A SIMPLE SYMPHONY at New York City Ballet

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(photo of Sara Mearns and Jared Angle by Paul Kolnik, courtesy of New York City Ballet)

Last night Ariel and I went to the premiere of a new ballet by Melissa Barak, A Simple Symphony, at NYCB. It was really lovely and not at all what I was expecting! The program they included it in was entitled “21st Century Movement” and it was an evening of abstract ballets with lots of sharp, angular motion. But Barak’s ballet was very beautifully Balanchine, very classical — or neo-classical — with the ballerinas dressed in pretty Romantic pink-skirted tutus with pink and white striped form-fitting bodices designed by Barak herself.

Suited to its title and set to music by Benjamin Britten, it was simple in a Balanchinian sense, generally storyless and without lots of drama, but with an underlying complexity in the steps and rhythms, and not at all without emotion. At one point, several men partner several women, all of them doing assisted pirouettes for a really beautiful visual effect, with all the skirts flying about in the same direction at the same time. There was lots of bouncing on pointe for the women, then the men would respond with turning jumps into the air, followed by bouncing on the landing foot, the other foot held back in arabesque.

The main couple was danced charmingly by Sara Mearns and Jared Angle. But as always, it’s Jared’s brother, Tyler, who blew me away. Everything he does is in such perfect form. Ditto for Robert Fairchild, who stole the show in the first piece, Jorma Elo’s Slice To Sharp.

Anyway, at the end, Barak came out onstage for a bow, as is customary with premieres. She looked so cute in this gorgeous white baby doll dress, empire-waisted with the area below the high waistline lined with fringe, and high-heeled silver Cinderella-like slipper-sandals. I wondered if she’d designed her outfit too!

Read Philip’s interview with Barak here.

The rest of the evening consisted of abstract very modern ballets that are not always to my liking :) On first was Slice To Sharp, as I mentioned, which does hold my attention with all its lightening-speed quick-footedness and high-jumping, fast-turning theatrics, mainly performed by Joaquin De Luz. I don’t know if I’ve never seen Robbie Fairchild before in this ballet or not, but he danced on a different level from everyone else, made me understand like never before the ballet’s title as his arms sliced propeller-like through the air with razor sharpness and exactitude.

Also shown were Peter Martins’s Hallelujah Junction, set to piano music by John Adams, played on two pianos. The stage was so wondrously lit I couldn’t think of much else besides those pianos. They were set up on a platform at the back of the stage, back to back, and the back of the stage was all dark except the golden light made by the lights over the sheet music. Some dancers were dressed all in white — including the main, angelic couple, Janie Taylor and Sebastien Marcovici — others all in black — including the kind of devilish fast-footed character danced by Andrew Veyette. I’d need to see it again for the themes, but the shades of light and the way Martins used color were really stunning.

The evening ended with Christopher Wheeldon’s Mercurial Manoeuvres, which I thought I’d seen before but hadn’t. I have to say, I’m not always on the same page as Wheeldon, but I was very pleasantly surprised and I’d love to see this one again. Like the others, and as its name suggests, it was full of quick-footed dancing and interesting visuals — bright red costumes on some combined with lush red curtains at various points, dancers weaving between them sinuously, Gonzalo Garcia kind of the main elfish character full of innocuous mischief.

I found the music really interesting as well — Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor, for a trumpet and piano, neither instrument secondary to the other, both fighting for prominence but in kind of a teasing way. At one point, the trumpet sounds very sexy, and the couple then dancing, Abi Stafford and Tyler Angle, give their partnering a kind of Argentine tango twist. Later the more calming, harmonious violins sweep in, and a female dancer is picked up by several men who carry her about the stage, raising, then dipping her romantically (or, if you prefer, pashmina-like, ala Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, except here it’s sweet, not seductive).

Afterward, we ended up at P.J. Clarke’s. Again. This time we saw Timothy Hutton eating up front with several friends. I was excited but Ariel had no idea who he was! I tried to think of movies he was in but, ridiculously, all I could come up with was Taps, and something about a Snowman, which were two of his first. Don’t know why I thought first of those and not all the rest!

11 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for inviting me! Nice review! :-)

  2. Not related but Amanda Schull (Center Stage fame, and former dancer) was on last night's episode of “Lie to Me”

  3. I haven't read your reviews before this one… I saw the same program on Thursday night and just wanted to say that your review was dead on!!!!!! I had seen the Mercurial Manoevres piece when it premiered and it was one of the pieces that has given Mr. Wheeldon his following….
    As for the Barak, it was a lovely piece…extremely enjoyable to watch
    The whole evening looked like fun for both the audience (although there were lots of empty seats in the house) and for the dancers… (there were lots of grins and giggles that I saw through my opera glasses)

  4. Thank you, Shwmann! Yes, I will definitely need to see Mercurial Maneouvers again — there was a lot going on there that I'm sure I missed on only one viewing. Premieres are always fun — everyone's always so excited :) Thank you for commenting!

  5. Thank you, Ariel — and thanks for coming with me!

  6. Thanks for the info, Katrina. I can't remember who she is! :) She was the one in the first Center Stage, right?

  7. I haven't read your reviews before this one… I saw the same program on Thursday night and just wanted to say that your review was dead on!!!!!! I had seen the Mercurial Manoevres piece when it premiered and it was one of the pieces that has given Mr. Wheeldon his following….
    As for the Barak, it was a lovely piece…extremely enjoyable to watch
    The whole evening looked like fun for both the audience (although there were lots of empty seats in the house) and for the dancers… (there were lots of grins and giggles that I saw through my opera glasses)

  8. Thank you, Shwmann! Yes, I will definitely need to see Mercurial Maneouvers again — there was a lot going on there that I'm sure I missed on only one viewing. Premieres are always fun — everyone's always so excited :) Thank you for commenting!

  9. Thank you, Ariel — and thanks for coming with me!

  10. Thanks for the info, Katrina. I can't remember who she is! :) She was the one in the first Center Stage, right?

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