New York City Ballet’s 2016 Spring Gala last night at Lincoln Center honored Board Chairman Jay Fishman who now battles advanced ALS. Mr. Fishman attended and sat in the front row of the First Ring attached to a bulky respirator. After a brief video that described and expressed gratitude for his leadership, the company performed the “Rain” excerpt from Jerome Robbins’ The Concert.
Dancers traversed the stage as pedestrians with black umbrellas, opening and closing them in response to the threat of rain. In the end, they huddled together in a circle facing inward from which one dancer arose, opened a red umbrella, carried it downstage and exited to the left wing. Red umbrellas are a trademark of The Travelers Companies for which Mr. Fishman is the current Chairman. In recent years, Travelers has been one of NYCB's strongest financial supporters.
A somber but appropriate start to the gala, it was a reminder that big financial supporters such as the highly respected Mr. Fishman, who has been described by Forbes as “Wall Street’s Honest Man” (which might also suggest that there is only one), do indeed exist in the world of performing arts along with the big supporters who are not particularly honest or ethical but who garner much more media attention. One such person we are thinking of either was a no-show or was keeping an uncharacteristically low profile last night.
A cast change for Ratmansky’s DSCH was announced at curtain. Brittany Pollack replaced Ana Sophia Sheller in the “blue” role most strongly identified with Ashley Bouder. We couldn’t remember ever seeing Brittany in this role which may well have been her debut. Debut or not, she danced the choreography as though it had been made on her. A startlingly brilliant display of technique, verve, and camaraderie marked this soloist’s performance and nearly eclipsed the superb dancing of her partners, Gonzalo Garcia and Anthony Huxley. The PdD, originally set on Wendy Whelan and Benjamin Millepied, was danced by Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle. All roles are not interchangeable among dancers. The ease, delicacy and clear forms that Wendy Whelan stamped on this role were not replicated last night. There were several corps dancers who stood out for their ability to comfortably grasp Ratmansky’s style: Daniel Applebaum, Harrison Coll, Kristen Segin, and Gretchen Smith seemed best able to navigate the chaotic changes of the choreography.
Nicolas Blanc’s world premiere of Mothership to the Mason Bates electro-classical music made famous by the YouTube Orchestra five years ago was thankfully short. Riddled with cliches from contemporary ballet, the piece offered nothing to praise except for the casting of corps dancers and apprentices, some of whom showed the expected inexperience but will get a nod and a pass. The choreographer gets a thumbs-down for his steps and choice of music.
Christopher Wheeldon’s new American Rhapsody was not as great as we were hoping for. The music, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, was gorgeously played by the NYCB orchestra (conducted by Guest Conductor Rob Fisher from An American in Paris). Cameron Grant’s piano and Steve Hartman’s clarinet made the whole event worthwhile.
Maybe the ballet will look better after it gets a few more rehearsals and the choreographer substitutes better evolved ideas. Everyone except Tiler Peck seemed still in the process of trying to remember the choreography. Her solos were vividly danced, and her PdD with Robert Fairchild was quite interestingly put together – the best part of the piece. Amar Ramasar and Unity Phelan will certainly smooth out their choreography quickly. Perhaps then we'll like it.
Unfortunately, we did not care at all for Janie Taylor’s costume designs. When the most extraordinary aspect of a production is the music, the costumes should defer to it rather than trying to make some kind of independent statement. The costumes’ contemporary design rubbed abrasively against the glorious Gershwin melodies. In short, they looked homemade but not in NYCB’s home.
We don’t know what Wheeldon was trying to convey when he horizontally lined up the dancers who attached their arms and legs together to make some type of linear signaling. All we could think of was his work DGV where something similar occurs. True, he is a busy man with many projects, but this Gershwin music is too beautiful for him not to go back and make it right choreographically. We’ll just have to wait.
The HH Pump Bump Award, Giuseppe Zanotti's twist & turns stiletto, is bestowed upon Brittany Pollack who lit up the theater last night in Concerto DSCH. How much longer are we going to have to wait to see her lead Theme and Variations?