So, what is 'Here and Now'? City Ballet showed us four very different pictures on May 29th, the mixed program's opening night. Brightest, and newest is Alexie Ratmansky's world premiere. Meeting us in our comfort zone, he offers new options for what ballet can be. Meanwhile, his inevitable-looking phrasing and musicality delight. Balanchine wanted the audience to see
the music. Ratmansky's new work recalls that famous credo.
With ebullience, Susan Walters plays Dmitri Shostakovich's "Piano Concerto No.2 in F major Op.102" just outside the open curtain for Ratmansky's simply titled: "Concerto DSCH." Shostakovich used initials to sign his compositions, like J.S. Bach, whom he emulated. There are two opposing focal points in this rich, sugar-coated valentine— formal and character, truth and falsity, or passion and irreverence, perhaps. They are amoral and illuminate each other. Holly Hynes's great costumes— short, playful leotards with short, ruffley skirts, for the women— help set up the hierarchy. Wendy Whelan and Benjamin Millepied's classical love duet is in peppermint green pastel; beauty personified. Meanwhile a trio in gray and medium blue— Ashley Bouder, Gonzalo Garcia, and Joaquin De Luz— clowns in ballet tours de force. A corps of fourteen wears deep cadmium orange. All together the asymmetrical groupings set up the most sophisticated color complement. And when they are in concentric rounds, with the principal duo outlined with the centrifugal force of fast moving and stretched gray and blue forms, Bouder, Garcia, and DeLuz; the flock of orange jubilantly ringing the whole, it suggests a wedding cake with the lovely mint couple in the center.
Ratmansky is poking fun at ballet's classical beauty, and romantic passion, creating a dialogue around it. Everyone can share the humor, that is, it's good fun. The classical is embraced rather than cast off. For example: Millepied's grand, heels-over-head tour
makes a sideward spiral; landing en avant
, on his knees, he looks upward, clenching hand to heart. He's not very princely but he's a danseur. Meanwhile the pyrotechnic trio obscures his révérence
— Bouder in multiple pirouettes, De Luz leaping and flying in the air, to our amazement, (though several times he lands sloppily,) and Garcia a close second.
Just as delightful, De Luz and a septet of corps men toss up their parallel lower legs; they twist and arch, sighting their pointed feet. In unison, they do a succession of these jumps. The phrasing is slavish to the point of brilliant comedy— irony distilled to the point of purity. Like Maya Plisetskaya, who Ratmansky has said he idolized, Bouder takes ballet's rigor to the point of naturalness. She is wonderfully unpretentious and playful in this. De Luz jumps high and beats his feet distinctly, to a brief, high octave, titillating piano phrase. It resonates.
"Concerto" follows Peter Martins's austere "River of Light," to orchestral music by Charles Wuorinen, conducted by the composer! It featured Teresa Reichlen's long, strong extensions and sculpted line, especially outstanding to a drum role in the evocative music. Also remarkable, Sterling Hyltin's crisp lines and buoyancy lifted by Ask La Cour. Mark Stanley's imaginative lighting aptly completes this ballet.
Mauro Bignozetti's "Oltremare," for a cast of fourteen, is dark, literally and figuratively, and set to creepy music by Bruno Moretti. It begins with a sullen, single-file march across the foot of the stage with suitcases. The women's long, bulky dresses get in the way of some ungainly poses. Andrew Veyette steals this, solo, towards the end. The ballet evokes dislocation and its accompanying sense of floating dissociation.
"Oltremare's" dance-theater contrasts the other, more formal works. It premiered in the winter season, as did Christopher Wheeldon's "Rococo Variations," the evening's curtain raiser.
To Tchaikovsky, the Wheeldon is a courtly double duet for Sara Mearns, Sterling Hyltin, Giovanni Villalobos, and Adrian Danchig-Waring. The choreography is interestingly neo and retro; it's pleasant but not totally resolved. Innovative but awkward figure eight steps, and one embrace, look odd. Standing face to face, he crosses his arms as if to clasp his hands around her neck.
The tempo is mostly slow and considered; and then a coda of bright music and movement makes the uplifting end. Faycal Karoui conducted this, "Oltremare," and the closing life-and-dance-affirming "Concerto DSCH."
"Here and Now" can be seen on June 3rd and June 12th.
Wendy Whelan and Benjamin Millepied in New York City Ballet's "Concerto DSCH"
Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik
l-r: Bouder, Garcia, De Luz, Whelan, Millepied in New York City Ballet's "Concerto DSCH"
Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik