City Ballet: Mes Oiseaux, Two Hearts and Fancy Free

Though New York City Ballet has a blessedly rich repertoire, every season brings new works, and on Tuesday night, I got to see the latest from Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins and former company principal dancer Benjamin Millepied. An old favorite, Fancy Free, capped off the evening.

We begin with Martins’s new ballet, Mes Oiseaux, or My Birds. Set to music by Marc-Andre Dalbavie created for piano, violin and cello, this ballet began with very staccato music and movement. It almost seemed unfinished, unpolished - like something was missing. The lifts, for example, stayed so low to the ground, Taylor Stanley, who was lifting his three ladies, Lauren Lovette, Ashly Isaacs and Claire Kretzschmar, looked restricted and like it was hard work. (I’m certain a lift of any kind is hard work, but it usually doesn’t look like it; typically, the ballerina is lifted with what looks like ease and grace.) As I continued to watch, and the dancers dragged their feet in the turns, it became apparent that Martins had made a choreographic choice, though I’m not sure what it was supposed to convey.

Once we got past the first movement, though, and Stanley and Lovette came out for a pas de deux, the dancing became more graceful. The moves were softer and smoother. The stunted movements returned, however, later in the ballet. But this time, instead of seeming unfinished, they were reminiscent of Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography for Polyphonia, in which the dancers move so they can strike interesting poses.

All the while, the dancers were moving about in costumes designed by French fashion designer Gilles Mendel. They were beautiful costumes, almost as if the bodices had been painted on with light fluid brushstrokes. Overall, though, the ballet was underwhelming. There was no set or backdrop, which can be fine but in this case, there was no lush music or riveting dance to draw our attention.

What did capture my attention was the next ballet, Millepied’s Two Hearts. Lush and lovely (with music by Nico Muhly), with striking black and white costumes (by Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte) that were simultaneously structured and wonderfully fluid (I loved the way the ladies’ skirts twirled!), this served as a stark contrast to Mes Oiseaux.

The dancing was graceful and energetic. A game ensemble appears here and there, but this is Two Hearts and so the focus is on two hearts – those of the perfectly paired Tyler Angle and Tiler Peck. The first Tyler-Tiler pas de deux was spectacular. The two make an amazing pair, with such incredible chemistry that they seem to meld with one another and dance as one.

When the company returned, I thrilled over the way the ferocity of the dance changed with and matched the music. This was particularly apparent when Angle came out to dance with the men – such energy and rapidity mixed with powerful moments of stillness.

I was impressed by Roderick Murray’s lighting design, too. In the penultimate movement, Angle and Peck are dancing with the company, but Murray’s lighting separates them. He lights the company with slightly fuzzy, unfocused lighting, while Angle and Peck are sharply and distinctly lit. This conjured up a dreamlike sensibility, like the lovers were frolicking about in their own dreamland, with Angle protectively wrapping his arms around Peck.

I was loving this ballet; I was fully immersed in the reverie, ready to put it in my top five favorites, and then the final movement came, and Millepied lost me.

Dawn Landes began singing the Northern European folk song “Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor,” which, according to the repertory notes, helped inspire the ballet. For this final movement, Angle and Peck return to the stage, having shed parts of their costumes. The music and dancing continues to be lovely, but the singing kicked me out it. To be fair, it wasn’t so much the singing (Landes has a sultry, Norah Jones-type voice) as it was the lyrics. With these lyrics, what was a romantic and passionate ballet suddenly became somber and almost macabre – an intrusion on these two hearts. Perhaps that was the point, to intrude on the lovers, but it made me feel like I’d been duped. Like the first part of the ballet was somehow fraudulent. The dancing throughout was glorious, but the narrative and the overall feeling was tarnished by this coda. To put a positive spin on it, I think knowing how it ends will make re-watching this ballet much more interesting.

Finishing the evening with a flourish was Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a longtime favorite of mine. (In fact, I think it was one of the first ballets I saw at City Ballet.) It did not disappoint. That great Leonard Bernstein score is jaunty and jovial as ever. Tyler Angle, Joaquin De Luz and Amar Ramasar were lovable rapscallions as the three sailors on leave, and the lovely Sterling Hyltin was fun and flirty as the object of the men’s attention.

I still have two more ballet outings before the 2011-2012 season comes to an end, but I’m pleased to report that the company has announced its 2012-2013 season! It looks like a great season, complete with NY Export: Opus Jazz, the After the Rain pas de deux and other fan favorites, plus new works from Peter Martins, company member Justin Peck and the incomparable Christopher Wheeldon. For more information about this or the next New York City Ballet season and to purchase tickets, visit

Stills of Mes Oiseaux and Two Hearts are by Andrea Mohin for the New York Times. Rehearsal stills are from City Ballet's website.