NYCB Mixed Bill - Millepied's Neverwhere Goes Nowhere

Somehow I missed Benjamin Millepied's Neverwhere when it debuted last fall. Today I caught up with it in an NYCB Sunday matinee mixed bill. The ballet certainly has a different look -- Iris van Herpen has the dancers dressed in black pleather, including pleather boot/pointe shoes for the women. The lighting is dark and moody and all about spotlights, a stark difference from the NYCB's usually brightly lit stage. Nico Muhly's score also has a dissonant post-modern edge.

You would think that this ballet would be slightly sexy/kinky/adventurous, right? Maybe with some men manipulating the limbs of the women, Agon-style.  Well, you would be wrong. Millepied seems to have choreographed an entirely different ballet from what his costume designer and score suggests. It's actually three couples doing some generic and conventional partnering choreography. The women are lifted to about shoulder length, and twirled around a lot. Each couple gets a pas de deux, except it looks the same as the last pas de deux. They might as well have been dancing in pink Karinska tutus to Drigo or Minkus music. Peter Martins' casting confirms Millepied's unexpectedly fey choreography, as the three couples were Sterling Hyltin/Tyler Angle, Lauren Lovette/Craig Hall, and Emilie Gerrity/Joseph Gordon. If you want all-American sweetness and light, Sterling Hyltin is your gal. If you want edgy dark emo dancebot, Sterling Hyltin is not your gal. Neverwhere goes Nowhere.

Neverwhere was sandwiched between some NYCB staples. Program opened with Concerto Barocco. Cast was Krohn/Stafford/Peck. Rebecca Krohn is one of those dancers that the NYCB doesn't seem to know what to do with -- razor thin, with a somewhat stern serious expression, she doesn't have the taut muscular strength for the leotard ballets nor does she have the style for the more romantic ballets. Abi Stafford is another principal who never did find her niche. The Concerto Barocco didn't rise to nearly the level of the winter performances I saw with Kowroski/Mearns/Angle.

After Barocco was Other Dances, which was designed for Mikhail Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova, and like a lot of vehicles designed for Baryshnikov, hasn't aged so well. Robbins' attempt to mix Chopin with folk dance actually just really looks like yet another attempt by a choreographer to show off Baryshnikov's famous abilities. And the specific things Baryshnikov was so great at (the squeaky clean pirouettes, the cabrioles) on other dancers looks like ... well, it looks like filler variations. And the Makarova role is rather wan. Joaquin de Luz and Ashley Bouder were fine (although de Luz a bit sloppy in the solo) but there wasn't much to see here.

Program ended with that perennial crowd-pleaser Who Cares? This spring cast wasn't as strong as the one I saw in the winter with Peck/Fairchild/Reichlen/Bouder. Today Peck and Fairchild were as great as ever, and were called out for two bows after "The Man I Love" duet, but Savannah Lowery danced "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" with the grace of a truckdriver. Ashley Isaacs did make a nice debut in the "Embraceable You"/"My One and Only" role -- she added some doubles fouettes and was peppy and obviously eager to impress. The highlight might have been Tiler Peck's "Fascinatin' Rhythm" solo. She started her final diagonal slowly, and then accelerated across the stage with such force I thought for sure she'd fall. But she never does. Also, that thrilling finale, when the entire company is onstage with those fast beats and jumps, you realize what a great company this is -- not a single girl lagged behind, they were all on the music, arms and legs moving as one body.


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