New York City Ballet in Pictures at an Exhibition. Photo Paul Kolnik

New York City Ballet in Pictures at an Exhibition.
Photo Paul Kolnik

Symphonic Dances, Pictures at an Exhibition, This Bitter Earth, Everywhere We Go

Opera House, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC;
April 8, 2015

Carmel Morgan

For their 2015 engagement at DC’s Kennedy Center, New York City Ballet alternated between an evening of Balanchine classics (Serenade, Agon, and Symphony in C) and this program of contemporary works. Also making the trip to DC were twelve 3,000 pound sculptures by Dustin Yellin made for NYCB’s 2015 Art Series, which are part of a larger installation called Psychogeographies. Yellin’s intriguing sculptures – each composed of multi-layered glass slides arranged in human form – actually captivated me more than the dancing.

Peter Martins’ 1994 Symphonic Dances, to music by Sergei Rachmaninoff, was the oldest piece on the program. It is also the least interesting. Male dancers whip out onto the stage wearing green-hued billowing sleeved shirts and tights (costumes by Santo Loquasto). They look like a gang from Peter Pan, kicking into the air and skipping around aggressively. Their arms swing around like propellers, with Zachary Catazaro, in a pale grayish outfit, bouncing along with the rest. Catazaro paired nicely with Teresa Reichlen (I marveled at the strength and beauty of her back), but the choreography failed to give the couple enough pizzazz, and the work lingers longer than could hold my attention. If there was a story behind the relationships of the different dancers and groupings, it eluded me. The dance is not particularly synchronous with the music, either.

Alexei Ratmansky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, which premiered in October 2014, kept my interest the entire time however. The diverse elements – projections of art by Wassily Kandinsky (projection design by Wendall K. Harrington), music by Modest Mussorgsky played live by pianist Cameron Grant, lighting by Mark Stanley, and costumes by Adeline Andre – blend into a whole via Ratmansky’s choreographic glue.

New York City Ballet in Everywhere We Go. Photo Paul Kolnik

Sterling Hyltin, Andrew Veyette and Company in Everywhere We Go.
Photo Paul Kolnik

I have mixed feelings about the use of projections but here, although the images visually compete with the dancers to some extent, the artwork is so thoughtfully integrated that I appreciated the projections as a unifying factor. The costumes perfectly echo the movement and colors of the artwork. The women’s baby doll dresses have sheer layers with swirls of color and an asymmetrical hem. The manner in which the disparate elements worked in harmony help Pictures at an Exhibition come across as a single vision.

In the beginning the dancers are huddled in a group, and one by one they break out into short solos as the rest look on admiringly, like members of a tour group waiting for someone to snap a final photo. The atmosphere is one of fun and informality. In short lively snippets small numbers of dancers take turns taking on different characters and moods. Toward the end, the mood becomes more serious, but not out place. It was all tremendously well received by the audience.

Christopher Wheeldon’s duet This Bitter Earth, an excerpt from Five Movements, Three Repeats, to sumptuous heartbreaking music by Max Richter and Dinah Washington, was superbly danced by Tiler Peck and Craig Hall. In simple steel gray costumes by Reid Bartelme, Peck and Hall took the audience on an emotional journey. They titled and leaned and even almost arm wrestled. One definitely felt a satisfying ache in their connections.

While Justin Peck’s May 2014 Everywhere We Go is more engaging than Symphonic Dances, it also suffers from lengthiness. Peck is NYCB’s young resident choreographer, and I sense a unique voice. However, his choreography struck me as somehow unfinished. I kept thinking that there were parts I’d have scrapped; movement that was cool to try but didn’t work. Maybe he needs to learn how to better edit? I could also have done without the scenery by Karl Jensen, which just didn’t seem to serve a clear purpose. In contrast to the images in Pictures at an Exhibition, the gray toned kaleidoscopic backdrop, which reminded me a little bit of bad bathroom wallpaper, added little to my appreciation of the work.

But, Everywhere We Go, is basically enjoyable. The music by Sufjan Stevens swells and soars in ways that Peck expertly translates through the dancers. Legs of dancers on their backs on the floor stick straight up, while other dancers move around them like maypoles. Dancers in pairs stand side by side with arms above their heads conjoined to make butterfly wings above them. I’m rooting for Peck, but I don’t think with Everywhere We Go, he’s achieved a piece that audiences will clamor to see again and again.  Thankfully, at his age (he is not yet 30), he has plenty of time to get there.