Christopher Wheeldon’s Rococo Variations – photo by Paul Kolnik
“Here and Now” was a fitting title for a program that featured four contemporary works – the oldest premiered in 1998 – by some of the most sought-after choreographers in ballet today. But I was swept far away from the here and the now, traveling to a different place for each work, particularly the first three on the program. What reminded me that I was watching a contemporary evening of ballet in May 2008 were the unusual points of physical contact that I noticed in all four pieces. A hand over the ribs, a leg stretching over a shoulder, a foot pressed against a chest or knee, a stomach against a back – all struck me as uniquely contemporary images and movements within the realm of ballet.
Christopher Wheeldon’s Rococo Variations, set to Tchaikovsky’s cheerful Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra, Opus 33, featured two couples performing a variety of duets that are classically Romantic, but injected with angular movements and intricate partnering. The opening image was most memorable: Sara Mearns pressed her hand against her ribs as she contracted her back and lowered her head. Then Adrian Danchig-Waring appeared and placed his hand where hers was. This was a beautiful, recurring image that indicated the first moment of touch and recognition between the two, while conveying deep emotion. There is a fair amount of floor work in this piece as well as other unusual points of contact, such as when Mearns folded her torso around Danchig-Waring’s stomach, or when he carried her off stage, stomach-down, laying horizontally across his back. Sterling Hyltin and Giovanni Villalobos were quick and sprightly in their pas de deux, while Mearns and Danchig-Waring were more grounded and fluid. When the latter couple danced, my eyes were drawn to both of them, as they luxuriated in every phrase of movement. With the other couple, I found that Villalobos lacked the energy to keep up with Hyltin. He needed to show more refinement in his legs and feet, but Hyltin was simply glowing. The gorgeous, chocolate brown knee-length dresses for the women were classically elegant, but the gold embroidery added a contemporary aspect to them.
Amar Ramasar and Tiler Peck in Mauro Bigonzetti’s Oltremare – photo by Paul Kolnik
Oltremare, a piece by Mauro Bigonzetti that translates to “beyond the sea”, explored the mixed feelings of immigrants as they traveled to a new land and left their home country behind. The costumes and suitcases suggested the late 19th or early 20th centuries, but the movement was athletic and intensely physical, filled with creative entrances into jumps and lifts. Bruno Moretti’s commissioned score was appropriately dark and eerie, and matched the dynamic, fitful choreography, which clearly evoked conflicting emotions – fear, excitement, loss, and pride. Maria Kowroski was vivid in her pas de deux with Tyler Angle. It began with Angle laying on the floor, and Kowroski hovering over him while standing on his bent knees. There was a push-pull theme in their partnership that emphasized the tension between the couple, and within themselves, as they continued their journey. Andrew Veyette was superb in his brief but thrilling solo, and Georgina Pazcoguin threw herself into the movement and stood out as a leader among the passengers.
Peter Martins’ River of Light, which premiered in 1998, transported me to an unknown, other world that was dark yet intriguing. The music by Charles Wuorinen, who conducted the orchestra in honor of his seventieth birthday, was chaotic and complex, with bells and chimes in the score standing out the most. Three couples – in black, white, or red unitards – changed partners as the lighting changed with them. First there was a rectangle of light on the floor, which then moved to another area, and then strips of light shown on the backdrop. Savannah Lowery and Jared Angle were edgy and dangerous in black; Sterling Hyltin and Ask la Cour appeared mature and distant in red; and Teresa Reichlen and Robert Fairchild were lyrical and lithe in white. Reichlen’s pas de deux with Angle showed her suppleness as he carried her overhead and allowed her to slowly extend her leg over his shoulder and eventually to the floor. The duet became sexually charged when she intently placed his hands over her chest and hips. While the interaction among the partners was curiously interesting, and the dancers all very dramatic and serious, the ballet as a whole did not build momentum. It fell flat at the end, with no final understanding of how the three couples were related to one another. Additionally, the piece was emotionally vacant – dramatic, yes; but also cold. Perhaps this was intentional, as the piece appeared to be set in an undefined world that is entirely distant from anywhere else. But the dancing would be so much richer if it were instilled with feeling and a sense of interconnectedness among the three couples.
The program closed with the world premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH, which stands for “D.Sch.”, a German spelling of Dmitri Shostakovich’s name. This composer’s Piano Concerto No. 2 provided a multi-layered, exhilarating palate for the ballet, and the dancers painted it with virtuosic technique and bits of playful theatrics. Ashley Bouder was light-hearted and flirtatious in her dancing with Gonzalo Garcia and Joaquin de Luz. She tore through a whirlwind of turns, jumps, and balances (one of which lasted just long enough for the audience to gasp) as she went back and forth between the two men, who competed amicably with one another in a series of jumps and somersaults. Wendy Whelan and Benjamin Millepied danced in the more soulful second pas de deux, which featured some interesting lifts and instances in which he gently skimmed Whelan across the stage. There was a sense of community and relationships among the dancers that were reminiscent of those in Ratmansky’s Russian Seasons. But in this case, just as the relationships were developing, they seemed to be cut short as the focus returned to the thrilling movement. The stage was very busy, often too busy to fully take in everything that was occurring, which is why this piece deserves another viewing (or two or three). It was certainly a crowd-pleaser, but I think there’s much more to explore in this work.