New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York 

January 23, 2024 (Winter Season Opening Night): Fancy Free, In the Night, The Four Seasons

January 28,2024: Polyphonia, Barber Violin Concerto, The Times are Racing

February 1, 2024: Rotunda, Concerto for Two Pianos (world premiere), Odesa

Jerry Hochman

New York City Ballet opened its 6-week Winter 2024 season – the “Evolution” part of its tripartite 75th Anniversary season — with programs intended to trace the development of NYCB after George Balanchine, the company’s co-founder, led it to prominence. This season adds, primarily, dances by Jerome Robbins, Christopher Wheeldon, and Alexi Ratmansky, in addition to more of Balanchine and scattered other dances, including the world premiere of a new ballet by one of the company’s star ballerinas, Tiler Peck.

To date, I’ve seen the first three of the season’s programs. The highlights so far were T. Peck’s premiere, Concerto for Two Pianos, and the appearance in T. Peck’s usual role in Justin Peck’s The Times Are Racing of a guest artist, Ashton Edwards. I’ll address the world premiere ballet first followed by the ballet that followed it on the same program, Ratmansky’s Odesa, and conclude with a report on Edwards’s highly credible and exciting performance. Accordingly, I’ll address the February 1st program first, followed by the January 23rd opening night, and concluding with the January 28th matinee.

The February 1 Program:

I don’t know where it came from, since this was her first choreography for NYCB, and the few others I’m aware of are collaborations for Vail Dance Festival and Fall for Dance (which may have been the same dance), and one for her own celebrated program at City Center two years ago. But she does have an eye for creating a fine program – as that City Center (and subsequently London) engagement demonstrated. Regardless, T. Peck’s new ballet, Concerto for Two Pianos, is a delightful piece. It’s not a particularly complex dance choreographically, but here that’s not a disadvantage – it’s well conceived and staged, far more complex-looking visually than one had any right to expect, enhanced the accompanying score (Francis Poulenc’s “Concerto for Two Pianos in D Minor”), and was well-performed. You can’t ask for much more. The premiere audience received it rapturously, saluting T. Peck and the cast with a nearly uniform cross-level standing ovation.

While I have a few critical qualms with it, generally they don’t matter. For a first effort – or any effort for that matter – it was quite remarkable.

(l-r) Roman Mejia, Mira Nadon, and Chun Wai Chan
in Tiler Peck’s “Concerto for Two Pianos”
Photo by Erin Baiano

Concerto for Two Pianos is not “about” anything in particular. I tried finding some meaning or theme for the first few minutes, but quickly abandoned that effort. The absence of it, as with so many ballets in NYCB’s repertoire, has no impact on its value. The ballet has no central focus beyond its lead dancer (discussed below), but it flows so smoothly that it doesn’t need one.

The piece is stunning-looking from the beginning. After the lights go down, the magnificent NYCB Orchestra (conducted by Music Director Andrew Litton) strikes a collective single sound that demands audience attention. The curtain then rises to a stunning scene, similar to certain equivalent breathtaking Balanchine ballet first impressions provided by a line of ballerinas in identical costumes striking an identical pose. Here the vision isn’t quite the same, but the impact is.

The corps ballerinas wear stylistically identical costumes in two or three complementary hues of blue (or perhaps a blue/ purple blend) that are seeded across the stage. Describing them sufficiently is beyond my ken, but they consist of leotards with skirts of the same color, each with identical (based on first view)-cut-outs. They were designed by Zach Posen, and they’re refreshing in their sensuous simplicity, rather than ascetic. And as the colors complement each other, the costumes complement the staging and choreography. [The costumes for the male corps and soloists have similar color hues.]

Shortly after the beginning the twelve-dancer corps is supplemented by two female soloists (Emma Von Enck and India Bradley), who dance mostly in sync or sequentially but are nevertheless highlighted as the background corps moves in various combination sequences. Bradley’s first appearance was marred a bit by her tendency, as here, to look down when she first enters the stage, as if concentrating on the choreography or her placement rather than on the spirit of the dance, in sharp contrast to Von Enck, who sparkles and projects (where appropriate) consistently. But Bradley recovered her attack and presence as the dance progressed.

