City Ballet: Vespro, Spectral Evidence and Acheron

It’s been too long since I’ve seen the New York City Ballet (the fall season ended in October), so it was particularly nice to dive back in with a New Combinations program on Saturday afternoon.

First on the bill was Vespro, a Mauro Bigonzetti ballet set to a Bruno Moretti score that was commissioned by NYCB for this ballet. I found Vespro to be incredibly fascinating. It was like a Pinter play—it means whatever it means to you. I feel like I would interpret this differently depending upon my mood. I was in a good mood on Saturday, so this is the Vespro I saw.

Vespro starts with a single dancer (Andrew Veyette) on stage. He marks time and seems to be exploring the space, testing the boundaries. An ensemble makes its way out (throughout, they help to transition from section to section), as do two couples: Maria Kowroski + Tyler Angle and Ashley Bouder + Gonzalo Garcia.

The dichotomy of the two couples is stunning. They do some of the same choreography but differently and to different accompaniment, telling different stories. One, Bouder and Garcia, is angry and staccato, knees bent, feet flexed, modern. There's an aggressiveness to their movement, a back and forth sparring going on. The music complements this, with a mezzo-soprano singing with the piano, her words short and repetitious.

For the other couple (Kowroski and Angle), several of the movements are, skeletally, the same but the way they take shape is so different. This couple’s movements are legato, smooth, harmonious, more classical execution. Long pointed legs, languid arms, a melding of their bodies. Once again, the music reinforces this difference, with a soprano saxophone building to a beautifully overwhelming swell, a “something’s coming” kind of swell, heralding a new dawn. (And with just two instruments—the piano and sax.)

Throughout, Veyette is almost like a metronome and the conductor—keeping time, controlling relationships (even interacting with the musicians and playing a little piano himself!). It’s outwardly athletic choreography and he proves himself up to the challenge. Veyette notes in a behind the scenes video about Vespro (see below) that unlike most ballets, the choreography for this one starts with the arms and upper body; his legs are simply trying to keep up with what’s going on from the waist up. This difference is palpable.

(Also of note: Mark Stanley’s gorgeous lighting design, especially the final tableau, is terrifically evocative.)

Next, I revisited Angelin Preljocaj’s Spectral Evidence once again. (I saw the premiere performance atthe fall gala, as well as an encore performance later in the season.) Once again, I was thoroughly entranced, getting completely caught up in the “hunt” and the way the women own their seductive powers. I think I’ll be thrilling over this one for years to come.

The final piece was the new Liam Scarlett ballet, Acheron, which celebrated its premiere just over a week ago. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what to make of Acheron except that it is beautiful to look at. (Scarlett, 27, is an artist in residence at the Royal Ballet, where he was a corps dancer.)

It’s an intense and intimate ballet, with light, revealing costumes to match. (Thank you, Scarlett, for dressing the men in nothing by tight, cropped tights/leggings. It was quite the scenic delight.) Rife with incredible—incredible—lifts, Scarlett’s ballet also includes fast and furious dancing, which is NYCB’s specialty. (Particularly impressive lifts came courtesy of Sara Mearns + Adrian Danchig-Waring and Rebecca Krohn + Tyler Angle; Ashley Bouder and Amar Ramasar were also featured.)

But it was difficult for me to fully focus on the dancing, and not because of the half-naked men. (Although, hello boys!) The Francis Poulenc score prominently features an organ, and I guess I just don’t like organs. I found the organ to be distracting, a bit garish, even, and ominous, all of which seemed incongruous with the pretty, classical dancing. However, in reading about the composition, I’ve learned that it was written at a time of mourning. Clearly the ominous tones were intentional and not owning solely to the organ.

Thinking about Acheron in that light, perhaps it’s more elegiac than the prettiness belies. Perhaps some of those ethereal movements (in particular: the section featuring Krohn and Angle) were meant to be a memory of something. And, perhaps like Vespro, the meaning is left up to the interpreter. (After a schedule change due to Peter Martins delaying—once again—his latest work, it turns out I’ll be seeing Acheron again this season.)

Interpretation aside, one of the highlights of Acheron was seeing Mearns and Danchig-Waring partner. They don’t typically partner together, but after seeing them in Scarlett’s ballet, I hope that changes. They have an exciting chemistry on stage, appearing completely in synch, dancing as one.

(Read about Acheron and Scarlett's creative process in both The New York Times and Time Out New York.)

The New York City Ballet winter season continues through the beginning of March. Visit to learn more and to purchase tickets.