NEW YORK — It may be sweltering summer out there, but the spring ballet season has just officially ended in New York, with the last frothy performances of "The Sleeping Beauty" at American Ballet Theater.
And while dance fans often seek out the same classics, again and again, this season's highlights included brand new productions by two of the most exciting choreographers working today: Alexei Ratmansky at ABT and soloist Justin Peck at NYCB.
A look back at these and other standout moments of a busy spring season:
AN AMBITIOUS TRILOGY: Ratmansky, ABT's artist in residence and a former artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, has been in hot demand now for years, and has choreographed a number of much-discussed works for both of New York's major ballet companies.
But his "Shostakovich Trilogy," a full-length evening choreographed entirely to the music of that Russian composer, was the most ambitious thing he'd done yet, and it was rapturously received by the crowd at the Metropolitan Opera House.
To his "Symphony No. 9," a vigorous and complex work he'd introduced in the fall, he added "Chamber Symphony," a study of a tortured artist danced by David Hallberg, and the demanding, speedy and exciting Piano Concerto No. 1, with virtuosic performances by its four main dancers — especially the spitfire Natalia Osipova, who shot across the stage in a bright red leotard like a heat-seeking missile.
A CHOREOGRAPHER ON THE UPSWING: Across Lincoln Center Plaza at the David H. Koch Theater, City Ballet audiences had been on the lookout for more work by Peck, a 25-year-old soloist at the company, but also a fast-rising choreographer. He didn't disappoint: His "In Creases," set to the arresting music of Philip Glass, was acclaimed as the best of the several pieces he's done for NYCB.
With two pianos facing each other on the stage, Peck launched his eight dancers into a series of arresting geometric patterns. Legs turned into spokes on a wheel; at another point, they were wielded as weapons. Lying prone, some dancers turned into an obstacle course for others. The star here was a versatile Robert Fairchild, the principal dancer fast becoming one of the most important on the NYCB stage.
A PROMISING DEBUT: While the majority of NYCB dancers come up through the ranks at its School of American Ballet, ABT is different: It features a huge international cast, and brings in guest performers from overseas. The end of the season brought an intriguing debut by the young Alban Lendorf of the Royal Danish Ballet.
Though Lendorf has muscular legs and a stocky build — the better to leap with, my dear — he also has a princely demeanor, which worked well for the role of, well, the prince, in "The Sleeping Beauty." Impressive in his solos, he was also an attentive partner to Xiomara Reyes as Aurora. Hopefully Lendorf will return soon in other roles. And as for the company's homegrown men, Joseph Gorak in the corps commanded new attention in a number of roles.
KEEPING THE MASTERS ALIVE: NYCB tries to strike a balance between new and old choreography. This season, it was a pleasure to see that classic works by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins were in fine shape. Especially pleasing was a performance of Robbins' "Interplay," to music by the American composer Morton Gould, in which eight dancers launched into Robbins' exuberant choreography with gusto. Also noteworthy: Principal Janie Taylor in Robbins' eerie "The Cage," about a community of female creatures, contorting her body into awkward and extreme angles and seeming to relish it.
AN ENDURING LOVE STORY:
To many ballet fans, there's nothing like a good cry at the end of "Romeo and Juliet," but it's a matter of taste which dancers you want to see. Many have their favorite Romeo or Juliet, but as a couple, it's hard to beat Hallberg and Osipova. The blond, noble Hallberg is energized by the dark-haired, fiery Osipova, and she seems grounded by him. In this, their third tragic death scene together in as many years, they hit home again, with her seemingly lifeless body turning to jelly as he desperately tossed her up and down, to and fro. Mark your calendars for their next appearance in the Capulet crypt.
AND A REAL-LIFE ONE:
A real-life love story unfolded at NYCB, as Fairchild and the wonderful ballerina Tiler Peck became engaged in April, just before appearing together in a season-opening piece made just for them by Christopher Wheeldon, "A Place for Us." As it turns out, there are many places for this golden couple of ballet — including at Avery Fisher Music Hall, where the two danced a wrenching duet in the New York Philharmonic's production of "Carousel." It was a highlight of the production, particularly Peck's fabulously emotional depiction of a young woman spurned. (She got to speak some lines, too!) The two reprised their duet at the Fred and Adele annual Astaire Awards later in the season.
A RETIREMENT, PERHAPS A BEGINNING:
In May, the ballerina Irina Dvorovenko retired from ABT with a final performance in "Onegin." If she didn't look too broken up at curtain calls, maybe it was because she'd just launched a career as an actress. In her first speaking role, Dvorovenko stole the show as Vera Baronova, the deep-throated, self-centered, very, very Russian ballerina in Rodgers and Hart's "On Your Toes" at New York City Center. Her kicks in the "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" duet were sky-high, but her voice was low and sexy and got even more attention.
What is this with ballerinas suddenly using their voices? One more, and it'll be a full-fledged trend.