Emma Von Enck and India Bradley
in Tiler Peck’s “Concerto for Two Pianos”
Photo by Erin Baiano

There’s nothing inherently unusual about this staging, but here it doesn’t look copycat; on the contrary, it looks gorgeous.

Also appearing at roughly this point is the ballet’s visual focal point and for all intents and purposes its raison d’etre, Roman Mejia, whose function is to add some gravitas to the dance and to perform a seemingly endless series of bravura tricks. I don’t mean this in a condescending way – they’re part of the choreography (perhaps suggested by Mejia), not individual embellishments to pre-existing choreography. They’re supposed to be there.

The lead ballerina, Mira Nadon, is given a special entrance. After the ballet has percolated for awhile, suddenly, the lights dim, and the spotlight, and the audience’s collective eyes, focus on a gaggle of ballerinas from which Nadon emerges wearing the same costume as the others, but in deep red, making her stand out like a star. The choreography for her isn’t particularly spectacular (especially compared to Mejia), but the lady in red’s character is supposed to provide the ballet with another focal point, and in that respect it succeeds. Chun Wai Chan enters as the featured male dancer. His role is unclear except to provide a measure of visual counterbalance when Mejia and Nadon share the stage. Again, there’s no sense of competition or romance; Concerto for Two Pianos doesn’t deal with such banalities.

Roman Mejia
in Tiler Peck’s “Concerto for Two Pianos”
Photo by Erin Baiano

If I’ve made the piece sound unexciting, that’s my inability to adequately describe what takes place – Concerto for Two Pianos is not easily dissected. But the ballet’s movement is non-stop and ablaze with kinetic energy that pulls the audience in, and the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

Those criticisms? First is Mejia. There’s nothing at all wrong with his execution or overall performance beyond maybe a little too much zeal and the manifestation of perhaps a suppressed urge to appear in a classical ballet pas de deux coda (he’d make an explosive Ali in Le Corsaire). My concern is that the piece may be too focused on him. And in that respect, what happens if/ when Mejia is injured or moves elsewhere? I don’t see any male dancer now on NYCB’s roster who could adequately replace him (although I’ll grant that few have been tested in roles that require the talents Mejia demonstrates here). What would NYCB do in that event? Import a guest artist?

Second, and maybe most concerning, is that the piece seems to have two endings. One lengthy segment ends with a flourish and the stage goes black – and the audience begins to applaud thinking the ballet is over. But the curtain doesn’t come down – especially since before that moment that ballet never stops percolating. Instead, the ballet eventually resumes, ending in a completely different, and to me less powerful, way. Whenever this happens (and it’s not uncommon), I feel that the choreographer is playing games, or, in a case like this, making a bad choice. But I recognize that the music is what it is, and unless you’re going to rearrange it as Balanchine often did, you’re stuck. But in that event, if at all possible, I’d have tried to find a way to eliminate that lengthy (maybe ten seconds, but in theater time it felt longer) stage-goes-black pause.

Third, although one of the choreographer’s most commendable qualities is her ability to move large groups of dancers on and off the stage, there’s another side to that. To me there’s too much of groups of corps dancers too frequently entering and leaving the stage. But while that may be true, I recognize that it supports the piece’s overall sense of non-stop action.

Fourth, as I wrote earlier, Concerto for Two Pianos isn’t particularly complex or innovative choreographically, I would have preferred to have seen more challenging choreography for Nadon and Chan.

Such deficiencies that a critical eye might see in Concerto for Two Pianos, even though they don’t adversely impact the ballet’s ultimate success, are emphasized in comparison to the piece that followed it on the program.

If Odesa can be criticized by some for any reason, it’s that it’s too dense; too difficult to figure out what Ratmansky’s trying to say. I disagree. Just because it’s not transparent doesn’t mean that it’s too opaque.

Occasionally Ratmansky’s ballets soar beyond my ability to comprehend, and/ or take multiple exposures to decipher. By far, however, I’ve found most of Ratmansky’s ballets to be compelling, both as a consequence of the undeniable craftsmanship and intelligence behind them and because the stories that he explicitly or implicitly tells can make one think and leave one emotionally drained, even when (as in most cases), they’re not presented as literal narratives. Odesa is one of them.

