Playing dress-up never goes out of style. Especially at the New York City Ballet Spring Gala where dressing up can mean up to thousands of dollars. Dressing up can also mean dressing down or dressing down & out or dressing out of style or dressing with no style at all which can often be the hottest style in town. In the game of dress-up, everyone gets to be on stage. We saw it all at Thursday night’s gala along with a superb evening of dance that kicked off the company’s Jerome Robbins 100 celebration.
Three dances by Robbins – a ballet, a novelty piece for children, and a solo originally made for Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project – were joined by two new pieces – Justin Peck’s high energy Easy, which was anything but that, and Warren Carlyle's half-hour salute to Jerome Robbins’ Broadway career with a Jerome Robbins Broadway type production piece.
First, let’s get to the authentic Robbins dances. The Four Seasons (1979) seemed in acceptable shape but for some odd casting in the warm months. Indiana Woodward, Joseph Gordon, and Ralph Ippolito with a corps of eight ladies who shivered while hotfooting their ways through allegro, made for a happy Winter. Sara Mearns was delightful and full of spirit in Spring opposite Tyler Angle, but her dancing did not possess the requisite lightness. We were more aware of her landings than airy suspension. The Summer section was less than sultry hot with the pairing of Teresa Reichlen and Aaron Sanz. No real difficulties were noted, but their physiques were not complementary and there was little perceptible chemistry. Tiler Peck, Zachary Catazaro, and Daniel Ulbricht caught the playfulness of Fall in their blistering allegro. What a happy sight it was to see Catazaro not only save a potentially disastrous turning moment on stage at the end of his variation, but triumphantly rise above it for the rest of his performance.
In Circus Polka (1972), Ringmaster Ask la Cour with whip in hand paraded the “trained" 48 little theater animals from the School of American Ballet around the circus ring. They chassé-ed, hopped, and ran in three groups of 16, with the smallest animalettes arriving on stage last. The finale parade of three concentric circles of high-stepping "ponies" with the middle one rotating in the opposite direction of the other two exemplified the absolute finest Circensic Dressage.
Jerome Robbins made A Suite of Dances for Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project in 1994, a few months before it premiered at NYCB. A solo to selected movements from Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello, it was custom-tailored for one dancer who possessed an inimitable ability to captivate an audience no matter what he was doing on stage – jumping, turning, walking or standing still. Robbins didn’t choreograph that element into the solo; it was just there in the artist from the start. Joaquin De Luz, with all his charisma, theatrical talent, and dancing ability, may be the best one to have come along in years to try on this dance, but it still tended to look like he was wearing someone else’s suit.
Justin Peck’s Easy to Leonard Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue and Riffs was easy to enjoy given the personable cast of Preston Chamblee, Unity Phelan, Harrison Coll, Sean Suozzi, Claire Kretzschmar, and Indiana Woodward. Harrison Coll in pink sneakers which matched his pink pants thrilled with the ability to cut loose in this pastiche of Robbins-Fosse Broadway style choreography. NYCB Orchestra principal clarinetist Steven Hartman matched the dancers’ nimbleness with his own variations.
Something to Dance About, the much anticipated Warren Carlyle compilation of dances from Robbins’ Broadway hits, offered a terrific costume spectacle and energetic Broadway dancing.
Sara Mearns in America from West Side Story, Tiler Peck and Daniel Ubricht in the Charleston from Billion Dollar Baby, the stage full of sailors from On the Town, and the Wedding Dance from fiddler on the Roof were all sensational. There was an excerpt from Gypsy (All I Need is the Girl) that included dialogue by Ashley Bouder and Andrew Veyette which needs a lot of work or perhaps should be replaced.
Toni-Leslie James’ costume designs, all executed by Marc Happel’s NYCB superb costume shop, were the highlight of the entire evening. Clearly someone with the capability for big vision, James dressed up these NYCB dancers in some of the fanciest threads we’ve seen at these costume-oriented galas over the years. (Still #1, however, are Valentino’s Italian silk creations from 2012.) No doubt about it, playing dress-up is the biggest aspect of these galas - on both sides of the footlights – and it will never go out of style.
Our H.H. Pump Bump Award, a simple Valentino sandal to wear under those red dresses from the musical number America, is bestowed upon Toni-Leslie James.