The New York City Ballet on Thursday, June 13.
One of my all-time favorite albums—of any genre—is Five Tango Sensations, composed by Ástor Piazzolla and performed by the bandoneón master himself with the Kronos Quartet. It’s a dazzlingly rich, textured composition (one often hears the analogy that Piazzolla did for the tango what Chopin did for the polonaise), and it showcases just how expressive and evocative the bandoneón, a relative of the accordion, can be. To me, that was a wonderful surprise.
Bruno Moretti’s accordion-centric score for “Oltremare,” one of the works included in the City Ballet’s Here and Now program, doesn’t have quite the same passion as Piazzolla’s work, but it, too, makes vivid use of its distinctive solo instrument. Mauro Bigonzetti’s choreography isn’t particularly remarkable, but Moretti’s music makes “Oltremare” memorable nonetheless, and it made me think about how important music is to the success of dance.
Take “River of Light,” another Here and Now selection. Charles Wuorinen’s music, commissioned by the City Ballet in 1998, has striking, percussive moments, but as a whole, it feels incoherent and distant. I suspect it might reward repeat listens, but at first listen, it is relatively opaque, and it makes Peter Martin’s coolly impassive choreography feel even colder. The “Oltremare” music, by contrast, invigorates everything about the choreography. Andrew Veyette’s solo would have been a breathtaking achievement regardless (his wild, enormous leaps earn a good half minute of raucous applause in the middle of the work), but the various pas de deux might have grown repetitive without the colorful, ardent music to enliven them.
Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon plays it safe with the always reliable Tchaikovsky for “Rococo Variations,” which opens the program. Like the music, his steps for the intimate four-person ensemble might not be groundbreaking but they are undeniably lovely.
But the highlight of the program—musically and choreographically—is “Concerto DSCH,” with music by Dmitri Shostakovich and chorography by Alexei Ratmansky. Ratmansky expertly captures the buoyant yet occasionally shadowy charm of Shostakovich’s second piano concerto. The corps, like the accompanying orchestra, is beautifully infused into the light drama of the work; the soloists are rarely, if ever, alone on stage, for the others are always weaving among them or responding to their steps. Wendy Whelan and Benjamin Millepied comprise the elegiac centerpiece of the slow middle movement, and Ashley Bouder, playing between two partners, sparkles in the outer movements.
The choreography never feels rote. Little details—quirks of the head, character-dance touches in the pas de deux, intricately interlocking circles in the ensemble—give “DSCH” a dynamic, vivacious quality well-suited to the music. The work is immediately arresting, and like Shostakovich’s concerto, it begs to be experienced again.