The program notes do not address it one way or the other, but I cannot see Odesa as merely some straightforward abstract ballet with emotional gloss or a series of impossible love stories. Considering Odesa independent from its title – and the city’s history as reflected in the fictional stories by Russian/ Jewish writer Isaac Babel, and the score created to enhance them by Leonid Desyatkinov, and even the costumes by Keso Dekker – would mask its depth and ignore the fact that Ratmansky is the most cerebral of contemporary ballet choreographers. The ballet isn’t titled Odesa for nothing.

I briefly summarized the city of Odesa’s  history in as much detail as I dared in the course of my review following Odesa’s premiere at NYCB’s 2017 Spring Gala; I won’t repeat all of that here (although I must replicate some of it).

Odesa is a mercantile Black Sea port city on the southern rim of Ukraine; and is a valuable warm-water gateway to markets East and the West. By the early-19th century, Odesa had a cosmopolitan, Mediterranean flavor via its population and architecture, and it became a magnet for people of multiple nationalities to take advantage of the city’s freedoms and opportunities, and its warm sun. It became home to an extremely diverse population of Albanians, Armenians, Azeris, Bulgarians, Crimean Tatars, Frenchmen, Germans, Greeks, Italians, Jews, Poles, Romanians, Russians, Turks, Ukrainians, and traders representing many other nationalities. These ethnic groups brought with them rich and varied, and often conflicting, educational and cultural traditions. By 1897 (still part of the Russian Empire), and despite repeated violence against them (documented in Wikipedia], the Jewish population in Odesa in terms of percentage was second only to the Russian population (respectively, 31 or 39% depending on your source, vs.49%).

Odesa acquired a reputation as a city of dreams with an air of optimism and mystery; which to some extent, even given its past and current history of conflict, remains part of its urban mythology. But that’s not necessarily the city’s reality. Like other multifaceted cities, Odesa had its underside, including people who lived frozen in poverty, and others who exploited them.

In that respect, Odesa was also infamous as a city of sin, with accompanying organized crime, which apparently began early in the city’s history and continued into the Soviet era (and beyond), but flourished in the early 20th Century. One component of this organized crime was known as the Jewish Mafia.

In the early 20th century there was an inner-city area of poverty-stricken Jews (Moldavanka, essentially a ghetto) from which the Jewish Mafia arose. Reportedly, gangster members were involved in smuggling, drugs, and prostitution. Prompted by its climatic and attractiveness to tourists, this gangster activity bled into the city’s low-brow entertainment subculture, including nightclubs owned or effectively controlled by them.

Odesa’s Jewish gangsters in or around the time of the Revolution and thereafter were the subject of a collection of stories, titled Odesa Stories, written by Babel and published in a magazine between 1921 and 1924, and subsequently collected into a book in 1931. Babel was born in Odesa in 1894, in its Moldavanka area, and for a time lived there, and although fictional his Stories reportedly focused on Jewish gangsters who flourished in that area. The stories were adapted into a play, Sunset, produced in Moscow in 1927, which featured stories of a fictional gangster anti-hero whose self-appointed mission was to right the wrongs of Moldavanka. The authorities promptly dropped it, but In 1990, after the Soviet Union’s collapse, a film was made based on the same set of stories, also titled Sunset, to which composer Desyatnikov created the incidental music, titled “Sketches to Sunset.” It is this music that Ratmansky has used for his ballet.

Indiana Woodward and Anthony Huxley
in Alexei Ratmansky’s “Odesa”
Photo by Erin Baiano

Ratmansky doesn’t (to my knowledge) appropriate any of these stories literally or tell a neat story. Rather, he replicates Odesa’s underworld atmosphere, focusing on the troubled lives of those who populated this underworld, including the gangsters and the women that they used, and it exemplifies how and why I’ve frequently labeled Ratmansky as the most cerebral of contemporary choreographers as well as one who most accurately presents those qualities that make humanity human. Odesa speaks to memories of a time and place, to a “folk” history of sorts, and, as in one of its finest moments, it hits a receptive audience like a slap in the face. [I must admit that perhaps my receptivity to Ratmansky’s message may be a product of a possible personal connection: when I was young (a century or two ago), I remember being told that one branch of one branch (of one branch…) of my ancestral family emigrated directly or indirectly from Odesa. I never nailed that down, but the city, just by its name, has always held a romanticized fascination for me.]

