The big news at the City Ballet gala on Nov. 24 at the David H. Koch (nee State) Theater was the theater. The most dramatic change, predictably, is the reconfiguration of the orchestra seating: Two new side aisles mean no more wiggling past dozens of irritated seat-holders to get to your own seat, and no more doing the same thing—twice—at intermission if you happen to want to get out and stretch.
Other good news: The new seats are definitely more comfortable than the old ones.
What’s more, the newly enlarged orchestra pit can now be raised and lowered on a gigantic platform—though what this does for dance performances I haven’t worked out. At the gala, up rose the musicians—think Radio City Music Hall—and the conductor, a gleeful Fayçal Karoui, put on a show of his own, swinging and swaying as he led the musicians in the great waltz from The Sleeping Beauty. There hasn’t been so much undulation since Uriah Heep.
More important than all of the above, the acoustics have been dramatically improved, even when the orchestra is sent back down to where it came from. The biggest problem for this theater since it opened in 1964 has been the sound, and the current renovation has gone a long way toward solving it. This is the greatest gift the company could have made to George Balanchine, and it’s come along a mere quarter of a century after his death.
Alas, I can’t believe Balanchine would have been very happy about the rest of the gala. Alexei Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH is a pleasing work, but like so much of Jerome Robbins—whom Ratmanksy in many ways resembles—it doesn’t grow deeper with repeated viewings. Only the central duet, for Wendy Whelan and Benjamin Millepied, continues to engross, although the pyrotechnic Joaquin De Luz has his moments.
SINCE, AS THE company has made clear in recent years, you gotta have a gimmick, the new Peter Martins ballet involves 26 dancers, all of them principals. Only Whelan and Millepied, plus two guys out with injuries, were missing. (You may wonder why a ballet company of just over 90 needs so many principals, particularly when so many of them are superannuated or not yet in bloom, but this is an organization that is better at promoting dancers than at nurturing them.)
There’s no way one ballet—not even a ballet as endless as Naïve and Sentimental Music—can possibly accommodate that many leading dancers with satisfying roles, so it’s no surprise that very few of these principals make an impression: They barely register as individuals, except for those with idiosyncratic looks or unmistakable dance qualities. In the first section, for instance, after turgid Yvonne Borree and pallid Jenifer Ringer fail to make an impression, Jennie Somogyi, back in pre-illness mode, manages to remind us of why we’ve always been so excited by her take-charge attack. Of the 13 men, not one stands out in any way except for Nilas Martin, with his astounding body configuration that no costume, let alone Liliana Casabal’s, could disguise.
Tiler Peck, as always, stands out for her musicality and brio. Janie Taylor’s unique look holds your attention. And it’s a fascination watching Martins make a game try at suggesting that Darci Kistler is crucial to the action. Actually, most of the roles could be more appropriately danced by corps members; it’s distressing to see such brilliant dancers as Robert Fairchild, Ashley Bouder, Maria Kowroski and the Angle brothers recede into anonymity.
Martins has always been an accomplished dance-maker; he knows how to put things together and keep them moving. But he stubbornly refuses to reveal to us anything beyond efficiency. This is his ninth ballet to the music of John Adams, whose propulsive score helps Martins drive forward but doesn’t invite revelation. Naïve and Sentimental Music is a case of 26 principles in search of a ballet.
Finally, piling gimmick on gimmick, two stars of the Paris Opera Ballet were imported to give us the pas de deux from “Rubies.” (Two City Ballet dancers recently returned the compliment by dancing it in Paris.) Even if you hadn’t seen the Paris Opera version of Jewels, you’d know what to expect: powerful technique, complete self-satisfaction and utter failure to understand Balanchine and Stravinsky. Syncopation? Wicked fun? Happy competitiveness? Playful sexiness? Sparkling attack? Forget it. Aurélie Dupont and Mathias Heymann exemplify the Paris style and approach, to which we’ve recently been exposed at greater length in Frederick Wiseman’s interminable and tedious documentary La Danse, which allows us to understand that the Paris Opera Ballet is the greatest ballet company in the world.
On another unfortunate note: To open its season and celebrate its spruced-up theater, New York City Ballet chose to exclude more than half of its dancers—including all of its soloists—from the celebration.