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BWW Dance Review: NEW YORK CITY BALLET's 21st Century Program I Offers Stellar Dancing, but Some Foregttable Choreography

To judge by Sunday's matinee on April 24, 2016, the New York City Ballet is in good dancing hands-shall I say excellent hands. If two of the three ballets that afternoon did not always meet the demands of the choreographic high level set forward by Balanchine, the dancing most certainly did. It was, to be understated, superb.

Christopher Wheeldon's Estancia ("Ranch"), is a lightweight, forgettable ballet. As I've found with many other Wheeldon ballets, his brand name is supposed to guarantee quality, but this dance about a cowgirl, a city slicker and horses, is one that should have been dropped from the repertoire a long time ago. Set to a pleasant score by Alberto Ginastera that Lincoln Kirstein originally commissioned for Balanchine but never used, with an evocative scene design by Santiago Calatrava, the ballet failed on just about every level to hold my interest.

What it did provide was the chance to see Tiler Peck, the most musical and evocative ballerina since I first encountered both Allegra Kent and Violette Verdy in my youth. The shape and contour she brings to the music, her unique individuality, the arch and sweep of her body in solos and in the pas de deux, always alert you that here is a unique ballerina. While I still enjoy her the most in Liebeslider Walzer, the part that brings out her womanly charms and passions, Estancia is as good as any ballet to get an introduction to her dancing. And if you know it already, there are always surprises in store.

Alexei Ratmansky's Pictures at an Exhibition, set to Mussorgsky's piano score, was the centerpiece of the afternoon. This is probably the fourth time I've seen it, and it is as if I am discovering it anew. There is no plot, just the continuous weaving of succeeding images, all unique yet offering choreographic freshness and surprise. So when you see the ballet's sections with titles such as Gnome, Promenade, Catacombs and Baba Yaga, those who are not familiar with the New York City Ballet aesthetic may be confused. I assure you this is not the case. It's a presentation of dance, pure and simple. Like the best that New York City Ballet has to offer, you decide what's happening and write your own scenario. It's as effortless as that and offers many intellectual and emotional returns. You'll be surprised how much you take home with you after watching the ballet. I can't speak for anyone else, but this has certainly been the case with me.

The ballet is highlighted in its scenic design by projecting Wassily Kandinsky's "Color Squares with Concentric Circles" on the backdrop. The splash of colors, the moodiness of its lines and circles, the delineation of an eye, all contribute to the ballet's uniqueness. I hope it stays in the repertoire for many years to come.

Praise must be given to all the dancers: Sterling Hyltin, Lauren Lovette, Sara Mearns, Gretchen Smith, Indiana Woodward, Tyler Angle, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Gonzalo Garcia, Joseph Gordon and Amar Ramasar, as well as to Cameron Grant, who played the piano most musically and elegantly. They all deserve multiple bows for their work. More than I can bestow at the present time.

Justin Peck's Everywhere We Go rounded out the afternoon. The new wunderkind choreographer on the block, Mr. Peck knows how to weave Broadway savvy and ballet elegance together, if not always balanced then in blockbuster appeal. The audience rose after the final curtain to give the performance a standing ovation. Something you never see at New York City Ballet.

The ballet offers many opportunities for virtuoso dancing, but once you've seen them in the first 15 minutes, the ballet just rambles along until the final musical crash. Mr. Peck knows how to put steps and combinations together, but he needs to have more choreographic craft than is available to him at this youthful juncture in his career. He had a huge success with "Year of the Rabbit," a really novel and enjoyable ballet, but one that does not define a choreographer.

Who is Justin Peck actually? Right now it would be hard to answer. At least he has the chance to mature within the New York City Ballet boundaries, even as he is journeying out to create new ballets on other companies.

Only time will tell.

Photograph: Paul Kolnik

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From This Author Barnett Serchuk

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