Alexei Ratmansky’s gift for creating characters and weaving them into the fabric of his choreography made Namouna, a Grand Divertissement a perfect show closer to NYCB's Here/Now program. The music comes from a long-gone ballet of the same name that was created back in 1882 which makes this an evocation of a lost work. With only the barest outline of a story, Ratmansky has created a ballet rich in characters, full of camp humor and ultimately too full of fun to resist. It also proves that New York City Ballet is full of capable actors when the material is right for them. Under Clotilde Otranto, the orchestra gave full voice to Lalo’s richly textured score. Rustam Khamdamov and Marc Happel’s costumes suggested Erté, especially in the opening episode. The women of the corps de ballet entered wearing black bob wigs and gold, Empire waisted gowns. I seldom approve when dancers wear things on their heads and I didn’t like it here but the designs were memorable. Briefly, a sailor is shipwrecked or something and three intriguing women among the local population catch his attention. He has a nemesis trying to foil him and it is backed up by nearly all of the women of the corps de ballet in supporting roles. It was so captivating that I had to give all my favorite characters names as the program didn’t supply them.

New York City Ballet in Ratmansky's <i>Namouna A Grand Divertissement</i> © Paul Kolnik
New York City Ballet in Ratmansky's Namouna A Grand Divertissement
© Paul Kolnik

Megan Fairchild ran away with the part of the Cigarette Girl with a sly, minxy quality. She’s a natural comedienne and her solo with cigarette was the best thing in the show. Taylor Stanley has seldom danced better than he did as The Sailor. He’s probably the least bravura male principal but I prefer his dancing to almost everyone else’s. He slashed his way through some challenging steps and made a great hero. Sara Mearns, as The Gypsy, managed to convince me that she really was on the edge of completely losing control as she threw herself around the stage with near-total abandon. Daniel Ullbricht as The Piratical Nemesis was astonishing in his ability to hang in the air while Erica Pereira and Abi Stafford capered around him mischievously. When Lauren Lovette, The Love Interest, finally connected with The Sailor, naturally there had to be a celebration. Ratmansky put together another one of his trademark grand finales, moving the whole cast on and off the stage with astonishing ease. No one has constructed such satisfying, epic endings since Balanchine.

Benjamin Millepied’s Neverwhere opened the program and promptly set low expectations. Nico Muhly’s music didn’t help but this ballet was uninspired. Nice work by Lauren Lovette and Preston Chamblee couldn't rescue a ballet that looked alternately under-rehearsed and un-musical. Nicolas Blanc’s Mothership gave nice moments to Claire von Enck, Christopher Grant, and Sebastian Villarini-Velez. Mason Bates’s music had some nice jazzy inflections that were picked up in the choreography and made it a nice if not especially memorable ballet.

NYCB in Peck's <i>The Decalogue</i> © Paul Kolnik
NYCB in Peck's The Decalogue
© Paul Kolnik

Justin Peck’s Decalogue has a lot going for it. There’s the imprimatur of City Ballet’s resident Boy Wonder, the music of indie star and frequent collaborator Sufjan Stevens, and then there is Peck’s ability to draw on the company’s top talent to cast his ballets. Peck puts his advantages to work while drawing on his training in the House that Balanchine Built and he seldom misses. His patterns are inventive and his use of music is always on point. Sara Mearns was not shown to her advantage but Unity Phelan seemed to thrive with Peck’s choreography. There are formations that are original, partnering that breaks the norms and a fine sense of music and scale. Decalogue is not his best work but it’s good enough to be kept around for a while.

Sara Mearns and Jared Angle in Peck’s <i>The Decalogue</i> © Paul Kolnik
Sara Mearns and Jared Angle in Peck’s The Decalogue
© Paul Kolnik

This Here/Now program was uneven in quality but it serves to remind us that ballet has always had a high rate of failure with its new works. Only a few can withstand the test of time. Alexei Ratmansky and Justin Peck are all the more impressive among choreographers working today because of how many of their works seem destined to stay in the repertoire for a long time to come.