City Ballet - Why am I not where you are

At my second ballet of the NYC Ballet spring season, I saw three pieces: One was new to me, one was a world premiere and one was an old favorite. Overall, all three combined for a very nice afternoon of ballet.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to enjoy the first piece, Balanchine’s “Walpurgisnacht Ballet,” as much as I would have liked thanks to the evil forces that are the MTA. The trains were running on a different schedule on Saturday, which would normally mean that I would be delayed by five, maybe ten minutes. This time, I was delayed by 40 minutes. I practically ran from the train to the State Theatre, in my snake-skin peep toe heels, flew up the stairs to the fourth ring and made it to my seat just as the curtain was rising. Not at all ideal. I was catching my breath and trying to settle into my seat while the performance began. Fortunately, “Walpurgisnacht Ballet” was just the perfectly pretty and innocuous piece to help calm me down after the MTA ordeal. When I finally settled down, I noticed that the dancing was really quite lovely, very fluid and celebratory. I later read in the repertory notes that “Walpurgisnacht Ballet” was an excerpt from Gounod’s Faust and that the ballet is meant to impart a sense of “joyful revelry.” This is one piece I’d look forward to seeing in future seasons, hopefully after a not so dramatic entrance!

Next up was the piece I was most excited for: The world premiere of Bordeaux-born City Ballet principal dancer (and accomplished choreographer) Benjamin Millepied’s latest ballet, “Why am I not where you are.” As I mentioned last week, the theme of this season is the Architecture of Dance and as such renowned architect Santiago Calatrava designed the set for five of the new ballets debuting this season, including this Millepied ballet. The set consisted of a spoked, curved arch, that looked something like a piece from a DNA double helix. That may not sound visually appealing but it was and it definitely worked with the piece. The structure gave the dancers another "doorway" and helped to define spaces throughout the stage. It had a rather soft, fluid feel to it, which was an interesting juxtaposition to the architectural, angled and aggressive choreography. (It was in the angles of the movement, like flexed feet, that you could see Millepied embracing the challenge of creating a piece of art with an architect.)

"Why am I not where you are” is ultimately a story of missed connections - of two lovers trying to find one another. There are two couples, soloists Kathryn Morgan and Sean Suozzi as the lovers and principals Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar as their “guides,” and 16 corps de ballet dancers filling the stage at any given moment. The menacing tone of the music (a newly commissions score from French composer Thierry Escaich) and the aggressiveness of the choreography played well off each other, combining to show what can happen in a relationship when others meddle in it. It also spoke to the masks we wear as we try to hide ourselves or change for someone else. At the start of the ballet, Suozzi is dressed entirely in white; everyone else is in color. Throughout the ballet, the guides slowly dress him in colors and with each addition, he and his lover become closer. However, at the end, just when Suozzi is fully color-clad, Morgan is stripped of her colored garb, left wearing a white dress and she and Suozzi, once again, cannot locate each other. It was a stirring ballet and definitely a sign of great things to come from this talented dancer-choreographer.

The final piece of the afternoon was certainly the most fun: “Fancy Free.” You may remember from last season that I thoroughly enjoy this piece which follows three sailors looking for a good time in New York City. “Fancy Free” is the first ballet Jerome Robbins ever choreographed and marked the start of “a beautiful friendship” with then up-and-coming composer Leonard Bernstein. (“Fancy Free” was ultimately the precursor to the successful Broadway musical, On the Town.) This is a fun, whimsical piece with great, athletic dancing, replete with claps, snaps and stomps. Last season Robert Fairchild danced my favorite part of the ballet; on Saturday, that part was danced by his fellow new principal dancer, Amar Ramasar. Ramasar was good, but I missed Fairchild’s charisma and stage presence. Still, this funny little romp had plenty to thrill over, including the pas de deux between Tyler Angle and Tiler Peck. (Tyler and Tiler - kind of cute, huh?) “Fancy Free” has long been one of my favorite pieces in the City Ballet canon and it was such a treat to get to see a seminal piece from an old master right alongside an exciting piece from a new one.