Emilie Gerrity and Chun Wai Chan are the central couple in George Balanchine’s wonderfully innovative "The Four Temperaments." (Photo by Erin Baiano)
Innovative music requires innovative dance.
One of New York City Ballet’s newest works to two pieces by jazz composer Wayne Shorter’s should fall into that nexus. But Jamar Roberts’ “Emanon – in Two Movements” mysteriously falls short on Thursday at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
It’s rather difficult to say why. There are many excellently crafted and performed solos, duets and trios that build to an explosive finale for the eight dancers. The dancers all, especially the confident and commanding Jovani Furlan, allude to the fire and high-flying mythology that primed Shorter’s “Prometheus Unbound” and “Pegasus.” Moreover, the music was energetically played by a quartet with Chris Hemingway leading the way on soprano saxophone.
Yet the work didn’t pique the imagination like George Balanchine’s 1946 “The Four Temperaments,” which demonstrates what modern music can inspire. The piece, to Paul Hindemith's score, was groundbreaking in its time and it’s remains groundbreaking today. No matter how many times I see the ballet, I see something new. Certainly, it’s a testament to Balanchine’s genius.
Each variation is a revelation. Sebastian Villarini-Velez engages as he looks to both push way and protect himself from an invisible force. Emilie Gerrity and Chun Wai Chan also fascinate in their off-kilter and angular pas de deux. Moreover, Christopher Grant is dramatic in the woeful “Phlegmatic.” It’s an emotionally poignant variation that his heightened by the presence of four women who surround him, forcing him to struggle to not go under.
The ending is the best, with the ensemble onstage with four of the women lifted and arching over the busy formations below, making for an exalted ending.
Thursday’s program also included the company’s Resident Choreographer Justin Peck’s “In Creases.” This was his first ballet for the company, commissioned by SPAC in 2012. The piece, to piano Philip Glasses “Four Movement for Two Pianos,” demonstrates Peck’s eye for ingenuity. But aside from Taylor Stanley, who is amazing in everything, the work felt a little stale.
I think part of the problem might be the hour. SPAC pushed showtimes to 7:30 p.m., a full 30 minutes earlier when it’s still daylight. Sadly, the lighting effects that help the audience zero into the magic are lost. (This likely affected “Emanon” too.)
Thursday’s shows also included the last-minute addition of “This Bitter Earth,” a Christopher Wheeldon duet that featured Sara Mearns and Andrew Veyette. Mearns, as expected, was perfect in the soulful work set to the mournful music by Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight,” which is overlaid with Dinah Washington’s performance of “This Bitter Earth.”
Unfortunately, Veyette was unprepared at the matinee to partner Mearns, nearly dropping her off of his shoulder, at one point. The evening performance was better, but he still looked to be struggling to partner her.
One has to wonder why Tyler Angle, who originated the role, wasn’t dancing the pas de deux. He would have held Mearns steady as he did on Wednesday in “Chaconne.”
Regardless, the power of the music and Mearns sincerity wins over Veyette’s fumbles.
One other thing. Thursday’s matinee and evening shows attracted a painfully slim crowd. On the other hand, Wednesday’s program, with the popular “Glass Pieces,” looked full. And it’s likely that “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will also bring in ticket buyers. Maybe it’s time for SPAC and City Ballet to rethink what sells at SPAC.
While new works are important to keep the art form progressing, it appears the majority of summer ballet goers prefer the tried-and-true.