BalletNOW returns to the Music Center showcasing 24 “superstars”. Ironically, only three of the ballets on the program appear current. The other three include a pas de deux from Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet (1965), Allegro Brillante (1956) by George Balanchine and Fancy Free (1944) choreographed by Jerome Robbins. New and exciting choreography is not the only item missing on this first of three programs. There is little chemistry between partners and the precision that is so crucial to George Balanchine’s work is absent. BalletNOW consists of soloists, principals and corps de ballet gathered together from six major ballet companies. The cast is filled with very accomplished dancers, but there is something missing; that extra je ne sais quoi. The highlight of the evening is seeing dancers perform to live orchestral music directed and conducted by Grant Gershon.

1*2*3*4*5*6 includes two tap dancers (Michelle Dorrance, Byron Tittle), a ballerina en pointe (NYCB's Tiler Peck) and a hip-hop dancer (Virgil “Lil O” Gadson) performing on and around a temporary square wooden floor. The floor is miked, amplifying the tap rhythms and, on this night, the echo was substantially distracting. The idea of using dancers from different genres is not new, but choreographers Michelle Dorrance and Damian Woetzel bring a fresh take on it. It is fun to see a ballerina partnered by a hip-hop dancer and then jamming briefly with a tap dancer. 1*2*3*4*5*6 is a good opener. It is short, fast paced and entertaining.

James Whiteside and Isabella Boylston perform Kenneth MacMillan’s <i>Romeo and Juliet</i> © courtesy of The Music Center
James Whiteside and Isabella Boylston perform Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet
© courtesy of The Music Center
Chutes and Ladders is a beautiful and elegant ballet choreographed by Justin Peck (NYCB) to Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No. 1. The musicians are seated onstage atop a raised platform. Costumed in a lovely pale blue, Jeanette Delgado and Kleber Rebello are beautifully matched. As performed, this is one of the finest works on this program. Peck knows how to choreograph for both men and women. The movement is elegant, but at times angular and accented with sharp head and arm movements. It is refreshing to see a pas de deux in which both dancers are given equal time together. There is no big male solo or show-off moments for the ballerina. What Chutes and Ladders does have is beautiful dancing filled with compassion. Musicians included Roger Wilkie, Ana Landauer, Shawn Mann and Rowena Hammill.

MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet has been reviewed many times and the balcony scene is well known. Although Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside (both principals at ABT) are both accomplished technicians, there was absolutely no chemistry between the two or any semblance of youth. The two lovers were, after all, in their early teens. It was, however, wonderful to hear Prokofiev’s music performed  by a live orchestra.

The pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s After The Rain, is lovely, but as an excerpt, it leaves one wondering where exactly the dance is headed. Reece Clarke and Lauren Cuthbertson perform this work expertly to gorgeous music by Arvo Pärt. There are exciting lifts tempered with moments of stillness, but again, the chemistry between the two performers is lacking, offering no sense of freshness or sensitivity.

George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante is set to the Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 75 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It involves eight corps de ballet and two principles. The Dorothy Chandler stage is very large and yet these ten dancers were working hard to dance in unison and not crash into one another. Balanchine’s choreography is filled with entwining patterns, fast footwork and intricate timings. Allegro Brillante looks like it is fun to dance and the cast appeared to be enjoying themselves, but the spacing of the four couples and the unison phrases were continuously off. The couples included Preston Chamblee, Harrison Coll, Rachel Hutsell, Lauren King, Claire Kretzschmar, Lars Nelson, Taylor Stanley and Indiana Woodward. Principals the beautiful Tiler Peck and the muscular but lithe Marcelo Gomes.

Tiler Peck and Marcello Gomes perform George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante © courtesy of The Music Center
Tiler Peck and Marcello Gomes perform George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante
© courtesy of The Music Center

This production of Fancy Free feels very long and makes me want to revisit the movie On The Town with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Julie Munshin. Several times, I was paying more attention to the bartender than to the action onstage. The set by Oliver Smith is beautiful and the dancers do their best to re-create Jerome Robbins’ characters, but it is only Daniel Ulbricht who manages to inhabit the role. There is also a strange violent element that has creeped into the scene where the three sailors encounter and, in this case, taunt their first potential date (Jeanette Delgado).  Also, the fight behind the bar is either poorly staged or under-rehearsed. This production clearly demonstrates that not all dancers are able to perform all dance styles convincingly.