New York City Ballet is pushing onwards and upwards. Although company members must want to forget the bad press garnered in the last year, recent events would have it otherwise. As of mid-April, a controversial decision regarding the company’s #MeToo scandal of last year has been made, allowing for the reinstatement of previously fired dancers (only one, principal Amar Ramasar, will rejoin in conjunction with counseling).
The vitality and drive of the troupe was palpable Wednesday night, as was a sense of collective energy to move forward – however rocky that movement might be. Things were a touch unstable across all four works, but it seems petty to criticize, not because of recent events but because the rough patches were brief and by some of the best dancers. Yet one can’t help but wonder about the destabilizing effect of the company’s latest news. Like acrobats, dancers often put their livelihood in the hands of their fellow performers. It’s perhaps too easy to assume just how difficult that might be in the current climate.
The normally sterling Stirling Hiltin was the first sign of unease in Peter Martins’ Hallelujah Junction. The work, set to an eponymous dueling piano score by John Adams, had Hiltin opening with sumptuous shoulders and her unique, featherweight attack. Her pique turn manèges were astonishing to behold, the most beautiful of blurs, but something was off and it wasn’t just her. Both Sara Mearns and Ashley Bouder had gasp-worthy near misses with their respective partners in Concerto DSCH, and Indiana Woodward had a risky descent from some high steps or stairs in Judah. Maybe it was a greasy stage, maybe it was lack of rehearsal time, maybe it was the do-or-die energy these dancers are known for, maybe it was the fact that this program was exceedingly restless – with the exception of the slow pas de deux in Concerto DSCH, the stage was busier than a beehive.
Another John Adams work was used by Gianna Reisen, whose Judah premiered last fall at City Ballet’s 2018 fashion gala (like Martins’ Junction, it takes its name from the Adams score). The costumes, by the expert Alberta Ferretti, are gauzy, rippling pagan tunics evoking a Hellenistic aesthetic. Ritualistic gestures are repeated here and there (eating? sacrificing? praying?) which never get resolved.
The Exchange seemed like a leading title, begging the question as to what was being exchanged: sex, food, livelihood, anything? Gareth Pugh’s costumes obfuscate the faces of the dancers for much of the piece (his runway shows are also fond of this), while other costumes hint at a touch of kink another way, with the male torsos exposed but for wide, black, leather-like crisscrossing straps. Using music by Dvorak, Matthew Neenan’s choreography for men is as strong and bold as it is sensitive, and it did seem as if the men were handed more complexity in Exchange.
Principal Anthony Huxley was exceptional (as he was in the following and last work, Concerto DSCH). His trim, pristine classicism and flawless finish combined with a tenderness that was as touching as it was mysterious. Sensitivity was also apparent in Joseph Gordon, who as the company’s youngest principal, has a maturity that belies his mid-20s age and youthful looks. Though still in the corps, Spartak Hoxha continues to impress with his vital virility, panache and earnestness – his energy contagious and winning.
Alexei Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH opens with bright and bustling corps movement. Sara Mearns and Jared Angle are at the center of it all, as if they are newlyweds (or recently engaged), and the village is celebrating. Ashley Bouder made an appearance, and was her usual bright and shining presence, flying across the stage with unparalleled verve. Like many Ratmansky works, there are folk dance motifs, and here, combined with the nuptial-like nature of the work, it felt reminiscent of Nijinska’s Les Noces despite being nothing like it.
Set to Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major, the central andante movement is moving. The pas de deux is luscious and was one of the only moments of meditation in the entire evening. Mearns drapes her body across the stage in a series of romantic lifts and drags, her bourrees mercurial, her drama divine. Pairs of dancers do synchronized pas de deuxs upstage in the shadows behind them. The music is almost mournful, and Mearns and Angle drift and return to one another, as if something very private has happened between them. Some part of their relationship has broken. When they rejoin the corps it is as if the couple’s upset is some part of a broader, collective experience. How viable that is as an abstract plotline is debatable but DSCH is worth it for the pas de deux and an exhibition of exemplary virtuosity across the company.