There are no obvious ties in the ballet itself to anything Jewish in general or to Jewish gangsters in particular, but Desyatnikov’s magnificently evocative composition provides that connection. The vaguely Mediterranean-sounding music, appropriate for Odessa’s geographic location and cosmopolitan ambience, includes at times achingly archetypal Jewish melodies (instead of a fiddler on the roof, there’s a clarinetist in the nightclub cellar) mixed with vaguely Klezmer-like instrumentation (Klezmer is said to have evolved from 19th Century Bessarabia, an area now part of Moldova and Ukraine just to the west of Odessa).

Ratmansky presents the featured women (here Megan Fairchild, Unity Phelan, and Indiana Woodward), as well as the men who use them, as cogs in a larger machine, but at the same time as individuals caught within that machine. The characterizations, on second view, may be more fluid with respect to their particular roles than I initially thought, since their roles didn’t come across that clear to me. Be that as it may, Ulbricht, the recipient of Woodward’s slap, appears to be one who recruits the women and then tries to rescue one or more of them; and Adrian Danchig-Waring and Anthony Huxley are henchmen/ enforcers, with Huxley displaying a more complex character.

But Odesa is less about the characters’ respective positions in the story Ratmansky tells, and more about their emotional turmoil, and their predicament. With exceptions, the women don’t want to do what they’ve been told to do, but may be seduced into thinking that they’re on the road to stardom and escaping from their poverty – or have no alternative; no place to go. And the men – at least Ulbricht’s character – are trapped as well. The bottom line is that all are trapped in a situation, as the final scene emphasizes, in a deteriorating world from which there appears to be no escape.

In the process of recreating Odessa’s atmosphere, Ratmansky, Desyatnikov, and Dekker have also made the piece somewhat universal. The sense one gets through the ambiance Ratmansky creates is the same as one might see in evocations of Havana nightclubs as Castro closes in, Berlin Cabarets as the Weimar Republic disintegrates, the Atlantic City depicted in “Boardwalk Empire,” the Miami of “Magic City,” the Las Vegas of Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky, and even Vienna before the fall of the Hapsburg dynasty (the dynamite costumes include, as I see them, multicolored, liquidly mosaic dresses for the lead women evocative of Gustav Klimt (coincidentally – or not – a Jewish artist), with something of a Byzantine twist).

After Odesa premiered at NYCB’s 2017 Spring Gala (immediately following another superb Ratmansky piece, Russian Seasons), I wrote that it had no false moments, no superfluous or pedestrian choreography, and no moment of anything less than extraordinary execution by all involved. The performances on Thursday were also top flight. But frankly, with the exception of Woodward (in a brilliant role debut) and Huxley (also in a role debut), I preferred the original cast. I recall Sara Mearns’s desperate sadness being more impressive than Phelan in the same role, and Hyltin more than Fairchild. But this may be a product of the premiere performance being so fixed in my mind. The entire cast in this performance delivered Ratmansky’s emotional message with an appropriate sense of despair.

Daniel Ulbricht in Justin Peck’s “Rotunda”
Photo by Erin Baiano

The program opened with Justin Peck’s Rotunda, a 2020 (pre-pandemic) piece that I’ve reviewed on several prior occasions. Although it’s well-crafted and pleasant to watch, it doesn’t have the gravitas of the program’s other dances. Aside from being to a large extent derivative of himself, in Rotunda J. Peck also pokes a little bit of fun at himself for exactly that reason. “Rotunda,” after all, means “round” (commonly a gathering or “passing through” place that’s round), and here Peck emphasizes the “circles” that are often a component of his dances. In other words, it’s an elaboration on what many criticize him for. It’s an abstract ballet, but to me its about circles and how J. Peck plays with them.

The dance’s center of gravity is Ulbricht (his debut in the role often played previously by Gonzalo Garcia), and he carried it well. The dance’s large cast also included Sara Adams, Jacqueline Bologna, Fairchild (replacing Mearns), Miriam Miller, Phelan, Woodward, Victor Abreu, Gilbert Bolden III, Danchig-Waring, Jules Mabie (replacing Jovani Furlan), and Sebastien Villarini-Velez.

