Quite a few contemporary ballets amount to this: enigmatic angst, societal gloom, searching hero, astonishing sex. Mauro Bigonzetti’s In Vento, one of seven dances by male choreographers commissioned for the NYCB’s 2006 Diamond Project, enters this territory with intelligent gusto. Even if you can’t discern what the hell is going on, many passages have a resonance that grabs you by the throat—as, for example, when Benjamin Millepied spins and falls and a simultaneous starburst of arabesques flashes in the background, where four couples lurk in dim light.
In Vento could be a sequel to Bigonzetti’s Vespro, made for NYCB in 2002. The composer is again Bruno Moretti, and the principal dancers, as before, are Millepied, Maria Kowroski, and Jason Fowler. Millepied gives a stunning performance in solos that have little to do with ballet; balancing on his coccyx as if suspended in barely moving water, curling his torso and wrapping his arms around it, or exploding into the air with scissoring legs, he’s both an outsider and a catalyst—able to unfurl a huddle of people into a chain.
Although Millepied dances briefly with Tiler Peck, the principal duet is for Fowler and Kowroski. Seductively supple and long of leg, they cling together in the sepulchrally gleaming world defined by Mark Stanley’s lighting, Bigonzetti’s minimal black outfits (with bare chests for the men and bare backs for the women), and Moretti’s murmurous score with its deeply buried traces of waltz and mazurka (guest conductor: Paul Hoskins). In tender, intricate ways, they wrap themselves endlessly around each other. In the end, Stanley offers an explosion of white light, and the 11 dancers advance, twisting and wriggling as they did in the beginning—as if shucking their skin—and offering us what almost might be a bow.
Peter Martins’s The Red Violin is a very different work from Bigonzetti’s. Clear, precise, stylishly designed, it affirms the classicism that George Balanchine established: a stripped-down yet expanded vision of the 19th-century Russian lexicon of steps. The music, John Corigliano’s score for the eponymous film, is full of drama; an odd choice for Martins’s plotless inventions, it creates tensions that resolve musically but don’t affect the choreography. At one point, there’s a great crash from the bass drum and a clatter of sticks; it passes over the dancers like a thunderclap without interrupting their spirited calm.
Martins has a deft hand with patterns, spinning clever trios and duets out of larger groupings. As the ballet begins—with a shimmer of flute and soloist Kurt Nikkanen’s violin—four men enter one by one to prowl the stage, moving into a diagonal to pass Peck along to the last man (Sean Suozzi), who carries her off. The remaining three men move into the opposite diagonal and perform the same operation with Sterling Hyltin and Andrew Veyette. Juxtaposed against the men in plain gray practice clothes, the women, in different-colored short, silky dresses (costumes by Carol Divet), seem to fly along like bright birds. Then Sébastien Marcovici and Amar Ramasar fan out to greet Jennie Somogyi (in cardinal red), who moves courteously back and forth between them. For all the formality, there’s a certain human ease to the proceedings. Ramasar is dancing warmly with Sara Mearns when Somogyi arrives; she looks on for a few seconds as if she too would like some support.
One pas de deux for Somogyi and Marcovici—a marvelous pairing—begins with him turning her on one pointe so slowly and smoothly than every new position she assumes seems to blossom from the previous one. A lovely sight. I’m not so keen on the way the men drag the women around or on Martins’s ending. Each man holds his partner in an arched-back position and stares toward the audience, as if to say, “She’s mine!” Please don’t manhandle the diamonds!
Christopher Wheeldon’s Evenfall, which shared the program of the company’s annual Spring Gala with Martins’s ballet, is a gray work: gray wings flanking the stage, fluffy gray tutus by Holly Hynes for the women. At times we might think we’re seeing a quirky, falling-apart Swan Lake through veils, but something else is operating here. A man and a woman (Damian Woetzel and Miranda Weese) stand embraced for a long time while others dance (twice he slips out of her grasp without disturbing it). When they do separate, the corps intervenes between them. Later bourréeing women exit like a rippling wall. At the end, Weese is reaching toward the corner where Woetzel disappeared; behind her, her entourage gazes in the same direction.
It’s a strange ballet—as full of little excursions from what might seem to be the main thrust as Bartók’s late Piano Concerto No. 3 (completed by a pupil after the composer’s death). Wheeldon’s mastery of classicism and his grasp of counterpoint are beyond question, and he always sets steps from the ballet vocabulary in designs and rhythms that look fresh. But in Evenfall he immediately starts subverting the elegant picture he establishes of six women twisting into poses in immaculate unison. Suddenly they’re making odd crooked hand gestures. When the six men carry in six of the 12 corps women, they set them down on the floor in a sitting position and leave.
Oddities multiply as counterpoint builds. Those six women, now standing, bend over and put their hands wide apart on the floor, creating an upside down V. Still later, those who’ve assumed the same position are used by men as tents to sit under. V’s are important in other ways too. The busy cadres who come to dance often flank the center in mirroring slanted lines.
However formal in its patterns, the ensemble seems bound up with this love affair, the pas de deux (occurring both alone on stage and with others present) of concern to all. Certainly there is no “story,” no “acting.” But something lurks beneath the ballet’s surface. Only now has it come to me that this might be the death of the composer.
Weese danced with a lovely amplitude and pliancy, and Woetzel with his usual unaffected clarity. The high-sparkle diamond that flashed at the gala, however, was Wendy Whelan in the pas de deux from William Forsythe’s 1992 Diamond Project ballet, Herman Schmerman. Casual, spunky, playful, and looking like a preternaturally wise 12-year-old, Whelan slid and twisted herself through the choreography like silk slipping slowly through a keyhole. Albert Evans matched her with his own more earthy flair.