It’s springtime at the New York City Ballet, in every sense. It’s the beginning of a new season, for one, but also a fresh start for the ballet company, which is redefining itself under new directorship with Jonathan Stafford (Artistic Director) and Wendy Whelan (Associate Artistic Director). The two were celebrated at Thursday’s Spring Gala; the night had an air of newness, like coming back to school after a transformative summer.
This feeling played out on the stage of the David H. Koch Theater with a world premiere from Justin Peck, set to music by Mark Dancigers. It was a spritely, fleeting piece (which lasted all but 9 minutes), a work which Peck described as people interacting, weaving in and out of each other's lives, and then moving on. The piece was pretty, the music was filled by a solo piano. Then came Pam Tanowit’z Batók Ballet (another world premiere), which gave the audience something to think about with its plucky, shrill music (a string quartet named FLUX). The at times awkward music was accompanied by similarly uneasy movements—dancers held their hands sharp like blades (not the balletic concave hand) and seemed to fidget around as though the ballerinas were holograms and the projector was glitching. The music and choreography were so intertwined that at some point a dancer was slinking alongside of FLUX.
At intermission, guests including Indre Rockefeller, Paul Arnhold, and Natalie Bloomingdale (wearing Tish Cox), sipped Ruinart Champagne in the atrium, which had been transformed for the occasion with soaring floral centerpieces, silken tablecloths in a lilac color, and flowing banners overhead.
Back in their seats, the audience was treated to what NYCB principal dancer Megan Fairchild later described as, “Balanchine's most difficult work.” There’s no narrative in Themes and Variations. Instead, Balanchine planned to have his dancers flex their ballerina muscles (literally) in a piece that allows their technical mastery of the art to carry the production. “The lights are bright; in the end, everyone is in tutus and there’s little to hide,” said Fairchild. “It’s a very self-conscious piece.” She danced it wonderfully (as did Gonzalo Garcia, her male opposite), not letting the audience know just how intimidated every dancer is of this piece.
Soon after, she and her company-mates, which included Tiler Peck, Unity Phelan, and Tyler Angle, joined the after-party. Peck dazzled in a sheer Valentino number while Fairchild admitted she didn’t know who made her sparkling mini dress (“my husband bought it for me!”).
After dinners of bass filets, more dancing was ushered in, this time, not by Tchaikovsky (responsible for music to which Themes and Variations is set) but by DJ Chelsea Leyland. It’s always so lovely to see the dancers come down from their onstage adrenaline rush on a very different dancefloor.