Last Saturday night was the premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s new ballet, Estancia, at New York City Ballet. Everyone in the audience seemed to go wild over it. When it ended, I overheard people saying they didn’t want it to end, and others saying they thought it was his best work, and in the lobby, several of my friends said they really liked it. I thought it was so so. And definitely a departure from Wheeldon’s usual.

Estancia is a story ballet, set to to music by Alberto Ginastera, that takes place on a ranch (Estancia is Spanish for ranch) in the Argentine Pampas (countryside). A young city man (Tyler Angle) is smitten with country life, and a girl he meets there (Tiler Peck), particularly after he watches her tame a horse (Andrew Veyette). The ballet is his attempt to woo her, and of course at the start she wants nothing to do with him and his annoying urbanity (he wears a suit throughout), but eventually she overcomes her prejudices and lets herself fall for him. He ends up proving his adroitness at being a rancher by taming another horse (Georgina Pazcoguin).

The dancing was all very good — Pazcoguin and Veyette were wonderful as the wild horses, and the T(i)ylers were perfect for these roles. Tyler Angle is always so good at those deep longing romantic lunges toward his partner. For the most part, though, the choreography was a bit blah, I thought. Except for some interesting backwards walks, that looked at bit like moonwalks, performed by the “horses,” the choreography seemed like nothing I hadn’t seen before, which is unusual for Wheeldon. The romantic pas de deux  between the leads were pretty but the lifts were rather basic.

The Ginastera score was originally commissioned in 1941 by Lincoln Kirstein for a ballet to be made by Balanchine to be shown when Kirstein’s American Ballet Caravan toured Buenos Aires. But the Caravan disbanded and the ballet was never made. I feel like Wheeldon, or someone at NYCB, felt the need for closure on the project. It had the feel of something out of a bygone era, particularly with the horses – you really don’t see dancers galloping around stage these days in horse costumes. But it doesn’t seem as corny if you think back to Firebird, for example, with all the forest creatures.

The sets were designed by architect Santiago Calatrava (and NYCB is showing a short film about his work and his collaboration with the choreographers every time his sets are used this season). They consisted of water-color-looking paintings displayed on the back wall, one of a countryside, another more abstract one of horses (I think – because of the storyline, but maybe they were bulls … they seemed to have horns).  Anyway, all in all, it was a fine ballet but didn’t blow me away like it did many others.

Two other ballets were performed, both by Balanchine — Danses Concertantes, with my favorite, Gonzalo Garcia and Sterling Hyltin in the leads, and Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet in which Yvonne Borree danced particularly well partnered by Benjamin Millepied. It’s going to be sad to see her retire this Sunday afternoon.

Above photo by Paul Kolnik.

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