Christopher Wheeldon’s spellbinding nod to high speed rail, DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse, reappeared on the New York City Ballet stage this season in an era when America’s transport infrastructure is barely wheezing along, all that good old American technological ingenuity left in the dust behind Japan, Europe and now China. Created originally for the Royal Ballet in 2006, DGV looks just as handsome and sleek on the aerodynamic City Ballet dancers; if Americans can’t have their own version of the TGV (France’s Train à Grande Vitesse), Wheeldon’s work at least lets them revel in a vision of its efficiencies and sensuous delights.

New York City Ballet in Christopher Wheeldon’s <i>DGV: Danse à Grand Vitesse</i> © Paul Kolnik
New York City Ballet in Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grand Vitesse
© Paul Kolnik

To Michael Nyman’s bombinating score, titled, MGV, or Musique à Grande Vitesse, and commissioned for the inauguration of the Paris-Lille line of the TGV, Wheeldon adds nuance and emotion. His dancers emerge from a mass of twisted metal (designed by Jean-Marc Puissant), the wreckage perhaps of a downed spacecraft, or the exoskeleton of an armored dinosaur. Four principal couples in turn tackle a knotty assignment while the ensemble drifts across the stage behind them, their movements suggesting fickle weather patterns and a desolate landscape. Wheeldon gives them mechanistic tasks and tricky, sometimes ungainly overhead lifts in which the women must be conveyed across great distances by the men. Though largely blank-faced, the dancers project a fierce concentration, and the overall effect (to which Jennifer Tipton’s eerie lighting scheme contributes a great deal) is that of humans attempting superhuman feats of engineering on a hostile planet, while sublimating their fears and longings.

Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle in Christopher Wheeldon’s <i>DGV: Danse à Grand Vitesse</i> © Paul Kolnik
Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle in Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grand Vitesse
© Paul Kolnik

Though there wasn’t a weak link in the large cast, the pairing of Taylor Stanley and Sara Mearns was particularly thrilling; they moved and breathed as one, exemplary in their precision engineering and risk-taking. Maria Kowroski, flown in like a surveillance jet high over Tyler Angle’s head, touched down for a powerful, sinewy duet. Amar Ramasar periodically dashed off to inspect new territory before returning to squire the coolly magnificent Unity Phelan.

DGV wrapped up an evening that featured two works by George Balanchine as unlike each other as one could imagine: the pastel-pretty Raymonda Variations and the banging, clanging, pinging, tzinging, wheezing, shuddering, ricocheting, trembling and plonking Variations pour une porte et un soupir (Variations for a Door and a Sigh).

The recorded soundtrack by Pierre Henry, an architect of musique concrète, is nothing that a plumber and an upper respiratory specialist couldn’t fix. Balanchine’s choreography, possibly intended as a joke, consists of movement interpretations of the sounds in the score. There is some hilarity in watching Sara Mearns’ knees cave at the sound of a creaking door, but not 23 minutes of hilarity. Daniel Ulbricht in a fright wig and veined bodysuit, and possibly suffering from a massive hangover, provided no comic relief as he lurched and tumbled and crawled around the floor and took long, apparently much-needed naps.

Sara Mearns and Daniel Ulbricht in George Balanchine’s <i>Variations pour une porte et un soupir</i> © Erin Baiano
Sara Mearns and Daniel Ulbricht in George Balanchine’s Variations pour une porte et un soupir
© Erin Baiano

The best part was the billowing black shroud anchored to Mearns’ waist and to points around the edge of the stage. When some unseen mechanism caused the fabric to swell and surge, like a night storm at sea, Mearns would periodically recede into the billows then re-emerge to further torment the abject Ulbricht. Timed to the sound of gunfire, she ‘shot’ him – but with the gesture of an archer, not a gunman. The imagery of a predatory female and pitiable male victim had gone stale long before that.

Stale, too, were the candyfloss pink tutus trimmed with daisies and the painted floral backdrop in Raymonda Variations. But the crystalline footwork, the breakneck speed of the ensemble and their ability to stop on a dime, and the winsome flirtation between Megan Fairchild and Anthony Huxley, who egged each other on to greater feats of daring, conspired to make us forget how much we dislike pink – and the stereotypes of ballet that go along with it.

Lauren Lovette and Anthony Huxley in George Balanchine’s <i>Raymonda Variations</i> © Paul Kolnik
Lauren Lovette and Anthony Huxley in George Balanchine’s Raymonda Variations
© Paul Kolnik

The solo variations are littered with pointework landmines but they didn’t take down the surefooted Sara Adams, the fleet Kristen Segin, the spirited Mary Elizabeth Sell, nor the elegant Ashley Hod. Emily Kikta gave a lush and stylish account of the third variation with its lovely harp music.

Fairchild breezed through the virtuosic challenges of her solo variations. There is a slightly brittle, edgy quality to her technique – an interesting foil to Huxley’s buttery, buoyant Allegro. She often avoided his gaze, knowing instinctively that he’d show up when she needed him. Her final dive would have sent her straight into the arms of the conductor in the orchestra pit. But Huxley got her just in time. The audience went wild.

***11