Dance Revue: The New York City Ballet at the Kennedy Center appeals to all in ‘Visionary Voices’

New York City Ballet, “SUSPENDED ANIMATION”. Choreography by Sidra Bell. Photo by Erin Baiano.

Dance fans know the New York City Ballet Company. It’s the dance troupe with the long-legged ballerinas; strong and technical male soloists; the rapidity; and unwavering dedication to the founding director. This is, of course, George Balanchine.

Mr. B, as he was known in the ballet world, took the oft-quoted view that “ballet is a woman.” It is therefore not surprising that the dancers of today’s company are exceptional.

They are delicate but strong, feminine and independent. Think of Suzanne Farrell, Merrill Ashley, Heather Watts, Patty McBride, Sara Leland, Kay Mazzo—some of Balnchine’s ballet beauties who contributed greatly to NYCB’s success. Add to that list Wendy Whelan, a beloved alumnus who now runs the business with Associate Art Director Jonathan Stafford who also grew up through the ranks of NYCB.

…joyful…a memorable performance.

“City Ballet”, as it is colloquially known, is the most sophisticated dance company, and current directors carry on Balanchine’s legacy by stripping away superfluous trimmings, leaving crisp, clear movement that dazzles.

At the Kennedy Center Opera House, young NYCB dancers burst onto the stage in “Emanon – In Two Movements,” created by Alvin Ailey’s dancer Jamar Roberts, set to music legend’s “Prometheus Unbound” and “Pegasus.” jazz Wayne Shorter. The scores rely heavily on the brass section of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, sensitively conducted by Ron Wasserman, with a nod to Chris Hemingway’s soprano sax solo.

There have been a lot of changes in the company since we lost Monsieur B in 1983. The ballerinas have let themselves go, literally. The traditional buns the ballerinas wore on the back of their heads were rocked, letting their hair fly to and fro in jazzy dances.

Still, it was a shocking first for this writer to see the girls perform classic ballet steps in sneakers, as seen in Justin Peck’s “Partita,” his latest creation for the company.

A youthful dynamism permeated last night’s performance and delighted the large gathering of GenX as well as the senior balletomanes. The New York dancers appeared strong, healthy and cheerful on stage and off. Indeed, “joyful” was the key word for NYCB and the three new works that represent a new direction for the 74-year-old company with more diversity in the business and behind the scenes.

Even before the curtain went up, we knew it was going to be a performance to remember.

The eight dancers of “Partita”, tastefully costumed by Jermaine Terry, reminded this writer of a team of wild stallions ready to take flight. At the head of the peloton, Tiler Peck takes off in this dance. At first she hides in the background, then jumps into the middle of the group where she perfectly whips whips and other turns. Wearing skin-tight shorts, designed by Reis Bartelme and Harriet Jung, Tiler Peck was a firecracker — part Coppélia, part Black Swan and an all-American Fourth of July firecracker. Check out her Instagram posts for a glimpse of her amazing dancing.

The program, titled “Visionary Voices,” also included dances by other up-and-coming choreographers. Sometimes Roberts’ new work has a tinge of Ailey’s trademark arms reaching for the heavens or Paul Taylor’s “Esplanade” with playfulness throughout. I loved the little blonde dancer who flew off the stage, leaving behind a twinkle, a big smile and the audience’s appreciation. Too bad the lack of WiFi left some of us without a program to identify the dancers.

Each of the choreographers in this triple program has roots in the world of contemporary dance and each has costumed their dancers in bright, neon colors – no more soft pastels from Balanchine’s piano ballets. Everything was bold and colorful.

The brightest belongs to “Suspended Animation”, created by Sidra Bell. This is his first live work for NYCB, originally created for New York’s New Works virtual festival and featuring costumes by fashion designer Christopher John Rogers and lighting by Mark Stanley. The ballet is complicated but still a visual treat for all.

Duration: 2 hours with 2 intermissions of 15 minutes.

“Visionary Voices: Bell, Roberts and Peck » took place June 7-8, 2022 at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. NYCB performs “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House June 9-12, 2022. For more information on Kennedy Center Dance Programs, call (800) 444-1324 or click here. For more information about the New York Ballet, visit here.
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