New York City Ballet’s Serenade opened its September 25 matinee. Over 85 years since its first performance, the high points remain the same—the captivating formations, thrilling lifts, dizzying piqué turns en menage. And so, Tchaikovsky’s opening strings, so familiar, drew in the dancers and audience alike. On stage, in the dim, atmospheric light, the dancers stood to attention. Each made the same gesture, pushing away the pressures of the day. It is a gesture of agency. In the various movements, one could see just how exacting the dance was—demanding technique, but also vitality and vulnerability. So, too in the moves of the dream lineup of Megan Fairchild, Emilie Gerrity, and Sara Mearns—with Fairchild presenting her perfect beats, Mearns, her envious developpé, and Gerrity, her exquisite arabesque. And if the beginning was a call to be gods and goddesses of fine technique and noble line, so, too the ending, with a single dancer in one big hyperextension, is an opening of the soul.
Next up, Justin Peck’s Pulcinella Variations, with music by Stravinsky, offered a colorful splash of dance, lively Stravinsky, and evocative costumes (with highly stylized harlequin-style triangles and diamonds, sleek saucer-like tutus, shiny white pointe shoes) and setting (blue gray curtains framing the stage). But, with Peck’s strong and coherent choreography, this was really a dancer showcase, with the cast literally springing onto the stage, joyous, unstoppable.
Miriam Miller and Chun Wai Chun’s partnering was crisp, their articulate limbs on display. Sara Adams’ torso lift and control, and expressive arms gave a lightness to her moves. Emma von Enck popped onto the stage, alternating small poses with explosive twists and gyrations. Ashley Hod added a soft quality, with her breathy dancing. But it was KJ Takahashi who stole the show. He didn’t cover space, he grabbed it, packing numerous virtuoso moves into one solo. Daniel Applebaum danced big, too. Unity Phelan and Gonzalo Garcia delivered a gorgeous pas de deux, with impressive variations for a singular clean and daring dance.
In Philip Glass’s Glass Pieces, the dancers first appear against a grid-like scrim, negotiating their way in a postmodernist, urban world. Hardly a geometry exercise, Jerome Robbins’ moves are nonetheless calculated—they have to be, to manage the dance of a full corps (several dozen corps members and a handful of apprentices). The effect could have been a blur of dance, but no, the deliberate pedestrian walking and ensemble moves punctuated the ballet to great effect, with several couples providing stunning pas. Favorites were Mira Nadon and Jovani Furlan. But Isabella LaFreniere and Andrew Scordato, as well as Laine Habony and Preston Chamblee, too, were memorable. The couple to beat, though, was Teresa Reichlen and Russell Janzen. The intensity in their pas de deux in the Facades section of the score was striking. Their measured moves looked to be etched, their demeanor suggested urgency. The rest of the dancers maneuvered well in a crush of people. Sometimes they appeared in a regimented line, sometimes in exciting groups.
Robbins’ piece, almost forty years old, with its lighting assist of bright then soft, upstage light silhouetting the dancers, still feels fresh. Robbins plays with timing, snappy adagios against Glass’s driving score, then slower moves that showcase the dancers’ long legs and flexibility. All in all, this is a piece of contrasts. Frenetic music, but slow dance. Thrilling moves, but little is rushed. Featured dancers moving beautifully in synch. Completely postmodern moves, but with ancestral motifs, highlighting individuals, then groups of 12 and 24, all harmonized to a single, stark pose to end this breathtaking piece.
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For more program information, see New York City Ballet