BWW Review: New York City Ballet Surprises and Impresses at The Kennedy Center
Sometimes ballet can be tricky. It's an art form that, when misunderstood, can come off as stuffy and out-of-date. Neither of those labels are an accurate description of the program New York City Ballet is showcasing at the Kennedy Center. With a skillful blend of contemporary and classic techniques, there's something for everyone in this thrilling presentation.
Thursday's program began with a light-hearted celebration of youth and fun in Justin Peck's Easy. Set to the music of Leonard Bernstein, the cutesy choreography couples, uncouples and re-couples the six principal dancers throughout. Each of them feed off the others' energy which makes it a great starter to the evening. Unfortunately, such energy led to some early moves lacking the synchronicity which helps to elevate a group number like this. Thankfully, Stephen Powers's scenery is there to grab the eyes and draw you in even when the dancers, talented as they are, fall into an odd groove.
Rounding out the first act is a Jerome Robbins-choreographed number In the Night that relies on tunes by Frederic Chopin. The choreography is beautiful, with three pas de deux followed by an ensemble movement at the end of the selection. All of the movements are beautiful but Unity Phelan and Jared Angle steal the number as the third couple. Each of the other pairings dutifully fulfills their steps but don't imbue the same level of emotion that Ms. Phelan and Mr. Angle manage to do in their section.
Serving as the evening's highlight is the D.C. premiere of The Runaway, an eclectic mix of contemporary and classical techniques by Kyle Abraham. With music ranging from classical piano to selections of Kanye West and Jay Z, the piece runs the gamut. When Kanye first came on the speakers, however, you could practically hear the slightly more elderly audience tighten in anticipation. Thankfully, the combinations continued to highlight strong classic technique even if the music choice didn't initially appeal.
The Runaway soars thanks in large part to bookend solos by Taylor Stanley, who demonstrated some of the greatest control and discipline of any dancers in recent memory. Assisting the talented company for this number is the splendid artistic design, particularly Giles Deacon's creative costumes which play up the whimsy in Abraham's choreography. It's the kind of number you would expect from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. But the unexpected element is part of what makes The Runaway such a delightful new addition to NYCB's repertoire.
To close the evening, the group crafts a full musical revue with Something to Dance About, a celebration of the late Jerome Robbins' legacy. The celebration is a flashy spectacle honoring one of Broadway's greats, featuring selections of his most memorable numbers from shows like On the Town and West Side Story. This is a quintessential closing number, with all members executing an impressive array of variety as the number transitions from contrasting selections like "Small House of Uncle Thomas" to Fiddler on the Roof's "Wedding Dance." Buoyed by impressive vocals from Leah Horowitz and fabulous costumes by Toni-Leslie James, this performance alone would justify an entire night out. But coupled with the rest of NYCB's offerings, it is the cherry on top of an already excellent evening.
Variety is the name of the game for this program by New York City Ballet. There's so much to latch onto in every part of the evening. Whether you're a fan of ballet or not, you'll have a fun time with NYCB's eclectic programming. At the end of the day, this is a celebration of what dance can and should be. This is a performance worth seeing.
New York City Ballet is at the Kennedy Center's Opera House through April 7 with two alternating programs. For tickets and information, click here. For more information about the Center's ballet programming, click here.
Sam Abney is a Washington, D.C. based arts professional. A native of Arizona, he has happily made D.C. his new home. Sam is a graduate from George Mason University with a degree in Communication and currently works for Arena Stage as a member of their Development team. He is a life-long lover of theater and is excited about sharing his passion with as many people as possible.
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