DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse
21st Century Choreographers II
New York City Ballet
30 April 2014
Lincoln Center, NYC
Costumes: Jean-Marc Puissant
Set: Jean-Marc Puissant
Lighting: Jennifer Tipton, recreated by Jesse Belsky
Premiere: 2006, The Royal Ballet, Covent Garden
I wish I could’ve taken my father to this ballet. He had an intuitive feel for vehicles of all kinds and how they could be made to run faster, smoother, and with ever-refined elegance. He died thirty-two years ago, and I do declare I missed him at this performance. He would have absolutely got this production.
A close collaboration between choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and designer Jean-Marc Puissant, around the idea of a train journey inspired by Michael Nyman’s MGV, or Musique à Grande Vitesse – High-Speed Music (composed to commemorate the 1993 inauguration of the north European line of the French high-speed train á grande vitesse, more commonly known as the TGV), DGV brilliantly explores the intersection of the theatrical and the functional through a tour de force ballet for 26 dancers, with four pas de deux.
A phenomenally prolific dance-maker, Christopher Wheeldon is a knowledgeable creature of the New York City Ballet. He moved to the city to join NYCB at age 19, and began choreographing for the company in 1997, retiring as a dancer in 2000 to focus on dance-making. In 2001, Wheeldon became the New York City Ballet resident choreographer and first resident artist.
Designer Jean-Marc Puissant began his career as a dancer, studying at the School of Paris Opera Ballet and the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris before performing with the Birmingham Royal Ballet and Stuttgart Ballet, where he danced and created roles in classical, neo-classical and contemporary repertoires.
Michael Nyman’s work encompasses operas and string quartets, film soundtracks and orchestral concertos. He is perhaps best known for his film scores, which include a dozen Peter Greenaway films (The Draughtsman’s Contract and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, etc.); Neil Jordan’s The End Of The Affair; several Michael Winterbottom features (Wonderland, A Cock And Bull Story, The Trip); and Jane Campion’s The Piano.
An abstract work that is at times quite raw, DGV propels 26 dancers on a trip where the romance of a train journey collides with the machinery of speed.
From Nyman’s program notes for the original score:
“MGV runs continuously but was conceived as an abstract, imaginary journey; or rather five inter-connected journeys, each ending with a slow, mainly stepwise melody which is only heard in its ‘genuine’ form when the piece reaches its destination. The thematic ‘transformation’ is a key to MGV as a whole, where musical ideas- rhythmic, melodic, harmonic, motivic, textural – constantly change their identity as they pass through different musical ‘environments’.”
Wheeldon described the music as “open and full of air,” noting: “I wanted to capture that feeling you get when you are travelling – of being suspended in time and space.”
Against a sculpture of buckling steel, the corps de ballet evokes the machinery of the high-speed train as four couples track the journey through intricate, seemingly impossible pas de deux that wonderfully exploit Sara Mearns’ graceful athleticism and famously supple spine, Maria Kowroski’s regally expansive limbs, Tiler Peck’s brilliant technique, and Megan Fairchild’s luminous stage presence.
Not enough has been written in praise of the New York City Ballet Orchestra, surely one of the best bands working in this town. With a schedule of seven performances each week of rotating repertoire, this group performs perhaps three or four times the repertoire of a typical symphony orchestra. Ballet requires the total integration of music and dance. The NYCB Orchestra is an essential, integral partner in this miracle.