NYCB Spring Gala - Allegro Brillante and Everywhere We Go
This year, New York City Ballet is celebrating 50 years at Lincoln Center. There have been small celebrations and events thus far, but the festivities kicked into high gear last night at the spring gala, and it was sensational. In addition to various anniversary tributes, the two ballets performed presented a touching milepost: Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante representing where it all began and what’s come before, and the world premiere of Justin Peck’s Everywhere We Go representing the future.
But first there was fanfare—literally. Dedicated to “Lincoln and George” (that would be Lincoln Kristein and George Balanchine), Stravinsky’s “Fanfare for a New Theater” was written for the opening of the State Theater. It was first performed at a special preview performance on April 20, 1964, and once again on April 24, “prior to NYCB’s first repertory evening” in the theatre.
After the fanfare, the fabulous NYCB orchestra, conducted by Andrews Sill, performed a Stravinsky-arranged and -harmonized version of the National Anthem. After a brief pause, Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins welcomed the crowd and introduced several dancers, including Jacques d’Amboise and Mimi Paul, who had performed on stage for opening night in 1964. The audience then rose and joined in a traditional Russian vodka salute!
We were then treated to a rendition of the Carousel classic, “If I Loved You,” performed by theatre favorite Aaron Lazar (A Little Night Music) and Kristen Bell. Program notes explain the significance: “From 1964 to 1969, the Music Theater of Lincoln Center, under the direction of Richard Rodgers, was a resident company of the New York State Theater, and an excerpt from Carousel was performed on the theater’s opening night.”
Then we got to the first of two ballets for the evening, Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante, set to a Tschaikovsky composition. It was the first ballet performed by the NYCB at the theatre’s opening night performance on April 23, 1964. The opening vamps of Tschaikovsky’s score sounded (to me) like Cole Porter’s “Another Opening, Another Show,” which, though certainly not intentional, made perfect sense given the theme of the evening.
Led by Sara Mearns and Jared Angle, Allegro Brillante is pretty. The soft, sherbet-colored costumes fool you into thinking this is just a light, simple ballet. While I don’t connect with it the way I do others, there is wonderful dancing to be done, and Mearns is more than up for the challenge. The celebrated dancer personifies the Balanchine style—the fierce, aggressive, full-out every time dancing that is the Company’s trademark.
After honoring the past and after intermission, we welcomed the future with the latest work from wunderkind Justin Peck. A soloist with the Company, this is the rising choreographer’s seventh commission for NYCB (the first was In Creases) and his second collaboration with musician/composer Sufjan Steven, with whom he collaborated on Year of the Rabbit. (Michael P. Atkinson wrote the thrilling orchestrations; he was also on hand to conduct the piece.)
What an exquisite, life–affirming ballet. I’ve never felt so alive after—cheering for Peck’s success and then walking out onto the plaza in all its peace and beauty. I’m still catching my breath and I’m still high.
Peck posted a note earlier in the day on Thursday in which he expressed what the ballet is about (take a moment to read it—I’ll wait), and I couldn’t agree more.
Everywhere We Go is terrifically modern but not without acknowledgements of our predecessors. The music and dance have a freshness to them, yet there is history there. You can hear classic Russian influences in the music. You can see the Balanchine technique in the movements. You can see Robbins’s influence in the way Peck shows the music through the dancing. (The costumes, by former principal dancer and ardent Peck supporter Janie Taylor, also have a retro vibe. Check out this sketch for a taste.)
Justin Peck is an artist the way he populates a stage (aided by poignant lighting (by Brandon Stirling Baker) and noteworthy simple but effective scenic design (Karl Jensen, supervised by Penny Jacobus)). For him, the corps de ballet is as important and integral as principal dancers, which is wonderful because then audience members get to see ballet from a totally difference perspective. He shapes his dancers in such interesting ways; for example, I love when the dancers pull a chain of dancers from the wings. But he’s not just about the big picture. He pays great attention to detail, as in the moment when Andrew Veyette and Sterling Hyltin each have an arm wrapped around the proscenium. (The ballet also features remarkable performances from Maria Kowroski, Tiler Peck, Robert Fairchild, Amar Ramasar and Teresa Reichlen.)
There’s so much going on in Everywhere We Go. The shadows! The formations! The fierce dancing that suddenly takes a long moment for a languid arm to fall! The contrast between non-stop, fast-paced movement of the corps and—like a flash—the calm, graceful musings of a principal dancer! The coda that reprises all we’ve seen!
There’s so much going on and, as in life, you don’t know where to focus, so you focus on the now here this. This ballet implores you to be present. It calls out to say, “We are simultaneously unique individuals and we’re all one.” “We must live for today and care for tomorrow.” “We must live for ourselves and care for others.”
I can’t do this justice. I’ve been changed. For good. I’m in awe. I’m proud. I’m alive. Bravo, Justin Peck!
The Everywhere We Go photo is one Peck shared on Instagram. Flip through his "album" for more. And for information about the rest of the NYCB spring season and to purchase tickets, visit nycballet.com.