Dance News

Justin Peck's New Ballet at the NYCB Gala

New York City Ballet's spring gala was last night, and oh man, you guys: I looooove NYCB gala nights. Love, love, love 'em.

First of all, they're a chance for everyone to get dressed up—both the celebrities who come out to support the company, and the company dancers themselves. My favorite example of the former was Kristen Bell (who also showed off her impressive singing voice—you know it best from Frozen!—during the performance):

Yowza! (Photo Monica Schipper/Getty Images)

As for the latter, Ashley Bouder's fabulous glamazon-by-way-of-Disney-villainess ensemble kind of made my life:

Amazing, right? Here she is with the dress's designer, B. Michael. (Photo Monica Schipper/Getty Images)

But for me, the real point(e) of these celebrations, naturally, is the dancing. NYCB is unlike a lot of other ballet companies when it comes to galas. Rather than filling the program with a bunch of tried-and-true classical pas de deux, City Ballet usually presents at least one completely new ballet. And that makes the proceedings especially exciting—particularly when the premiere is by Justin Peck, whose choreography has been delighting the ballet world for the past couple of years.

Peck dreamed big—really big—for Everywhere We Go, his sixth ballet for NYCB. He collaborated with indie music darling Sufjan Stevens on a completely new nine-movement, 40-minute score. He got architect Karl Jensen to construct a shape-shifting geometric backdrop. He asked former NYCB principal Janie Taylor (who retired earlier this year—we miss you already, Janie!) to create the bathing-beauty costumes. And he put together a cast of 25—count 'em—25 dancers. Everywhere you go, everywhere you look, you're overwhelmed by the ballet's sheer muchness.

Karl Jensen's set, the dancers in rehearsal, and Janie Taylor's costume designs (all via Instagram)

I think a lot of that muchness is just Peck responding to Stevens' score. As orchestrated by Michael P. Atkinson, it's huge, full, and rhythmically aggressive. There's something Philip Glass-ian about its relentless insistence (which makes sense—Stevens mentioned in interviews that he saw Glass's opera Einstein on the Beach sometime during the composing process). I mean, the note-per-minute count must be insane. And Peck, an instinctively musical choreographer, has movement responses to everything Stevens throws at him. This trailer for Everywhere We Go highlights one of the quieter moments in the ballet, yet it's still chock-full of music and dancing:

Like a lot of dance fans, I'm continually overwhelmed by Peck's use of groups. In Everywhere, his geometric mind takes full advantage of every one of those 25 dancers. Jensen's backdrop goes through kaleidoscope-like mutations over the course of the ballet; similarly, Peck's team shifts through endlessly innovative patterns, patterns that start out looking like chaos before suddenly—click!—falling into place.

I also love the way Peck plays with the ballet hierarchy. Everywhere includes seven fantastic principals, and yet they melt in and out of the teeming corps, their movements echoed and further developed by the dozens of dancers around them.

What's my overall verdict? I guess I'm not sure. I want to see the ballet again, so that I can let it seep into me instead of just washing over me in wave after wave of fabulousness. I think I wish it had a few more peaceful moments, more still points, to balance out its churning swirl. I walked out of the theater last night feeling a little overstimulated—buzzy, like I'd had one too many cups of coffee.

The "bow and arrow" moment in rehearsal (via Instagram)

But it's the rare choreographer who can make audience members buzz at all. And there are images from Everywhere We Go that give me little chills of pleasure every time I think of them. My favorite is a lift that appears throughout the ballet, a motif that seems to encapsulate Everywhere's overall feeling: The man lifts the woman away from him as she arches up and outward, her legs stretched behind her. She looks like a bow stretched by an arrow, full of anticipatory tension, ready to shoot off into the sky.

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