Saturday, May 12, 2012

NYCB's Gala—Hearts and Birds Aflutter

Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle in Two Hearts. Photo: Paul Kolnick
There's a general sense of boundaries blurring between cultural genres in the city these days.  All that dance in museums. Film and new classical music in festivals like Crossing Brooklyn Ferry. And fashion everywhere, from Schiap/Prada at the Met, to Prada for Pina Bausch, to Rodarte and Gilles Mendel at New York City Ballet's spring gala last Tuesday. Combining things in different ways, after all, can result in alchemy, or merely frosting.

Kate & Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte's black and white geometric costumes for Benjamin Millepied's NYCB premiere of Two Hearts felt fresh and crisp. Millepied recently retired from the stage to heed his busy choreographic slate. While he's already suffering from a bit of  overexposure, he does have a way with ballet's vocabulary; he speaks it fluently and can write paragraphs with it. He can craft ambitious, devilish phrases, or make soft, flowing combinations that show off the essential expressiveness and beauty of ballet, which is the general tone of Two Hearts.

Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle, the leads, suit one another particularly well. Angle's growing strength and partnering ability often land him too-tall female counterparts, but Peck is a good fit. He is a poet—a plush mover, with an innate sense of epaulement. She is one of the company's best musical dancers, and has the absolute control needed to express that ear. She can dance sharply and wittily, or dial the steps to the right emotion.

Millepied shifts mood and dynamic with each part, returning repeatedly to the central pair, augmented by 12 corps members. In one section, several men caught Peck frozen in various positions in midair. She and Angle shed, respectively, skirt and shell prior to their long final duet to a plangent folk ballad sung by Dawn Landes. Nico Muhly wrote the commissioned  score, which in an early section sounded like an instrumental conversation—the flute bleating words between pauses, and at other times, coursing like rapids in a river. Near the end of their romantic duet, Angle floats Peck parallel to his supine body, making this feat look easy. The curtain closes on the two lounging casually, as if posing for Manet.

Peter Martins continues to feel impelled to create new work for his company, which already has reams of the stuff in its rep. The inspiration for Mes Oiseaux, his premiere to music by Marc-André Dalbavie, was presumably the cast, all fleet of foot, "oiseaux," you might say, in Apollo's ratio: Taylor Stanley, Lauren Lovette, Ashly Isaacs, and Claire Kretzschmar. Stanley's movement is elfin, flitting, otherworldly, bold, and all three women vividly attack movement. Predictably, he partners each woman in the same or similar phrases, cradling their legs, dragging them into attenuated poses in turn. (In one near situation, Kretzschmar's back-leaning weight almost toppled her and Stanley, who had to grab her pelvis rather brusquely to correct things.)

Martins favors an extruding style (and its antithesis) that Balanchine used liberally—splayed hands crossing the body, pushing into space, legs collapsing in parallel. These signatures that once marked a ballet as modern now look faded and coy in new choreography. Gilles Mendel provided the costumes; the womens' unremarkable, if flattering, variants on skating dresses with curlicue cutouts.

The costumes for Balanchine's Symphony in C (1947) are newly redone by Marc Happel. I can't say they changed this brilliant repertory standard much, which is passive praise. The piece is a showcase for company standouts. Megan Fairchild presents the choreography in a textbook way, giving it a clear reading but not much character. Sara Mearns, on the other hand, shapes the choreography with emotion and danger. At times she is in complete control of it, and sometimes she seems in its thrall, like a scene from The Red Shoes. I'd want Fairchild to teach it to me, but I'd buy a ticket to see Mearns. Their two partners, Jared Angle and Jonathan Stafford, are strong, reliable partners, both perhaps a bit bound by a traditional stoicism. Though I have seen Angle smile, an unexpected bit of sunshine peeking through clouds.

Joaquin de Luz, in contrast, lands on the bravura end of things. He exudes joy and reflects his partners emotions as well. In the exuberant third movement he partnered Ashley Bouder, ever confident and strident and on top of the music, to her detriment. In the finale, when all four women dance in unison downstage, backed by the entire corps, she seemed a full beat ahead of Mearns, her musical opposite. And finally, Tiler Peck, luminous and playful, danced the brief fourth movement with Adrian Danchig-Waring, a rewarding bit of casting for this talented dancer. Let's see if he can transform the effort he invests in each movement into confidence to unleash even more expressiveness.

Despite featuring two premieres and an iconic ballet, this gala program felt somewhat apologetic. Martins didn't do the standard speech/toast. The season on the whole is rather quiet and pro forma. But if every season can't feature a leviathan Ocean Kingdom, maybe that's not such a bad thing.

No comments: