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