Last evening NYCB presented its first ever program devoted solely to the work of its former resident choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Single choreographer programs are usually reserved for the works of Balanchine and Robbins. When the first full evening of a dancemaker's creations is presented, it should be a signal that he has "arrived" so to speak – that his work is of such weight and importance that it can carry an entire evening at the NYCB. Tonight there was less a sense of "arrival" and more a question of what has arrived and whether the journey was worth it.
The program included the premiere of Les Carillons to Bizet's L'Arlesienne Suites 1 and 2, Polyphonia, and the NYCB premiere of DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse which was created for the Royal Ballet and first presented in New York City by the Corella Ballet a couple of years ago. All three pieces registered the same positives and negatives. Each was clearly organized from a choreographic standpoint; the large group elements were far more interesting than the solos and PdDs; the costumes were always vivid, interesting and sometimes pretty; the music was danceable. But it all didn't add up to a fulfilling whole because the ballets over-relied on too few choreographic ideas.
The music for Les Carillons was used by Roland Petit almost forty years ago for his dramatic ballet L'Arlesienne that was based on the play by Alphonse Daudet for which Bizet composed the music. Most of Petit's ballet is on YouTube in pieces; it is riveting, imaginative, and grabs your attention the way Petit had a tendency to do. Wheeldon's creation was described in the Playbill as plotless. It was, unfortunately, also charmless. Why? Well, mostly because it pretty much looked like a lot of what we have seen before. You know the saying: same soup, different bowl. It was one grand rond de jambe en l'air after another for the women, developpe, promenade, pick her up, put her down, split the legs, penchee. The one who should really be awarded the Pump Bump for last night is the official NYCB bikini waxer who had her work cut out for her on this Wheeldon program.
The large group work was the most interesting aspect of the piece and was enjoyable. Wheeldon likes to move big horizontal sections of dancers in opposing horizontal directions, and it can be interesting to watch. But it was too little an offering when compared to the mundane, faux-ballet acrobatics employed in so much of the piece. Too much of the time when Wheeldon ran out of ideas for the legs and feet, he fell back on quirky arm movements that were unrelated to what the feet and legs had been doing.
As usual, the dancers overcame the deficiencies in the choreography and were a joy to watch. Sara Mearns, Wendy Whelan, Maria Kowroski, Ana Sophia Scheller, Tiler Peck, Amar Ramasar, Robert Fairchild, Tyler Angle, Daniel Ulbricht, and Gonzalo Garcia put the old game faces on and gave it all they had.
Costume designer Mark Zappone created beautiful dresses of mid-calf length in a variety of rich reds for the principals – violet for Scheller – and aqua-teal for the corps ladies. The fronts of the dresses were opened to reveal brown skirts underneath. The men were costumed in brown with a diagonal splash of color down the front. Each man wore one sleeve while one arm remained bare. The scenery backdrop by Jean-Marc Puissant looked like a water color abstract design which was linear on the left and more circular on the right. The design changed hues throughout the piece, a typical element seen in other Wheeldon ballets.
Polyphonia to music by Gyorgy Ligeti has always been difficult for Haglund to enjoy for many of the reasons cited above. Tonight's performance was an especially big downer because Jennie Somogyi suffered an injury during her PdD with Gonzalo Garcia and ended up hobbling off the stage in intense pain. After a few counts of music, Gonzalo followed her off and the pianists played the rest of the variation while the stage remained eerily empty until the next pair of dancers appeared. Shortly thereafter, Tiler Peck, fresh from Les Carillons and starting to prepare for her role in DGV was substituted for Jennie for the remainder of the ballet.
The final piece of the program, DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse (high speed dance), looked much better on NYCB's stage than on the small stage at City Center where the Corella Ballet presented it. It also got a better reading from the dancers, especially the women who were clearly more charged in their movement and exploited the choreography to create a performance. Teresa Reichlen & Craig Hall, Ashley Bouder & Joaquin De Luz, Maria Kowroski & Tyler Angle, and Tiler Peck & Andrew Veyette led a corps of 16 in maneuvers much like what had been seen in the first two-thirds of the evening. Splitzeography, handeography, PdDs that didn't dance from point to point but mostly remained in one spot while the man manipulated the woman around him - same soup, different bowl.
The minimalist score for DGV was by Michael Nyman who was commissioned to write the music for the celebration of the opening of a Northern European line of the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse), France's high speed rail system. Nyman's composition is titled MGV Musique à Grande Vitesse (high speed music) and bears the recurrent rhythms like those heard from a train traveling down its tracks. It's a stirring composition, but last night its orchestral components seemed terribly out of balance – at least in comparison to Nyman's recording. The extra drummers stationed on the side apron sometimes overwhelmed the winds in the orchestra pit. But it was exciting to hear this unusual music played live in the theater.
So, it wasn't such a great night at NYCB mostly because the works chosen to celebrate this young choreographer's first dedicated evening were not his best. However, maybe by showing a whole evening of his choreography, Wheeldon will observe that he needs to reacquaint himself with the rich vocabulary of ballet.
The evening's Pump Bump Award, a Guiseppe Zanotti military chic sandal, is bestowed upon Tiler Peck in recognition of the triple trooper duty she performed - exquisitely, as always.