BWW Review: NEW YORK CITY BALLET's 'New Combinations' Isn't as Innovative as the Program Title Suggests
The February 11th 2016 "New Combinations" program of the New York City Ballet at the Koch Theater in Lincoln Center featured new works that rarely reached towards the future. "Polaris," a short work choreographed by Myles Thatcher and with music by William Walton, opens the program. The men in sparkling blue tunics, and women in ice gray dresses moved with lilting sensuality. While its pairing of men in lifts through this romantic work has a sense of newness, in its entirety its sensibilities are redundant with the romantic music dripping through overly wistful affectation.
The evening's second piece, Robert Binet's "The Blue of Distance" with music by Ravel, is an affectless and inspiring study in suspension. Hanako Maeda's costumes each had contemporary context whether in athleticism or current fashion. Binet's composition toys masterfully with lift allowing for the dancers to maintain their weight even when suspended in midair. The piece was delivered with a present focus on musical movement and mechanical form.
The third composition, "Common Ground," with commissioned music by Ellis Ludwig-Leone and choreography by Troy Schumacher, is a naive exploration of optimism. Though the exposed upstage cyc with lights by Mark Stanley are an effective addition, the piece stands with a synthetic sense of youthful exuberance. Costumes by Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida never create the prism they intend as scraps of fabric haphazardly fling around their bodies. Ashley Laracey and Amar Ramasar do succeed in inviting a grounded core to the play with their beautiful pas de deux which, for a time, triumphs over the aesthetic.
"Estancia" by Christopher Wheeldon and with music by Alberton Ginastera follows a young man in 1950s Argentina. He moves from the city to the country where wild horses roam and he falls in love with a young woman. Taking place over the course of a day and featuring beautiful scenic work by Santiago Calatrava, the performance's romance is immensely compelling. The final pas de deux, beautifully performed by Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle with Wheeldon's signature balletic play employinh positive negative space and sweeping lifts, is graced with a cascade of starlight. The horses however, rather than being abstracted, were performed by dancers in soft brown unitards featuring manes, saddles, and bridles. This glaring break of reality, when compared to the verisimilitude and romance, distracts from the piece's heartfelt core. Though the romantic couple and the ensemble cast are an articulate execution of repetitive abstraction.
The final work in this program is Justin Peck's new "The Most Incredible Thing" which features a new musical composition by Bryce Dessner and was constructed in collaboration with the visual artist Marcel Dzama. The work follows the Hans Christian Anderson tale in which whoever can do the most incredible thing will win the hand of the princess. The Creator, performed by Taylor Stanely, attempts to impress The Princess, Sterling Hyltin, with a magical clock that exhibits new marvels at every hour. The Destroyer, performed by Amar Ramasar, enters and destroys the clock, ready to take The Princess as his prize. Then, to the surprise of the court, the clock returns to life destroying The Destroyer. This act impresses the court, and The Princess is bequeathed to The Creator.
Suitably, Dzama's work has a similar philosophic foundation with Balanchine, in which he appears to believe that there are no new movements, only combinations. A pastiche of PIcabia, Bosch, and other such delightful and off-putting luminaries from art history, his work exhibits a childlike confident simplicity. His work calls to mind the doodles a student might draw on the side of their notes during class. Justin Peck's choreography and Dzama's studio art share the stage strongly, though sadly they rarely communicate with one another. The few bouts in which choreography is rendered through collaboration with Dzama's aesthetic, the gentle spins of the Five Senses or beautiful gilding on The Cuckoo Bird, performed with odd mania by Megan Fiarchild, were rare.
Peck, perhaps distracted with the commotion on stage, ultimately never articulates a resonant statement with the collaboration or the story itself. "The Most Incredible Thing," never seems certain or confident enough in either enchanting or disturbing ,leaving the piece limp. Though for a historian, there are numerous points of reference that could keep one's interest. The inclusion of the visual artist calls to mind Bakst and Picasso's collaborations with The Ballet Russes. Yet even there, the visual design was part of an overall trend towards deconstruction, whereas here Dzama's design is often at odds with the muddled aims of the ballet. His work is at its finest when it accidentally stumbled in on an unintentional anarchy as dancers attempted to navigate his cumbersome designs.
Dessner's music maintains an optimism throughout, cinematically scoring the procession of oddities that navigate the stage. These twelve astonishing exhibitions of the clock are referenced in the program, yet they do very little to give context to what is occurring on stage. The Five Senses, however graceful, are all exactly alike: The Four Seasons confusingly feature a Loie Fuller dancer in red, The Nine Muses wear tutus that spiral hypnotically, and those representations that don't confuse do little more to amuse.
The 45 minute long piece moves too quickly for boredom to set in. No event occurs with enough space for it to leave a potent flavor, and these events are so cloistered from one another that they are also never present as a surrealist orgy of oddities as in the Bosch paintings Dzama refers to. In an evening of "New Combinations" the only work that appears to extend to the future was Binet's "The Blue Distance." That's not to say that the work can't refer to the past. There is perhaps nothing as in line with contemporary taste as reproducing the past in the hope that somewhere in the residue of its reproduction something new might be salvaged. However, the works from this evening look at the past passively and longingly. It's a dim nostalgia that deconstructs neither form nor function. Its dangers are too polite, and its iconoclasm too uncertain for their power to resonate at the Koch theater.