A Thrilling Season of Art and World Premieres at New York City Ballet

The winter season is traditionally something of an incubator for innovation and ingenuity at the 75-year-old ballet company. As the season nears its close, a choreographic debut from Tiler Peck, an arresting new work by Alexei Ratmansky, and art by David Michalek are on our must-see list.

David Michalek’s Slow Dancing/NYCB on t he Promenade of the David H. Koch Theater during an NYCB Art Series evening. Photo credit: Joe Carrotta

Seventy-five years ago, New York City Ballet’s founding choreographers established the company and imbued the art form with a speed, athleticism, precision, and musicality unseen in American ballet before their time. For its 75th anniversary year, the company’s winter season builds on that legacy with highly anticipated commissions from choreographer and star principal dancer Tiler Peck, and Alexei Ratmansky, the company’s newly minted artist in residence. This year also marks its 11th annual Art Series collaboration, this one with artist-director David Michalek. Also new this season: the company’s resident choreographer and artistic advisor Justin Peck introduces an intermission to his 75-minute original ballet, Copland Dance Episodes

World premieres are known to take place throughout the year at the company, but its winter season is generally when New York City Ballet makes the most inroads with the art and design world through its Art Series collaborations and performance tie-ins. Copland, for example, premiered this past winter with stage drops and promotional artwork designed by artist Jeffrey Gibson. It returned to the stage since then, but debuting it with the newly added intermission seems fitting for the winter season. (“I was curious to explore how the addition of an intermission would make the full-length work feel for audiences, the cast, and the creative team,” Peck says. “The ballet is a living and evolving piece of work. It’s a bit of an experiment, and in the explorative spirit of New York City Ballet.”)

David Michalek’s Slow Dancing/NYCB on the Promenade of the David H. Koch Theater. Photo credit: Mark Stephen Kornbluth

Copland is one of more than 30 works from the company’s repertory that are immortalized in Michalek’s Art Series installation, SlowDancing/NYCB. Co-directed by Wendy Whelan, the company’s associate artistic director and Michalek’s spouse, it consists of 50 super slow-motion images of the company’s artists at pivotal performance moments. It’s like the fine art version of an iPhone’s Live photo feature: Michalek’s lens captures five seconds of footage at 1,000 frames per second, drawing out the sequence to ten minutes. The company’s characteristic athleticism, speed, and artistry makes for an engrossing performance, but creates a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it effect onstage. 

SlowDancing/NYCB lets viewers share in moments that pass so quickly during a performance as to be imperceptible. Isabella LaFreniere propels herself into a grand jeté, and sighs as she lands and recovers in a plié. India Bradley balances on pointe as she lifts her other foot back and up into an arabesque, then gracefully arches her upper back to meet it. Audiences can peek at the installation on the theater’s mezzanine during intermission, or during a DJ’d post-performance party for ticketholders to the Feb. 23 Art Series performance. 

Theo Rochios, Joseph Gordon and Company in Alexei Ratmansky’s Solitude. Photo credit: Erin Baiano

Photography is also at the heart of Solitude, Alexei Ratmansky’s recent premiere, albeit in a deeply sobering way. Ratmansky, who grew up in Ukraine, has been unable to stop thinking about a wartime photograph taken by Hector Adolfo Quintanar Perez in 2022. It captures the image of Vyacheslav Kubata, a father who kneels in the street beside the body of his son Dmytros for hours after the 13-year-old boy is killed by a Russian missile. On its opening night, the work, which Ratmansky dedicated to the children of Ukraine, evoked a palpable wave of emotion from both the audience and dancers. Set in part to the Funeral March of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony Number 1, there’s a cruel irony to the music’s minor-key rendition of the children’s nursery song Frére Jaques. A virtuosic Theo Rochios, a student dancer at the company-affiliated School of American Ballet, brings a haunting innocence to the work’s weighty context, while a solo from starring principal Joseph Gordon pulls the audience into an orbit of grief so deep and intense that words seem to do it a disservice. 

The final weeks before a world premiere seem like a pressing time for any choreographer, but Ratmansky was among those in attendance earlier this month at the premiere of Tiler Peck’s debut for New York City Ballet: Concerto for Two Pianos. Peck—who is of no relation to Justin—is a star dancer whose casting can command a packed theater. She is also emerging as a choreographer to watch. “We had been keeping our eye on Tiler’s choreography for a while and had watched her work become more refined, layered, and dynamic.” Whelan says of the decision to invite Peck to create a work for the company. 

Mira Nadon and Chun Wai Chan in Tiler Peck’s Concerto for Two Pianos. Photo credit: Erin Baiano

Her choreographic debut is costumed by Zac Posen and takes its name from Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra. Peck is absent from the stage, but the audience can see shadows of the fast, staccato choreography that she typically inhabits through the technical and jubilant patterns of movement she assigns Emma Von Enck and India Bradley in her own work. Peck also allows the audience to see a more lyrical, but no less demanding side to two of the company’s powerhouse principals: Mira Nadon and Chun Wai Chan. “It’s clear that she’s at the top of her game as a ballerina, and we knew that she was ready to explore a fuller range of her own artistry at this stage of her career,” says Whelan. “She has it in her to be both a ballerina and a choreographer. It also felt right to us in this 75th anniversary year to celebrate one of our own ballerinas through this commission.”

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