The Yankees of ballet are in top-notch form after a successful winter season in Manhattan.
Someone recently asked me why I favored the New York City Ballet above all other American ballet companies. I suppose it’s the same asking New York Yankees fans why their team is better than all the rest
Both are winners and top other competitors with superstars as players, with managers that will spare no expense, with state-of-the-art space to showcase stars, and with entertainment that pleases the crowds.
“City Ballet,” as it is familiarly called, is the most sophisticated dance company in the world, and the original genius behind these dancers is the late George Balanchine. Today, as Ballet Master in Chief, Peter Martins carries on Mr. B’s legacy of stripping away the superfluous trimmings, leaving clean, clear movement that dazzles.
Last evening at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House, the young NYCB dancers burst onto the stage in Ash, created by Martins in 1991 at the company’s home-based New York State Theater, now David H. Koch Theater. The ten dancers, sleekly costumed by Steven Rubin, reminded this writer of a team of wild stallions ready to bolt.
Ashley Laracey (who replaced Ashly Isaacs in the opening night performance) stood out in this pure dance piece with music by Michael Torke, conducted by Andrew Litton for The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra.
Darting across the stage, she embodies Balanchine’s trademark of flirty moves with Martin’s touch of coolness. It should also be noted that the rousing score brought out ferocity in the male dancers, especially Taylor Stanley.
The male cast in all five ballets was appealing both for the acrobatic dance styles and gentle partnering, especially the high lifts in Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, Balanchine’s tribute to Imperial Russia (which should have been the closing ballet in the program).
Balanchine’s ballets are unique: He preferred pure movement to dance mime gestures that are common in story ballets. His choice of music always compliments the dance and chose Russian composers like Tchaikovsky. And he adored the chorine – just look at the intricate maneuvers performed by the lines of ballerinas, weaving in and out.
The newly named Concerto represents the best of Balanchine, a splendid ensemble piece and a host of virtuoso solos. Most memorable were Teresa Reichlen, Tyler Angle, and Ana Sophia Scheller, sparkly in their tiaras and pastel satins, designed by Gary Lisz (displayed in the Opera House entrance).
Martins’ The Infernal Machine, which closed the three-part first act, defies a simple critique. It’s a dark piece with an fascinating score by Christopher Rouse – loved the drum sticks accompanying the dancers, Ashley Laracey and Amar Ramasar – both in top form. We held our breath as the couple writhed through what may have been a black hole in space or some sort of futuristic contraption. And we breathed a sign when they came out unharmed despite some tricks that crossed the border of danger.
Still, I would have preferred Christopher Wheeldon’s sensual, and definitely sexy After the Rain to follow rather than precede Martins’ Machine due, as I couldn’t shake the images of adorable Tiler Peck arching her body in a backwards bend while Jared Angle slithered underneath her.
Wheeldon’s work has been danced by a number of prominent companies, but nobody gave it more spark than our musical star in Little Dancer (Peck). Angle, too, demonstrates a penchant for athletic prowess and that couple brings that same steamy, forbidden romance that TV viewers loved in The Affair. Add to that the live musical accompaniment – sweet violin strains by Arturo Delmoni and dazzling piano variations by Nancy McDill. It’s well worth the price of admission.
While last night’s buzz surrounded City Ballet’s wunderkind, resident choreographer Justin Peck, and his latest work, The Most Incredible Thing, a title that begs for playful puns, I felt it came much too late in the program. When the curtain opened on the dazzling set by Marcel Dzama, the children in the audience made a collective sigh. Based on a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, the story maybe 1870 but the music is contemporary with a score by guitarist/composer Bryce Dessner (a member of the indie rock band the National).
And Tiler Peck danced twice in two sections!
The Most Incredible Thing is, indeed, a feast for the eyes, but by curtain closing 45 minutes later; these old eyes needed another look at the piece, perhaps from a different vantage point.
Program A: Three hours, with two 20-minute intermissions.
New York City Ballet Program A plays tonight and Friday evening at 7 pm at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, Northwest, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online.