The New York City Ballet on Thursday, June 10.
Variety in programming is one thing, but the New York City Ballet’s program Thursday night wasn’t just varied; it was hopelessly mismatched, featuring three works that didn’t make a bit of sense alongside one another, to jarring effect. The musical contrasts were most extreme, moving from Arvo Pärt’s refined minimalism to Bruno Moretti’s melodramatic mashup of early Stravinsky and Mahler to a syrupy, over-orchestrated medley of Gershwin tunes. In retrospect, the music might have exaggerated the differences among the three, to the detriment of the program as a whole, or maybe the problem was simply that “After the Rain” is so delicate and lovely that the works following could only lumber about by comparison. Regardless, though, it was an odd program—fine dancing, of course, but a strange aesthetic experience.
“Who Cares?” is one of those hyper-cutesy works that I suspect George Balanchine choreographed every now and then to placate audience members unnerved by his trademark neoclassicism. I admit I find “Stars and Stripes,” another such work, rather adorable, but “Who Cares?”—ugh. The name is all too appropriate. “Stars and Stripes,” for all its silliness, feels inspired in the way it integrates traditional ballet with gestures from marching bands and drum corps, matching the exuberance of Sousa’s marches with charm and wit. By contrast, the little frills on the fundamentals in “Who Cares?” seem obligatory, spackled on by rote. Hershy Kay’s thick, graceless orchestration of the Gershwin songs doesn’t help, but when even the “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” steps look perfunctory—just a string of textbook ballerina solo work—you know there’s a problem.
My feelings about “Luce Nascosta” are more mixed. Indeed, everything about “Luce Nascosta” is mixed. Moretti’s score constantly makes abrupt shifts in mood and style, like a soundtrack for an intriguing but overwrought, over-edited movie. The women’s heavily ruffled, slightly punky tutus are fun, but their long-sleeved, midriff-baring bandeau tops just look trashy. The vocabulary of the movements is interesting—arched backs, tangled limbs, slightly crazed arms, a funny little slide across the floor that some ballerinas handled better than others—but it gets very repetitive. There’s no arc to the work, no momentum. Only the slow expansion and contraction of Santiago Calatrava’s set—from a single orb above the dancers to a line of overlapping circles and back again over the course of the work—gives “Luce Nascosta” any shape at all.
The program might have been a disappointment overall were it not for “After the Rain.” I’ve seen a lot of Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography since I moved to New York (he was resident choreographer for the City Ballet for most of the 2000s), but “After the Rain,” which premiered in 2005, is probably my favorite. For starters, Wheeldon’s music selection is impeccable. Tabula Rasa and Spiegel im Spiegel exemplify Pärt’s meditative minimalism, with gorgeously austere strings against piano. In the first half (which strikes me as being during rather than after the titular rain), three couples embody the music’s stark, sometimes frenetic beauty. Wheeldon has a great eye for how dancers look from a distance, and here he creates formations and steps that are striking not only in themselves but in how they appear together, one dancer in relation to another.
After the storm of Tabula Raba, only two dancers are left on stage: Craig Hall and Wendy Whelan, whom I love because she’s so distinctive, her coolly elegant demeanor and lithe extension instantly recognizable, even from the highest balcony. Set to the spare, deceptively simple Spiegel im Spiegel for piano and solo violin, the second half of “After the Rain” takes advantage of her gifts—and Hall’s steady partnering—with achingly long lines and weightless lifts. The mood is not dreamy so much as pensive and expectant, like waiting, with unshakeable faith, for the sun to come out from behind the clouds. It’s heartstoppingly beautiful. Even the memory of it fills me with a quiet joy, so I’m glad I can end this post, at least, on that perfect, glimmering note.