New York City Ballet Fall Gala

Herein, a recap of last night's NYCB Fall Gala, which, like last year's, featured collaborations between choreographers and fashion designers. Plus, scroll down for a round up of some photos from the evening.

First up was "Short Ride in a Fast Machine," an orchestral piece from John Adams. This propulsive music got us ready for a fun night at Lincoln Center. And as a bonus, the orchestra pit was raised to stage level so we could see the fantastic 70-piece NYCB orchestra, conducted by Andrews Sill.

Then came the first of three world premiere ballets, Capricious Maneuvers. This new work (set to a cello and piano piece by Lukas Foss) paired NYCB soloist and rising choreographer Justin Peck (Paz de La Jolla, In Creases) with designer Prabal Gurung. It's a fun and athletic ballet, and Gurung's costumes complemented Peck's choreography by finding a balance between structure (there were leather straps on the bodice of the costumes) and fluidity (the ladies' skirts moved nicely as they twirled). Capricious Maneuvers featured corps de ballet members Ashly Isaacs and Kristen Segin; soloists Brittany Pollack and Taylor Stanley; and principal dancer Andrew Veyette.

Next was Neverwhere, from Benjamin Millepied (Black Swan, Two Hearts). Neverwhere features stirring music (for viola and piano) by Nico Muhly (a composer Millepied has gone to before) and couture designs by Iris Van Herpen. Van Herpen put the dancers—principal dancers Sterling Hyltin and Tyler Angle, soloists Lauren Lovette and Craig Hall and corps de ballet members Emilie Gerrity and Joseph Gordon—in black plastic. That sounds odd, and it is, but it's also very cool.

Van Herpen worked with NYCB director of costumes Marc Happel to ensure that the dancers could move in the costumes. What was interesting about the plastic was its luminescence. Clad all in black, the dancers looked as if they were under water, part of some beautiful black sea, and the light reflected off of them as they moved, reflecting different moments of the story. (There wasn't an express story to this, but it definitely had some structure.) I particularly liked the Hyltin-Angle pas de deux in which the pair looked for, found and made love. Neither Neverwhere nor Capricious Maneuvers are scheduled for the rest of the 2013-2014 season, but I'm curious to see them again and from a better angle. (I was up in the "arms" of the fourth ring, so I missed some action on stage left and didn't get a great view of the formations.)

The third and final world premiere (though not the final ballet of the night) was Spectral Evidence, a new piece from Angelin Preljocaj with costumes by Olivier Theyskens. (Music is by John Cage; selected Cage pieces and various sounds were all played from CDs and piped through the loudspeakers.) Just before the ballet, a short featurette screened and we got to see the choreographers and designers in the studio talking about the work and their collaboration. (A clip was shown before each new piece.) In the Spectral Evidence clip, Preljocaj spoke about the Salem witch trials being an inspiration for this ballet.

It's rather dark material for a ballet and so the ballet is not in the classical beautiful ballet aesthetic. Instead, it has an entirely tribal feel to it, like something you might expect from Bill T. Jones (Spring Awakening, Fela!). It was so interesting to watch NYCB dancers tackle this different style. It's really a testament to the importance of ballet as a foundation, and just how good the NYCB dancers are.

Principal dancers Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild led the small ensemble that also included principals Megan Fairchild, Andrian Danchig-Waring, Chase Finlay and Amar Ramasar; soloist Georgina Pazcoguin; and corps de ballet member Gretchen Smith. The men were in clergy-wear while the women were without their pointe shoes and in loose-fitting off-white frocks with shocking splashes of red on different parts of each of their costumes. As Theyskens said in the video clip, he used the red to make the women stand out and feel ostracized, as the women under attack would be.

Spectral Evidence is a fascinating story ballet. Four blocks are continually moved (by the dancers) as the scene keeps shifting. The men command the stage and then the women "make their case," in a way. Hints of The Scarlet Letter abound when Fairchild and Peck engage in an intense pas de deaux, and later the ballet ends with the women meeting their fate. The entire ensemble is on stage for the duration of the ballet, though they're not always visible. Preljocaj seems to suggest the role society plays and what happens when we judge one another.

Unlike Capricious Maneuvers and Neverwhere, Spectral Evidence will be performed throughout the rest of the season, and I am actually booked to see it twice. I'm especially looking forward to seeing this from a better perspective; I'm sure I'll glean more from the story and notice details in the dance that I simply couldn't pick up on from my seat in the fourth ring.

Closing out the night was the fourth movement and finale from Western Symphony, the George Balanchine ballet with music by Hershy Kay. It's a fine, lively ballet but I've never liked the costumes (I think they're unflattering) so I couldn't understand why this would be a part of a night dedicated to fashion. But it is a Balanchine ballet and it features a large ensemble (led by principal dancer Maria Kowroski), giving many members of the Company, especially soloists and corps de ballet members, an opportunity to be seen by NYCB boosters.

All in all, the Fall Gala was a fun way to kick of the 2013-2014 season, which continues through mid-October. (I have two more ballets this fall.) Visit to learn more and to purchase tickets.

Photo Round Up
  • New York City Ballet features a look in the costume shop on its Facebook page, and a sneak behind the scenes on gala night on its Twitter feed.
  • Vogue captures Natalie Portman (in Dior, supporting hubby Millepied), gala chair Sarah Jessica Parker (in a Gurung-Theyskens combination) and others on the red carpet.
  • Pop Sugar found designers Gurung and Theyskens (and other attendees, like Drew Barrymore) on the red carpet.
(The gala picture at the top of this post is from Marie Claire's Twitter feed. The sketches and costume shop photos throughout are from NYCB's Facebook page, as listed above.)