Dance review: New York City Ballet has audience at its feet

New York City Ballet MOVES
Pioneer Press

By Rob Hubbard


No American dance company can boast a history as rich as that of the New York City Ballet. But the past 28 years of that history haven't involved a visit to the Twin Cities. Until Tuesday night, Oct. 23.

That's when the company opened a two-night stand at Minneapolis' Orpheum Theatre -- and this year's Northrop Dance Season -- with a program firmly rooted in its history, yet keeping one en pointe foot in the classical tradition and the other in modern dance. The touring troupe of 16 dancers (called New York City Ballet Moves) featured several of the company's soloists and principals. And they collaborated on an exquisitely executed program that gave a strong sense of the company's legacy and current cultural identity.

Among the pieces performed were one choreographed by the company's founder, George Balanchine, as well as two by its ballet master in chief for the past 22 years, Peter Martins, and its resident choreographer for most of the past decade, Christopher Wheeldon. A wild and wonderfully entertaining work by William Forsythe was the only piece not created by a choreographer with a long-term relationship with the company.

Tuesday's performance made clear that this company is composed of the cream of American dancers, each exceptionally expressive and extraordinarily athletic. But they also make up an amazing team, one that's able to interact and intertwine with awe-inspiring rhythmic precision and emotional expressiveness.

At first, it seemed that Wheeldon's 2001 work, "Polyphonia," was going to be difficult to top. Set to 10 piano pieces by Gyorgy Ligeti, it used the structure of the music to create many an imaginative dance piece, duets dark and spare, larger groups engaging in frantic fugues and tightly controlled chaos.

A piece that grew from the ongoing collaboration of Balanchine and composer Igor Stravinsky didn't feel as sharply focused, but Forsythe's pas de deux from his ballet, "Herman Schmerman," was the ideal antidote to any feel of excessive formalism. Maria Kowroski and Robert Fairchild offered well-sculpted characters comically tossing the idea of partnering about and aside.

Martins' "Zakouski" is an homage to the Russian ballet tradition, complete with the kind of costumes one might find in a folk dance circle and music from four Russian-born giants: Sergei Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev and Peter Tchaikovsky. Tiler Peck and Andrew Veyette gracefully delivered one showstopping move after another, from magnificent leaps to smooth spins that went on and on.

But the finale offered this company at its best. Martins' "Hallelujah Junction" is set to a piece for two pianos by John Adams (performed live, as was all the music save Thom Willems' electronic-flavored score for the Forsythe piece). In outfits that evoked the black and white of piano keys, the 11 performers were so splendidly in synch on their mid-air spins and high-energy interactions that the audience's adrenaline poured out in spontaneous ovations.