NYCB New Combinations: Walker Debut, Ratmansky Classic

Peter Walker’s dance odyssey, which debuted Thursday as part of the New York City Ballet New Combinations program, is a conventional contemporary work. While breaking little new ground, it is an interesting piece with a few novel twists.

Peter is a member of the NYCB corps and this is his second work for the company. dance odyssey is set to a graceful score by Oliver Davis and featured Ashely Laracey/Adrian Danchig-Waring, Tiler Peck/Zachary Catazaro, and Devin Alberda/Anthony Huxley with a supporting cast of six. The work flowed nicely from one segment to another, although not much is particularly memorable. The most relevant part of the work is a compelling duet with Devin Alberda and Anthony Huxley dancing side by side to violin pizzicato (plucking sounds). The segment was filled with unpredictable, off-balance movements and a Michael Jackson-type moon walk. Peter’s choreographic timing with the violin plucking makes the segment compelling and novel. The pas de deux parts were enjoyable, but largely familiar as the segments did not break new ground.

Some new NYCB works are ruined by horrible, distracting costumes by designers attempting to gain notoriety by stretching boundaries. Fortunately this was not the case. Costumes by Marc Happel were simple and tasteful, allowing focus on the dancing; men wore blue and purple unitards while the support women were clad in blue leotards with lead women in purple. The backdrop was stark, with an odd, difficult to interpret neon-type light line spanning the backdrop. What does the light represent? I don’t know. Lighting by Mark Stanley added dramatic effects to some sections, highlighting lead dancers with other dancers in darker patches of the stage.

The audience gave Peter a big hand during the curtain calls. Peter was bashful, giving a brief bow, deferring more to costume and lighting directors Happel and Stanley.

Peter Walker, dance odyssey

Peter Walker, dance odyssey curtain call premier with costume and lighting designers Marc Happel and Mark Stanley.

Alexei Ratmansky’s classic Russian Seasons had its debut with NYCB in 2006 when he was a rising star choreographer and Artistic Director of the Bolshoi Ballet. Why did a Russian from a Russian company create a Russian-themed work for a New York company, his first for NYCB? Likely due to the well-known rigidity of the Bolshoi that he had to look outside his country to complete the work. Russian Seasons was a sign of things to come as he has produced great works (many with Russian themes) for NYCB and American Ballet Theatre, where he is the Artist in Residence.

The score is of the same title by Leonid Desyatnikov, a 12-part set of violin concertos similar to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with the addition of a solo female voice in five segments. Ratmansky had much to work with-Desyatnikov’s score is sweeping and nuanced, inspiring in segments. According to the program notes “The composition explores the human experiences of love, loss, and death, while following the quarterly rituals of the Orthodox Church.”

Ratmansky’s work is plotless, with various vignettes of Russian folk life. With a stark backdrop, dancers are clad in single bold colors inspired by Russian peasant dress. Movements are quirky at times with aggressive stiff arm movements, foot stomping, flailing arms, clapping, running in place, a smogasbord of movement throughout the 41 minute work. Maria Kowroski and Jared Angle were the lead couple originally clad in orange, later in white in the wedding dance. Maria danced with great dramatic timing in the sad final part, likely representing love, loss, and death. Sarah Mearns danced with urgency as the woman in red. She was very effective in the role; unfortunately, she suffered an injury and won’t be able to dance this weekend, according to her Instagram feed. She says “Sometimes (or all the time) I go for broke, & gotta face consequences.” She hopes to be back next week.

Ratmansky’s work is complicated; unlike a story ballet with a simple plot, Russian Seasons is ambiguous, leaving much to be interpreted and reassessed. It is a unique work that rewards viewers with multiple viewings.

With Peter Martins’ departure in January, NYCB may miss his dancer selection and fundraising talents. However, one dimension the company will not regret is his choreographic abilities, which were generally lackluster. This was on display Thursday in The Red Violin, a 2006 work that is dull, tiresome, and tedious.