New York City Ballet’s galas are always a glamorous affair, and this year’s, entitled “A La Française,” was no exception, featuring premieres, fashion-inspired costumes, and a glitzy red carpet. Peter Martins’ opening piece, “Mes Oiseaux,” was an enjoyable opportunity to see some of the company’s newest talents (Taylor Stanley, Lauren Lovette, Ashly Issacs, and Claire Kretzschmar), but not much more. The women, who each made a dramatic entrance into a spotlight, had gorgeous lines and admirable attack. They did not yet have assurance of more senior dancers, but this will surely come as they gain experience. There was a beautifully liquid quality to Stanley’s movement in his solo (one of the highlights of the piece) that I wish we had gotten to see more of.
Millepied’s new work, “Two Hearts” (excerpt available here) began with Tyler Angle performing a series of playful yet sensitive lateral movements within a circle of light. Millepied skillfully manipulated his corps of twelve dancers, dressed in black-and-white costumes by Rodarte, through a range of geometric patterns, using uneven numbers and ever-changing groupings to great effect. Tiler Peck, as the principal woman, was both soft and dynamic. In one sequence in which she was repeatedly caught and held mid-air by the male corps, you almost believed she could have stayed suspended without assistance. The score, newly commissioned from Nico Muhly, was reminiscent of Philip Glass in its simplicity and repetitiveness, but with touches like echoes of a music box tune complicating its underwater-like quality.
The chic-ness of the off-the-shoulder straps of the womens’ costumes was accentuated when Peck removed her skirt for the final pas de deux with Angle. More tender and fluid than their first duet, even simple walks took on emotional significance. Seemingly out of nowhere, Dawn Landes began singing an old English folk song, “Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor” over the score. Rather than providing an interesting contrast to the ultra-modern costumes and music, this song was continually distracting, particularly as one caught snatches of the lyrics (did no one involved feel uncomfortable with the implicit racism of this evil “brown girl” who kills the “fair maiden”?). I couldn’t wait for it to end. Thankfully, what stuck in my mind was the image of the two dancers quietly embracing on the floor, a subtle conclusion to their sensuous pas de deux.
The debut in Symphony in C was the new costumes by Marc Happel, which closed the evening on a glittering note. They were not a major departure from the original Karinska costumes, keeping the same black-and-white color scheme and general look, but with modernized and streamlined shapes. Others have complained that they were too glitzy, but from our perch in the fourth ring, there was just enough sparkle.
Megan Fairchild sparkled in the quick, precise movements of the first movement with partner Jared Angle. Sara Mearns was luscious in the penchées and back bends of the second movement adagio with Jonathan Stafford. The contrast between movements was remarkable as Ashley Bouder bounded onto the stage with partner Joaquin de Luz, injecting life and excitement into the previously languorous atmosphere. Peck was, as she has been all season, breathtakingly crystalline in her delivery in the fourth movement, well-matched by the noble Adrian Danchig-Waring.
While we prize the freshness of new patterns in contemporary works, it is sometimes delightfully refreshing to revel in beautiful lines and symmetry, and this is the opportunity Symphony in C gives us: the pleasure and excitement of perfectly executed arabesques or pirouettes, multiplied by an entire stage of dancers in perfect formation.