Review: The Costume Dramas of New York City Ballet

It’s been an extended 18 months spent languishing in mushy garments, however, lastly, style is making a comeback on the streets of New York City. It additionally returned to the stage of New York City Ballet. On Thursday, the corporate resurrected its Fall Trend Gala at Lincoln Heart with two new ballets dressed up in designer clothes from head — or, in as soon as occasion, a headpiece veering into lampshade territory — to pointe shoe.

The query wasn’t a lot which dance wore its costumes higher, however which one wore them brighter. (And generally greater.) Apparently, popping out of a pandemic isn’t the time to tone issues down. And whereas I am going all out for loopy garments, this system, which started with Jerome Robbins’s “Glass Items,” didn’t handle to push style or ballet in any progressive course: The vibe was extra “Twilight Zone” — why make a dance when a bizarre dream with whirling material will do? — meets Moira Rose, with out the shock or the wit.

This yr, Sidra Bell teamed with the designer Christopher John Rogers in “Suspended Animation,” and Andrea Miller collaborated with the Colombian American designer Esteban Cortázar in “Sky to Maintain.” Each of these up to date choreographers created digital works for the corporate earlier within the pandemic. And whereas they took completely different approaches for the gala — austerity for Bell, melodrama for Miller — each ballets had a manner of sliding right into a gap of reductive mediocrity.

As an alternative of quick style — disposable, flimsy, forgettable — this appeared to be an evening of quick dance. It’s not destroying the planet, however it’s a wasted alternative, and in dance, the place cash is difficult to return by, that is a damaging act. These ballets, like so many others from the style gala, gained’t final. They usually shouldn’t.

Whereas Miller’s frantic work, with its patched-together sections, expended vitality in essentially the most dispiriting manner, Bell’s “Suspended Animation,” set to music by Dosia McKay, Nicholas Britell and Oliver Davis, created extra of an inside expertise. At occasions, the dancers, carrying Rogers’s sculptural designs — essentially the most pleasant (and Molly Goddard-ish) had been Isabella LaFreniere’s scorching pink and Mira Nadon’s electrical blue — appeared to glide throughout the stage like chess items.

As a result of the main target is heavier on presentation than steps, the dancers’ our bodies had been extra in tune with the air round them; in some methods, “Suspended Animation” was much less of a dance than a dance set up during which motion was made seen or obscured relying on the costume. Because it dragged on, some dancers peeled off outer layers as if shedding pores and skin, and in step with Bell’s title, they did appear suspended — like fantastical sea creatures floating within the darkest depths of the ocean.

As soon as our bodies had been made extra seen, the dancing afforded a glimpse or two of corporeal majesty: Teresa Reichlen’s tranquil luster proved that she will be able to overpower the shiniest of costumes, whereas Megan Fairchild’s vulnerability got here by way of as she used her limbs to carve delicately by way of the area. However that is City Ballet and glimpses should not sufficient; the consequence was a waste of time and expertise.

In her rambling and long-winded “Sky to Maintain,” Miller collaborated with Cortázar, whose costumes — extra fitted and conventionally suited to dancing — modified over time and have become extra colourful with Nicole Pearce’s lighting, and with the Colombian-Canadian singer-songwriter Lido Pimienta who composed the rating and carried out onstage — although off to the facet — in an electrical yellow gown. As she sang, her physique reacted, grooving to the sound of her robust and silky voice. Typically I questioned, is this the dance to be watching?

Pimienta got here up with a candy story for the ballet: A seed falls in love with a storm. The seed was Taylor Stanley, whose decisive, quicksilver dancing couldn’t, attempt as it’d, carry this incoherent ballet; the storm was Sara Mearns, whose hair acted like one thing of a fifth limb. All through had been dancers evoking pictures from the pure world as they darted throughout the stage like swaying bushes or gusts of wind. It led to yellow: The inevitable sunshine that comes after a storm.

As “Sky to Maintain” meandered from part to part, dancers balanced on the shoulders of others like royalty; Stanley, on the ground — he was, in any case, a seed — rolled from his abdomen to his again with the rubbery, sinuous ease of a breaker and later arched right into a backbend that prolonged till he rested the highest of his head on the stage.

When romance struck, Stanley and Mearns met on the ground, easing towards one another as their silhouettes performed on the wall behind them. The visible results had been like one thing you may witness in youngsters’s theater; identical for the unlucky Mylar curtain that lined the again of the stage in different sections. This show of swirling our bodies trapped in a storm and discovering their technique to the ending — a sunny hug — was depressingly slight.

That each works had been choreographed by girls says one thing in regards to the ballet world’s try to increase past that all-too-familiar character: the white male choreographer. And it’s fantastic that the corporate reached exterior of its stylistic consolation zone to extra up to date dance makers. However ultimately, each of the premieres felt already dated, particularly in comparison with “Glass Pieces,” which was created by Robbins in 1983 after the death of George Balanchine. It’s a masterful ballet; it’s about resilience.

Although Thursday’s efficiency was on the tough facet — the counts are tough — this ballet in three actions, set to music by Philip Glass, now looks as if an illustration of the pandemic. At first, dancers cross the stage like pedestrians — strolling freely and purposefully as if on a bustling metropolis avenue. Within the second motion, a stunning, somber pas de deux pulls the main target inward, like sheltering in place. (The presence of Amar Ramasar, although, who partnered Maria Kowroski, continues to be unnerving; he was reinstated on the firm after a photo-sharing scandal.) And within the third, dancers explode with pleasure, a snapshot of the energetic drive that’s New York City coming again to life.

Ben Benson’s costumes, a mosaic of colourful follow garments and space-age unitards, felt essentially the most trendy, too. However this yr, there was an essential tweak, starting with this ballet: City Ballet has lastly begun a shift from the usual pink to flesh-colored tights and sneakers, to raised match every dancer’s pores and skin tone. Within the performances I’ve seen of the ballet this season, the dancing of three Black firm members particularly — Olivia Boisson, India Bradley and Savannah Durham — has taken on higher radiance. Clearly, this was crucial style assertion of the night time.

New York City Ballet

Via Oct. 17 on the David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Heart; nycballet.com.

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