The January 23rd Program:

The opening night program began with Robbins’s Fancy Free. It’s tempting to jump on the critical bandwagon and brand Fancy Free as a creature if its period and no longer relevant (like similar arguments I’ve seen regarding Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo) or insufficiently politically correct (one moment in the ballet has already been excised in the recent Fance Free performances I’ve seen).

Daniel Ulbricht in Jerome Robbins’s “Fancy Free”
Photo by Paul Kolnik

Regardless, in order to fully appreciate Robbins’s accomplishment of capturing a time and human emotions within that time, the cast should convey the spirit of that time, not just the steps. Here it’s story is about sailors on leave, but It encapsulates the 1940s (bleeding into the 1950s and early 60s); a time of relative societal innocence (whether true or not is not the issue) when standing on the corner watching all the girls go by (from a song written for the Broadway show “The Most Happy Fella,” which was popularized by The Four Lads) was not unusual. It’s killed if one watches it solely through a millennial lens. To a degree, Tuesday’s Fancy Free cast captured that period.

The performance included two distinct highlights; Alexa Maxwell’s initial pas de deux with Joseph Gordon, and Ulbricht’s “first sailor.” Maxwell’s smoldering attitude so complemented Gordon’s puppy-dog of a sailor such that it wasn’t clear who was attempting to seduce whom. And there’s little I can say about Ulbricht that hasn’t already been said. Although he’s danced the role a few time over the years (an understatement) he’s lost little of the verve and attack, the amiable roughness that masks the polish he brings to all his roles. Here he’s maintained the character of a young sailor on his first visit to New York restless to find the kind of fun that he can’t get at sea, or perhaps at home.

Alexa Maxwell and Joseph Gordon
in Jerome Robbins’s’ “Fancy Free”
Photo by Erin Baiano

Gordon’s character’s dance in the trio of demonstrative solos is the toughest to bring to life, but he struck the right balance between being too sweet and looking like a sap. Furlani’s third sailor, however, didn’t measure up to others I’ve seen in that role – there wasn’t enough flair or inflated machismo. But the restraint I sensed might have been the product of a chronic injury that would end his season shortly after this performance.

Robbins’s In the Night, which premiered in 1970, is a masterpiece of a ballet that tells the stories of three relationships at various points in their trajectories, all viewed under (presumably) the same starlit sky. At the end, they meet presumably by happenstance, exchange pleasantries, and then go on their separate ways. I’ve reviewed it several times before, so here will address it minimally.

Choreographed to four Chopin Nocturnes, the first couple’s relationship is tentative and sweet; the second, far more variable depending on the cast, essentially shows a couple whose passion for each other has waned; the third is dramatic and turbulent, one that repeatedly ends and resumes, and is ultimately the most passionate of the three.

The three couples were performed, respectively, by Olivia MacKinnon and Alec Knight; Mearns and Tyler Angle; and Phelan and Andrew Veyette. The first and third couples were exactly right, although MacKinnon and Knight, not inappropriately, appeared a bit tentative. Phelan and Veyette (his a role debut) communicated a marvelously nuanced and appropriately tempestuous couple. But Mearns and Angle (he in his role debut) looked lost. Mearns’s near perpetual sadness was on full display (not necessarily inappropriate, but there was far too much of it), as was a presence that didn’t change as the dance progressed, and Angle was focused on partnering (which he did well) rather than character. Robbins’s wonderfully intricate, at times breathtaking, choreography was all there, but despite the built-in change of emotional mood, this couple’s relationship was already dead.

Following a wonderful episode of NYCB’s peripatetic “See the Music…” program, this time hosted by Litton, that explored certain parts of the music by Giuseppe Verdi that was the score for the next piece, the company presented Robbins’s The Four Seasons.

I’ve also reviewed The Four Seasons previously, so I won’t spend much time on it here. While not what I consider a comic masterpiece in the same league as The Concert (which will be performed later this season), it’s great fun.

