Tuesday, October 3, 2017

NYCB's Fashion Gala 2017

Pulcinella Variations. Photo: Paul Kolnik
When costuming dance nowadays, rehearsal type clothes are becoming fairly common. And why not? The price is right, the dancers can move freely, and really, we usually watch for the movement or story more than anything. But New York City Ballet’s fall “fashion gala” shines the spotlight equally on the fashion designers for the premieres, in this season’s case, of four ballets. Some of the costumes succeeded wonderfully, in addition to some of the dances. The premieres were unveiled at the gala, devoid of intermission as well as Peter Martins’ Chinoiserie study, The Chairman Dances (memorable for the wrong reasons), which will precede the four premieres in repertory in the coming weeks.

With 11 ballets now in the company’s repertory, and a number for other companies, Justin Peck could be excused for running out of ideas in such a short time. But his Pulcinella Variations demonstrates further artistic growth. Other than Alex Ratmansky, there is perhaps no classical ballet choreographer making such musical, flowing phrases organic to the vocabulary. If you think of ballet as a language built of letters, words, and phrases, these are full-blown paragraphs, properly punctuated. He knows the company’s dancers in and out, as well as their capabilities. Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Variations is a delightful choice, offering seven movements in which to showcase the varied skills of his peers. Most notable are Indiana Woodward, Anthony Huxley, and Tiler Peck (dancing with Gonzalo Garcia). All dance lucidly, imaginatively, and expand and collapse time with their superb command of technique. Tsumori Chisato designed the surreal, eye-popping costumes with huge eye and floral motifs, and while these are among the most memorable couture in recent seasons of NYCB's fashion galas, the dance itself is just as notable.

The Wind Still Brings. Photo: Paul Kolnik
When young choreographers receive big commissions, it’s not a surprise that their tendency is to use all the amazing talent they have to work with in big, showy ways—kind of like flooring the Ferrari to see how fast it accelerates. But as a viewer, that can be wearying; it’s good to see Troy Schumacher taking a deep breath and infusing his new work with some contemplative moments.

Schumacher (recently promoted to soloist), with his premiere The Wind Still Brings to music by William Walton, shows artistic maturity and emotional generosity to augment his usual youthful, athletic style of movement. There are large group passages (he employs 14 dancers here) in which bodies pour on and offstage, coalescing and dispersing, with the requisite duets and solos. But it’s the dreamlike middle section that makes an impression. The dancers spread out over the stage and lie down. A woman wanders on and lies down beside another, who rises seemingly in response; the first woman then also stands. The pair moves to another pair, and thus all four are on their feet, and so on, like a message spreading steadily through whispers. It’s quiet, thoughtful, and feels like many private moments strung together. Jonathan Saunders designed the varied, striking peach and blue costumes; each design is worn by a man and a woman, including skirts and tunics, and the mens’ hair is slicked back, lending a fascinating overall feeling of androgyny.

Composer's Holiday. Photo: Paul Kolnik
The 18-year-old Gianna Reisen, an apprentice at the Ballet Semperoper Dresden and a graduate of School of American Ballet, choreographed Composer’s Holiday to music by Lukas Foss. Although 12 dancers perform, there’s an intimacy to the proceedings that makes it feel like a smaller group. There are striking pictures: a woman is carried aloft in the opening scene; a couple leaps over a line of dancers, trying to touch; another woman walks on mens’ backs like stepping stones. The classical style contains challenging flourishes and quirks (a woman is carried off, slung over a man’s shoulder fireman-carry style). Virgil Abloh designed the costumes; the womens’ tutus evoke Degas’ above the knee length skirts, the men wear dark patterned tops.

Not Our Fate. Photo: Paul Kolnik
Not Our Fate, by Lauren Lovette, features a pairing between Taylor Stanley and Preston Chamblee, in addition to eight others. All the men wear timeless white t-shirts and slim black pants, designed by Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim. The women sport fitted black jackets and voluminous white scarf skirts that show movement, but overpower their bodies and lines, in addition to feeling archaic, especially in contrast to the men. The score, by Michael Nyman, is typical of his flowing, repetitious phrasing, which after awhile feels like the relentless noise from a jackhammer down the block. Nonetheless, Lovette creates inventive formations, such as when the group forms perpendicular lines around a featured soloist, moving to each stage quadrant. And a motif is memorably repeated in the final scene, when Stanley alights on Chamblee’s shoulder. We're not quite used to seeing same-gender couples, but we're well on our way. And how refreshing is it that including a female choreographer or two is no longer newsworthy.

New York City Ballet's season runs through October 15.

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