Impressions of New York City Ballet: Lauren Lovette, Justin Peck, Peter Walker and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa

Impressions of New York City Ballet: Lauren Lovette, Justin Peck, Peter Walker and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa

Published on October 12, 2016
Photo: Paul Kolnik

The 21st-Century Choreographers Program

For Clara / Choreography by Lauren Lovette

Music by Robert Schumann / Costumes by Narciso Rodriguez

The Dreamers / Choreography by Justin Peck

Music by Bohuslav Martinu / Costumes by Dries Van Noten

ten in seven / Choreography by Peter Walker

Music by Thomas Kikta / Costumes by Jason Wu

Unframed / Choreography by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa

Music by Luigi Boccherini, Edward Elgar, Pēteris Vasks, and Antonio Vivaldi / Costumes by Rosie Assoulin

Pictured above: New York City Ballet in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Unframed.

The outcry was fast and furious. In 2015, New York City Ballet, a company with a big budget and even bigger reputation, commissioned four pieces from male choreographers. Everyone asked, not always nicely: Where are the women? This is the company, after all, whose co-founder, George Balanchine, famously proclaimed, “Ballet is woman.”

Artistic Director Peter Martins can take a note. 2016 features a quartet of new works, two of which are by women, one by principal dancer Lauren Lovette and another by Colombian-Belgian dance-maker Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Also on tap is the de rigueur piece from Resident Choreographer Justin Peck plus one from Peter Walker, a corps de ballet member.

So how do the women’s pieces stack up against the men’s?

A female dancer in a peach and aubergine filmy costume outstretches her hand overhead and strikes a lunge positionge
Indiana Woodward in Lauren Lovette's For Clara. Photo credit: Paul Kolnik

Lovette’s For Clara, named after composer Robert Schumann’s wife, is up first. For Clara is pretty some of the time, and pretty much a mess the rest of the time. Lovette is green, very green, and her youthful exuberance manifests itself in a more is more approach. She crafts gorgeous movement — academic passés and arabesques ornamented with fluttering port de bras. Then she obscures it by cramming the stage to overflowing. Five soloists framed by a corps de ballet of twelve zip and swirl and flit around the stage. A thrashing pas de deux unfolds next to a leaping soloist as a gaggle of dancers streaks across the back. Lovette’s got good instincts; a smaller cast and a tighter theme would serve her better in the future.

Amar Ramasar lifts Sara Mearns from her waist. Her left leg outstretched in front of her, Sara holds onto Amar's shoulder. She looks like she's floating in midair.
Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar in Justin Peck's The Dreamers. Photo credit Paul Kolnik

Justin Peck seems tired. He’s been an in-demand choreographer for the last half-decade, making four or more ballets a year, and his creative well looks parched. He premieres The Dreamers, a pas de deux for principals Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar — sophisticated and tensile dancers. Slashing legs, slicing lunges, lots of dashing around the stage to end center: there’s not much that’s new here. The orientation registers as overwhelmingly frontal, which deflates the duo’s creamy transitions and crystalline technique. Both glaze the choreography with meaning and complexity, but The Dreamers remains too slight a trifle. 

A mass of colorfully colored dancers strike virtuosic poses.
New York City Ballet in Peter Walker's ten in seven. Photo credit: Paul Kolnik.

Ballet doesn’t often swagger, unless the choreographer is Jerome Robbins or, now, Peter Walker and his ten in seven. Composer Thomas Kikta, guitar in hand, and several band mates (a keyboardist, a trumpeter, and a percussionist) are stationed on a catty-corner platform where they play funked-up classical music as five men and five women explode ballet’s pristine contours. Through seven brief episodes, the ten claps their hands, arcs their shoulders, swings their spines, and rockets through the air in crouching leaps. Spartak Hoxha’s winsome solo, seeded with soaring sissones, speedy chaînés, and what looks like a tiny riff on Mary Wigman’s Hexentanz, encapsulates ten in seven’s jangly good humor.

Adrian Danchig-Waring holds Sterling Hyltin on his shoulder. Both dancers wear athletic briefts and Sterling wears a black midriff top.
Sterling Hyltin and Adrian Danchig-Waring in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Unframed. Photo credit Paul Kolnik

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is a seasoned dance-maker, and boy does it show. In Unframed a six-section dance for five soloist women, five soloist men, and a corps of eight women, she highlights what contemporary ballet does well — cast a mood that hints at societal zeitgeist. In this instance, it’s exposure, both of the body and the spirit. Against a minimalist backdrop of three fluorescent tubes, a smashed picture frame of sorts, dancers divest themselves of the literal off-stage (costumes, bobby pins) and the figurative on stage (tension, severity). Buoyant and autonomous, the dancers emerge, hair down and in underwear, as if on a Calvin Klein billboard. Breath, not something usually associated with ballet, balloons each sous-sus and every grand rond de jambe with purpose. While Lopez Ochoa honors ballet’s classicism, she tweaks it and pulls at it, so the upright pitches toward a diagonal, and the heaven crashes to the earth. This is ballet for the 21st century.

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