Saturday October 13th, 2012 evening - Tonight, in the penultimate performance of the New York City Ballet's Autumn 2012 season, I was finally able to see Justin Peck's ballet YEAR OF THE RABBIT which premiered on October 5th and was a rousing success. An appetizing preview of the work was given by the Guggenheim's Works & Process series in September.
YEAR OF THE RABBIT started out as a pas de deux first seen at performances by the Columbia Ballet Collaborative in April 2010. An expanded version of the piece was part of a programme celebrating the New York Choreographic Institute's 10th anniversary the Miller Theater in November 2010 where it made a very fine impression.
New York City Ballet have done Justin proud in terms of production: handsome costumes designed by the choreographer have been created by Marc Happel, and the lighting by Brandon Sterling Baker shows off the dancing to best advantage. And what young choreographer could ask for finer dancers to work with than these, the best in the world? The above production photo by NYCB's Paul Kolnik.
The ballet unfolds before our eyes with wonderful freshness of movement, clarity of structure, and a pleasingly asymmetrical quality. The corps of twelve are given plenty to do and they weave into Justin's patterns with assurance, creating vivid pictures. Of the six principals, the virtuosity and athleticism of Ashley Bouder and Joaquin de Luz give Justin full opportunity to design bravura passages (a whirlwind manege of pirouettes from Ashley, and Joaquin's fast-paced solo). Teresa Reichlen and Robert Fairchild display their trademark 'big lyricism' in their duet while the much-admired pairing of Janie Taylor and Craig Hall create a quietly intense atmosphere in Year of Our Lord.
The ballet needs to be seen more than once because there is so much happening onstage - to focus on the principals inevitably means you are missing something the corps are doing. But that's how the best ballets are: endless opportunities to discover more and more with repeated viewings.
If I had any misgivings about YEAR OF THE RABBIT they would be from a musical standpoint. The Sufjan Stevens score, reworked for string orchestra, certainly provides rhythmic variety and serves as a sonic canvas which Justin has filled with living colours. But as music per se, it is not particularly inspired or memorable, and it tended to wear thin in a few places. Later in the programme, John Adams' HALLELUJAH JUNCTION does so much more with less, and manages to touch the heart as well as the mind.
Be that as it may, Justin's success with YEAR OF THE RABBIT is something to rejoice in, and I look forward to his future works with high expectations.
HALLELUJAH JUNCTION has, in fact, never looked better than it has this season. And the score really is quite fascinating, with its haunting adagio and the music-hall flavour of the brisk duet for two men. Sterling Hyltin was captivating, her beautiful line shown off in the pas de deux, and with sparkling allegro footwork. Robert Fairchild goes from one astonishing level to the next; he looks fantastic and moves with a unique blend of elegance and passion. Winning screams of delight at his bow, Daniel Ulbricht displayed unbridled energy and flawless technique in a super-sensational performance. The octet of dancers who tackle a series of demanding duets were all dazzling: Brittany Pollack with David Prottas, Erica Pereira with Troy Schumacher, Lauren Lovette with Allen Peiffer (they were especially keen tonight) and Lauren King with Daniel Applebaum. It was nice to see them before the curtain at the end, and well-deserved. When the pacing of the score magically settles into that dreamlike adagio, the pianists Susan Walters and Cameron Grant brought just the right nuances to their playing: they very much deserved the hearty applause when they took their bow from the rear of the stage.
Daniel Capps took up the baton for the evening's final work: Christopher Wheeldon's LES CARILLONS. I liked it last season, I loved it tonight. Again, it is a ballet that rewards multiple viewings. The Bizet score gives the choreographer opportunities to enchant and delight us, and that's what Christopher - and his dancers - do. Some prominent young dancers from the corps were given principal roles and they each literally glowed, reassuring us of their possibilities for future glory. Lauren Lovette was simply captivating, pretty as a picture and with a special presence that held our focus in her long solo. Ashly Isaacs is a lushly pleasing dancer, technically strong and musical in her approach. In duets she had the great good fortune to have Andrew Veyette as her cavalier; Andrew's technical flair stood out in the men's ensembles. Taylor Stanley (as Ms. Lovette's beau) delivered yet another excellent performance to add to his growing catalog, and finally we got to see the long-imagined pairing of Russell Janzen with Teresa Reichlen on this stage: the long- limbed couple displayed striking line and created an impulsive romantic atmosphere. Tess, who has had a great season, looked gorgeous.
Sterling Hyltin and Adrian Danchig-Waring were wonderful together, Sterling still aglow from her performance in the Adams. Adrian's two sustained arabesque poses displayed both his beauty of line and physical strength. I have come to the conclusion that Ana Sophia Scheller has royal blood in her veins; her aristocratic beauty seemed more radiant than ever tonight. Whether dancing in pure classic mode or adding a seductive flavour to her solo, Ana Sophia lit up the stage every moment she was on it. Jon Stafford was the right prince for the Argentine beauty, and he danced with his accustomed air of nobility.
The corps were particularly fine here: Mlles. Anderson, Gerrity, Segin, Smith and Wellington were joined by Devin Alberda, Ralph Ippolito (unannounced), a long-limbed newcomer with a handsome face named Aaron Sanz, and a fair-haired boy I didn't recognize who was subbing for someone else. Joshua Thew again stood out in this group, and he also joined the 'principal' men in some ensemble passages and he looked great.
As LES CARILLONS reaches its conclusion, Bizet's two main themes compete and then merge as the girls swoon into the arms of their partners at the footlights: a marvelous season finale.
YEAR OF THE RABBIT: Reichlen, Bouder, Taylor, R. Fairchild, De Luz, Hall
HALLELUJAH JUNCTION: Hyltin, Ulbricht, R. Fairchild
LES CARILLONS: Reichlen, Scheller, Isaacs, Hyltin, Lovette, Janzen, J. Stafford, Veyette, Danchig-Waring, Stanley