BWW Reviews: An Afternoon with Robbins, Peck and Balanchine NYCB, 2/2
There is nothing like seeing a great ballet performed live. Unfortunately, it's a rarity. For one thing, there are just so many variables that determine the success of a ballet. Think of a dance like you would a human body. Its spine would be the score. Everything else is based off that. The choreography would be the muscles; what moves each part and gives it shape. Then you've got the costumes and mise en scene; this is what you notice right away, the skin. Looking at this bare bones image of a ballet highlights the importance of each part, but in a truly spectacular work you won't notice these disparate points because great ballet is not about the parts, but the way they come together. This delicate harmony is elusive at best. Considering the intrinsically intricate balance that is needed for a masterful work, I feel particularly lucky to have seen a show that contains not one but three pieces that remind the audience what ballet is all about.
Jerome Robbins' Glass Pieces premiered in the spring of 1983. The three movements of the ballet feature typically balletic pas de deux, variations and corps work with a definitively postmodern twist. The dancers appear in different colored practice clothes. The backdrop is stark and modern. Complex walking patterns and abrupt shifts of weight and direction are reminiscent of works created by modern dance pioneers like Martha Graham and Paul Taylor. Robbins expertly punctuates pedestrian movements with twisted and off kilter classical choreography, highlighting the abilities Balanchine carefully honed in his dancers.
The second movement of this riveting work, Façade, showcases the talents of Rebecca Krohn and her partner Adrian Danchig-Waring. Krohn's exquisite control is utilized in its entirety in this slow and very demanding pas de deux. Her lines are perfect. Her phrasing is exact and seemingly intuitive. Ms. Krohn is a very musical dancer. Her strength and attention to detail is well suited by her partner. Maneuvering her supple body through some very difficult transitions, Danchig-Waring shows an unwavering focus on his partner and expertly matches every line of her body. The way these two work together is a wonderful example of pas de deux at it's best, and it's not even Petipa!
To be perfectly blunt, people say that companies like City Ballet are living in the past. America's golden age of dance has ended. Regardless of how innovative they were 50 years ago, there are only so many times you can repeat the same old ballets. Young choreographers like corps member Justin Peck are showing audience members just how wrong they are in thinking that the New York City Ballet is one of these "museum companies."
"Year of the Rabbit" is a remarkable work. Peck uses a new orchestration of Sufjan Steven's inventive score from his album Enjoy Your Rabbit. As the title of the work suggests, the Chinese Zodiac inspires the music. Each relatively short movement is named for a different year of the Zodiac and flows effortlessly into the next in order to form a cohesive whole. What I find so unique about this piece is Peck's ability to work within the style and technique that Balanchine created in a fresh and captivating way. He uses the neo-classical foundation and augmented vocabulary of Balanchine in a way that is wholly his own. Certainly, the lineage can be traced but the essence of the work is unquestionable new and his own. It's exceptional to find a young choreographer who shows such depth and mastery in his work.
To digress from my praise of Justin Peck's choreography, the dancing was also fantastic. In true Balanchine style, Peck made sure that the corps stayed busy and gave them a challenging task in each section they danced. I found Janie Taylor acutely enjoyable to watch in this ballet. She showed a clarity of footwork that was dazzling and demonstrated that there is a distinct beauty in the purposeful abandonment of clean form when it comes to port de bras. Purists will often criticize City Ballet's dancers for this perceived flaw, but then again they probably haven't seen Taylor in Year of the Rabbit. The fifth section of this work, Year of the Rooster, stood out to me. A slow and captivating pas de deux, Rooster could easily stand alone as a solitary work. This incredibly difficult pas includes some outstandingly executed partnering and showcases Peck's ability to innovatively alter traditional adagio steps. Peck used the company's principal dancers well. Ashley Bouder was as impressive as always showing, once again, her mastery of off center movement within the confines of balletic vocabulary. The men in the company performed this work without a hitch and exhibited a strength in partnering and technique that equaled the caliber of their female counterparts. My only complaint with this ballet lies in the choice of costume, which I found to be unflattering and a bit confusing in context with the overall tone of the work.
The show concluded with an undeniable masterpiece, Balanchine's Vienna Waltzes. At first glance I thought this was a strange choice to end the program. Glass Pieces and Rabbit are so stylistically different than Waltzes. Seconds into the ballet I realized that Waltzes complements the other two pieces delightfully. The stark, and somewhat harsh, effects of the first two ballets represent one aspect of neo-classicism. Dancing for the sake of dancing, no story, no elaborate costumes or sets. The waltz shows another, softer, aspect. A popular social dance from an era past, the waltz is romantic and exists solely for the sake of pleasure. Balanchine borrowed music from various composers throughout the centuries to explore the sweeping and melodic dance form that has remained a staple in social dance since it's inception. Paired with a gorgeous set and eye catching Karinska costumes, Vienna Waltzes reminds the audience of the versatility of New York City Ballet and of the art form itself.
Ashley Bouder stole the show, yet again, in the second movement of this ballet. Her turns were perfect. Her musicality was impeccable. Every line was stretched to its fullest potential. This movement of the ballet is really the only one in which virtuosity appears. Apart from the third section, a lighthearted character jig, the last two pieces are infused with a sweeping and haunting drama. Maria Kowroski replaced Sarah Mearns in this performance and brought a foreboding sense of purpose to the last movement of the ballet through her agile and purposeful usage of her upper body.
It's hard enough to create one successful ballet. To seamlessly piece together three in one show is remarkable. Certainly each stands alone as an important work of art but each ballet also complements the other two in a unique and eye opening way. This program really makes you think about the life cycle of the company. It shows you a history, an evolution and hopefully a glimpse into the future.