It was a glamorous night at New York City Ballet’s Fall Gala. Honoring the designer Valentino, the stars came out and the incredible company of City Ballet dancers brought their A game.
The night consisted of four short pieces and one extended, world premiere ballet, with the costumes (at least the ladies’ costumes) designed by Valentino, except for the threads for Balanchine’s Rubies, though those costumes were in Valentino’s signature red.
We began with Sophisticated Lady, a 1988 Peter Martins ballet set to a handful of Duke Ellington tunes. While the men (including former principal dancer Charles Askegard, appearing as a guest artist) donned tuxedoes, Maria Kowroski stunned in gorgeous red Valentino creation. The long flowing gown began with one should strap (adorned with show-ready ruffles) and cascaded down Kowroski’s long and lithe body. (The ruffles reappeared at the exaggerated hemline.) The sophisticated lady looked simply sumptuous.
And the dancing wasn’t half bad, either! My first thought was that the dance was a mix between a Gene Kelly dream ballet and a (really, my) fantasy of the dancing going down at a swanky supper club. Kowroski was in top form, and reteamed with her frequent partner Askegard, the pas de deux felt intimately familiar.
Next up was Not My Girl, which saw my favorite, Robert Fairchild, tap dancing up a storm in a role that seemed tailor made for him.
Another Martins ballet from 1988, which lasted for only the few minutes, this one was set to the title Fred Astaire song. (Full credits: music by Astaire and Van Phillips, lyrics by Desmond Carter.)
The pas de deux began with an Al Hirschfeld rendering of Astaire projected on stage and Fairchild – his top half covered by the projection – tap dancing along. (He looked dapper in a Valentino-designed tailed tuxedo.) The projection then rose to reveal Fairchild and his thrilling flair hoofing across the stage, where he was joined by the luminous Tiler Peck in a stained glass-inspired Valentino tutu. (Though not his signature red, the costume was full of rich pinks and purples.) The two principal dancers were wonderfully playful in this too-brief frolic.
The third piece was the reason I attended: new Christopher Wheeldon. Actually, This Bitter Earth represented just an excerpt of a full ballet Wheeldon is working on, Five Movements, Three Repeats. (The excerpt was billed as a New York preview. The full ballet premiered at the Vail International Dance Festival this past August, and runs this week at City Center.)
This intimate pas de deux did not disappoint. Using a Max Richter-Dinah Washington composition from the Shutter Island soundtrack (unexpected, right?), Wheeldon had his dancers – a beautifully paired Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle – explore the haunting and tenuous melody brought to life by lush, sustained violins.
Whelan fluttered on stage like a gentle breeze, and damn it if this woman can’t still break your heart with a turn of her head or a lilt of her arm. Watching her on stage is simply breathtaking.
Angle supported Whelan as the two swayed and explored the “bitter earth.” (Both were in Valentino creations.) The look and feel of the ballet was reminiscent of After the Rain and had traces of Polyphonia and Les Carillons, yet Wheeldon’s latest work still felt authentic and fresh.
The final piece before the intermission was Rubies, one of the three pieces making up the Balanchine ballet Jewels. I’ve seen Jewels in its entirety and haven’t loved it. Looking back at my previous review, I see that I liked Rubies much more two years ago than I did on Thursday night. On Thursday, despite good performances by the mostly corps de ballet dancers, I was bored stiff. I found the piece to be too long (and this is just a third of the whole) and stale. I tuned out a bit and pictured Robbie Fairchild tap dancing.
Closing the night in grand fashion was the world premiere of Peter Martins’s Bal de Couture, set to a Tschaikovsky composition. In a video screened before the dance began, we saw Valentino in the costume shop, with Martins and the dancers, as they crafted the sensational creations we had seen and were about to see on stage.
Also in the video, Martins said an interesting challenge for him was that for this piece, we was choreographing to the costume, rather than tailoring the costume to the dance. And you could see it in the dance. The movements showed off the fluidity, the structure, the exquisite details of the gowns.
Bal de Couture had the faintest hint of a story, but I think any resemblance to a story functioned merely to show off Janie Taylor in a pink, ethereal slip that boasted an intricate and shimmering butterfly appliqué as the back. Taylor got to dance with hubby Sebastien Marcovici, who appeared in tuxedo pants and a tieless, tuxedo shirt with the sleeves rolled up – an appealing look, if you ask me. The couple danced a beautiful, emotional pas de deux that was full of grace.
Before Taylor floated on, though, pairs of dancers flooded the stage. (Maria Kowroski and Jared Angle; Teresa Reichlen and Ask la Cour; Rebecca Krohn and Jonathan Stafford; Ana Sophia Scheller and Andrew Veyette; Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild (guess who loved that pairing!); and Abi Stafford and Amar Ramasar) The men were all in tuxedoes but the ladies were in haute couture frocks.
Each bodice was form fitting, typically made of white satin with black lace accents. The sleeves and styles varied. (For instance, Hyltin had sweet black lace cap sleeves; Reichlen’s bodice was one shouldered and featured a black floral appliqué.) The poufy skirts of each were laser cut differently but they all featured fluffy layers of black, white and red crinoline, with the red barely peeking out as a fun surprise when the ladies were lifted. Though each gown was different, they were clearly part of a “collection,” the fashion equivalent of a variation on a theme.
Sprinkled in among the crinoline gowns were Megan Fairchild (with Joaquin De Luz), Ashley Bouder (with Gonzalo Garcia) and Tiler Peck (with Chase Finlay) in striking Valentino bubble tutus. They were all glorious, but Peck was the most stunning, appearing in – you guessed it – Valentino signature red.
Individually, these five ballets were lovely and lively, but put together and mixed with the excitement of a gala they made for a fantastic night at the ballet.
Bonuses: Multi-media coverage of the gala:
- Valentino in the costume shop (photo essay)
- Valentino in the costume shop (video)
- Huffington Post checks in with Valentino
- New York Times takes you backstage on show night
- Interview with ballet supporter Sarah Jessica Parker
The New York City Ballet fall season is fully under way. Visit nycballet.com to learn more about the season, which includes a world premiere Justin Peck ballet, and to purchase tickets.