Tiler Peck and Roman Mejia, and New York City Ballet
in Jerome Robbins’s “The Four Seasons”
Photo by Erin Baiano

Not surprisingly the dance is divided into four relatively distinct seasons, beginning with Winter. Janus, the God of the New Year, initiates and concludes the celebration. Each season is personified by a different dancer who presides over that season’s depiction, and by featured dancers and accompanying corps dancers who actually perform each season’s choreography. Von Enck, Devin Alberda, and Villarini-Velez were Winter’s featured dancers, abetted by a shivering corps of eight – all dressed in white. For all intents and purposes, Von Enck was Winter’s sparkly personification, and since sparkle seems part of her DNA, she related that well. Spring featured Woodward and Huxley accented by four men, and all did fine work. Summer is a difficult section because, well, it’s hot and humid and languorous, and with that heat doesn’t move very fast, or very much at all relative to the other three. Emilie Gerrity and Danchig-Waring here led a corps of six. Fall was the knockout. Featuring T. Peck, Mejia, and KJ Takahashi, supported by a corps of sixteen, Robbins’s year ended on a high – and explosive – note.

The January 28th Program:

The season’s second program featured significant dances by Christopher Wheeldon, former Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins, and J. Peck. I’ve reviewed each of these dances before, so, with apologies, I’ll give them short shrift now.

Polyphonia, Wheeldon’s fourth piece created for NYCB and his first as the company’s Artist in Residence, is set to ten piano pieces by Romanian-born Hungarian/ Austrian composer Gyorgi Ligeti, whose passion for avant-garde music in the late 20th Century (he died in 2006) led to his development of a technique he later dubbed micropolyphony, which gave him prominence. I’ll save a discussion of micropolyphony for another time. For now, suffice it to say that the music is textured, a quality that Wheeldon picks up on and engages throughout the ballet.

Alexa Maxwell and Peter Walker
in Christopher Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia”
Photo by Erin Baiano

Polyphonia is divided into ten parts corresponding to the ten pieces (or excerpts therefrom) that Wheeldon uses, in the process narrowly focusing on discrete pairs or multiples dancing to discrete pieces of music. As each musical excerpt sounds different, the choreography looks different. Nothing new there. But that’s not what makes Polyphonia the breakthrough piece that it was acclaimed to be following its 2001 premiere: it’s the chance-taking; the innovation; and the asceticism.

The entire cast of eight excelled, led by Maxwell and Walker, but it’s unfair to single any of them out since all executed well. The balance of the cast consisted of Gerrity, Ashley Hod, Adams, Davide Riccardo (replacing  Aaron Sanz, Villarini-Velez, and Christopher Grant.

Barber Violin Concerto is one of Martins’s best pieces. To two Barber compositions, Martins assigns part to ballet dancers, and part to modern dancers, in both demonstration and something of a competition. It sounds like a gimmick, and it is, but it works.

The original pairs for its 1988 premiere were Merrill Ashley and Adam Luders, and Kate Johnson (a member of Paul Taylor Dance Company) and dancer/ choreographer David Parsons, who had co-founded his own company three years earlier. Here the respective roles were assumed by Mearns and Knight, and Von Enck and Bolden.

Sara Mearns and Gilbert Bolden III
in Peter Martins’s “Barber Violin Concerto”
Photo by Erin Baiano

The “battle” between classical ballet and modern dance isn’t as contrived-looking as it sounds. On the contrary, as it progresses from its exposition of the two dance styles, to feigned artistic rivalry, and then to an amusingly vibrant display of frustration as the couples change partners, the dance meshes seamlessly and is highly enjoyable dance entertainment.

Knight, who debuted in his role two nights earlier (replacing Sanz), to my eye looked somewhat like a deer caught in a car’s headlights partnering Mearns. He did fine work partnering her, but appeared so involved in that effort that he neglected his character. But perhaps he was just playing off Mearns, who danced the choreography but added nothing more beyond a gloomy, tragic presence. [It occurred to me that perhaps this was Martins’s intent, since I made a similar comment about Mearns in this role ten or so years ago, but that doesn’t jibe with my recollection of Teresa Reichlen in the same role the previous year.]

