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New York City Ballet: Jeux, The Shimmering Asphalt, Unframed, Fearful Symmetries

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New York City Ballet
(New York City Ballet Website)

The Shimmering Asphalt
Fearful Symmetries

Founders: George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein
Founding Choreographers: George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins
Ballet Master in Chief: Peter Martins
Ballet Mistress: Rosemary Dunleavy
Children’s Ballet Master: Dena Abergel
Orchestra, Music Director: Andrew Litton
Resident Choreographer: Justin Peck
Managing Dir. Communications & Special Projects: Robert Daniels
Associate Dir. Communications: Katharina Plumb
Communications Associate: Kina Poon
The David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 17, 2017

(Read More NYC Ballet Reviews).

Conductor: Daniel Capps

Jeux (2015): Music by Claude Debussy, Choreography by Kim Brandstrup, Costumes by Marc Happel, Lighting by Jean Kalman, Performed by Sterling Hyltin, Sara Mearns, Jared Angle, Justin Peck, and a Corps ensemble of ten.

Kim Brandstrup’s 2015 Jeux, with a gorgeous orchestral score by Debussy, conducted by Daniel Capps, was especially lustrous tonight. Like other City Ballet contemporary choreographies, Polaris and The Blue of Distance, there’s one central character in this more theatrical work, this time a woman, Sara Mearns. She appears blind-folded and wanders about, apparently seeking Jared Angle, an elusive love interest, who attaches first to her and then to Sterling Hyltin. And, in the midst, Ms. Mearns is approached by Justin Peck, in casual attire, bouncing a ball, reminiscent of Robbins’ West Side Story Suite. Marc Happel’s black/grey costumes for the rest of the ensemble are almost funereal, stark, modest. Ms. Mearns is concealed, in keeping with this game-like theme, in black, the color of her blindfold.

What’s gripping about this ballet is its emotional tension. The plot is thin and vague, but with the black/grey costumes and Mr. Peck’s t-shirt and dark jeans, there’s also an element of film noir, à la Debussy. The choreography includes an ensemble waltz sequence, Mr. Angle’s stylistic lifts for Ms. Hyltin, Mr. Peck’s turns of Ms. Mearns into his torso, and much speeding of the ensemble around or about Ms. Mearns, evocative, also, of Balanchine’s La Valse. Ms. Mearns’ scissors-kicks, en air, are fascinating and also emblematic of other Company repertory. It’s entirely possible that Mr. Brandstrup has been inspired by City Ballet’s vast repertory.

The Shimmering Asphalt (2017): Music by David Lang (Commissioned by NYC Ballet), Choreographed by Pontus Lidberg, Costumes by Rachel Quarmby-Spadaccini, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Violin: Kurt Nikkanen, Cello: Frederick Zlotkin, Piano: Susan Walters, Performed by Lauren King, Rebecca Krohn, Lauren Lovette, Sara Mearns, Tiler Peck, Chase Finlay, Russell Janzen, Gonzalo Garcia, Taylor Stanley, and the Company.

Pontus Lidberg’s commissioned choreography from the past winter, The Shimmering Asphalt, was still disappointing and lackluster. Nine dancers, Rebecca Krohn, Lauren Lovette, Sara Mearns, Tiler Peck, Chase Finlay, Russell Janzen, Gonzalo Garcia, Taylor Stanley, and Lauren King are all wearing unisex, bland, grey, pleated short kilts, designed by Rachel Quarmby-Spadaccini. Men are bare-chested, women wear shirts. These costumes look like uniforms, and the choreography, as well, is structured and passive. David Lang’s commissioned score was tonally flat and forgettable. Sara Mearns, a master dancer, has little to do here, walks slowly onto the stage in dark stillness, and, as lights flicker, she moves a bit. The dark backdrop does little to differentiate this uniquely talented cast, who also had little to do. The only moment of interest is when Ms. Mearns is lifted by an ensemble, as she extends her body in yearning. This ballet is still soporific, and once again I was yearning for the next ballet. My only suggestion would be a costume and lighting change; a new look could make a difference.

Unframed (2016): Music by Luigi Boccherini, Edward Elgar, Peter’s Vasks, Antonio Vivaldi, Choreography by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Costumes by Rosie Assoulin, Costumes supervised by Marc Happel, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Guest Solo Cellist: Sara Sant’Ambrogio, Performed by Jacqueline Bologna, Sterling Hyltin, Lauren King, Alexa Maxwell, Tiler Peck, Jared Angle, Tyler Angle, Preston Chamblee, Chase Finlay, Daniel Ulbricht, and the Company.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Unframed, set to music of Boccherini, Elgar, Vasks, and Vivaldi, brought out a lead ensemble of ten, including six Principals, plus a supportive ensemble of eight Corps dancers, in costumes by Rosie Assoulin. The design of these costumes is navy material trimmed in white, with long suits for men and short tutus for women. There’s a school uniform motif here, but classy, cool, and comfortable. It was wonderful to see a female choreographer represented in contemporary works tonight, and this work was stunning. Daniel Capps was in the pit, with Guest Solo Cellist, Sara Sant’Ambrogio performing in two pieces (in the second of six movements) by Pëteris Vasks. Much of the Vasks/Boccherini/ Elgar/Vivaldi score was atonal, and the stark white lighting concept by Mark Stanley was perfectly matched to the neat, white trimmed costumes. I noted one virtuosic highlight, with powerfully charged music and dance, and I also noted a change in backdrop coloration for effect.

The six movements in this ballet, featuring different movements of cello concerti and additional compositions, featured select dancers from the entire ensemble of eighteen. In the fifth movement, Elgar’s “Adagio” from his Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85, Sterling Hyltin and Chase Finlay danced an entrancing pas de deux, while in the fourth movement, amidst Elgar’s “Lento” from the same concerto, an ebullient quartet, with Alexa Maxwell, Jared Angle, Daniel Ulbricht, and Tyler Angle, was compelling.

Fearful Symmetries (1990): Music by John Adams, Choreography by Peter Martins, Costumes by Steven Rubin, Lighting by Mark Stanley, Performed by Claire Kretzschmar, Aaron Sanz, Indiana Woodward, Zachary Catazaro, Kristen Segin, Troy Schumacher, Spartak Hoxha, Sebastian Villarini-Velez, Ghaleb Kayali, and the Company.

Fearful Symmetries is one of my favorite Peter Martins ballets. The John Adams score reminds one of Philip Glass, repetitive, building, hypnotic. The three couples, plus three males and a mixed male-female ensemble, bring life to the stage with perfect stretches, arms raised as in Balanchine’s Symphony in Three…, and shifting lines of dance direction. The colorful costumes by Steven Rubin highlight the fanciful motion. The partnered duos were perfectly poised, outstanding in strength, and magnetic to the eye. The ensemble was acutely aware of stage presence and threw itself psychically as well as physically into the mood.

Claire Kretzschmar and partner, Aaron Sanz, propelled themselves about the stage with extraordinary momentum, battery-driven, while Zachary Catazaro and Indiana Woodward were eloquent and fascinating. Kristen Segin, partnered by Troy Schumacher, danced with thrilling ebullience. Spartak Hoxha, Sebastian Villarini-Velez, and Ghaleb Kayali were exceptional, always poised, balanced, and stunning. The Corps ensemble was equally impressive. Kudos to all, and kudos to Peter Martins.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at