City Ballet: Ash; Sonatas and Interludes; Tarantella; Rodeo; and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue

My first night at the ballet during the 2015-2016 New York City Ballet season was a celebration of American composers, and featured a mix of choreographers.

First up was the 1991 Peter Martins ballet, Ash, with a commissioned score by Michael Torke. Ash started off feeling a little chaotic (which it shouldn't; the ballet only uses ten dancers), and it wasn't a controlled chaos. I was feeling uncomfortable. After the first few minutes, though, the ensemble left, leaving Ashly Isaacs and Taylor Stanley to dance a pas de deux. Their dynamite dancing brought things back under control. When the ensemble returned, a bit of the chaos did, too. I suppose this is fitting, at there is a great deal of tension in the non-stop score. Still, I found Ash to be a rather unimaginative ballet.

Next was Sonatas and Interludes, a Richard Tanner ballet set to a John Cage composition that is played on a prepared piano. (Wednesday night's pianist was Cameron Grant.) As was the case the first time I saw this, Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar danced this modern pas de deux, and, just as before, they were fabulous. They are strong, technically proficient dancers, and Sonatas and Interludes allows them to show off a different but no less thrilling style of dancing.

After a brief pause, Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz came out to dance George Balanchine's Tarantella. Though the tarantella has Italian roots, the music for this ballet was composed by the New Orleans-born Louis Moreau Gottschalk. On paper, I wouldn't have expected to like Tarantella. Though it's sacrilegious to say, I don't always thrill over Balanchine, and I'm not De Luz's biggest fan, but this is utterly delightful. Tarantella is fun and presentational, and Fairchild and De Luz, who've been partnering since their SAB days, are game. They are wonderfully playful, pure joy, as they show off in this upbeat ballet. (And it's nice to see Fairchild back on stage at NYCB; the principal dancer recently concluded a year-long stint on Broadway in On the Town.)

The fourth ballet on the program was Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes, the Justin Peck ballet that repurposes Aaron Copland's iconic music. The first time I saw this (on its premiere night), I was taken aback at the athleticism. This time, I noticed how Peck balances the athleticism, showing the men as graceful beings (especially in the second movement). Ballet is still a somewhat hetero-normative art form, so it's particularly refreshing to see the men showing off a softer side.

(Wednesday night's cast included Anthony Huxley, Daniel Ulbricht and Andrew Veyette (who had injured himself the night before the premiere and did not perform) leading the first movement; Daniel Applebaum, Craig Hall, Allen Peiffer, Andrew Scordato and Taylor Stanley in the second movement; and Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar dancing the pas deux. Six other males dancers made up the rest of the ensemble.)

And last but certainly not least in this celebration of American composers was Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, the Balanchine ballet that is a show within a show from the Rodgers and Hart musical, On Your Toes. This is always a fun ballet, and Wednesday night was particularly special: Teresa Reichlen was completing her debut run as the Striptease Girl, and Tony nominee Robert Fairchild, with a night off from An American in Paris, was back at NYCB to play the Hoofer. This is a role that seems tailor-made for Fairchild, who gets to put his charisma and Robbie Fairchild flair to good use. And Reichlen shines in the role. She's a tall dancer (as are Maria Kowroski and Sara Mearns, the other dancers I've seen in this role), and that makes the kicks and struts all the more exquisite. She did a fabulous job, and it was a treat to watch her and Fairchild having a ball in this lively ballet.