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New York City Ballet

By Susan Yung

David H. Koch Theater, NYC
September 19, 2013

 

Taylor Stanley and Brittany Pollack in Justin Peck's Capricious Maneuvers.
Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

 

By partnering with the fashion world, New York City Ballet has found a way to enliven the weary format of the gala, even if it meant tipping the tenor toward an episode of the reality TV show Project Runway. This fall’s celebration featured three generically named premieres with costumes by name fashion designers, plus a tacked-on Balanchine selection. Each new work stood on different merits, and was preceded by a well-produced short film documenting the choreographer/designer collaboration. Many scenes included unflappable costume director Marc Happel, charged with making whimsy danceable.

 

To lead off, the orchestra played John Adams’ “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” a witty pun on a live demonstration of the nifty orchestra elevator, which offered a glimpse of the usually hidden ensemble. Justin Peck’s Capricious Maneuvers featured five dancers dressed by Prabal Gurung—feathery chiffon dresses for the women, leather harnesses for the men, which occasionally slipped off their shoulders. The brief dance, to live onstage piano and cello playing Lukas Foss’ music, continued Peck’s penchant for youthful insouciance and athleticism. Peck, a NYCB soloist rising quickly as a choreographer, repeats motifs—sliding dancers under the piano like pizzas in an oven (and evoking past dancer/piano interactions on the same stage), pointing a finger downward, and quick neckstands. The curtain closed as Andrew Veyette lay on his back and crossed his ankles as if in the park on a lazy afternoon.

 

Gretchen Smith and Tiler Peck in Spectral Evidence.  Photo credit:  Paul Kolnik, NYCB
Gretchen Smith and Tiler Peck in Preljocaj's Spectral Evidence. 
Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

 

During the first minutes of Benjamin Millepied’s Neverwhere, to Nico Muhly’s score, I was so focused on Iris Van Herpen’s sculptural costumes that I forgot to watch the movement, done in front of a pyramidal flat lit with phasing colors. Armor-like, made of shiny black plastic scales, the men’s bodysuits and the women’s tulip-skirted dresses with stunning knee-high leg sheaths over pointe shoes somehow functioned fluidly, although the men’s legs clattered together now and then. The six dancers formed a circle, dispersing and eventually reclustering. An exhilarating section of fast piqué turns, low, long leaps, and a strong one-armed lift by Craig Hall led to a dreamlike duet by Sterling Hyltin and Tyler Angle, with plunging back arches and soaring split lifts. In the end, however, the often intricate movement was overshadowed by the exotic costumes.

 


The Company in Spectral Evidence.  Photo credit:  Paul Kolnik
The company in Preljocaj's Spectral Evidence
Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

 

Angelin Preljocaj departed from the plotless with Spectral Evidence, with its loose theme of the Salem witch trial and costumes by Olivier Theyskens. Much was made in the intro film of the four womens’ outfits, white bodysuits accented with strategic meat-hued strokes, layered under chiffon sheaths, with soft slippers, but ultimately, it was the four clergymens’ beautifully tailored, dark suits that stole the show. Led by Robert Fairchild (dancing an extended duet with Tiler Peck), their legs cut like snipping scissors in Preljocaj’s often sleek lines. The ache of temptation was expressed in the keening cello line of John Cage’s score, which included haunting breathing and vocalizations. The simple set—four triangular shapes rearranged to form a long rectangle, ramps, pyres (with projected flames), and finally cliff edges—proved a remarkably flexible foil for the tension between temptation and chastity. Preljocaj’s oeuvre ranges from pure movement to theatrical spectacles. The movement in those in the latter category, such as this one, can be overshadowed by melodrama, but at heart, he creates elegant, inventive movement.

 

The program ended with the fourth movement and finale of Balanchine’s Western Symphony, an ill-fitting, tacked-on embellishment perhaps meant to remind us of the company's foundation in an evening of new collaborations.