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NYCB Brings Back Rare Favorites

Photo © Paul Kolnik

Did you ever see a ballet so fascinating that you couldn't wait to see it again, only to realize it dropped out of that company's repertoire?

I've had this happen several times at New York City Ballet and found myself hungering and wondering: Where did that ballet go? When will I get a chance to see it again? Sometimes I feel like I have to wait years for it to come around again.

Sean Suozzi, Tiler Peck, Andrew Veyette and Megan LeCrone in Oltremare. Photo © Paul Kolnik

Well, this spring some of my favorite recent ballets are coming back, and it will be worth the wait. All of them were made after 1988, and some appeared only briefly before they disappeared from sight. So I am officially welcoming them back.

Here's the scoop: NYCB's fantastically ambitious Spring Season crams 50 ballets into six weeks, from April 18 to May 28. The middle four weeks are devoted to the Here/Now Festival and that's where we'll see some of these highly unusual ballets. The season also includes world premieres by (who else?) Justin Peck and Alexei Ratmansky. Those two plus Christopher Wheeldon will each have a whole program devoted to them. This is a rare tribute because a one-choreographer program is usually only accorded to the giants: Balanchine and Robbins.

The 22 choreographers and 43 ballets represented in Here/Now include Peter Martins, Pontus Lidberg and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa as well as newcomers like Robert Binet, Lauren Lovette and Myles Thatcher.

Now I'll cut to the chase—at least the chase of my personal faves. I tend to like ballets that take us off the beaten track:

  • Mauro Bigonzetti's Oltremare (2008) transformed the stage into a place for immigrants to look for a home, love fiercely and fight fiercely. It gave Tiler Peck, Georgina Pazcoguin, Andrew Veyette and others a chance to hurl themselves at their partners in the most astonishing lifts. It's been out of the rep since 2009.

Sterling Hyltin and Joseph Gordon in Neverwhere, photo ©Paul Kolnik

  • Every fall gala now matches up a choreographer with a fashion designer, and some of these commissions fade from memory pretty soon. But Benjamin Millepied's Neverwhere (2013) stood out as being daringly strange and super contemporary in its sculptural look. Dutch designer Iris van Herpen concocted layers of shiny black flakes that crackled when the dancers moved. Plus, she invented plastic pointe-shoe boots that made Sterling Hyltin's legs look like tentacles.
  • Jorma Elo's Slice to Sharp—last seen in 2009—received an immediate standing ovation at its premiere in 2006. The dancers blazed through super complex moves punctuated with a voguing kind of flair. With its high-wattage density and speed, it's kinetically exhilarating in a way that no other NYCB choreography is.
  • The oldest of all these ballets is the slinky Herman Schmerman (Pas de Deux) by William Forsythe (1992). A prototype of gender-bending for our age, it's been out of the rep for three years. I will be curious to see who can carry off the studied cool, the subtle irony and the highly stylized choreography that Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans brought to life.

Here are a couple of ballets we haven't had to wait long for, but I will be happy to see anyway:

  • Pictures at an Exhibition (2014), Ratmansky's piece to Mussorgsky's famous music, did not have an overarching narrative, but each scene was evocative: the gnome, the old castle, the ballet of “unhatched chicks." It challenged dancers like Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar to go beyond their emotional comfort zones. With a shifting backdrop of Kandinsky's Color Study: Squares with Concentric Circles, it showed how an abstract dance can be dramatically stirring.

Daniel Ulbricht, airborne, in Rodeo, photo © Paul Kolnik

  • Justin Peck's Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes (2015) was deemed a hit right away. Part of the awe is that he took a super familiar piece of music, Aaron Copland's Rodeo, which was made for Agnes de Mille's landmark ballet of the same title, and completely re-envisioned it. Peck's version of Rodeo has energy, humor, masterful form and Daniel Ulbricht dashing across the stage to wake us up.

Sara Mearns, center, in Jeux, photo © Paul Kolnik

  • In 2015, Danish choreographer Kim Brandstrup created a surreal version of Nijinsky's Jeux that projected an ominous feeling of danger. Sara Mearns, blindfolded and bewildered but up for a party game, finds herself entering a Kafkaesque realm of ambiguity while Adrian Danchig-Waring dribbles a basketball.

At City Ballet, Balanchine and Robbins are our old friends. The Here/Now Festival brings us new friends that we want to get to know better.

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