NYCB: Belles-Lettres; Mothership; American Rhapsody; and Concerto DSCH

For my final ballet outing of NYCB's spring season, I attended a 21st century choreographers program.

First up was a repeat viewing of Justin Peck's Belles-Lettres, a chamber piece (of sorts) that premiered at the 2014 Fall Gala. (I saw it a couple of weeks later.) Featuring nine dancers, including the newly minted principal Taylor Stanley, Belles-Lettres plays with shapes and formations, and the way things look from different angles. (I can imagine Peck thinking about how the choreography looks from the orchestra as compared to how it looks from the fourth ring—a head on view compared to a bird's eye view.) It's a pretty ballet, with nice moments for each of the four couples (Kristin Segin and Jared Angle; Indiana Woodward and Adrian Danchig-Waring; Brittany Pollack and Stanley; and Rebecca Krohn and Tyler Angle), and a well-integrated creator/tinkerer in Anthony Huxley.

After a brief pause was Nicolas Blanc's first ballet for NYCB, Mothership, which debuted a few weeks ago at the Spring Gala. Featuring only corps de ballet members and apprentices, Mothership has an entirely youthful feel. In fact, Blanc choreographed to Mason Bates's "Mothership," a "large-scale work for orchestra and electronica," repertory notes state, "that was commissioned by the YouTube Symphony Orchestra." Did you even know there was a YouTube Symphony Orchestra? How's that for youthful and modern?

The movement matches the music well. Like the score, the choreography is continually going; there is a sense of urgency in the piece. (Mark Stanley's lighting on the backdrop complement this, with the lines appearing to always be in motion.) Powerful exceptions are sprinkled throughout; there are moments when a note is held, drawn-out, and so is the movement (a slower port de bras, for example). The title makes sense, too. The electronic sounds and the younger dancers suggest something fresh, a new start, like a new life-form coming to earth on the mothership and starting anew.

The third ballet was the most anticipated piece of the afternoon, American Rhapsody, the new Christopher Wheeldon ballet set to George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," and featuring Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck. There was a lot to live up to. First, it's a Wheeldon ballet, which is exciting enough. Then it's Wheeldon using Gershwin as his muse, as he did so winningly with An American in Paris, in which, you'll remember, Fairchild starred. So this was a homecoming, of sorts, with Wheeldon and Fairchild returning to NYCB, where they got their respective starts. And it once again paired Fairchild with his wife, the resplendent Peck. I'm loathe to say this, but the backstory made the ballet more interesting than the choreography.

To be sure, American Rhapsody is a good ballet. It just isn't great.

"Rhapsody in Blue," which was originally title "American Rhapsody," is perhaps the most quintessentially New York pieces of music, so Wheeldon created a quintessentially New York ballet. There are all these people around, almost in a dreamscape, the city whirling around you. (Leslie Sardinias's scenic design evokes this dream-like state.) You're continually moving about, and you have your friends (in this case, featured couple Amar Ramasar and Unity Phelan), but you're really just looking for "the one."

Fairchild enters (to entrance applause, something I've never experienced at the ballet), and tries to take up with his friends, exploring the city. Everyone disperses, and Peck comes twirling out, a vision dancing into our lives. Some of her steps mimic Fairchild's, foreshadowing that they belong together. Before long they, of course, do get together. What's remarkable about their pas de deux is, honestly, how unremarkable it is. Of course it's lovely and they dance beautifully, and as an audience member who knows they are married, I projected intimacy and passion, but the actual dance was just ho-hum. It was nothing like the 12-minute ballet that is the climax of An American in Paris; it lacks the potency of Wheeldon's A Place for Us (a pas de deux choreographed on Fairchild and Peck). It's just some nice dancing. That's not a bad thing, it's just a little disappointing.

I did like that Fairchild and Ramasar had sections together. They have great chemistry together. Likewise, it was nice to see sections for just Peck and Phelan, with Wheeldon-the-storyteller developing camaraderie among the women. I also enjoyed the costumes, designed by former principal dancer Janie Taylor, which give the feel of New York's working class in the 1920s, when "Rhapsody in Blue" was written. And it was also a treat to see Wheeldon playing with formations, some incredibly modern. It's almost a throwback to some of his earlier work, like Mercurial Manoeuvres, and, combined with the male-male and female-female partnering, and having Taylor design the costumes, is almost as if Wheeldon was inspired by Justin Peck, who is, inarguably, following in Wheeldon's footsteps. I'll be seeing this again in the 2016/2017 season, and I'll be looking forward to seeing how my opinion changes upon a repeat viewing.

Bringing the afternoon, and my spring season, to a close was Alexei Ratmansky's Concerto DSCH. This is a good ballet that feels bigger than it is. (To wit: Reflecting on it just now, I thought it had a large ensemble. Looking at the program, I realize it didn't; there are fewer than 20 dancers in the entire piece.) Set to Shostakovich's "Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major, Opus 102," Concerto DSCH has a militaristic feel, accordant with the composition. Throughout, the company looks like a regiment getting into formation. There are softer moments, of course, mostly in the pas de deux between Sterling Hyltin and Adrian Danchig-Waring. But even those moments are not focused on the most beautiful or graceful combination that could be made. Rather, the pas de deux is typified by incredible lifting. (Seriously: Danchig-Waring seems like an body builder.) With a nice mix of the classical movements and modern poses, and some Russian zeal thrown in for good measure, Concerto DSCH was a lovely way to close out the season.