Opening New York City Ballet's 21st Century Program, Troy Schumacher’s The Wind Still Brings came across as more of an intellectual puzzle than a deeply felt ballet. There were lots of patterns in play. This was echoed in the costumes which were also variations on a pattern and similarly not appealing. There was a great deal of canonical movement and dancers flowing on stage and back off again. There was a circle that had to get turned into a diagonal. There were motifs that were repeated too many times. When one dancer lay down next to another who was seemingly sleeping, that roused the dancer and then they both danced together. This was repeated well past the point where you wished it would stop. There was a great deal of business going on but not enough great dancing. Jumping kicks didn’t do it for me. It felt like Schumacher got lost in the details of his puzzles and forgot to invest himself emotionally. There were nice individual moments from some of the dancers but they were brief and not memorable enough to rescue this piece.

Teresa Reichlen and Company in Justin Peck’s <i>Year of the Rabbit </i> © Paul Kolnik
Teresa Reichlen and Company in Justin Peck’s Year of the Rabbit
© Paul Kolnik

The contrast of Schumacher’s ballet with Gianna Reisen’s Composer’s Holiday was stark. I was grabbed by this lovely and heartfelt piece of work from its first moments. The 2017 School of American Ballet graduate is noted as the youngest choreographer ever to create a piece for the company and she surely has made a winner here utilizing the youngest members of the corps plus apprentices. The musical accompaniment was Lukas Foss’ Three American Pieces and it was played with evident joy by pianist Susan Walters and violinist Arturo Delmoni. Composer’s Holiday will likely set first year corps dancer Emma Von Enck on a rapid upward trajectory. Her duet with Roman Mejia was charming, challenging and beautifully danced. The simple gesture of her taking her partner’s hand was poetic and significant. Von Enck is a complete dancer: lyrical, fast, beautiful in form, musical and ebulliently charismatic. It’s an astonishing accomplishment in her first featured role. Simplicity made this sweet, romantic ballet great and I hope we see much more of Gianna Reisen’s work.

Angelin Preljocaj used a quartet of couples drawn from the upper ranks of the company for his Spectral Evidence. This ballet was dark, clearly aiming for portentous, and it was on the heavy-handed side complete with recorded music by John Cage. It started with the funereally clad men lying down, evidently dead. Their spectral female partners in odd, diaphanous dresses gradually brought them back to life and a ghostly dance was held. I think their dresses were meant to indicate something about how they died but I couldn’t say what. The effective set was made from four long wedges that were rearranged in different formations. At one point they were set up as ramps and the women ran up and down them, occasionally stopping to slide. Near the end, they were set upright and represented coffins and it was the most evocative part of this dance. Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar worked perfectly together. Ramasar had the best part, lip-synching to a recording with comic effect and perfect timing. His performance range keeps getting broader and it’s beginning to seem like he can do anything.

Christina Clark and Gilbert Bolden III in Gianna Reisen’s <i>Composer's Holiday</i> © Paul Kolnik
Christina Clark and Gilbert Bolden III in Gianna Reisen’s Composer's Holiday
© Paul Kolnik
Justin Peck’s Year of the Rabbit closed out the show on a strong note. In the five years since Peck created this ballet, he’s gone from promising wunderkind to heir apparent of New York City Ballet’s choreographic tradition. He’s in demand around the world and at just thirty years old is one of the four people now directing one of the world’s top dance companies. I’m pleased to say that this ballet has withstood the test of time due to solid construction and some great sequences. Ashley Bouder was incisive and strong, holding her balances effortlessly. Anthony Huxley flew around the stage. Teresa Reichlen and Jared Angle held the center for the ensemble dancing. Reichlen seemed to tower over everyone in statuesque glory. Taylor Stanley and Indiana Woodward were so good paired together that I’d like to see much more of them. Their chemistry was such that they melded rather than partnered. Stanley’s long arms folded around Woodward eloquently – I am hard pressed to say which of them has the better port de bras.

This program was a good one to inspire your confidence about the future of choreography. New dance works often have a high rate of failure, even among the best choreographers. That’s never going to change. When you attend a program of new ballets there are typically going to be a couple of duds. On this occasion I didn’t enjoy Troy Schumacher’s The Wind Still Brings while I was transfixed by Gianna Reisen’s Composer’s Holiday. Preljocaj’s and Peck’s works are likely to stay in the repertoire for a while due to their theatrical appeal. Overall, it's a satisfying show.