Monday, March 2, 2020

New York Notebook—February 2020

Rotunda. Photo: Erin Baiano
Prior to the performance including Rotunda, Justin Peck’s latest dance for New York City Ballet, Peck appeared in front of the curtain to introduce the “art series” evening which also included Jerome Robbins' In G Major and Chris Wheeldon's DGV. In casual clothes, Peck could’ve (and may have) just hopped off his skateboard on his way to the park. His relaxed demeanor extended to his colloquialisms; he repeated “you guys” numerous times, referring to us in the audience—us guys. This feeling of community, which is tangible in his choreography, perhaps emanates from the company as a tribe, now led by recent company members Jonathan Stafford and Wendy Whelan.

Foremost, Peck’s dances are sociable gatherings, occasions to play or compete—or both. They also demonstrate that his first language is ballet, and dancers are his words, to be pliantly and fluently put to use. His movement can translate “you guys” into expressive phrases that capture that amiability and freshness. As we’ve learned with each new dance he creates, there are several subgenres to his oeuvre, and Rotunda falls within the core bunch of plotless, pointe shoe ballets with a relaxed, warm feeling. The fact that it followed  Robbins’ In G Major underscored the connection between the two choreographers.

Peck’s dances continue to offer up gifts to the dancers. Rotunda gives the unassuming principal Gonzalo Garcia one of his finest, most expansive roles yet. At the piece’s start, he lies onstage alone, to be joined by 11 others wearing Bartelme/Jung’s appealing, variegated tights and tops. The group draws into a cluster, then cleaves into two rings—one led by Garcia, the other by Sara Mearns—which intersect like Venn diagrams, orbiting across the stage, and pulling toward the downstage corners as the groups collectively tendu their feet. Mearns walks as if she’s on the street, sunken into her hips, feet turned out ballerina-walk style, shoulders rolled forward slightly. Her partner in an extended duet, Gilbert Bolden III, is a larger than average, striking dramatic presence, a counterpoint to Mearns' bold demeanor.

It’s not easy to continue to innovate while continuing to create using the well-established ballet vocabulary, but small tweaks dot Peck’s largely effortless syntax: a woman’s slightly bent knee in a split lift, a man doing a split penché arabesque (showing valuable new soloist Jovani Furlan’s flexibility), quick direction shifts following deep pliés. Garcia has a riveting solo in which he repeats inside attitude triple pirouettes and flitting petit allegro variations with ease, showing us the quiet strengths which have been lurking inside of him all along.

Mercy. Photo: Julieta Cervantes
Ronald K. Brown’s Evidence: A Dance Company performed a new work alongside some old favorites at the Joyce. Grace, now 20 years old and commissioned by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, remains one of his finest and most consistently thrilling works. It’s one of the rare dances performed intermittently in New York by Ailey and its choreographer’s native company, giving us a chance to see it in a larger house by a shinier cast (Ailey), and closer up by a group more attuned to the nuances and rhythms of Brown’s lexicon. (Also, for the first time among many that I’ve seen it, the men did not dance shirtless in a section late in the dance, which can often elicit hoots from the audience.) There are fewer—no?—works of dance that evoke more joy than Grace, plain and simple.

The evening led off with High Life, a suite that evolves from traditional song and garb to modern, including the infectious beats of the title genre. The New York premiere of Mercy featured elegant fabric “columns” (Tsubasa Kamei) and somewhat bulky costumes by Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya (who designed all costumes for the program). To mood-shifting music by Meshell Ndegeocello, and led by the dynamic Annique Roberts wearing a dramatic mesh headpiece, the dancers ebbed and flowed across the stage, punching, slashing, spinning, their skirt and tunic panels flying. As a company, Evidence looks strong and  confident, with a luminous relative newcomer in Joyce Edwards—statuesque, silky, quick, and completely magnetic. Hard to believe this still fresh-feeling troupe celebrates 35 years of existence.