Alexei Ratmansky’s Voices, which New York City Ballet premiered Thursday, is a dramatic departure from his previous works set primarily to Russian composers. The score for Voices consists of Peter Ablinger’s Voices and Piano, consisting of short recorded voices and piano that somewhat mimics the patterns of the speaker. Ablinger is an Austrian-born composer who has written 60 short works in the series from voices of the famous (Gertrude Stein, Mother Teresa) and not so famous. After working with traditional scores such as Harlequinade, Bayadére, and Giselle, Ratmansky wanted to shake things up and work with more experimental, challenging material not generally associated with dance. He chose Ablinger’s work after his son Vassily, a music composition student, suggested it. He settled on six extracts in English, Swedish, Farsi, and Japanese from Bonnie Barnett, Gjendine Slalien, Forough Farrokhzad, Nina Simone, Setsuko Hara, and Agnes Martin. All are females because he could see a clearer structure for the work, according to Roslyn Sulcas of The New York Times. Pianist Stephen Gosling performed the work live to the taped voices.
Ratmansky’s inspiration was the fairies’ pas de six in the first act of Sleeping Beauty with a prologue and solos. Aside from the complexities of dancing with various pitches and intonations from voices and piano, the work is simple, consisting of six segments with solos from Sara Mearns, Megan Fairchild, Unity Phelan, Georgina Pazcoguin, and Lauren Lovette, with a final segment from the five soloists and five men: Adrian Danchig-Waring, Joseph Gordon, Ask la Cour, Roman Mejia, Andrew Veyette.
Sara Mearns opened the work downstage between the curtains with a sound wave projection illuminating the back of the stage. Her solo was filled with joyful turns done with great energy. Megan’s solo explored her playful side as she collapsed to the floor at the end. Unity’s was filled with leaps and balances while Georgina displayed great intensity with creative backbends. Lauren’s was introspective danced to the voice of Japanese actress Setsuko Hara.
Last night's world premiere of Alexei Ratmansky's Voices included this moving solo performed by Unity Phelan, set to a recording of poet Forough Farrokhzad and concluding with a "silent" solo by Joseph Gordon.
— New York City Ballet (@nycballet) January 31, 2020
The NYCB Twitter clip above summarizes the bulk of the work and repetitive theme. Here Unity Phelan has a solo consisting of jetés in attitude to a recorded voice of Iranian poet and film director Forough Farrokhzad and live piano. The solos were largely underwhelming as represented by the clip. Well danced and full of classical combinations, but nothing to leave a lasting impression. The clip shows another theme of the work as men interrupt the solos, striding with resolve in synch, arms interlinked in costumes resembling swimming suits from a century ago. The men seemed to direct the women from one solo to another, escorting them off stage, hardly consistent with a female empowerment theme. At the end of each solo in silence, one of the males showed off razzle-dazzle in the form of a diagonal of double saut de basques (Gordon), turns in second position (Veyette), jetés en manége (Mejia) and brisé volé going backward (la Cour). The final section consisted of all of the dancers with standard partnering. At the end, dancers gathered along a line downstage. In an odd twist, the curtain partially closed as dancers hit various poses.
I did not connect with Voices, possibly because I found the voices irritating and mostly unclear even when in English. The solo variations were fine, but nothing stuck. Having the men strut around did not add much until they performed athletic steps mentioned above. However, Ratmansky works have a way of growing on me after multiple viewings. Songs of Bukovina and The Seasons were two American Ballet Theatre works that did not impress me initially but I changed my mind after multiple viewings. Not likely for Voices but will keep an open mind.
On the positive side, the costumes and scenery by Keso Dekker were tastefully done in a minimalist manner as opposed to some new works that feature silly costumes that distract from the work.
Three reviews of Voices:
Also on the program Thursday was Christopher Wheeldon’s wonderful Polyphonia, his first work after he left NYCB in 2001. The work consists of eight dancers to 10 piano pieces by Gyögy Ligeti. Justin Peck’s Bright showcased up-and-comer Mira Nadon in this short work. Unity Phelan and Gonzalo Garcia were ethereal in Robbins’ Opus 19/The Dreamer.
New Lincoln Center Restaurant
A new Lincoln Center-area restaurant is worth checking out, Tavola Della Nonna (grandmother’s table) opened recently on 208 West 70th Street, a site once occupied by Compass and Lincoln Center Steakhouse. I dined there Saturday and recommend this traditional, reasonably-priced Italian restaurant with a warm, homey decor. Check out my other restaurant recommendations from my 2016 article on the best Lincoln Center restaurants.