NYCB 21st Century Choreographers Review, Jan. 25

With all of the depressing ballet news these days-the resignation of New York City Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins due to harassment charges, departure of ABT’s Marcelo Gomes due to a sexual harassment allegation, and labor unrest at ABT possibly leading to a strike, it was a relief to finally see live action with the start of the NYCB Winter Season. To assist in getting our minds off the dispiriting news, the company presented a fascinating 21st Century Choreographers program Thursday, an arresting bill consisting of four recent works.

Justin Peck’s Year of the Rabbit is my favorite of his many works. This was Justin’s second work for NYCB, created in 2012 when he was just 25 years of age. Set to an orchestration of Sufjan Stevens’ 2001 album Enjoy Your Rabbit, Justin’s work is based on the Chinese zodiac. It is is an exciting explosion of creative movement, filled with great unpredictability and subtly; he successful merges movement to the beautiful electronica score. A joy to watch.

Thursday evening featured Ashley Bouder/Jared Angle, Teresa Reichlen/Anthony Huxley, and Indiana Woodward/Taylor Stanley with a supporting cast of 12 dancers. The 30 minute work consists of 12 segments. A strength of the work is the engaging interplay between lead dancers and corps, weaving in and out in unique patterns. This was particularly pronounced in the Year of the Rabbit solo with Anthony taking the lead, fused with neoclassic steps. The Year of the Rooster section, with Teresa and Jared, made unique use of the corps dancers as they were on the floor in various patterns during the pas de deux.

The work has a sense of humor, with various quirky segments: dancers tapping each other on the shoulder, men leading and dragging women onstage in a playful manner, and dancers running in place. Teresa and Jared in the Year of the Rooster segment were a joy to watch along with Indiana and Taylor in the Year of our Lord part. Ashley Bouder was energetic as usual in her strenuous solos.

NYCB 21st Century Choreographers-Ashley Bouder, Year of the Rabbit

Ashley Bouder, Year of the Rabbit

Angelin Preljocaj’s 2013 Spectral Evidence is a dramatic work inspired by the Salem witch trials, set to John Cage compositions consisting of liturgical chants, sounds of heavy breathing, thunder, fire, and kissing. The odd, thought-provoking work is heavy on symbolism and drama. Spectral evidence is evidence based on a witnesses’ dreams relating to an accused person that was admissible in court during the Salem witch trials. Twenty people, mostly women, were executed.

The work is minimalist, with a simple, stark backdrop, with four large wooden triangles as the only prop. The triangles serve multiple purposes as the work progresses from a table, pedestal, and coffins. The curtain opens with the wooden stacked triangles serving as a table. Four men clad in black minister suits sit on the table with the four accused women in white gowns behind the table. In the beginning on Thursday, the men danced to silence, broken by a ringing cell phone and audience responses of Shush! and Come On!

The women (Tiler Peck, Megan Fairchild, Ashly Isaacs, Megan LeCrone), with patches of orange/red blood stains, were frail and sympathetic figures as they danced in willowy unison on top of, around, and in front of the wooden triangles. The men (Amar Ramasar, Chase Finlay, Taylor Stanley, Sean Suozzi) danced with arrogance and confidence as they had the women’s fate in their hands. The lead minister, Amar, moved with authority in his choppy and stilted solo to the strange Cage sounds. Tiler was the lead accused woman, presented with great vulnerability. In the end, the four women were sentenced by the jury of four men. The wooden triangles become their coffins as the lighting turned to a reddish tone, signifying their execution by burning at the stake (in reality, the guilty in Salem were executed by hanging).

Preljocaj’s work is nuanced, eerie, and strange, definitely off the beaten path for NYCB audiences. The work is fascinating, exploring the complex relationships between the accused and the men. However, at times the work goes off track, particularly in the male lead solo, where the lead lip sync’s Cages lyrics in a campy manner, distracting from the somber message of the work.

With Composer’s Holiday, Gianna Reisen became the youngest choreographer of a NYCB work at age 18. The work, which debuted last September, shows maturity and promise. Composer’s Holiday features two lead couples with a supporting cast of eight. The work flows nicely from segment to segment, filled with quirky movements from the corps. Gianna is a choreographer and an apprentice of Ballet Semperoper Dresden.

The Wind Still Brings by NYCB Soloist Troy Schumacher is dull at times. In the middle segment, most dancers are on the floor as if asleep. Not sure of the meaning, but it didn’t keep my attention.

NYCB 21st Century Choreographers-Juhan Zencirli

Intermission at NYCB with balloon art installation by Jihan Zencirli.

The mezzanine of Koch Theater has a party atmosphere with 200,000 balloons from artist Jihan Zencirli as part of the annual NYCB Art Series. According to the program, the balloons are made from post-consumer waste plastic and latex. Zercirli, who has balloon works in cities around the world, works with balloon artisans in Japan, who make them by hand. This is one of the more successful NYCB art projects, creating a cheerful and festive vibe for intermission. I’m sure some of the kids (and maybe a few adults) will have the urge to pull out a sharp object and pop a few over the course of the Winter Season, which runs through March 4.