BWW Review: NEW YORK CITY BALLET's THE DECALOGUE
Justin Peck's newest work, "The Decalogue," was placed at the far end of a daunting program this past Thursday as part of New York City Ballet's expansive "Here/Now" festival. Following Lynne Taylor-Corbett's resonate "Chiaroscuro," Jorma Elo's sublime "Slice to Sharp," and Peter Martins' transportive, if overlong, "Stabat Mater," the sting of anticlimax would have been difficult to avoid for even the most robust work. The evening's narrative was moving to an aesthetic statement, but riding these pieces was also a burden of archaic catharsis which "The Decalogue" is not equipped to shoulder. However, if dislodged from the context of the program, Justin Peck's newest work represents his most mature excavation of dance form and gives hope that ballet can be not simply dressed up in new fashion, but have its soil tilled for invigorating innovation.
Pianist Susan Walters performs an original composition by Sufjan Stevens, which does well to keep the dance pace. The music swells with a consistent wave of scales. It has the motion of Chopin, admittedly without his lushness, and the construction of a Glass work, admittedly without his hypnotism. "The Decalogue" is fragmented into ten segments, a fleet footed structure that has been previously seen in and is always a welcome aid to the abstraction of Peck's work. The dancers are costumed in simple soft spandex monochrome. Even in Balanchine's "Black and White" programs they wouldn't attract too much attention to themselves. Though, they do represent an organic newness to his aesthetic.
The choreography features a flowing geometry of dancers zipping through the stage. Pas de deux are performed with sensitivity but without the customary sexual intimacy expected of the form. The traditional hierarchy of the lifted being on display in the air with the lifter as a muscular scaffolding is exchanged for a presentation where both men and women were finding themselves aloft through the machinations of similarly displayed performers. Men are spun delicately in the air by women, yet not out of statement but out of compositional necessity. The fluidity of the use of bodies, regardless of gender, is part and parcel with the pressing of black and white keys on the piano.
The ultimate innovation of Justin Peck's work is his use of the ensemble. The New York City Ballet is founded on a pair of extremes. The first is the discipline of Balanchine's corps de ballet, a freer auteur extension of Petipa's architectural corps. The second is the exuberant Technicolor Americana of Jerome Robbins. Justin Peck presents his corps with the natural fracture of the human body married to compositional discipline. His dancers are selflessly individualized and their motions are organically varied in composition. None the less, all of this choreographic diversity on the stage could still create a uniform choreographic pulse. There is cause and effect in their motions, as bodies press upon one another, though each reacts in his or her own way. This base coat of innovation has up until now been hidden near the canvas of his work and only in this reduced aesthetic and thematically voided piece is it allowed to be made not just process but subject. It is this innovation that I expect will follow Justin Peck in the future and with which I look forward to engaging.