BWW Dance Review: The New York City Ballet, February 25, 2018
The New York City Ballet, or the House of George Balanchine as some refer to it, is presenting a number of Balanchineless performances. This is as it should be. Balanchine has been dead for over thirty years, and we could not possibly expect revival after revival. However, we can expect a high level of competence and artistry in the new ballets now being offered. Sunday, February 25, 2018, was another example of top notch dancing, if less than stellar choreography.
Benjamin Millepied's "Neverwhere," to music by Nico Muhly, presented three couples dancing before what looked like a cut out, resembling a pyramid. Perhaps the backdrop and the sleek witty costumes were supposed to complement each other, and build on the dance relationships on stage, some briefly, others for longer time periods. It could have been interesting, but the ballet, like many other Millepied ballets, meanders. It tries to speak to our intellectual beings, to the notion that dance is a business for the brain, and anything else is trivial. While I agree with the concept, I have to accept that this dance is, at heart, hollow. It's a good exercise in form, but the form is too narrow, too ponderous. I am beginning to wonder if Millepied is becoming the new thinking person's choreographer of choice. Yes, he's smart, but is he smart in choreographing dance relating to more than mere exhibitionism? I'm not sure, at least not yet. I have more Millepied ballets to go.
"Mothership," choreographed by Nicholas Blanc to music of Mason Bates, seemed almost incongruous, simply for the fact that it did not even appear to belong on the same program. This was a why ballet if there ever was one. It gave some great opportunities for the corps members (as always, they were outstanding), yet I couldn't help but wonder why this was put on a professional program when it seemed to be nothing more than a student exercise. Perhaps I am being too hard on the choreographer, something I hate to be. But producing a work that really has no reason to be on the stage just yet, does not seem fair to Mr. Blanc, who is still finding a voice, and until it has some definition, let him continue to hone his talent. No doubt others thought differently.
Justin Peck, City Ballet's resident choreographer and the great voice of the current ballet world, (I didn't say that, it's from others) had his "Decalogue" presented. Set to a music score by Sufjan Stevens, the work explores in ten movements the interconnected that, if I am viewing it properly, exists in modern day world. We have male female partnering, as well as same sex partnering. Although this has become commonplace in Peck's ballets, here he seems to move ahead in his explanation of what makes these different same couplings so interesting. For all of this, "Decalogue" doesn't seem gay or straight or even gender fluid. It goes to the heart of what a dance is between couples, male or female and how they all connect in the end. And it has the added benefit of the wonderful Sara Mearns and Jared Angle, both seasoned professionals whose grasp of music and technique, vision and brawn, gesture and acceptance of what is put to them, is all consuming. After watching the performance I thought it should be called a "Ballet Exercise with Sara and Jared." Maybe someday. I think Peck still has some maturing. But there is great hope there.
Alexei Ratmansky's "Namouna A Grand Divertissement," closed the program. What was an hour long romp to the music of Édouard Lalo could really have been condensed to thirty minutes. I have already seen it several times, and every time I am frustrated by the weak comedy that tends to undermine the ballet. It's as if Ratmansky didn't know what to do, so he did everything: comedy, love, blustery passion. It's all here. But how much can one take? Luckily the ballet had the services of such gifted dancers as Sterling Hyltin, Tyler Angle, Daniel Ulbricht and Ashley Bouder, who is revealing a wonderful comic streak. But couldn't their talents be put in the service of a better ballet?
There is still no company in the world like City Ballet. It has gone through many troubles recently, and I hope they will recover in the next few months. But right now, it's the choreography that rules. And it must!