City Ballet: 2&3 Part Inventions; Liturgy; La Sonnambula; and Fearful Symmetries

We had a four-piece, mixed repertoire on Saturday afternoon at New York City Ballet, with all four of City Ballet’s major choreographers represented: 2 & 3 Part Inventions, by Jerome Robbins; Christopher Wheeldon’s Liturgy; the Balanchine narrative, La Sonnambula; and Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins’s Fearful Symmetries.

2 & 3 Part Inventions is set to Johann Sebastian Bach’s piano studies, written, according to repertory notes, "to help [Bach’s] son in the playing and handling of two- and three-part pieces.” Somewhat following suit, Robbins choreographed this piece in 1994 for the School of American Ballet’s annual Workshop Performance. And the execution of the ballet continues the learning theme: the soloists and corps de ballet members dancing the ballet seem not quite ready for prime time. All eight dancers could stand to work on their sharpness and precision.

As for the ballet itself, it is Robbins-esque in the way the movements show the music, something I’ve always loved about his choreography. It is unlike many of my favorite Robbins ballets, though, in its classicism and elegance. It’s a very pretty and pleasant ballet (I liked it more this time than the first time I saw it), a nice combination of Robbins’s rhythmic choreography and classic, graceful ballet moves.

Next was Christopher Wheeldon’s Liturgy, a powerful pas de deux set to Arvo Part’s Fratres. Wendy Whelan, dancing a role she created when the ballet premiered in 2003, is partnered by soloist Craig Hall (her partner in Wheeldon’s After the Rain), and the two are nothing short of exquisite.

Liturgy begins with a series of repetitions, as if the dancers were repeating a prayer over and over and over again until it sinks in. As we move into the middle section, it’s almost as if Hall is the liturgy and Whelan is the spiritual seeker, working the liturgy to unlock its many interpretations. Together, they work like one body. In Holly Hynes’s costumes, Hall looks like the blood and Whelan is the muscle. (The opening tableau, aided by Mark Stanley’s lighting design, shows off Whelan’s sculpted arms.) Finally, in the closing moments of Liturgy, we go back to the repetition; like Whelan and Hall are going back to basics with new found meaning. The whole theme which I’m inferring reminds me of The Giving Tree: the liturgy is always there for the seeker, no matter what you do or how you use it.

Craig Hall proves a fantastic partner for Wendy Whelan. He is solid - being her rock and steadfastly guiding her as she takes over the stage. For her part, Whelen is rich with grace and skill and radiance. She is truly a breathtaking dancer.

One of the most exciting things about watching a Wheeldon ballet is seeing the incredible poses his dancers strike. It’s almost as if Wheeldon is testing the limits of contortions. Liturgy is yet another powerful and moving piece from Wheeldon, on par with the emotional and evocative After the Rain.

The third piece on Saturday afternoon was La Sonnambula, which I saw for the second time just a few weeks ago. Saturday’s cast was the same as the first time I saw it, with Jennie Somogyi as the Coquette; Robert Fairchild as The Poet; and Janie Taylor as The Sleepwalker. Having seen it twice in recent months, I don’t have much to report, except, now I can highlight some differences in dancers’ performances. As compared to Whelan and Sebastien Marcovici as the Sleepwalker and Poet, Taylor and Fairchild are much lighter and playful. Taylor is more ethereal than Whelan, due in no small part to Taylor’s long, blond wavy hair. And as the Poet, Fairchild brings an endearing sense of wonderment to the role, looking truly enchanted as he discovers the Sleepwalker.

The final piece on the docket was Fearful Symmetries, in which Peter Martins once again choreographs to John Adams’s music. (Repertory notes state that Fearful Symmetries is the second Martins-Adams ballet.) Here the company is led by Sterling Hyltin and Chase Finlay; Tiler Peck and Taylor Stanley; and Lauren King and Troy Schumacher. With its red and blue color scheme and constant motion, Fearful Symmetries reminded me a great deal of Wheeldon’s Mercurial Manoeuvres.

Concentrating on the score, you could hear the title coming alive. Certainly the symmetry was apparent in the balance of sounds, first loud then soft, then repeated. And the fearful part of the equation was evident in what sounded like organs. The chords reminded me of underscoring I might hear in a horror movie: Loud, sharp and piercing.

The highlight of Fearful Symmetries was watching Tiler Peck and Sterling Hyltin execute Peter Martins’s moves. Peck was intense and purposeful while Hyltin was cooly sultry. Both ladies are incredible dancers and the passion they bring to any role they dance makes them a joy to watch.

That concludes City Ballet's fall season. Be sure to visit for information about The Nutcracker and the company's winter and spring performances.