What a terrific but curious night at the ballet.
The oldest dance on Thursday night's program was the most experimental and inventive; the newest ballet on the program was the most traditional; and the third ballet was in a class of its own.
Variations Pour Une Porte et Un Soupir (Variations for a Door and a Sigh) was created by Balanchine in 1974 to a composition by Pierre Henry in the style of musique concrète which can include recorded sounds from most any source. In this case, the sounds are those of a creaking door and a human sigh. Henry's composition was conceived in 1963. In 1965 Maurice Béjart used it in a highly experimental and improvisational piece for seven dancers. At each performance, Béjart changed the group of dancers and randomly selected each dancer's improvisational segment. The dancers were given parameters within which to work but were not given any choreography. Surely, Balanchine must have been aware of Béjart's earlier experiment when he selected the composition for his choreography. Also in 1974, the year of Balanchine's creation, Suzanne Farrell began communicating with Balanchine about leaving Béjart's company to return to NYCB, and she did in fact return the next year.
The long and the short of last night's performance was that Maria Kowroski and Daniel Ulbricht held the audience spellbound. In the role of the Door, Maria wore a white unitard but was affixed to a huge black billowing skirt that covered most of the stage except for the front quarter where Daniel as the Sigh writhed, tumbled, and contorted in misery. He pounded his fists in the air at the Door, but she wouldn't let the Sigh out. She was in complete charge of the Sigh's fate and ultimately wrapped him up in her black skirt which suddenly became something like a black venus flytrap that snapped shut.
The whole performance was quite simply a brilliant piece of theater by two brilliant artists.
The newest ballet on the program was the premiere of Justin Peck's Paz de la Jolla which was created to exiled Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu's Sinfonietta La Jolla, a three movement composition that was commissioned by the Musical Arts Society of La Jolla in 1950. At that time, Martinu was teaching composition at Princeton, and the tri-state area was a hot bed of classical and neo-classical musical creativity. While Martinu was at Princeton, Hindemith was teaching composition at Yale, and Bernstein and Stravinsky were forging new paths in New York. The rhythms and harmonies of his contemporaries pop up time and time again throughout Martinu's bright and accessible La Jolla.
Justin indicated that his choreography was inspired by his own upbringing in Southern California. The first movement opened with a crowd in beach-type wear - not swimsuits, but play-wear of shorts and summery tops. Tiler Peck opened the first notes of the music with a multiple revolution pirouette in the center of the stage to start the others romping. She had a number of highly kinetic allegro variations which she executed wonderfully.
This isn't an insult – but the choreography kind of reminded Haglund of some of Millepied's early work when everyone had their hopes up about that new choreographer. There was a lot of casual messing around mixed in with classical ballet steps that seemed to mark Millepied's work in a unique way. The second movement, however, was impressive for its coherence and interesting choreography. Here, a couple (Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar) lay on a moonlit beach watching the waves which were actually a group of dancers in ocean-colored costumes who ebbed and flowed onto the shore and out. When Amar fell asleep on the beach, Sterling ran out and played in the waves. They washed over her and around her, and then the waves got mean and began sweeping her out to sea. Amar woke up and ran looking for her, but got washed out to sea, too. While the action sounds elementary, it was quite beautifully danced and clearly evoked the sea.
Here's where things got surprising in an O'Henry kind of way. Haglund was sure that Sterling and Amar were still lying in a pile at the back of the stage at the beginning of the third movement because they had succumbed to the waves. Suddenly, the other dancers rushed in and woke them up to dance the allegro finale. So, was the whole waves episode in the second movement real or was it just a dream? The allegro of the finale was more pleasing than the first movement and the ensemble choreography was delightful.
The third ballet on the evening's program was Alexei Ratmansky's Concerto DSCH to Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2 which was created for NYCB in 2008. The cast was supposed to include Sean Suozzi, but there was an unannounced replacement by Troy Schumacher. He was fantastic – maybe a touch nervous and doing a whole lot of thinking – but, heck, he was running with Joaquin DeLuz, Ashley Bouder, Tyler Angle, and Janie Taylor! Here's hoping that Troy gets another chance to dance this on Saturday night because he really earned it Thursday night. A super job.
The high energy and precision of Ashley and Joaquin are always astonishing but when they come together in Concerto DSCH, they are almost at a combustible level. Tyler and Janie in the PdD were lovely, too. The pianist, Cameron Grant, really had a full night of work with the piano obbligato in Justin Peck's new ballet and the Shostakovich piano concerto, and it was all beautiful.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, a Jimmy Choo black mesh platform stiletto, is bestowed upon Maria Kowroski and Daniel Ulbricht for their riveting performances as Door and Sigh in Variations Pour Une Porte et Un Soupir.