New York City Ballet’s Spring Gala was really a streamed film made by Sofia Coppola of various New York City Ballet dancers in dance excerpts. The video film was about 30 minutes long – a short but sweet time capsule of the company in the (hopefully) final stages of the pandemic. New York City is set to fully reopen in the coming months.

Coppola shot the film documentary style – there’s a single camera that follows the dancers as they walk backstage at the David Koch Theater. It’s shot in black and white, perhaps to match these solemn pandemic times. The approach is a 360° surround camera that differs from the flat, still way audience members view dancers onstage.

Anthony Huxley in a world premiere by Justin Peck, titled Solo
© Philippe Le Sourd

There was one original work. Resident Choreographer Justin Peck created a solo for Anthony Huxley, set to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Huxley is always worth watching; he might be the company’s purest classicist and most skilled virtuoso – how often does that happen? The solo Peck created is really a love letter to Huxley, showcasing the airy jumps, soft landings, effortless turns and humble persona. Huxley is one of the few dancers who never draw’s attention to his own skill. Peck has Huxley mirror a move from Apollo near the end of the solo, and ends with Huxley folding himself up and touching the stage. Is this a masterpiece? Probably not, but it’s an excellent showcase for an extraordinary dancer.

The rest of the film consisted of excerpts from Robbins and Balanchine ballets. The least remarkable was a clip from Duo Concertant with Ashley Bouder and Russell Janzen. This already brief piece does not take well to an excerpt approach, and Bouder and Janzen, while fine, did not match the complete performance with Megan Fairchild and Anthony Huxley that was streamed last fall.

Maria Kowroski and Ask la Cour in an excerpt from George Balanchine’s Liebeslieder Walzer
© Philippe Le Sourd

More poignant were clips danced by three beloved principals who are set to retire in the 2021-22 season. Ask La Cour and Maria Kowroski danced the “Nightingale” duet from Liebeslieder Walzer. This was filmed in the promenade of the Koch Theater. Kowroski and La Cour are mature artists in the dignified twilight of their careers. This excerpt suited them perfectly. I could watch and rewatch the graceful way Kowroski and La Cour intertwine arms and hands all day.

Gonzalo Garcia was filmed in a dance studio dancing the Brown Boy solo from Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering. Brown Boy is one of Garcia’s most treasured interpretations and this brief solo encapsulated why this was such a good role for Garcia – he was unaffected, unpretentious, without a hint of artifice. Please can he dance Brown Boy for his farewell next February?

Gonzalo Garcia in an excerpt from Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering
© Philippe Le Sourd

The final number of the program was finally shot in color and used a stationary camera in front of the proscenium. The excerpt was the joyous finale to Balanchine's Divertimento no. 15. It was such a pleasure to see the familiar yellow Karinska tutus and the crowded stage full of corps de ballet dancers and the five female and three male soloists. Tiler Peck in the central role was impossibly fast and merry – for her, the harder the step, the happier she seems dancing it. Alongside her were four of NYCB’s most beautiful, classical women – Emilie Gerrity, Lauren King, Ashley Laracey and Unity Phelan. How lovely they all looked! Andrew Veyette, Daniel Applebaum and Andrew Scordato were almost invisible as they ably partnered the women. There are so many steps in Divertimento’s finale that each time I pick up on a few – this time, I focused on Emilie Gerrity’s diagonal of fast sissones and Tiler Peck’s sequence of entrechats.

Tiler Peck hugging Ashley Laracey, Unity Phelan (right), after Balanchine’s Divertimento no. 15
© Philippe Le Sourd

I’ve been to live NYCB spring galas that were dour and depressing, with poorly received new works and increasing audience attrition during the intermissions. But this film by Coppola closed on a note of optimism. At the end of Divertimento the dancers gathered and waved to the cameras. Their smiles were bright, and their close proximity to each other probably the result of the mass vaccination campaign currently happening in the US. The message seemed to be: “Normality is just around the corner. We’re coming back.”