New York City Ballet’s Here/Now is triumphant!

Polyphonia, photo © Paul Kolnik

As the curtain rises on Here/Now, the entire audience collects and abides. The bareness of the the orchestra quietly commands us into hypnotism. For the next 2 hours, we lay ourselves in the knowing hands of New York City Ballet.

The program opens with Liturgy, a pas de deux by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. The piece begins in simplicity, its dancers keeping tight fifth positions as their arms move in crisp, mirrored port de bras.

Arvo Pärt’s Fratres creates a current that ebbs and flows throughout the piece, violins distilling every so often into simple hushed plucks that resolve in stark percussion before sweeping back into the tide.

The dancers evoke this notion exactly; Maria Kowroski glides smooth as silk while the strings flow, Jared Angle stops her on a dime at the mercy of the musical river as if caught on a string.

The two respond to the music, alternating between weaving together in dramatic bursts of  intense chords and impressively flush partnering. Christopher Wheeldon seems to be exploring the body in sections, exhibiting each part in a different plane. 

Geometric shapes run distinctly through all of Wheeldon’s work, in fact, and the second piece on the bill proves it can be done in extreme variation. Though Polyphonia shares the choreographic style of Liturgy, the two Wheeldon ballets could not be more different.

A work for eight dancers, Polyphonia comprises ten piano pieces by the composer György Ligeti. The ballet begins scattered and erratic, like an entire jazz band is surging through the keys of the piano and manipulating the dancers into a lively dissonance of shapes and patterns.

Unity Phelan shines throughout, marking herself as a young yet powerful force in this star-studded company. The partnership of Phelan and Zachary Catazaro is stunning. In their languid pas de deux, the two drag across the stage as if moving through water, forging tension from air.

At one point they appear to be perched at the top of a mountain, carefully twisting in the wind with attention to the floor beneath and the valley below. This movement appears to be all about taking risks, and Phelan and Catazaro indulge fearlessly.

Polyphonia offers a bevy of likable moments, showcasing Wheeldon’s versatility in range from a very human waltz section, to an animalistic pas de deux, to a quirky and bright- and extremely musical- trio.

In one instant Lauren Lovette is placed down from a lift into sous sous en pointe. Her partner walks out of her shape, removing his support as she remains unwavering. This presentation of Polyphonia is a triumphant showcasing of New York City Ballet’s young talent.

Polyphonia, photo © Paul Kolnik
Polyphonia, photo © Paul Kolnik

The second half of the program begins by highlighting the company’s veteran dancers, focusing on senior principals in Alexei Ratmansky’s Odessa.

The likes of Ashley Bouder and Sara Mearns are reflected by a spicy corps de ballet, departing from the plotless neoclassical works of the first act entirely. Set to Leonid Desyatnikov’s Sketches to Sunset, Odessa is flamenco inspired, featuring these Balanchine ballerinas in a way we do not often see them: low buns, chins angled downward, eyes looking out from under thick lashes. It’s a dramatic alteration of style and the audience feeds off of that shift.

A bombastic corps de ballet section creates a can-can carousel, but the breathtaking bit of choreographic genius described by Joaquin de Luz, Sterling Hyltin, and the corps men is the ultimate show stopper.

In a dream-like sequence, de Luz reaches longingly for his unrequited love. Hyltin escapes coquettishly in a series of surprising lifts that keep her midair for what seems like the entire movement. Truly extraordinary.

Here/Now closes with a piece so perfectly described in its title: The Times Are Racing. Choreographed by NYCB Artist in Residence and wunderkind Justin Peck, the piece feels entirely digital, like the dancers are existing in a computerized world.

Dan Deacon’s electronic score dictates the pop-lock style of dance jumping out of the cast with feverish urgency. Costumes by Opening Ceremony establish a solid sense of cool and the dancers wear them proudly. The movement is almost like a hologram, beginning symphonically and then exploding into electronica.

Dancing the gender neutral principal role originally choreographed for Robert Fairchild, soloist Ashly Isaacs absolutely dominates the stage, somehow swallowing the grand space with her small but mighty frame.

A particularly fun duet between Isaacs and Peck himself features tap-inspired dancing that marries Frank Sinatra-style footwork with the sweeping port de bras Justin Peck has become known for.

The delightful Tiler Peck is a complete treat to watch, her pas de deux with Amar Ramasar punctuated by moments of stillness while the music flutters on.

The Times Are Racing appears to be Peck’s moving manifestation of New York City itself: colorful, fast, loud- perhaps even bit uncomfortable- but always alive.

Reviewed by Kirsten Evans on 8 October 2017 at David H Koch Theater, New York.

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