Young choreographers and fashion designers flip the bird at gender stereotypes in new works on New York City Ballet’s “21st Century Choreographers” program, organized to showcase collaborations between ballet and the fabric arts. Troy Schumacher and his assigned designer, Jonathan Saunders, a British specialist in printed textiles, kick off the evening with a flurry of pink-and-blue outfits, striped and solid, skirts and shorts and pants, assigned apparently at random to the fourteen dancers in Schumacher’s The Wind Still Brings, to music by William Walton. Silas Farley startles in a diagonally striped skirt, tall and lively in a piece that has whispers of plot, overtones of folkiness in the music, and odd strands of dangling cord attached to the dancers’ arms and necks, whipping around them as they move. Schumacher’s been working on this one for years, and it still hasn’t found its form, but the bourées and clumps and falls and rises onto point and little ceremonies hold interest for most of its length.
Here’s the thing about these new dances: They make you want to know more about the performers; they reveal gifted people as much as, if not more than, they do innovations in technique or phrasing. Lauren Lovette’s Not Our Fate, to sections of Michael Nyman’s roiling, cinematic score for the 1991 film Prospero’s Books, features costumes by Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim; its five men wear the classic NYCB uniform of black tights and simple white tops, while five women rock fitted black jackets and billowing white handkerchief skirts with irregular hemlines.
The whole piece feels fraught, with lovers dashing back and forth, catching each other on the fly. Three of the five guys are people of color; two of these, Preston Chamblee and Taylor Stanley, partner each other with verve and intensity. It was great to see Lovette, presented with a huge bouquet at her curtain call, hand it over to these two dancers; ballet etiquette generally passes out flowers only to women, but Chamblee and Stanley surely earned the tribute.
This annual bill of brand-new pieces by company insiders also displays members of the corps, and even the occasional apprentice, in substantial roles. Gianna Reisen, at eighteen years old the youngest choreographer in NYCB’s history, offers here Composer’s Holiday, her first work made for the stage, to music by Lukas Foss and with costumes by Off-White’s Virgil Abloh. He dresses all the men in what looks like black lace, and the women in traditional, Degas-like ballet dresses of black, white, or pink. Two lead couples pace the sometimes mannered dancing; interesting figures punctuate the choreography, like a tug-of-war that gets all the performers onstage, and tumbling men rolling under the legs of the women. It’s a fascinating first effort; can’t wait to see what Reisen will come up with next.
The odd dance out on this bill was Justin Peck’s Pulcinella Variations, to Stravinsky’s 95-year-old score, ostentatiously costumed in a surrealist style derived from commedia dell’arte by Japanese designer Tsumori Chisato. Peck, NYCB’s choreographer in residence, here takes off from a Léonide Massine ballet choreographed in the Twenties and costumed by Picasso; Chisato’s duds strike me as blurry and confusing, stealing focus from the movement. The dancers here are mainly the troupe’s bigger stars, and this is the only work with anything resembling a set: soft bluish-gray draperies. Peck, like his inspiration Alexei Ratmansky, seems to enjoy plumbing dance history in constructing new dances, and the rowdy gala crowd went wild for this one, but frankly it feels a little musty. I’d like to see him get back on the cutting edge, bringing funkier styles to this august institution.