NYCB visit London for the first time in 16 years

By: Mar. 09, 2024
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Review: NEW YORK CITY BALLET: MIXED BILL, Sadler's Wells New York City Ballet are at Sadler’s Wells for the very first time, and returning to London for the first time since 2008 in a rare event for dance fans in the capital. Now under the direction of Jonathan Stafford, they arrive with a diverse quadruple bill, presumably designed to offer something for everyone. NYCB boasts some of the finest dancers in the world, they are precise technicians who have honed their craft and have a unique identity but the overall effect lacks the punch audiences will be craving after such a long absence.

Justin Peck’s Rotunda is perhaps the best example of this safe approach. A flurry of dancers in brightly coloured practice wear (tights outside the leotard, of course) fill the stage, sporadically arranging themselves into an inwardly facing circle before diverging off again into pairs and small groups. It has a casual, spontaneous feel in the staging but the quality is apparent as their legs crisply extend and stretch, they hit great lines and what could be challenging choreography is delivered with unassuming coolness. This haphazard community pairs up, and mirrors each other in larger groups. It should intrigue but the result is inoffensive and feels like peaking into a rehearsal studio. 

Fortunately, what proceeds is more distinctive. Balanchine was always going to feature, some audiences might be disappointed there’s only one piece but ballet purists will be happy with the selection on 1972’s Duo Concertant. With musicians on stage, Megan Fairchild and Anthony Huxley in simple powder blue leotards and ballet tights they each take moments for light, bright solos and pas de deux. Fairchild is focussed and deliberate, she masters the whirlwind of steps and fast feet but it’s very contained against the impassioned Stravinsky strings. A flicker or two of connection between the pair would also have been more engaging.

Sadly not greater than the sum of its parts, Pam Tanowitz’ curiosity piece Gustave le Gray No. 1. offers up sombre dancing in vibrant red costumes from Harriet Jung and Reid Bartelme. The drape-like creations enhance the dancers every move with a vast wingspan. That’s about all though. At one point, the quartet moves the grand piano in use by on stage pianist, Stephen Gosling, while he continues to play. It meant to evoke spontaneity and open-mindedness but it feels more like a gimmick. 

So far so forgettable, but thankfully not only William Forsythe has discovered the appeal of James Blake and we end the night with a much needed bop. Love Letter (on shuffle) premiered at the Fall Fashion Gala in 2022 and it's easy to see how Kyle Abraham’s piece fit in there. With decadent headdresses, ruffled collars and swirling colour of Giles Deacon’s costumes this is Blake Works meets Vogue. Finally the dancers have an opportunity to deliver some charisma which they have in abundance. Taylor Stanley is the pick of the bunch, his body effortlessly undulating under the spotlight, he’s a wonderful preening peacock with a body like liquid mercury. 

In another section, three females link arms and hop across the stage like cygnets from Swan Lake, but it’s to dubstep and not Tchaikovsky, as their ruffle-skirted tutus bounce with them. There are tender moments too, Stanley is joined by Jules Mabie, in a brooding pas de deux that ends artistically, their silhouettes showing their foreheads pressed together urgently. Love Letter is by far the most memorable addition to the evening, the stop-start pace of Abraham’s piece would do with smoothing out and perhaps losing five minutes to sharpen the focus but it’s a much needed injection of fun in a programme that feels otherwise clinical. 

After a sixteen year absence, this flying visit of four days with just a small section of the company feels a little like NYCB lite on offer for London audiences. The opportunity to see their talent in Europe is undoubtedly worth a visit, but a more cohesive, emotive programme with the full spectrum of their ranks would endear them further to their fans across the pond. 

Photo Credit: Erin Baiano


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