New York City Ballet finally launched its winter season last night. The season had been delayed due to Omicron, and there was an audible sigh of relief when the curtain rose. It’s really happening, I thought. The season opener had a world premiere – Justin Peck’s Partita. The whole setup was fairly experimental, with an octet (Roomful of Teeth) performing Caroline Shaw’s Partita For 8 Voices. Shaw’s music combines traditional a cappella singing, spoken word, grunts, moans, hisses and sighs. The music was never less than gripping. Set designer Eva Lewitt created a set of colorful streamer drops that looked a bit like huge balloons.

New York City Ballet in the world premiere of Justin Peck’s Partita
© Erin Baiano

Justin Peck’s choreography, however, recycled many of his most popular “sneaker ballet” moves and his vocabulary wasn’t as well-matched to Partita for 8 Voices as it was for Dan Deacon’s electronica The Times Are Racing. Peck is overly fond of a few steps – one is a move I call the “movie theater recliner”, in which a dancer hikes up a bent knee, leans slightly backwards (as if in a movie theater recliner), and then stops in mid-air. Another is the “hockey stick”, where a dancer extends his leg out with feet flexed and slides the foot, like a hockey stick.

India Bradley and Claire Kretzschmar in the world premiere of Justin Peck’s Partita
© Erin Baiano

There were eight dancers (Tiler Peck, Ashley Hod, Claire Kretzschmar, India Bradley, Harrison Coll, Taylor Stanley, Chun-Wai Chan and Roman Mejia). Three duets (for Bradley and Kretzschmar, Stanley and Coll, and Hod and Chan) were full of the gender-neutral mirroring movements of The Times Are Racing. A solo for Peck showed off her speed and quick footwork. The NYCB dancers are very at-home in this idiom, and they threw themselves wholeheartedly into this ballet. It was never less than watchable, but the music cried out for more avante-garde choreography than Peck provided.

Adrian Danchig-Waring, Ashley Laracey and Emilie Gerrity in Merce Cunningham’s Summerspace
© Erin Baiano

Merce Cunningham’s Summerspace is an example of an experimental work that retains its freshness more than 60 years after its premiere. Robert Rauschenberg's costumes that camouflage into the set are still striking. Cunningham’s choreography resembles birds around a pond – one of the dancers, in fact, frequently poses like a duck. NYCB dancers do not exactly look idiomatic dancing Cunningham, but they captured the light, avian mood of the piece. Emilie Gerrity, Sara Adams and Adrian Danchig-Waring in particular deserve plaudits for disappearing the most seamlessly into Cunningham dance vocabulary. Ashley Laracey, however, betrayed her ballet origins a little too much with the effortlessly high extensions and turn-out, while last minute replacement Sebastian Villarini-Velez struggled visibly with Cunningham’s difficult jumps.

Isabella LaFreniere and Jovani Furlan in Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse
© Erin Baiano

Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV closed out the evening, just the jolt of adrenaline needed after a rather cerebral program. Michael Nyman’s score is pulsating and propulsive. The large corps weaves in and out of the Jean-Marc Puissant’s set. Wheeldon’s acrobatic choreography was performed by an almost all-new cast. Isabella LaFreniere and Jovani Furlan were very exciting as the opening pair, and Mira Nadon and Chun-Wai Chan brought a sculptural elegance to the fourth duet. All the men held the women up in those endless crane-like lifts with admirable fortitude. Is it great choreography? No, but it’s fun and exciting.

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