Tonight NYCB presented its first ever full evening of repertory by Peter Martins. Over the years, there have been complaints about his choreography mostly because it has never been as good as Balanchine's and many thought that Martins should be able to produce better work than what we were getting from him. When his choreography began dotting the programs, there were cries that suggested Martins was reducing the Balanchine repertory. Of course, that turned out to be not true at all, and in the past thirty years Martins has produced some pieces that have been enjoyable to watch and worth repeated viewings.
Tonight we got most of his "red" repertory: Calcium Light Night - red unitards; River of Light - 33% of costumes were red; Fearful Symmetries - mostly red and red-related costumes. The dancers in Barber Violin Concerto wore white. Not coincidently, NYCB used the evening to host its first Ballet en Blanc Young Patrons After Party. The audience was filled with college aged and just-post college aged women who were dressed in white and slightly over-accessorized.
Calcium Light Night (1977) is a Martins piece that has stood the test of time and happens also to be the first ballet that he ever choreographed. The music consists of nine pieces of music by Charles Ives including his composition Hallowe'en that Balanchine initially included in his Ivesiana but later cut from his own ballet. Balanchine must have been genuinely impressed with Martins' first choreographic effort because he inserted Martins' Calcium Light Night into Ivesiana for several performances early on. (Not making this up, folks. It's in the Playbill.)
Last night's cast of Robert Fairchild and Sterling Hyltin injected new life and spunk into Calcium. Dancing their solos mostly within and on the perimeter of a large rectangle of light on the stage floor with a corresponding rectangle-shaped lighting fixture overhead, these two gave the choreography the depth and unapologetic sass that characterizes the company these days. Hyltin's angular and decisive movements challenged the viewer to try to figure out to which part of the complicated Ives music she was responding. One thing that Haglund appreciates in this piece is how some of the more unique choreographic movements come and go without being repeated endless times to make sure that the audience has picked them up.
The audience was then tortured with a "See the Music…" presentation that tried and failed to garner appreciation for Charles Wuorinen's derivative (from Ives) score that was commissioned by NYCB for Martins' River of Light. How smart is it to force an audience to listen twice to music when there's a good chance that they won't even like it once?
River of Light (1998) utilizes long rectangular piers of light on the stage floor on which each of the three couples enters the stage. The lighting design culminates with a large circle of light in the middle of the stage for the final choreo-combo for all six dancers. Savannah Lowery and Amar Ramasar were in black, Erica Pereira and Jonathan Stafford were in white, and Teresa Reichlen and Chase Finlay were in red. By inserting the tiny Pereira in this cast of tall dancers, it became evident both what her shortcomings are and what Martins' plans for her may be. It's been difficult to understand why Erica has not been able to shake the immaturity that lies within her presentation. Her ballet technique has always allowed her to pretty much do any steps required, which is why she is a soloist, but she has continued to present like a student in much of what she dances. Tonight the question was answered by watching her weak torso try to wrap itself around Martins' modern choreography. With this observation came the recollection of another dancer who had the exact same problem until about four years ago – that being Sterling Hyltin who used to drive Haglund crazy with her dainty and immature approach to dance. Then almost overnight the dainty immaturity evolved into a steely, aggressive and spunky brand of movement that is now a joy to watch. Maybe this will be Erica's path as well, but how much longer will we have to wait?
The dancers in River of Light gave committed performances and there were some interesting choreographic moments, but not enough. Stafford and Pereira executed some fine lifts in which he seemingly tossed her upward on the diagonal and then suspended her in the air using a single hand on the side of her waist farthest from him. The piece is worth sitting through just to see those particular lifts.
Barber Violin Concerto (1988) received a fine reading from Ashley Bouder, Sara Mearns, Jared Angle and Ask la Cour. You'll recall that this piece pairs two ballet dancers with two modern dancers to answer what might come from their various combinations. Jared and Ashley reprised the roles that originally went to David Parsons and Kate Johnson of Paul Taylor Dance Company. They were fabulous. Jared really did look like he could have stepped into PTDC during the Andrew Asnes era, and Ashley's verve and humor kind of reminded Haglund of Mary Cochran.
Barber Violin Concerto has always seemed like an unfinished dance. There's a group dance for all four, then a PdD for the ballet couple – beautifully danced last night by Sara and Ask, and finally a PdD for the modern couple. It ends without any kind of a wrap-up.
The evening closed with an energetic performance of Fearful Symmetries (1990) to John Adams' score of the same name. Did Martins borrow a little from Balanchine's Stravinsky Violin Concerto – well, yes. But his ballet stands on its own and is welcome relief from so much emphasis on PdD and the resulting boredom for the audience. Here we saw the NYCB dancers flying like we want to see them fly. The corps and demi-soloists ripped it from the first note of music to the last.
Rebecca Krohn and Adrian Danchig-Waring had terrific debuts as one of the three principal couples: mega-blasts of energy with finite control. Tiler Peck & Taylor Stanley and Ashly Isaacs & Anthony Huxley completed the principal cast and blew through the choreography like they were going through a wind tunnel.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, combining classic with modern, is bestowed upon Jared Angle and Ashley Bouder for their high-spirited performance in Barber Violin Concerto.