Strength, precision and speed from NYCB, notably in Balanchine’s Duo Concertant

United KingdomUnited Kingdom New York City Ballet: Sadler’s Wells, London, 7.3.2024. (JO’D)

Megan Fairchild and Anthony Huxley in George Balanchine’s Duo Concertant © Paul Kolnik

Choreography – Justin Peck
Music – Nico Muhly
Costumes – Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung
Lighting – Mark Stanley
Britten Sinfonia conducted by Andrews Sill

Dancers – Megan Fairchild, Miriam Miller, Jacqueline Bologna, Sara Adams, Indiana Woodward, Unity Phelan, Daniel Ulbricht, Victor Abreu, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Sebastián Villarini-Vélez, Jules Mabie, Gilbert Bolden III

Duo Concertant
Choreography – George Balanchine
Music – Igor Stravinsky
Original Lighting – Ronald Bates
Lighting – Mark Stanley
Solo Piano- Elaine Chelton
Solo Violin – Kurt Nikkanen

Dancers – Megan Fairchild, Anthony Huxley

Gustave le Gray No.1
Choreography – Pam Tanowitz
Music – Caroline Shaw
Costumes – Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung
Lighting – Davison Scandrett
Solo Piano – Stephen Gosling

Dancers – Naomi Corti, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Ruby Lister, Mira Nadon

Love Letter (on shuffle)
Choreography – Kyle Abraham
Music – James Blake
Costumes – Giles Deacon
Lighting – Dan Scully

Dancers – Olivia Boisson, Jacqueline Bologna, Naomi Corti, Christopher Grant, Emily Kikta, Ruby Lister, Malorie Lundgren, Jules Mabie, Alexa Maxwell, Roman Mejia, Mckenzie Bernardino Soares, Taylor Stanley, Quinn Starner, Kennedy Targosz, Peter Walker

The curtain rises to show a male dancer half-lying, half-sitting on a brightly lit stage. In his raised and extended leg, his arched and pointed foot, there is, here at the very start of the evening, all the strength and precision (speed will come later) associated with dancers from America, in general, and from New York City Ballet in particular. Strength, precision and speed that persist until the curtain falls.

The NYCB were last in London in 2008 and this is their first visit to Sadler’s Wells, the company – now in its 75th anniversary season – performed work by George Balanchine (its co-founder), Justin Peck, Pam Tanowitz and Kyle Abraham. All four pieces show the dancers to advantage. But Balanchine’s Duo Concertant (1972) engaged the audience in a way that was unique. You could feel it in the quality of the applause it received. You could feel it in the air.

Daniel Ulbricht, Unity Phelan, Jacqueline Bologna, Indiana Woodward, Miriam Miller, and Sara Adams of New York City Ballet in Justin Peck’s Rotunda © Erin Baiano

The dancers in Justin Peck’s smoothly flowing Rotunda (2020), the opening work, move about the stage in larger or smaller groups to music by Nico Muhly played live. Dressed mostly in pastel shades, the women wearing pointe shoes, they form circles like children at play. The tone becomes more serious whenever the number of dancers is reduced. The single dancer who starts the piece also ends it, pointing an arm out into the auditorium in a gesture of invitation or challenge.

The three women and one man in Pam Tanowitz’s Gustave le Gray No.1 (2019) are dressed more severely in high-necked garments of brilliant red. There is severity in their movements, too. Shoulders held rigidly straight for the most part, arms often extended close to their sides, they skip and run. Sometimes they produce sound by slapping their thighs. With them is a pianist who plays the music by Caroline Shaw that gives the piece its title. At the climax, the pianist stands but continues to play as the dancers move the piano across the stage.

Premiered at a fashion gala, Kyle Abraham’s Love Letter (on shuffle) (2022) is costumed to refer, in an ironic way, to the whole history of ballet. The plaintive voice of James Blake adds a further layer of irony, as does lighting that ranges from ‘darkness visible’ to acid yellow. A woman stands on pointe, as if to confront her partner in an argument. A man seems about to begin a pas de deux with another man, then runs from the stage. Two men, in headdresses that could have come from a production of Les Indes galantes, suddenly step outside their roles and greet each other (to enthusiastic applause) as two ‘bros’ on the street.

‘An NYCB tour that does not include Balanchine is almost unthinkable,’ writes Marina Harss in the programme notes. And so, Duo Concertant. Late Balanchine, as the hand-of-a-clock gesture made by the male dancer seems to show. Two dancers, two on-stage musicians (piano and violin) playing Stravinsky; the dancers moving out from behind the piano only after they have listened to the music for a few minutes. While the other three works on the programme all reach a point at which they begin to repeat, the Balanchine is new to the end, and heartbreaking.

John O’Dwyer

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