NEW YORK CITY BALLET OPENS
May 7, 2014
The Sunday matinee of New York City Ballet’s 21st Century Choreographers program was a lot to take in. It wasn’t the stylistic diversity; each piece seemed to be fighting for the title of program centerpiece. Conceptually, not bad for a 21st century theme, but one needed to prepare with a cross-training regimen to ward off complete exhaustion by 5:30. The spring season has begun.
Timpani roar; men in polka-dot unitards emerge holding bayonets that are similarly dressed. After charging at an offstage enemy, the weaponry flees, becoming a band of women marching daintily en pointe ad infinitum while the men chug around for the same duration. Add a few red rovers, and you have 98% of installation artist JR’s Les Bosquets. Assessing the work is tricky – Does one pat JR on the back for working in a medium in which he has no training, or sympathize with Peter Martins, faced with the task of making the actual moves for a confused vision?
The work was ultimately a disservice to Charles “Lil’ Buck” Riley and Jookin’ – the Memphis-based street dance he has in recent years brought to international attention. Amidst stock formations of nearly forty corps dancers/set pieces, he and Lauren Lovette depict some kind of a relationship. Jookin’, like ballet, is a complete movement language with its own brand of theatrics and meticulous musicality. It’s a shame to see Buck attempting balletic pantomime between his idiomatic physicality, rendered ineffective by Woodkid’s “original” score – a soulless mishmash of Philip Glass’s greatest hits. Jookin’ in pure form is battled in social settings; JR has exploited that one aspect to create a farcical tale of star-crossed dance styles, apparently meant to commemorate the 2005 French riots, but too concerned with its own novelty to read as such.
Peter Martins’ Barber Violin Concerto accomplished in 1988 what JR was trying to do. Two ballet dancers and two modern dancers experience their relationships by replacing each other in space and interlocking their limbs to create wide wingspans. Each pairing offers new possibilities – the modern man promenades the bashful ballerina on demi-pointe in plié rather than tall on her box. The comically violent relationship between the controlling danseur and the modern woman unfolds as a cantankerous game of horse to see who can do the wackiest movement. JR presented styles at odds; Martins used opposing genres (as well as genders) to draw a map of the human spirit in all its dualities.
Wendy Whelan made a much-anticipated return from hip surgery in This Bitter Earth, a pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s Five Movements, Three Repeats. She and Tyler Angle did their best with spatially unfocused promenades to Dinah Washington singing the titular song superimposed over a Max Richter string quartet. Our ears are forcibly told that this dance is sad, but the movement never displays a reason for the melancholy.
William Forsythe’s Herman Scherman Pas de Deux and Alexei Ratmansky’s Namouna, a Grand Divertissement cerebrally bookended intermission. Even with classical commissions, Forsythe’s form is ever present. The pair juts their arms in different timings and combinations; a sinuous phrase executed by Maria Kowroski retrogrades as partnering. The Ratmansky, playing with cliché, attempts to abstract Lucien Petipa’s 1882 ballet, but it is neither thorough in abstraction nor interesting enough in pastiche. Many sections feel like codas, taking you out of the work when you think it’s over, only to restart.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews