NYCB’s “Architecture of Dance”: They Didn’t Get the Memo

June 22, 2010





The idea for the Calatrava festival wasn’t fully realized until last night’s premiere, Peter Martins’ own ballet, Mirage (and beautifully so). His concept to emphasize the relationship between architecture and dance just didn’t reach the six other choreographers commissioned for this season’s blowout of new works. Christopher Wheeldon, Benjamin Millepied, and Melissa Barak made their least architectural, most narrative ballets yet. Wayne McGregor and Alexei Ratmansky opted out of the Calatrava collaboration (meaning the famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava) altogether. Other than Martins, Mauro Bigonzetti came closest to actually integrating Calatrava’s artwork into the choreography.


That’s the danger of naming a festival way ahead of time.


Calatrava’s huge, many-spoked wheel for Millepied was stunning, but the choreography was so literal that they didn’t match. Wheeldon and Barak requested painted backdrops rather than sculpture. The paintings were, in both cases, intriguingly impressionist; Wheeldon’s depicted the Argentine pampas and Barak’s the palm trees of Hollywood. Not a shred of ambiguity in either ballet, though. Both were throwbacks to the Ballet Theatre of Agnes de Mille and Antony Tudor’s time rather than the NYCB of our time.


But finally, last night, Mirage fully integrated choreography, mood, music, and set. I think it’s Peter Martins’ best ballet since his romantic Morgen (happily remounted this season). He was inspired, I think, by Calatrava, by Esa-Pekka Salonen’s music, and by Jennie Somogyi. And, maybe, a teeny bit, by the first half of Wheeldon’s After the Rain, where the girl pitches forward in a penché toward the audience. The music, which has something of the haunting quietness of Arvo Pärt, made Martins slow down. And the airborne sculpture needed quiet moments to allow it to change shape. There was just a hint of a bird in Calatrava’s contraption, which was just enough. The delicateness of the extended legs in the choreography seemed to echo both the quivering strings of the “wings” of the sculpture and the exquisite fragility of the solo violin (Leila Josefowicz). Somogyi was really juicy (she uses her plié!) and full—just ravishing.


Not only is Mirage a ballet to remember, but it points to the future of NYCB in a way that I believe Martins intended this festival to do. If he had to mount a whole expensive festival in order to stimulate himself to make this one excellent ballet, then so be it.


I don’t mean to imply that the festival was otherwise a total loss. I was knocked out by Wayne McGregor’s Outliers, and I think Bigonzetti’s piece, Luce Nascosta, achieved a certain unity of mood. See my full review in the upcoming September issue of Dance Magazine.




Jennie Somogyi and Tyler Angle in
Mirage. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB