The high point of New York City Ballet's Here/Now program for me was the playing of violinist Kurt Nikkanen. His solo work in Christopher Wheeldon’s Liturgy and later in Alexei Ratmansky’s Odessa was full of rich sound and deep feeling. Bravo, Mr Nikkanen. The opening Liturgy is a sensitive dance that traces graceful lines around the spiritual and romantic realms with a deft touch. Maria Kowroski, starting in a tight, crossed over fifth position, used just her elegant, long arms to create exquisite lines that flowed from her center out to infinity. As she and her partner, Jared Angle, began to move, their individual geometry drew together and spread apart in a continuous flow that was spare and yet deeply moving. So much was said with a simple caress of a face. Kowroski was utterly compelling and drew the audience into her world.

Maria Kowroski and Jared Angle in Christopher Wheeldon’s <i>Liturgy</i> © Paul Kolnik
Maria Kowroski and Jared Angle in Christopher Wheeldon’s Liturgy
© Paul Kolnik

After a pause, Wheeldon’s Polyphonia launched us into a neo-classical ballet replete with sharply drawn angles, crisp musicality and pure energy. Everything happens quickly in Polyphonia and there are lots of passages that are visually arresting. Every position is clearly rendered against the background of György Ligeti’s discordant, rhythmic, richly textured music. The opening section had all four couples moving in fast unison, accentuating the angles with low attitudes and sharp attack of the steps. Emilie Gerrity and Aaron Sanz sailed through a waltz that was ballroom and ballet in equal measure. In the fourth part Gerrity, Lauren Lovette and Ashley Hod moved in canon with a series of simple steps that added up to more than its parts. My favorite dance from this ballet was the sixth section, featuring Lauren Lovette and Russel Janzen in a lively duo that I immediately wanted to see over again.

Unity Phelan and Zachary Catazaro in Christopher Wheeldon’s <i>Polyphonia</i> © Paul Kolnik
Unity Phelan and Zachary Catazaro in Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia
© Paul Kolnik

Ratmansky’s Odessa is a series of vignettes tied to Isaac Babel’s play, Sunset. Paired with Leonid Desyatnikov’s heavily atmospheric music created originally for a film, the ballet shows us fraught relationships among Jewish Russian gangsters and their women. The music ranges from klezmer to tango and Nikkanen's violin was integral to the piece. It’s occasionally violent, often poignant and full of exuberant dancing. Sterling Hyltin’s emotional vulnerability makes her reluctant to get involved with Joaquin de Luz. Their duets are eloquent as she gradually warms up to him after initially slapping his face. Fierce Ashley Bouder gets knocked around by Taylor Stanley but doesn’t stop fighting. Bouder stuck her balances with defiant authority. Sara Mearns is a beautiful cipher partnered by Tyler Angle. The six couples of the corps are a Greek chorus, at times removed from the story and occasionally directly involved. They move to lift Hyltin into an exalted position above de Luz’s head during their pas de deux, causing him to reach for her, knowing that she’s above him in every sense. The ending fizzled for me when it devolved into a series of classroom exercises but it is largely an enjoyable work.

New York City Ballet in Alexei Ratmansky’s <i>Odessa</i> © Paul Kolnik
New York City Ballet in Alexei Ratmansky’s Odessa
© Paul Kolnik

Justin Peck’s jazzy, high energy The Times Are Racing closed the show and it looked like everyone, especially Peck himself, was having fun. He and Ashly Isaacs were great together in all their duets. Peck danced his own choreography with zeal, like it might have been the most pleasurable thing he’s done on stage. Isaac’s appeared barely able to contain herself, looking like she had to put the brakes on or she might explode. Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar were perfect in their duet that incorporated some old school breakdancing moves reminiscent of Crazy Legs. Is there anything Tiler Peck can’t do? After her just-completed triumph in Swan Lake we’re obliged to say no. Savannah Lowery took me by surprise with her taut, bristling energy. I’ve never seen her express so much joy on stage. Indiana Woodward and Brittany Pollack were speed bunnies. This is a dance that doesn’t have anything particular to say other than “it’s so much fun to be us so let’s dance like there’s no tomorrow.”

Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar in Justin Peck’s <i>The Times Are Racing</i> © Paul Kolnik
Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar in Justin Peck’s The Times Are Racing
© Paul Kolnik

This evening with the New York City Ballet was fully satisfying if not among my favorite programs. It had a bushel of great music and dancing with a terrific couple of Pecks at the end. What more could you want?