Review: New York City Ballet: 2 Programs of Works by Balanchine, Peck, Ratmansky, and Wheeldon

Urgency propels them forward. In a blink there are flashes of precise articulation and rapid fluidity as sweeping curves carry a leg overhead or propel a body high in the air. Dancers merge from multiple directions creating a tableau that swirls away. A unique duet appears out of thin air, a partnership that is supremely substantial yet so very fast to form and quickly dissolve. It is merely a few seconds later, and the program has hardly begun, but so much has already happened. With its world-renowned dancers and innovative choreographers, New York City Ballet brings so very much to see and experience. It is impossible to take it in with a glance and there will be no dozing off. Instead you will wish for instant replay just like the NFL, if only to relive those few seconds again.

Tiler Peck and the NYCB in ‘The Times are Racing.’ Photo by Paul Kolnick.

The second of two programs in this six-day run at The Kennedy Center features American Rhapsody, The Four Temperaments, and The Times Are Racing. One of the dances dates from 1946, while the other two are from 2016 and 2017. If you predict something that is staid and out of date for the piece labeled 1946, get ready for a surprise. Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments looks just like today. With a stark stage, and simple black and white costumes, there is nothing to distract you from the emphatic and insistent movement. In a small grouping, hips thrust forward and legs combine and the women form a multi-limbed creature, capable and controlled. Partners Sara Mearns and Jared Angle merge. He at times wears her body like a shield, her legs widen into space like a weapon, and those sharp angles keep coming back. The intersection of limbs forms a branch-like maze that forces the interweaving, but then in the next moment there’s a solo on stage. How did this happen?

Ask la Cour dances the Third Variation: Phlegmatic. Once again another surprise, he is smooth and melts with a weighted grace. Program notes tell me that Balanchine commissioned this score by Paul Hindemith in 1940 and that the ballet and the music came into being with the idea of four temperaments, or personality types, as a point of departure; nothing specific just a point of departure. Yet, the dancing is so very specific and detailed, with great emotional range from the stolidly calm, to enthusiastic, social, and active to irritable and completely reserved. The dancing is a marvel and so is the The New York City Ballet Orchestra that accompanies.

NYCB in ‘American Rhapsody.’ Photo by Paul Kolnik.

You hear George Gershwin, and you hear this tune in your head for a while. I’m taking out the trash and doing the dishes this morning, but American Rhapsody choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon stays with me, because of the music and with what I’ve seen: a superb set design by Leslie Sardinias that unites in ranges of blues and purples, and curved shapes of yellow and red, movement that responds to every note, complex groupings that position dancers in unlikely lifts, quick shifts that hurl bodies and rebound from the floor. The grounded melody, Rhapsody in Blue, premiered in 1924, and is performed by pianist Elaine Chelton. The dancers come back to cantilever trios that alternate side to side, finding balance with a body anchored to the floor. The articulation and range of movement is astonishing.

Speaking of speed, The Times are Racing choreographed by Justin Peck is something else altogether. Costumed by fashion designer Humberto Leon, the piece opens on a large group wearing dissimilarly clad clothing of today; cut offs, jeans, t-shirts, jackets, a multitude of colors and sneakers, flexible sole fabric shoes. The music by Dan Deacon is electronic and piercing, but then it shifts to something else, and this continues, finding new twists and turns. The group forms a circle pushing one dancer upward above the rest. The mad swirl happens and the group forms again. Two male dancers pull away from the group, Taylor Stanley and Justin Peck. Their feet articulate tap-dance like stepping that multiplies as time continues a friendly bonding between the two dancers that carries us away with its demanding and unconstrained energy. Tiler Peck and Daniel Applebaum perform a duet that is sincere and soft while wildly complex. They sit for a brief second; her head falling to his shoulder makes the moment seem huge.

This is The New York City Ballet, and with each breath there is incredible possibility. It is not to be missed.

Running Time: Two hours, with two 15-minute intermissions.

The New York City Ballet: Two Programs of Works by Balanchine, Peck, Ratmansky and Wheeldon, Program B, plays on Friday, June 9, 2017, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, June 10 at 1:30 p.m. in The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online.

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