Justin Peck's thought-provoking "The Times Are Racing," a work from 2017 that updates the vision of America.
There is no better way for ballet devotees to celebrate the Memorial Day holiday than with George Balanchine’s “Stars and Stripes.”
New York City Ballet’s parade of precision military marches, set to tempo of Sousa familiar scores, is a joyous celebration of all things red, white and blue. Led on Saturday afternoon at the Koch Theater in Lincoln Center by the amazing Ashley Bouder as Liberty Bell with Harrison Ball as El Capitan, the ballet is one of those that keeps the audience smiling from start to finish.
Sure, it may be a little cliché, with its batons, bugles and a waving American flag that descends in the background at the end. Yet those symbols tie it all together as a patriotic salute, a show of optimism for and loyalty to a country that promises liberty and justice for all.
As we all know, however, America no longer carries the same hopefulness that was once so prevalent in our psyche when Sousa crafted his beloved marches or when Balanchine created “Stars and Stripes.” We are divided, disenfranchised and anxious -- a people struggling to connect and, too often, willing to discard those we see as other.
That’s where choreographer Justin Peck’s “The Times Are Racing,” comes in. The 2017 piece – which is startling for its jarring beauty – is a thought-provoking protest song – one that urges us to push back against the labels, to see each person as part a shared DNA. We are all human, striving for love and a purpose.
Peck puts it together with what appears to a ragtag group moving to an intense electronic score, “USA is a Monster” by Dan Deacon. Wearing sneakers and cutoff shorts, t-shirts, sweats and windbreakers, a dozen dancers begin in a huddle. Their group jerks downward as one (1 percent) emerges in the center, rising above the crowd. Then they all break away, running, jumping, scurrying toward something unseen.
The piece then breaks into quartet (three women with Peter Walker that echoes Balanchine’s “Apollo”) and then into two duets. Ashly Isaacs and Brittany Pollack work in unison, but separately, tapping out a message of strength and will.
My favorite part is the grounded pas de deux with Daniel Applebaum and Taylor Stanley who become intertwined, but responsive to each other. There is a sense of apprehension and wariness, but one of love and respect that surely speaks to those in the gay community who, until only recently, have rarely been depicted on the ballet stage.
The dancer’s garb is also a billboard for the work’s message – act, protest, defy and change. While the times are racing, America still stands on a history of the people awaking and changing the political dynamics. Peck is saying now is the time, America is the place.
The afternoon also served up some lighter fare – Balanchine’s cartoonish, yet fun “Slaughter of Tenth Avenue” and his tour-de-force duet “Tarantella.” Both were delightful.
Andrew Veyette revealed an unseen silly side as the hoofer in “Slaughter” with Teresa Reichlen as his beloved and tragic Striptease Girl.
In “Tarantella,” Daniel Ulbricht once again proved he is the company’s most charming bouncing ball. His jaunty persona paired with Balanchine’s challenging steps make for exciting theater. Erica Pereira matched his spring with her own fetching ways. It was thrilling.