NYC Ballet - Paz de La Jolla; Variations pour une Porte et un Soupir; and Concerto DSCH

It was a world premiere night on Thursday, January 31, at New York City Ballet, and what a glorious premiere it was.

Filling the slot in the New Combinations Evening originally scheduled for a new Peter Martins work was a new ballet from rising choreographer Justin Peck. (Peck is also a corps de ballet dancer with the Company.) Paz de La Jolla is set to composer Bohuslav Martinu’s “Sinfonietta la Jolla” and it’s terrific.

An homage to the area in which Peck grew up, La Jolla (near San Diego, California), Paz tells two tales on one beachfront.

We open with Annette Funicello Tiler Peck (no relation to Justin) welcoming everyone to her beach. She’s spritely and exudes a sense of wonder as she dances around in a gorgeous deep teal bathing suit. (Costumes are by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, supervised by Company costumer Marc Happel.) Peck leads an ensemble of 15 who dance with a youthful exuberance – think the West Side Story prologue but on the beach. It’s peppy and fun.

Then Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasar take over the stage and bring with them grace and a slower pace. (Hyltin looks stunning in her Marilyn Monroe-esque white dress.) Moments in their pas de deux are reminiscent of some of those in the Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux (which I just saw), which is not a criticism of Peck. Rather, it’s evidence of who and what work has influenced him over the years.

Hyltin and Ramasar enter into a dreamscape – some abstraction of a dream, with the other beachgoers challenging them. They unite, are separated then reunited, all while Peck the choreographer highlights the benefits of a large ensemble. They’re truly an integral part of his storytelling.

The lovers awake and it’s a new day. Tiler Peck is back to pep up the crowd, to once again welcome the day and the revelers. There’s a moment just before the end of Paz when the clip slows for a moment and the three principals gather in the center to invite everyone to join them. The mood turns back to exuberant, as all are welcome and all are one in this lovely beach community.

(Fun side note: All of the dancers appear sans tights. Naturally, since they’re on the beach.)

Justin Peck (Year of the Rabbit) is such a fantastic emerging choreographic voice. Peck is a wholly conceptual artist (much like Christopher Wheeldon) playing with unconventional music – or, rather, compositions with moments that would challenge conventional choreographers.

He seamlessly mixes classical technique with modern moves – flexed feet here, bent knees and an almost African-inspired jump there. He is absolutely the one to watch. (And, since he’s still a dancer with the Company, we got to watch him dance later in the evening, proving he’s just as masterful performing the steps as he is in arranging them.) Head over to NYCB's You Tube channel to see a glimpse of Peck creating Paz.

Unfortunately, the thrill of Paz de La Jolla was quickly made to fizzle by the second piece on the program, George Balanchine’s Variation Pour Une Porte et Un Soupir (variations for a door and a sigh). I should have known I was in for something different when instead of a “music by” credit in the program it listed “Sonority by Pierre Henry.”

As stated in the repertory notes, “The score makes use of the gamut of sounds associated with human sighing and the opening and closing of doors…” Despite principal dancers Maria Kowroski and Daniel Ulbricht’s best efforts, the pas de deux was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s not ballet – it’s performance art that should be trimmed by about 17 minutes and done at a hip gallery in Chelsea.

At first, I was not at all into the piece, especially since the “sigh” sonority sounded like a caterwaul, but then the door opened and I allowed myself to see the angular, almost Fosse-like movements. Kowroski’s body contorted into all sorts of shapes and her long body created interesting shadows on the wall. The first time.

Then the “ballet” continued through 13 more variations (for 14 total), dragging the piece on for about 25 minutes, which is way too long, particularly in this context. I couldn’t help but think of all those Halloween movies when Michael Myers has been decapitated but still isn’t dead, he just keeps getting back up and chasing after Jamie Lee Curtis. That’s how I felt when this gothic ridiculousness wouldn’t end. Variations is a piece that is performed infrequently – I think the last time was nine years ago – so I guess we can thank Thespis for small favors.

Closing out the night was Concerto DSCH, an Alexei Ratmansky ballet set to a Dmitri Shostakovich composition. I wasn’t sure I would like this, as I didn’t particularly enjoy the previous two Ratmansky works I’d seen (Dumbarton and Namouna: A Grand Divertissement), but this piece (while certainly not joining the ranks of my favorites) surpassed my expectations and proved to be a nice complement to Peck’s Paz de La Jolla.

The ballet has several notable moments and choreographic phrases, but that is part of the problem – there are several. Too many at once. Ratmansky’s choreography here is unfocused and the disparate elements don’t mesh well. The lack of direction led me to miss much of what the ensemble (which included Justin Peck) was doing. Of course it’s to Ratmansky’s credit that I wanted to see that at all, but he does his ballet a disservice by disorienting our attention.

Still, the ballet is set to beautiful music and you can rarely lose when City Ballet’s dancers are center stage. Principals Ashley Bouder and Joaquin de Luz are joined by soloist Troy Schumacher for a fun and playful pas de trois, while Janie Taylor and Tyler Angle perform an exquisite pas de deux.

The New York City Ballet winter season continues through the month. Visit for performance information and to purchase tickets.

Bonus: Check out sketches for Paz de La Jolla costumes on the Company's Facebook page.