La Stravaganza – 21st Century Choreographers, NYCB

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La Stravaganza
21st Century Choreographers II
New York City Ballet
30 April 2014
Lincoln Center, NYC

Music: Antonio Vivaldi, Evelyn Ficarra, Robert Normandeau, Serge Morand, Ake Parmerud
Choreography: Angelin Preljocaj
Principal Casting: Emilie Gerrity, Lydia Wellington, Claire Kretzschmar, Brittany Pollack, Gretchen Smith, Sara Adams, Craig Hall, Sean Suozzi, Daniel Applebaum, Allen Peiffer, Joseph Gordon, