BWW Review: NEW YORK CITY BALLET's New Combinations 2017

The future is arriving in a vital blur. For ballet companies, which are self defined by traditions and techniques stretching back decades if not centuries, the reformation of rigidity is a dangerous gambit. On February 1st 2017 at Lincoln Center three works, one more than a quarter century old and two world premieres, attempted to grasp relevancy in a modern age that has redefined itself toward, among other things, aesthetic iconoclasm.

The first work, 1990's "Fearful Symmetries," choreographed by Peter Martins to a totemic spiraling composition by John Adams, begins well. With confidence the music ushers open the curtain to an empty space bathed in crimson light. Such lighting by Mark Stanley remains superb throughout. The work is engulfing and sublime, with shifting colors from the aforementioned crimson, to a deep violet. Then the dancers enter. The relationship between music and movement is, I think it is uncontroversial to say, the most essential to dance composition. Peter Martins' choreography, while trying to match the twists and turns of the Adams score, never moves in tandem with it. It plays a relentless, breathless game of catch up. There is uniformity in the color pallet that relies on the timbre of burnt out fuses and organic pulp. Yet, in both the mood of the performers and the phrases of the dance, the movement is executed with the distracted concern of improvisation. There are moments of synergy, such as transporting ballerinas horizontally and parallel to the audience like Tetris blocks. For the most part, though, the gestural movement seemed hesitant and haphazard rather than idiosyncratic. The movement is akin to Pollock's dripping colors; however there is a confidence in that canvas that cannot go, and has here gone, unexamined in execution. Martins' quick shifts in movements, such as a random skip in the dancer's step as they hold hands careening across the stage, founds a sense of uncertain anxiety rather than excitement. The piece is breathless, but from the audience perspective, it is rarely pulse pounding.

The second piece of the evening, Pontus Lidberg's "The Shimmering Asphalt," is a work of poetic architecture worthy of 2017's state of ponderous introspection . The dancers are clad in monochromatic plush fabrics of slate as designed by Rachel Quarmby-Spadaccini. Her silhouettes are daring with the men and women wearing short skirts that call to mind Roman armor and, in the case of those men whose torsos were covered, the costuming is profoundly genderless, causing the lines between male and female to blur. Lighting by Mark Stanley is subtle and David Lang's music, which has been commissioned for this piece, begins at pleading and rarely tires of its mournful wale. The work begins with a ballerina center stage en pointe. She regards us with resigned determination. Then, a spiral of dancers form and reform in circles across the stage with mercurial agility. That is the speed of the 21st century, not a mangled cross-section of geometric shapes, but a Silicon Valley infused fluidity. Men are paired with men and a group of five women lift a chiseled dancer, however briefly, with no apology or self righteousness directed in their actions. The piece commissions an economy of movement in the port de corps, and economy of emotion in the mood. This affectlessness meanders into Lidberg's atmospheric space, which commands attention without demanding it. Its virtues are progressive but with the deadpan certainty of the modern age.

Lastly is Justin Peck's new work "The Times Are Racing" featuring music by Dan Deacon. Wearing sneakers and contemporary clothes designed by Humberto Leon, "The Times Are Racing" attempts to showcase the aesthetic of youth and rebellion. While intentions are pure, there is something inherently disingenuous about seeing "protest" in the David Koch Theater. In my experience, Justin Peck's work is the ballet equivalent of an evangelical church modernizing by letting the congregation wear jeans and adding a rock band, but still maintaining the same old sermon. "Youth exists and is moving quickly," is the viewpoint from the ivory tower, but its mechanics are distinct, subtle, unforgiving, and rarely accessible to those who aren't on the ground floor. Choreographer Justin Peck enters with Tony nominee Robert Fairchild as they tap dance, however gainfully, in pristine white shoes across the stage turning the mind not to youth but to white appropriation. When Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar enjoy a moment of electricity between one another as they engage in an intimate hip hop infused pas de deux, one considers how oddly hetero-normative the space remains. Now more than ever the young generation doesn't self-define by fashion. Fashion is a result of self identity and idiosyncrasy. Justin Peck's desperation to capitalize on his youth leads him to ignore subtler contradictions of movement by enforcing superficial iconoclasm. That being said, there were moments of sincere energy in the piece and compositionally its foundations in movement are refined. The piece's entrance with a pulsing corp de ballet around a central figure is striking. Yet these subtle flavors of newness are overwhelmed by the synthetic sweetness of "progress as aesthetic." Perhaps progress will seep into the ballet from the outside in.

Photo: Paul Kolnik

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