New York City Ballet's enjoyable 21st Century Choreographers program of all new works was a bold and welcome move by the company.

New York City Ballet in Myles Thatcher's <i>Polaris</i> © Paul Kolnik
New York City Ballet in Myles Thatcher's Polaris
© Paul Kolnik

The first work was Myles Thatcher’s Polaris featuring a radiant Tiler Peck. Her versatility is one of her strongest gifts as a dancer and here she let us feel her solitude. I feel a new pattern is explored, with repeated examples of men partnering each other. In this piece we had three couples dancing as an ensemble with two of the pairs being male/female and the third male/male. This is in no way central to any of the works but it’s noteworthy because male on male partnering was seen in most of the works on the program. The dancing was musical and appealing but I feel this will likely not last in the repertoire as the ballet simply isn’t substantive enough. These works were created for the Evening of Fashion Gala and so we have to mention the costumes. Zuhair Murad’s creations for Polaris were sparkly and lovely, the prettiest of the night. Robert Binet’s The Blue Distance had costumes by Hanako Maeda which looked as though they were taken from two different ballets. The men were in striking plain blue, sleeveless unitards that didn’t match at all with the women’s short, soft white tutus topped by gorgeous, glittering bodices that clearly owed their existence to Swarovski. This was safe choreography with a hint of wistfulness – pleasant but not thrilling.

There were several notable things about Troy Schumacher’s Common Ground. It had memorable costumes by Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida that stood out with brilliant colors and had loose tatters that floated behind the dancers like Tibetan prayer flags dancing in the wind. The dancing was intensely emotional, sometimes too much so. Amar Ramasar and Ashley Laracey were paired up in the evening’s best pas de deux, a poignant essay on partnership that stood apart. Tall Teresa Reichlen and compact Anthony Huxley were paired in a dance that could hardly be called a pas de deux as it had them mostly on opposite sides of the stage. It was fascinating to see their contrasting styles where normally they would never appear on stage dancing together. The other standout of this ballet was Alexa Maxwell, another one of City Ballet’s great young dancers on the rise. Her powerful dancing radiated an aura of committed fearlessness, especially when she was being catapulted into the air.

Justin Peck’s New Blood set a blistering pace that was certainly enough to draw blood. The dynamic pairing of Georgina Pazcoguin and Meagan Mann typified this piece. They moved in and out of unison with supersonic finesse that nearly gave me whiplash following with my eyes. Ashley Bouder gleefully tore through this piece, clearly in her element. Taylor Stanley was also fun to watch as he made every movement his own. The sequential pairing of the dancers as one dancer gave way to the next may have been more of a choreographic exercise but it was one that worked well and I wouldn’t mind seeing this piece again a few times, notwithstanding the costumes – these made it difficult at time to sort out body parts. The unitards were all asymmetric and the patchwork pattern broke up the line of the dancers’ bodies creating visual frustration.

Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle in Robert Binet's <i>The Blue of Distance</i> © Paul Kolnik
Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle in Robert Binet's The Blue of Distance
© Paul Kolnik
Kim Brandstrup’s Jeux closed out the show and was clearly a work apart due to its theatricality. It was effectively and refreshingly unfussedly costumed by City Ballet’s own Marc Happel. Set to Debussy’s familiar music of the 1913 ballet by the same name, Brandstrup created an atmospheric work that was obviously by a more mature artist, more in command of what he wanted to say. Whether it was effective is a different question. A ballet that features Sterling Hyltin, Sara Mearns, Amar Ramasar and Adrian Danchig-Waring should have had more emotional impact. That it didn’t was chiefly due to the lack of dramatic tension generated by the choreography. Games were started but not finished. Much was insinuated that didn’t come to pass. There were modestly sexual games between dancers featuring a blindfold, a game of hide and seek and a ball, but nothing much of note took root until the end of the piece when Mearns placed the blindfold over Danchig-Waring’s eyes and prepared to take advantage of him. The piece felt tentative and needed more of that dramatic push to achieve some sort of resonance.

Five new works was a lot to process in one program but you have to give Peter Martins credit for constantly pushing ahead. New York City Ballet is constantly working to keep things interesting for its audience. New creations are what keep the art form moving ahead and showcases help to point the way ahead for ballet in America. Yet there is a question that has to be repeated because it still isn’t being answered: where are the women choreographers? It’s a question that won’t go away and apparently it is not being answered by the major dance companies. Here is yet another program of new, contemporary ballets that does not program works by female choreographers.