The beat of the music on the promenade was thumping away like the best music you’ve ever heard in a hair salon. The drinks were flowing – with no observable carding going on – and huge masses of the most coveted demographic group were mingling on the floor, along the staircases, and in the restrooms. And on top of all this excitement – wait for it – JR was in the house.
After everyone was seated in the theater, principal dancer Adrian Danchig-Waring came before the curtain with welcoming remarks and invited everyone to enjoy JR’s art installation (see here and here) while being careful where they walked “because those are our faces.”
The orchestra pit was empty and most of the company had the night off. Haglund observed a marauding band of dancers along 9th Avenue on his way up to Lincoln Center. Presumably, they were going somewhere to celebrate Art Night, too, in their own ways.
Orchestra pit black. Dancers gone. Every seat in the house filled.
The evening’s program opened with Angelin Preljocaj’s La Stravaganza which NYCB describes as a work that "juxtaposes 17th-century sensibility with modern culture while contrasting classical and electronic accompaniment.” That sums it up fairly academically without even a hint of the high-end creativity/eccentricity that Preljocaj employs in this fascinating work. It was performed last night by Sara Adams, Brittany Pollack, Gretchen Smith, Devin Alberda, Joseph Gordon, Allen Peiffer, Emilie Gerrity, Claire Kretzschmar, Lydia Wellington, Daniel Applebaum, Craig Hall, and Sean Suozzi.
As La Stravaganza opens, we first observe a group of three men and three women, all dressed in beige balletwear to depict that they are the modern culture, who are calmly and happily dancing in a circle to the electronic sounds of tweeting birds. Toward the back of the stage, a black curtain rises to reveal three more men and three more women in a more religious processional-type formation who are dressed in Pilgrimwear. They engage in everyday rituals that embody the severity that one often sees in Martha Graham’s work. So already, we have incompatibilities in fashion, structure, and movement.
From there, the two groups scout each other out with interest and suspicion. A woman from the modern society slips away from her group to meet a man from the Pilgrim society. Their attraction for one another turns violent as the Pilgrim tries to impose his society's male-dominant mores upon the modern woman. As the black curtain toward the back of the stage lowers, the man rolls the woman on the floor under it and into his society. At the end, she suddenly reappears at the edge of the modern society which has gone on happily dancing without her.
Preljocaj has given each society its distinct movement vocabulary while showing similarities at the bases of the cultures' rituals. Sometimes women are carried on the backs of the men in each society but the motivations appear different. The massaging and attending that occurs between women and men in the two cultures often appear oppressive in the Pilgrim society while evolution has made them caring in the modern society.
Preljocaj’s works for NYCB are some of the company's best contemporary acquisitions in years. The choreographer brings his own company to New York this spring to perform his dark version of Grimm’s fairytale, Snow White. Whether his work will prove as appealing when it is set on dancers who don’t embody a NYCB aesthetic remains to be seen. But Haglund is going to be the first one in the theater’s door to find out.
Also on the program was Christopher Wheeldon’s A Place for Us. The PdD was created for Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild and was danced by them last night. The music by Leonard Bernstein and André Previn was played on stage by clarinetist Steven Hartman and pianist Nancy McDill and included many familiar strains from West Side Story. The Playbill page noted Wheeldon’s dedication of his piece to Jerome Robbins, which is appropriate since he borrowed a few of the Sharks’ and Anita’s moves for his own choreography. The ballet was still tedious. Peck and Fairchild, alone and together, were marvelous, but this was sub-marginal-we’ve-seen-it-all-before-Wheeldon taxing the audience’s patience.
The final event of the evening was Peter Martins’ Todo Buenos Aires with Joaquin De Luz in the role created for Julio Bocca in 2005. (The ballet was first created in 2000 in a much shorter version.) De Luz is always a magnificent performer in his own right and was again last night with high energy, perfectly placed pirouettes, and gigantic jumping sequences. He must have spent a good amount of time studying the video of Bocca’s performance, because he adopted many of Julio’s unique mannerisms familiar to those of us who followed Julio’s career with much love. We have great memories, but oh my, do we still miss him.
The five piece orchestra with bandoneon played Astor Piazzolla’s tango music on stage while De Luz, Maria Kowroski, Ashley Laracey, Jared Angle, Robert Fairchild, Adrian Danchig-Waring, and Amar Ramasar swiveled, slid, and kicked their ways through Martins’ mostly dull choreography. However, the final section in which all the men danced together was pretty good, high octane stuff and included an entertaining sequence of partner-switching.
The crowd bought this last piece. Whether that will translate into bought tickets for future performances, who knows, but probably not. The party continued after the dancing with scores of people from the orchestra level pushing their ways up the stairs to the fourth ring while the rest of us were trying to descend because Adrian Danchig-Waring announced at the beginning of the night that the fourth ring was the best place from which to view JR’s art installation. It’s the best place for a lot more than that.
The evening’s Pump Bump Award, a Gianvito Rossi creation for the modern Pilgrim who might have $1091 to throw at a pair of shoes, goes to the cast of Preljocaj's La Stravaganza.