Impressions of: New York City Ballet in Works by Peter Martins, Pontus Lidberg and Justin Peck
David H. Koch Theater
Fearful Symmetries / Choreography by Peter Martins
Music by John Adams / Costumes by Steven Rubin
The Shimmering Asphalt (World Premiere) / Choreography by Pontus Lidberg
Music by David Lang / Costumes by Rachel Quarmby-Spadaccini
The Times Are Racing (World Premiere) / Choreography by Justin Peck
Music by Dan Deacon / Costumes by Humberto Leon
Pictured above: Tiler Peck in Justin Peck's The Times Are Racing. Photo credit: Paul Kolnik
With all the turmoil gripping the United States, it feels decadent to settle into a plush seat at David H. Koch Theater for New York City Ballet's New Combinations program. But that's exactly what a bunch of people and I are doing — divorcing ourselves from the news cycle where each story is more unbelievable and heart wrenching than the last. For a few hours, we commit to beauty, to the power of art to transcend and elevate.
This iteration of New Combinations showcases the work of three choreographers: Pontus Lidberg, with his first commission from NYCB; Justin Peck, Resident Choreographer; and Peter Martins, Artistic Director.
Everything you know and love about ballet is on full display: ceiling-scraping leaps, six-o'clock extensions, whizzing turns. Often, the stage churns with twenty-plus dancers. Other times, a soloist zips around the perimeter, or a sinuous pas de deux unfolds front and center. Everything is rendered with casual bravado.
Sara Mearns and Chase Finlay in Pontus Lidberg's The Shimmering Asphalt; Photo: Paul Kolnik
Balanchine famously made music visual with his dances, and the tradition continues with Americana flair. Composers John Adams (Martins' Fearful Symmetries), David Lang (Lidberg's The Shimmering Asphalt), and Dan Deacon (Peck’s The Times Are Racing) are all born and bred in the United States. Their compositions swell with the expansiveness of prairies and mountains, of Great Lakes and sand-swept beaches. Conductor Daniel Capps keeps a steady hand on the wheel to prevent the surging rhythms and satiny melodies from overtaking the dancing.
Martins exhibits marvelous restraint in Fearful Symmetries, which premiered in 1990. Adams' score of the same name chugs like a runaway train, and rather than letting it yank him along, Martins subdues it with polite grand jetés and snug assemblés. Attired in cough drop colors, the cast of twenty-three performs as the title suggests — like perfectly resolved geometry proofs. With tempered exuberance, they mirror, they canon, and they congregate in graceful arcs and diagonals.
This may be Lidberg's first work for NYCB, but if The Shimmering Asphalt is any indication, it won’t be the last. Against a dark backdrop that occasionally flickers like fool's gold, fifteen dancers unfurl their bodies like ribbons. Augmented with wispy port de bras, they swirl through attitude turns to floor rolls. Alliances among them coalesce only to dissolve soon after: Four men pass around one woman, or a watcher interrupts a pas de deux. The gray costumes with their architectural ruffles and the velvety prickles of Lang's score enhance these fractured, frustrated encounters. Only Sara Mearns, standing alone at the beginning and end as if the goddess Athena, seems immune.
Peck's The Times Are Racing is so fun you’ll wish you could press repeat. The piece presents a grab bag of influences including musical theater, social dance, hip hop, and, of course, ballet. The result is funky, joyous, and compellingly timely. The leader of the pack, Robert Fairchild, skims through lavish toprocking (b-boy footwork) and slick pirouettes on his toe. To electronic burbles, Amar Ramasar and Tiler Peck swap places during an upside down trick of crisscrossing legs. Like cheerleaders, the twenty sneaker-clad performers lift their arms in a V. At the end, everyone falls to the floor as the jaunty score (the last four tracks from Deacon’s album America) slams to an exclamation point.
Then, the curtain closes. Just like that, cell phones are turned on, and we’re back to reality. But the mood is lighter, brighter, more friendly. Because of the beauty, the thrills, the art — things more important and necessary than ever.
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