8 Mar 2024

New York City Ballet - Mixed Bill in London

A rare visit to London by New York City Ballet is strong on new work and showcases fabulous dancers - we want more…

Taylor Stanley and Jules Mabie in Kyle Abraham’s “Love Letter (On Shuffle)”. Photo © Erin Baiano.Taylor Stanley and Jules Mabie in Kyle Abraham’s “Love Letter (On Shuffle)”. Photo © Erin Baiano.

New York City Ballet
Mixed Bill: Rotunda, Duo Concertant, Gustave le Gray No.1, Love Letter (on shuffle)
7 March 2024, matinee
London, Sadler’s Wells

A terrific opening at the Wells for New York City Ballet (NYCB) in an often playful quad bill dominated by thoughtful new work and one Balanchine classic. If you go, and you should, do get the programme for some excellent notes on the company/works by New York based Marina Harss, who wrote extensively about the company for DanceTabs.

Justin Peck’s Rotunda (from 2020) introduces the night and the company as a community of 12 dancers circle, roam and spawn delightfully agile solos, duets and other small assemblies. Nico Muhly’s minimalist score percussively drives the dance which is both precise and fluidly harmonious with unexpected (to UK eyes) flicks and little kicks. And I sighed as I observed that no London-based company would do such steps so utterly cleanly - the men particularly were pure joy. Megan Fairchild and Gilbert Bolden III are especially good in a coolly detached duet in which they barely acknowledge each other, and yet it smoulders with deep attraction. Only the eclectic mix of practice costumes (Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung) may jar.

You can see the linage to Peck’s movement in Balanchine’s Duo Concertant, from 1972, as Megan Fairchild and Anthony Huxley - both charismatic and elegant - listen and respond to Stravinsky’s prickly work for violin and piano, played live on stage by the fine Kurt Nikkanen and Elaine Chelton. I love the playful way it starts, with thoroughbred dancers just standing for ages and then when they do start to move you just’ get rhythmic leg and arm movements, before unfolding into a more gracious response as the music’s five sections morph from starkly mysterious to warmer togetherness. A blissful highlight, if the false ending still continues to throw many of us.

If the Balanchine is a highlight, then Pam Tanowitz‘ Gustave le Gray No. 1 is the strange curved ball that you are not sure should have been invited. It’s a short, 12-minute work that takes some strange red all-in-one costumes with wingsuit additions (Bartelme and Jung again) and has 4 dancers run through a bunch of austere movement to animate them every which way. Glad I’ve seen it, odd” was my thought before le Gray seemed to lose the crowd with the dancers manhandling the live-played piano from one side of the stage to the other and the work ended. All very cerebral and a diversion, but not a piece for keeping long in the repertoire I fancy.

NYCBs house style is so often about movement clarity and precision, but Kyle Abraham’s Love Letter (on shuffle) takes that in a way more dramatic and urban direction. It’s a poem about the hunt for love, and is unusual in being utterly and unashamedly romantic. Giles Deacon’s compelling designs fuse the tribal with buccaneering pirates and Degas ballet girls as Taylor Stanley roams the world for love and finds it in the tall and striking Jules Mabie. The movement is deeply expansive and expressive, and to a moody medley of James Blake songs - it would be nice to have the playlist. It’s a work where all the components fuse together and show you a different world in a different way. Bravo to that.

One can quibble about what repertoire NYCB has brought, but overall I found it a compelling bill of where the company is now, rather than where it was 50 or more years ago. But above and beyond that, it’s about the dancers, stupid! Their style we see far too little of in the UK, and you’d be daft to miss them before the run ends on Sunday.