Emma Von Enck and Gilbert Bolden III
in Peter Martins’s “Barber Violin Concerto”
Photo by Erin Baiano

Bolden executed very well as Von Enck’s “modern” partner. I’m not sure what technique he was trying to replicate, but it looked a little like images I’ve seen of Ted Shawn or of male dancers in pieces choreographed by Martha Graham (not, however, from Paul Taylor, whose company Parsons danced with for 8 years). But it looked authentic, was certainly solidly grounded, and was an attentive partner for the vivacious Von Enck, who almost singlehandedly brought Barber Violin Concerto to life – particularly when the partners were switched. At that point, while Bolden was fully able to partner Mearns and keep her rock solid, Knight seemed to have as difficult a time with Von Enck as he did with Mearns, but for a different reason – Von Enck, as she was supposed to do, danced wild and free.

In this performance’s dueling dance styles, it was no contest. “Modern” was the clear winner

[The company needs to be careful, when the situation arises, about the ballerinas it assigns to be paired with Von Enck. She dominates the stage – not as if she owns it or in her mind is physically and/ or technically superior, but because of that “sparkle” quality that I’ve regularly observed. It’s a wonderful quality and shouldn’t be toned down, but ballerinas assigned to complement her should be selected with Von Enck’s dynamic and magnetic, stage persona in mind.]

The evening concluded with The Times Are Racing (“TTAR”), and it ended on a high.

I must admit that when I saw the casting, I was not pleased. Roles, particularly featured roles, are difficult to come by, so if T. Peck’s role in TTAR was going to be assumed by another dancer, it should be to someone else in the company. Further, I thought that importing guest artists in general is a bad idea unless necessary to fill a void caused by injury or to recognize an artist of international caliber. Here, the guest artist was Ashton Edwards, a member of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s corps. It seemed that the only reason for the invitation was Edwards’s LGBTQ+ etc. bona fides; as if NYCB was trying to compete with other companies to be the most politically correct.

Well, I was wrong. For whatever reason it was done, it was a successful move, and Edwards’s performance was a brilliant success.

Edwards (who prefers the pronoun “they,” which I’ll recognize) made their company debut, and their NYC debut in his role, the previous night. This performance was their second and last for this season – but it would not at all surprise me if they’re invited back.

Following its 2017 premiere, I wrote that TTAR is alive with action and purpose, and described it as a visual anthem for the millennial generation. Although abstract, the piece is “about” something – that the times are racing (embodied in the tireless, pulsing, score by Dan Deacon) and it’s time to act – and take positions – to keep up with it. What that action is, or why it needs to be taken, isn’t mentioned – J. Peck isn’t that literal and doesn’t need to be.

Since its premiere, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge. A call to action may not be as inevitable, or as imperative, as it then seemed to be. As far as I could tell the choreography here is the same as it always was, but at its premiere, the call to action was reflected not just in the music and choreography, but in the costumes (by Humberto Leon), many of which included shirts emblazoned with “action” words. I didn’t see any of that here. It’s possible the “action” words were there and somehow I missed them amid the guest artist hubbub, but I specifically looked for them. So it may well be that under current conditions a call to action might not be the wisest aspect of the dance to emphasize.

Be that as it may, the dance still packs an activity wallop; its non-stop action can be exhausting to watch, but in a good way. It’s alive – as was the highly competent 20-dancer cast led by Taylor Stanley, Harrison Coll, Takahashi, Christina Clark, Maxwell, KennedyTargosz, and Vllarini-Velez.

And Edwards.

Edwards is small in stature, and, at least here, has a movement quality and stage appearance that’s unique. And what they seem to lack in physical power they makes up for in other ways. Edwards fit into T. Peck’s original role here without difficulty, and from beginning to end looked shot out of a cannon. It might not be an adequate test of their ballet abilities, but finesse and a classical presentation isn’t a component of their role here – or at least, as Edwards demonstrated, it’s not essential to it – and I suspect Edwards wouldn’t have gotten as far as they have if they weren’t capable in that respect also. Watching Edwards tear the stage apart made one giddy. I suspect we’ll be seeing Edwards again.

What also was clear is how Edwards was welcomed by the NYCB cast, and the Sunday afternoon audience. Taylor in particular seemed to have taken Edwards under his wing – he appeared to be giving them encouragement as the piece progressed, and when it ended put his arm around Edwads’s shoulder like a proud father whose son just broke some impenetrable barrier – which in fact is what Edwards did. And when Edwards took his solo bow, the entire cast applauded them, and the audience roared.