"Paz de La Jolla," "Variations pour une Porte et un Soupir," "Concerto DSCH"
New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
New York, NY
January 31, 2013
Copyright ©2013 by Carol Pardo
"Paz de La Jolla," is Justin Peck’s third ballet for his home company is about speed, memory, mystery, menace and romance, delivered with a light touch and an unexpected punch, in just twenty minutes. Commissioned to fill an unexpected hole in the season’s schedule, for the score, Peck turned to a piece he’d already been attracted to, Bohuslav Martinů’s "Sinfonietta La Jolla," and to memories of his youth on the beaches of San Diego. Beach volleyball anyone?
The ballet opens in silence with the ten corps women moving from center stage to its edges, to reveal Tiler Peck, like a curtain going up, or the dawning of a new day. (This crowd doesn’t want to miss a moment of sun or sand.) Initially she bourrées in place, eagerly anticipating the day ahead. Once the music begins, she lets fly as if solar powered. Amar Ramasar and a quintet of corps men show up, having slept a little later. Last to arrive is Sterling Hyltin, a woman who looks singularly out of place. Her hair is up, in a style that is distinctly matronly and, in contrast to everyone else, clothed in a confetti of summer togs from the pre-bikini era—shorts, bathing suits, sun suits—she wears a gauzy white dress more suited to Marilyn Monroe on a subway grate at Times Square than to a dip in the sea. Ramasar is intrigued; boy sets out to meet girl. By the end of the first movement, boy has lost girl in the crowd.
As the second movement begins, they find each other again for a languorous adagio, which ends with them lying down next to each other, seemingly contented. But Hyltin rises as if mesmerized, drawn by the undulating arms of the corps, as if dragged by the outgoing tide. Have the corps become the Lorelei of the Pacific? Is the girl walking into the water with stones in her pockets, never to emerge? Suddenly the boy, too, seems to be not asleep but dead.
The lights come up: it’s high noon on the beach and several corps members grab the chance to strut their stuff before "Paz de La Jolla" races to its sunny conclusion. And yet. As the curtain descends, with the corps in a low reverence, one notices that the arms are not all purely classical; discreetly, half undulate, as before, like a jellyfish on the prowl for dinner.
Peck has a real gift for manipulating groups; it’s the source of the menace and mystery of "Paz de La Jolla". The corps of sea creatures inspires fear rather than memories of Esther Williams films. As the boy searches for his lost girl, the corps forms an acute angle that both shrinks the stage (increasing the likelihood that he’ll find her) and provides a corner at which they finally bump into each other. He uses his solo dancers adroitly. Hyltin is cool, all tensile lines with legs like knitting needles. Ramasar is rounder, softer, with springs where most of us have joints. And he is utterly believable as a smitten young man; if he weren’t "Paz de La Jolla" would be a skillfully wrought structure, but vacant. Only Tiler Peck is underserved. We already know she can do anything at any speed. Here her ability is confirmed rather than enlarged or illuminated.
The program ended with Alexei Ratmansky’s "Concerto DSCH" with one Justin Peck back in the corps. This ballet sprang to mind often while watching "Paz de La Jolla" but seeing them on the same program showed that while influences are there, the choreographers have two distinct voices. Now nearly five years old, "Concerto DSCH" looks good (though perhaps not quite as good) danced by an almost entirely corps, with Troy Schumacher so new to his lead role (a last minute replacement for an ailing Sean Suozzi) that his presence wasn’t even announced.
"Variations pour une Porte et un Soupir" is one of Balanchine’s stranger explorations of the unattainable woman. Here she’s the muse as vampire, with bleach white skin, a Louise Brooks wig and a cape the size of the stage which all by itself spells danger. Maria Kowroski is terrifying in her affectlessness. Daniel Ulbricht, as the creature in her thrall, uses his physical control in service to go for broke daring (some lunges across the stage end with Ulbricht balanced on his sternum). Even so, this is a Balanchine ballet that wears out its welcome before it ends, interesting to see, but not too often.