New York City Ballet: An Evening with Balanchine, Wheeldon and Peck and works showcasing their unique talent and creativity

Ashly Isaacs and the Company in Justin Peck's The Times Are Racing. Photo Credit Paul Kolnik

New York City Ballet’s Saturday evening performance presented a program by a variety of choreographers, including George Balanchine, Christopher Wheeldon, and Justin Peck. Each presented works which showcased his unique talent and creativity.

The British born Wheeldon is very prolific choreographer who has worked in the United States and around the world. He was the Resident Choreographer of the New York City Ballet from 2001-2008. It was during this time that he choreographed After the Rain (2005) to music by Arvo Part.

The piece is a pas de deux beautifully performed by Principal dancers Sara Mearns and Jared Angle. Mearns is dressed in a pink leotard and Angle is shirtless. The dance starts with the dancers upstage, standing apart from each other and rocking from side to side like the slow ticking of a clock.

Time seems of importance here; the timing of a long goodbye in what seemed to be a loving relationship. Wheeldon choices are interesting to observe, as when the woman goes into a deep backbend and the man turns her and sets her down in the same position, this action is repeated again in the piece.

At one point Angle lifts her and she is carried in a position with her front leg bent and her back leg extended, one arm folded in front of her. It’s as if he is carrying her on a journey- both looking out and beyond. At another point, he lifts her overhead, stiff like a doll being lovingly carried around. After the Rain is a melancholy piece. It’s as if we are watching a long good-bye done with tenderness and love.

Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain. Photo by Paul Kolnik
Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Variations Pour Une Porte et Un Soupir ( 1974) translates as Variations for a Door and a Sigh is Balanchine at his most avant-garde. The sonority (sound score) is by Pierre Henry and features a series of sounds associated with human sighing and the opening and closing of doors.

There are 14 sound scores and the action alternates between the male “Sigh” and the female “Door.” The “Door” is a black cloaked seductive dancer with a masterful handling of the cloak. Balanchine’s choreography is very imaginative for the hugh cloak.

Maria Kowroski and Daniel Ulbricht are brilliant as the “Door” and the “ Sigh.” Ulbricht brings a sense of hopelessness to his role while Kowroski is almost predatory as the “Door”. It is not a surprise when the “Sigh“ is swallowed by the “Door” using her cloak. This is Balanchine at his most theatrical.

Maria Kowroski and Daniel Ulrbicht in George Balanchine's Variations Pour Une Porte et Un Soupir. Photo Credit Paul Kolnik
Maria Kowroski and Daniel Ulrbicht in George Balanchine’s Variations Pour Une Porte et Un Soupir. Photo Credit Paul Kolnik

The final piece on the program was Justin Peck’s The Times are Racing (2017). Peck is a Soloist in the company as well as its Resident Choreographer. A Peck piece is always a welcome sight on the program. There is an expectation of energy and youthfulness in a Peck ballet.

The Times are Racing does not disappoint. It catches the mood of the moment, the angst of living in turbulent times and the desire to be fully in the present. The dance is performed in sneakers and street clothes which were designed by Humberto Leon.

The dancers are in constant movement as if they know their days of youth and freedom are not timeless. There are a lot of upper body movements and duets. There is also a tap duet which includes Peck. It was a welcome surprise in this casual ballet piece. The taps are muted against Dan Deacon’s music, yet it’s an electric moment. What are they racing towards?

Taylor Stanley and Daniel Applebuam in Justin Peck's The Times Are Racing. Photo Credit Paul Kolnik
Taylor Stanley and Daniel Applebuam in Justin Peck’s The Times Are Racing. Photo Credit Paul Kolnik

Couples meet, perform together, then move on, knowing the next experience is just around the corner and they don’t want to be late. The piece is the reminiscence of Jerome Robbins’ N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz which premiered in 1958. Like Robbins, Peck captures the mood of the times. In The Times are Racing, it feels like the dancers are afraid of missing something; that things are adrift

Also on the program was In Vento with choreography by Mauro Bigonzetti and Duo Concertant by Balanchine. Duo Concertant is an intimate piece with violinist, Kurt Nikkanen and pianist Elaine Chelton on stage performing music by Stravinsky as dancers Sterling Hyltin and Anthony Huxley listens to, then interprets the music in a very nonchalant manner.

Harrison Ball in Mauro Bigonzetti's In Vento. Photo Credit Erin Baiano
Harrison Ball in Mauro Bigonzetti’s In Vento. Photo Credit Erin Baiano

A pre-performance discussion took place with Shantell Martin, a visual artist whose work was shown in the lobby of the theatre. The program notes refers to Martin as “a dancer with pen on paper.”

Her work is infused with line drawings showing various images with messages such as “Are You You.” She draws a line then another until a drawing appears. Martin’s work is bold and message based. 

The evening was an innovative collection of choreographers and dancers creating one step, then another until substantive works appear.

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