To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the New York Choreographic Institute presented three performances at Miller Theater last weekend that featured works by emerging and established choreographers. The Institute, which promotes the development of choreographers by providing dancers and other resources to make their creative work possible, was initiated in 1992 by New York City Ballet’s ballet master in chief Peter Martins. Thus, the performances featured NYCB’s own dancers and students from the School of American Ballet (SAB), the company’s official school.
By far the most impressive piece on the program was Tales of a Chinese Zodiac, choreographed by NYCB dancer Justin Peck. In his introduction to the work, Peck explained that he wanted to emphasize the undertones of the music by Sufjan Stevens and highlight its “youthful buoyancy”. Featuring thirteen students from SAB, Peck’s piece accomplished both of these goals – and much more. The work was architecturally rich, with changing spatial groupings and dancing that moved seamlessly from the floor to overhead lifts and jumps. There were moments of playfulness, but these didn’t detract from the overall sophistication of the work as shown by the dancers’ clarity and precision. It’s clear that Peck has an extensive dance vocabulary, which he knows how to apply to groups and individuals, along with a clear vision and a keen ability to capture a musical score through movement. I look forward to seeing more from this emerging choreographer.
In an interesting exercise, three choreographers – Larry Keigwin, Christopher Wheeldon, and Alexei Ratmansky – each presented an interpretation of An Inflorescence, a short musical score by Daniel Ott. Wheeldon’s solo for Sara Mearns had a breezy quality to it, while Keigwin’s interpretation – for four NYCB dancers – showed quick, whirling patterns of movement. Ratmansky’s piece, for another quartet of NYCB dancers, felt more frenetic and edgy.
Darius Barnes’s Mandala, danced by eight young NYCB dancers with music by Kyle Blaha, had an undercurrent of gloom. The dancers moved cautiously to Blaha’s delicate score, which was pleasant enough but never shined through in this lukewarm piece. Even darker was choreographer Marco Goecke’s For Sascha, featuring a string quartet by Mathew Fuerst and four NYCB dancers. Under dim lighting, spastic arm and hand gestures reflected the string music. With their backs to the audience for the majority of the work, the dancers’ limbs seemed to take on a life of their own.
Jessica Lang’s Droplet, performed by NYCB’s Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall, showed a slow accumulation of movements and gestures that built throughout the work. The dancers offered their lyricism to the choreography, which meshed well with the ethereal score. The piece itself looked like a work in progress – eager to expand into something more – but it was danced with such purity that I barely noticed. Referring to Wendy Whelan, the woman sitting behind me remarked, “She’s exquisite.”
Overall, it was a highly enjoyable evening of dance, and Peck’s work in particular suggests that a fresh, young crop of ballet choreographers are on the rise.