One of my 2011 regrets was missing New York City Ballet MOVES’ debut performance in Vail, which occurred under the aegis of the Vail International Dance Festival, directed by Damian Woetzel. I was thrilled to return to the Festival for the third year as an intern and witness MOVES’ second tour here.
On Friday, July 27, a busload of New York City Ballet dancers arrived in the Valley, and a few drove or flew in direct from other gigs from Sante Fe to Nantucket. The dancers got the first day off and wasted no time, plunging straight into whitewater rafting and fly-fishing. Even in an idyllic place like Vail, there are unique stresses ranging from acclimation to altitude to the terrifying and inescapable oxygen tank positioned on stage left. But once everyone gathers on stage, stretching on the grass and flowers that extend from the back of the stage, taking periodic breaks to soak sore muscles in the hot tub at the nearby lodge, and wandering the cobblestone, Swiss-like streets of Vail Village……it becomes clear this is a pretty special performance opportunity for all….
There were three things I was looking forward to most on the MOVES tour. First, the Vail premiere of Justin Peck’s In Creases, a ballet that had premiered only two weeks earlier at NYCB’s annual summer residency in Saratoga to a rave review by The New York Times’ Alastair Macaulay, and was now being rehearsed and performed for only the second time since then. Second, the closing ballet of Program I, Jerome Robbins’ In the Night, which I knew would be an entirely different experience set in the moonlit Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. Third, the UpClose: Stravinsky by Balanchine program at the Vilar Performing Arts Center.
In Creases was a special treat as the young corps cast was comprised almost entirely of former classmates at SAB. I had also seen some of Justin’s other work (for the New York Choreographic Institute, for instance) and had always been amazed at its emotional and rhythmic creativity, even in Justin’s most abstract pieces. Earlier in the week I had asked Justin to talk about the silent Robbins ballet Moves for a piece I was writing for the Vail Daily, and he had this to say about the performing experience: “We move based on reflex, undetectable sound, visual cues. When it comes to performing this, the cast takes on an intense focus. We place a great deal of trust in one another.” Watching In Creases, I couldn’t help but notice a nod to Robbins, and maybe even to Moves in particular. As in Moves, the movement in In Creases seems un-premeditated and rather prompted by individual dancers’ concerns and desires. One moment the group is clumped at the center of stage in a gorgeous, almost kaleidoscopic hexagon of perfectly symmetrical limbs extended and supported by the men; the next, one dancer leaves the group and as she goes off into her own little world of flexes, contractions, extensions, battements, the hexagon remains silent, waiting for her return. The work is also incredibly geometric, like an extended mathematical algorithm or a collection of light-reflecting shapes that keep whirling in and out of each other. It is very beautiful and a very interesting contrast to the Philip Glass music that accompanies it, which runs like a peaceful, constant undercurrent throughout the whole thing.
Robbins’ ballet Moves was originally subtitled “A Ballet in Silence About Relationships.” There is perhaps no ballet that so movingly speaks about the nature of relationships as Robbins’ In the Night. Everytime I see it I am amazed by the way Robbins can shift the entire emotional atmosphere between sections of a work with the most subtle changes in movement vocabulary. Sterling Hyltin and Robbie Fairchild were the young romantics in lavender, bathed in silver light. Tess Reichlen and Justin Peck were understated, careful, repressed, always touching but never really touching. And Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar blew me away as the last couple- sophisticated in all black but wild in their passion…
…See Nel Shelby’s video here: Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar perform \”In the Night.\”
UpClose: Stravinsky by Balanchine was a fascinating lecture-demonstration performance, one of the most inspiring, moving and educational experiences I have ever had as an audience member. The event was the first in the country to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Stravinsky Festival. The two-hour evening took the audience through the major highlights of the Stravinsky-Balanchine collaboration, beginning with Apollo in 1928, going through Firebird (1949) and Agon (1957), and ending with the Stravinsky Festival ballets, created in celebration of Stravinsky’ life one year after his death in 1971. Hosted by Damian and Peter Martins – fortuitously dressed in all black (the former) and all white (the latter) in an homage to the black-and-white ballet legacy - the evening was peppered with anecdotes and fascinating history. The backdrop featured a selection of Balanchine and Stravinsky quotes, often in deference to each other, as well as historical photographs featuring the original cast of the ballets discussed. It was strangely moving to see today’s NYCB stars caught for a brief moment in the same exact position as their forbearers, projected high above them.
“There are men who say there is no time, no space. But Stravinsky made time – not big, grand time – but time that works with the small parts of how our bodies are made.
- George Balanchine
The UpClose program should be a model for all ballet companies. It is so much more valuable and enjoyable to experience a work of art – whether a work of visual art, a ballet, a piece of music – when you have an understanding of its historical context, an anecdote to inform its story, a personal relationship to associate it with, a face to place with it….particularly when the work does not have an obvious narrative. I have to admit I never got Picasso until I took my first art history class in school, and I was amazed by how much I could appreciate a Picasso knowing where he was when he painted it, who he was dining with and being inspired by, what came just before and after it….It was wonderful to hear Peter Martins share his memories of his first encounter with Stravinsky, and to hear ballerina Heather Watts (pulled from the audience by Damian) talk about being in the room with Balanchine and Stravinsky. The chronological shift from narrative to abstract in the legendary partnership- from Firebird to Stravinsky Violin Concerto – was striking.
Don’t forget to like the VIDF Facebook page for daily updates and constant video/photo footage! And see vaildance.org for ticket and performance information. Stay tuned for more updates from International Evenings of Dance, NOW: Premieres, the Martha Graham Dance Company, and more!
- Erica Sheftman