City Ballet: Jeu de Cartes, Moves and Symphony in C

For my final New York City Ballet outing for the 2011-2012 season, I got to see three ballets that, while in the company’s repertoire for decades, were new to me.

We begin with Jeu de Cartes (Card Game). This is a game that became more fun the more I played. The Peter Martins ballet (set to a Stravinsky score originally composed for a George Balanchine ballet in 1937; years later, Balanchine suggested Martins “choreograph an abstract version to the same score”) is fun and whimsical - I think.

Unfortunately, I had trouble seeing the actual dance. The costume design, by Ian Falconer, for Jeu de Cartes was utterly distracting. The dancers are adorned in fairly typically shaped costumes, but the patterns are made to look like playing cards. Red hearts and diamonds and black clubs and spades were emblazoned all over both the men’s and women’s costumes, creating a very busy look. The featured dancers, principals Tiler Peck, Joaquin de Luz and Andrew Veyette and corps de ballet member Taylor Stanley, wore costumes that were even more tricked out - looking almost like cartoons. This was all so distracting and dizzying that for nearly the first half of the ballet, I could not see the movement.

As my eyes got used to the design and began focusing on the movement, I was able to see that there was some great dancing and choreography on display. Taylor Stanley (suited in diamonds), who’s been dancing more and more featured roles this year, showed off his incredible extension. Joaquin de Luz (suited in spades) danced with vigor (his energy reminding me of the terrier he danced with last week in Makin’ Whoopee! - small but full of spunk). Andrew Veyette (suited in clubs) has an appealing casualness to his dancing style, which offered a nice balance to the seriousness of Stanley’s.

But the star was Tiler Peck, the real queen of hearts. She was thrilling as she pranced around the stage in red tights and pointe shoes. Peck kept an appropriately mischievous smile on her face as she played the game. Sporadically, Martins had his dancers teeter from side to side and wiggle their heads - like they were trying to psych out their opponent in this game of poker. Peck would do this, and then slyly transition into a softer, more alluring seduction, winning the hand and wrapping up the game.

Next on the bill was Moves, a music-less Jerome Robbins ballet. In the repertory notes, Robbins is quoted:
Whether a ballet tells a story or concerns itself with pure dance, its form is determined by the web of music on which it is composed according to the interpretations of the choreographer. The score conditions, supports, predicts and establishes the dynamics, tempos and mood, not only for the dance but also for the audience. The music acts as a base for the spectators’ responses to the happenings on stage and creates a pervasive atmosphere for reaction. Moves severs that guidance and permits the audience to respond solely to the action of the dance, to become aware of the potential to gesture, to respond directly to the curiosity of movement and to be released from the associations evoked by scenery, costumes and music.
The result, I’m pleased to report, is an incredibly tense and powerful ballet. Think about some of the serious drama captured on film. The most intense moments are often without underscoring so as to force the audience to focus on what’s being said. (Like that 20+ minute tete-a-tete in Hunger.) Or, think about Annie Baker’s plays, especially Circle Mirror Transformation. All the power was in the silences. Some of the greatest moments in that play came during a silence. Since nothing was being said (and there was no ambient noise), the slightest movement - a hand gesture or a head turning - spoke volumes.

And so it is in Moves. Presenting a stark (and much welcomed) contrast to Jeu de Cartes, this ballet is performed without any scenery and with the dancers in what look like rehearsal clothes. (There is subtle and effective lighting, designed by Jennifer Tipton.) Without even good scenery and costumes to divide your attention, you do, as Robbins intended, focus on the movement - on the power of each, slight movement.

First is the entrances/pas de deux, featuring veteran principal Jared Angle and new principal Rebecca Krohn. (Krohn and Ana Sophia Scheller (pictured up top) were promoted to principal rank just two weeks ago!) This was strong, and with its striking poses looked like it could have been an inspiration for Christopher Wheeldon’s breakthrough, Polyphonia.

Next is the dance for men, with Adrian Danchig-Waring, Justin Peck, Taylor Stanley, Sean Suozzi and Christian Tworzyanski. This impressive movement was really macho and aggressive. By focusing on the movement and the sounds the dancer’s made as they moved, there was almost a percussive overtone that developed.

Then it’s the ladies’ turn in the dance for women. With Rebecca Krohn, Savannah Lowery, Brittany Pollack and Gretchen Smith, this was particularly interesting because for most of the ballet, only three of the four women were dancing. Smith remained still for about three-quarters of the movement so when she finally got up and danced with the group, it really meant something. (I wouldn’t dare tell you what I think it meant; this is all about personal interpretation!)

The penultimate movement is another pas de deux - of sorts.(This movement featured Lowery, Pollack, Smith, Emilie Gerrity, Lydia Wellington, Angle, Danchig-Waring, Peck, Stanley, Suozzi and Tworzyanski.) It’s really more like “musical dancers.” Unlike in musical chairs, however, if a dancer is left without a partner, s/he isn’t out of the game. Instead, the dancers remain and dance the same dance as the couples - but alone. The dance is slightly altered for the solo dancers (Robbins can only bend the laws of physics so much) creating exquisite variations on a theme.

Concluding the ballet is the finale, with the entire cast back on stage. The finale recalled the first movement, bringing the ballet full circle - and beyond. The final view we have is of the dancers walking away from us and into black expanse upstage, which looks like it goes on forever. It’s as if the dance never ends. Movement lives on. Expression lives on. Without distraction, we are limitless. I absolutely loved this ballet.

The last piece of Saturday afternoon’s program was Symphony in C. This Balanchine ballet, set to music Georges Bizet composed when he was just 17, was “on New York City Ballet’s first program, on October 11, 1948...” For this 2012 revival, the costumes got a much ballyhooed makeover. As City Ballet Director of Costumes designed them, these new threads were created in collaboration with Swarovski, “and the production features costumes, as well as newly designed crowns, headpieces and earrings, all created using Swarovski Elements.”

Knowing my lackluster feelings for many Balanchine ballets, it might not surprise you to learn that I thought the costumes were about the only thing that sparkled. That’s being a little harsh. In truth, this is a very pretty ballet but it’s just not up my alley. I found there to be nothing particularly noteworthy in the choreography - just lots of lovely, graceful movements. (Perhaps if this had come at a different point in the program I would have been more engaged, but after the spectacular Moves, this struck me as just humdrum.)

Of course one of my favorite dancers, Sterling Hyltin, was featured in Symphony in C, so I thrilled over watching her. She injected some much needed fun to the ballet. And it was pretty cool the way the ballet ended. Groups of dancers came out for an almost-final hurrah, but instead of leaving the stage to make way for the next cluster, the ladies began lining stage left, stage right and the upstage wall, enveloping their fellow dancers. For the “big finish,” all the dancers rushed the stage, dancing up a storm and finishing the ballet with a pleasing flourish.

And that does it for me for the 2011-2012 season. The season continues throughout the month, and you can also book your subscription for the 2012-2013 season, which is full of premieres (including two from company member Justin Peck and one from the masterful Christopher Wheeldon.) Visit to learn more.

Bonuses: Visit New York City Ballet's Facebook page to see photos of the costumes for: