A current offering in New York City Ballet’s Winter season, titled New Combinations, shows the company in its traditionally fine shape technically, but decidedly uneven in character. An omnibus of three relatively recent ballets, the evening as presented at Lincoln Center’s David Koch Theatre, was comprised of Mauro Bigonzetti’s Vespro, Angelin Preljocaj’s Spectral Evidence and Liam Scarlett’s Acheron.

Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild in Preljocaj's Spectral Evidence © Paul Kolnik
Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild in Preljocaj's Spectral Evidence
© Paul Kolnik

Bigonzetti’s work (originally set on the company in 2002) starts off with a promise of something that might take the company on a refreshing detour from the classical, one that would make this work a fitting choice for an aptly titled evening focusing on innovation in form and concept. And Vespro does accomplish that, in part, thanks to some interesting interventions – for instance, I felt that placing the pianist center-stage (a nimble-fingered Alan Moverman, who, perhaps ironically, could be credited with the most inspired performance within the piece) along with his concert piano, was a lovely choice, which provided for some dynamic choreographic choices, including moments of using the piano top as a dancing surface. Many other choices, however, did not feel as fortunate: for one, Bigonzetti’s fairly numerous corps is relegated to standing still behind Moverman’s piano for much of the ballet's duration, and when their turn comes, the choreography feels strangely anorexic. As a matter of fact, Bigonzetti is at his most adventuresome when it comes to choreographing the soloist (this evening, the role is performed by Andrew Veyette), whose energetic athleticism is admirable. For the most part, however, the work feels sadly uninspired – which can probably be attributed to the fact that the choreography has been passed down so many times since it was originally staged nearly 12 years ago that, at this point, the dancers are just too far removed from the original impetus, as well as from the joy of originating roles. All the more urgent areason for the company to give this ballet some much-needed attention.

Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild in Spectral Evidence © Paul Kolnik
Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild in Spectral Evidence
© Paul Kolnik

Fortunately, New York City Ballet has Angelin Preljocaj on hand to deliver the fireworks during New Combinations. In Spectral Evidence, the customarily adventuresome choreographer creates the boldest, most fiery moves, in a work that feels wholly relevant and contemporary, performed by a cast of dancers that are as talented and technically capable as they are inspired (and inspiring) in their delivery. I don’t want to spoil any future viewer’s fun – and really, if you have a chance, you should make an effort to catch this work – but let me just say that Preljocaj returns to spiritual/religious themes that are often the springboard for his pieces (as was the case with his early landmark, Annonciation, as well as the recent And then, one thousand years of peace) with the customary wit, intelligent – and intelligible – narrative and visceral movement that makes the work excitingly compelling. The stiffness of the previous work gives way to fluid, sensual movement and sparse, yet refreshingly innovative design interventions: for instance, a long white table, upon which the work begins, turns out to be a precarious construction of four wedge-like structures that undergo multiple transformations throughout the piece – at times becoming a chaise longue, a house, a pyre, a tomb. Preljocaj opts for a relatively small cast of eight, which in turn affords him the opportunity to give each dancer enough individual attention to inspire impressive commitment and fully fleshed-out characters. And handsomely dressed ones too: elegant costumes, designed by fashion designer Olivier Theyskens, put men in sleek black suits and women in light, flowing gowns, each highlighting a different part of their bodies – be it a shoulder, a ribcage, a thigh – with patches of skin-tight engine-red vinyl.

Gretchen Smith and Tiler Peck in Spectral Evidence © Paul Kolnik
Gretchen Smith and Tiler Peck in Spectral Evidence
© Paul Kolnik

Energized by Preljocaj's tale of good versus evil, I was hopeful that the evening would end with a bang. Liam Scarlett, a young British choreographer and a relative newcomer, is also credited for providing the newest work in the program – his Acheron, indeed, premièred just a few days prior to my viewing it this past Tuesday night. I was that much more surprised that the work remained largely uninspired (and uninspiring). While I admit that expectations are always dangerous, I was nonetheless surprised with how little – if any – effort was made to innovate the concept of advance the balletic cannon. Especially in the hands of such a young choreographer, the work felt extremely dated and lacking in urgency. Sporting the largest cast, Acheron felt like a missed opportunity, featuring some of the most tentative performances on display, and remaining the weakest offering on the bill.

***11