist poet Forough Farrokhzad, Japanese actress Setsuko Hara, singer-songwriter Nina Simone, painter Agnes Martin, and Norwegian folksinger Gjendine Slålien.

Lauren Lovette in Alexei Ratmansky’s VoicesPhoto Erin Baiano
Lauren Lovette in Alexei Ratmansky’s Voices
Photo Erin Baiano

Composer Peter Ablinger’s piano score mimics the women’s speech, Ratmanksy then most effectively using both to give voice to the choreography. In the except shown, Lauren Lovette demonstrated Hara’s apprehensive utterances, the dance combining an almost girlish freedom with pauses, sometimes in precarious balances. Unusual, and quite fascinating.

In 2016, Gianna Reisen became NYCB’s youngest ever commissioned choreographer when, aged just 17 and in her final year at the School of American Ballet, she was asked to choreograph a piece for the company’s 2017 Fall Gala. Her modern feeling but classical in form Composer’s Holiday is bright, upbeat and full of the verve of youth. to Lukas Foss’ score for violin and piano ‘Three American Pieces’, makes for a perfect accompaniment. Reisen is clearly a choreographer to keep an eye on.

Sebastian Villarini-Velez, Ethan Fuller, Rachel Hutsell, and Jacqueline Bologna in Gianna Reisen’s Composer’s HolidayPhoto Paul Kolnik
Sebastian Villarini-Velez, Ethan Fuller, Rachel Hutsell, and Jacqueline Bologna in Gianna Reisen’s Composer’s Holiday
Photo Paul Kolnik

Taylor Stanley is all fluid, rippling body in Kyle Abraham’s The Runaway. The opening solo from the ballet has a sense of sense of solitude. Often slow and revealing, it fuses moments of quietness and stillness with occasional bursts as he dashes around the stage as if looking for something. One gorgeous extension seems to last for ever before the leg is brought ever so slowly and perfectly controlled to the floor.

Taylor Stanley in Kyle Abraham’s The RunawayPhoto Erin Baiano
Taylor Stanley in Kyle Abraham’s The Runaway
Photo Erin Baiano

Back to Justin Peck and sneaker ballet, his The Times Are Racing is a hugely pleasing work driven along by the electronica of Dan Deacon. The ensemble sections burst with energy and have Peck’s familiar sense of community, but here we were treated to the ballet’s all-male duet, danced by Robert Fairchild and the choreographer himself. This too has a great sense of togetherness as, side by side, in unison throughout and with choreography that hints at tap and show dance, the pair glide across the stage oozing the sheer enjoyment of moving.

To close the streaming and the Digital Spring Season, the company chose an upbeat dance from Mauro Bigonzetti’s Oltremare. The title translates to ‘beyond the sea’, the ballet depicting the journey story of those journey in search of a new life in a new country (the costumes imply early 20th-century), showing their struggles and anticipation. It is sometimes a dark ballet but the excerpt shown is one of the brighter moments. With their luggage behind them, the cast evoke their homeland in folk-inspired dance that equally shows them excited at the prospect of what lies ahead.

Jonathan Fahoury and Brittany Pollack in Mauro Bigonzetti’s OltremarePhoto Erin Baiano
Jonathan Fahoury and Brittany Pollack
in Mauro Bigonzetti’s Oltremare
Photo Erin Baiano

New York City Ballet’s ’20th Century Choreographers’ streaming can be seen on YouTube, and the NYCBallet Facebook page until May 31.