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New York City Ballet, New and Newer

Pictures at an Exhibition, choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, New York City Ballet

The New York City Ballet is back at the Kennedy Center Opera House, in alternating programs this week featuring the giant of its past, George Balanchine, and its current choreographers. When you are dealing with new works of any kind, some will hit and some will miss, which was exactly the feeling experienced at the end of the selection billed as "21st-Century Choreographers" on Wednesday evening. It was a bit of a marathon, with four works adding up to almost three hours, and some of the works tried one's patience to the extreme.

The program opened with Symphonic Dances, by the company's current ballet master-in-chief, Peter Martins. Actually premiered in 1994, the work is set to Rachmaninoff's superb score of that name, op. 45, the composer's final work and a notable exception to my general aversion to Rachmaninoff's instrumental music. The Martins choreography is visually pleasing, but little about it stood out as remarkable over the course of forty minutes: without a story, the elegant vocabulary wears thin too quickly. In the solo female role, Teresa Reichlen, who hails from Fairfax County, was a wispy and altogether lovely presence, all long legs and lightness. The general appeal of the choreography was not helped by the mediocrity of the orchestral performance, here given by the company's own orchestra under interim music director Andrews Sill. The orchestra has been through a bit of a rocky period in the last few years, which the new tenure of conductor Andrew Litton, a Washington favorite with the National Symphony Orchestra, will hopefully help to stabilize, starting next season.

The undisputed high point of the evening was the delightful new choreography to Musorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, created last year by Alexei Ratmansky. The setting of an art museum is suggested by projections (designed by Wendell K. Harrington), based on Wassily Kandinsky's Color Study: Squares with Concentric Circles, dating from 1913, abstract shapes in bright colors that are reflected in movement by the dancers' costumes (designed by Adeline Andre). Although the music runs almost as long as the Rachmaninoff, played capably here in Musorgsky's original piano version by Cameron Grant, Ratmansky's choreography is so varied, brimming with originality, that it never tired. Sterling Hyltin was raised by the strong Tyler Angle in soaring leaps in "The Old Castle" movement, and in a striking reversal, women playfully incarnated the heavy-footed oxen in "Bydlo" and men the antic birds in the "Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks." The "Catacomb" movement, for the entire cast, was bathed in shadows of red light.

Other Reviews:

Sarah Kaufman, New York City Ballet’s life-affirming new works boost the spirit (Washington Post, April 10)

---, New York City Ballet sparkles and blurs in opening program (Washington Post, April 9)

Alastair Macaulay, With Each Star Turn, a Feeling of a Collective Force Begins to Brew (New York Times, January 21)

---, The Art Gallery as Spinning Montage (New York Times, October 3, 2014)

---, Celebrating Old Times With New: A Premiere (New York Times, May 9, 2014)

New York City Ballet on Ionarts:
2014 | 2013
Tiler Peck and Craig Hall made a beautiful pairing in Christopher Wheeldon's somewhat limited, repetitive This Bitter Earth, although it would have been just as visually pretty if it had been performed in silence, so little did it seem to have to do with the music, a recording from the soundtrack for Shutter Island. Both music and choreography felt endless in their over-repetition in Everywhere We Go, Justin Peck's abstract ballet to a suite of music by Sufjan Stevens (orchestrated by Michael P. Atkinson). Both choreographer and composer relied heavily on the copy-paste method, with some whole sections of the choreography simply repeated toward the end, not to mention a number of dancers who slipped and fell, for whatever reason.

The company's second program, seen on Thursday night but not for review, was worthwhile just to have a look at Balanchine's choreography for Agon, which was crucial in my making sense of Schoenberg's twelve-tone score for this work. Maria Kowroski was brilliant, almost superhuman, in the outrageous contortions of the Pas de Deux in the ballet's second part. Balanchine's vivacious choreography to Bizet's Symphony in C, last seen from American Ballet Theater in 2013, was also outstanding, especially the elegant extensions of Sara Mearns in the slow movement's pas de deux.

These programs are repeated through April 12, in the Kennedy Center Opera House.

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