The Fall Fashion Gala has become a recent tradition at New York City Ballet: high end fashion meets ballet. But with a few exceptions both the high fashion costumes and the ballets end up disappointing. Last night's program of the Fall Fashion Gala's new works was Exhibit A of this phenomenon.

Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle in Edwaard Liang’s <i>Lineage</i> © Erin Baiano
Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle in Edwaard Liang’s Lineage
© Erin Baiano

Edward Liang's Lineage had costumes by Anna Sui. The folksy dance costumes, with burgundy tops and long silver swaying skirts for the women, were nice, but they had absolutely no connection to the music (by Oliver Davis) and choreography (essentially three ultra-modern pas de deux in which the women removed the long skirts and danced in leotards).

There was nothing offensive about this ballet but it's been done so many times – the highly acrobatic pas de deux in which women are lifted every which direction and finally upside down. The three couples were Maria Kowroski–Tyler Angle, Sara Mearns–Russell Janzen, and Ashley Bouder–Peter Walker. All are very individual dancers but the pas de deux all blended into one. The only part of the choreography that wasn't typical for this sort of work was a solo by Roman Mejia. The solo looked like Le Corsaire had been dropped into this contemporary ballet. Mejia did barrel turns, double saute de basques, and revoltades, all to great applause.

Mary Thomas MacKinnon and Company in Lauren Lovette’s <i>The Shaded Line</i> © Erin Baiano
Mary Thomas MacKinnon and Company in Lauren Lovette’s The Shaded Line
© Erin Baiano

More unique was Lauren Lovette's The Shaded Line. The music by Tan Dun was reminiscent of Peking Opera. The costumes by Zac Posen were more adventurous than the ones for the Liang piece. Georgina Pazcoguin was dressed in a black wig bob, white shirt, black pants and black pointe shoes. The other dancers were in deconstructed tutus that were cracked at the backside to show... well, to show the panties under the tutus. Pazcoguin imitated some of the sound effects of Peking Opera, the grunts, crashes, hisses, yelps and high lying vocal riffs. She also did some stereotypical tai chi moves.

So one would think this is a ballet about cultural appropriation, right? Wrong. It's actually a ballet about gender-bending. Pazcoguin took on the "male" partnering role with three dancers – first Mary Thomas MacKinnon, who was dressed in the traditional tutu, then Unity Phelan, who was dressed as an angel. During this time, Pazcoguin also took off her pointe shoes. Finally she took on the "male" role with... an actual guy! Taylor Stanley was wonderfully androgynous as a male dancer playing the traditional female role in a pas de deux. At the end of the ballet Pazcoguin finally got her pointe shoes back. The dancers sold this piece as well as they could but one couldn't help but feel that this ballet was more about Ideas than Dance.

New York City Ballet in George Balanchine’s <i>Symphony in C</i> © Erin Baiano
New York City Ballet in George Balanchine’s Symphony in C
© Erin Baiano

The two repertory works were Robbins' Opus 19/The Dreamer and Balanchine's Symphony in C. Opus 19/The Dreamer received a surreal, mysterious performance by Taylor Stanley. Lauren Lovette carefully displayed the bizarre arm poses of the piece. The connection between Stanley and Lovette seemed impersonal. Mikhail Baryshnikov (who originated the role) returned to coach the ballet. I saw another cast with Sterling Hyltin and Gonzalo Garcia, who emphasized the romantic "dreamer" aspect of the ballet. It's interesting how with the same coaching two pairs of dancers can make the same ballet look so different. Violinist Kurt Nikkanen made Prokofiev's Violin Concerto no. 1 hauntingly beautiful.

Balanchine's Symphony in C is a surefire closer. But last night's performance was sloppier than usual, with several soloists having atypical stumbles in the ballet's Allegro vivace final movement. Joseph Gordon (first movement) and Indiana Woodward (third movement) were standouts. But still after seeing the Liang and Lovette pieces it was a relief to see all those joyful beats in the ballet's finale. Balanchine's ballets have a way of soothing the soul with their beauty and joy.

***11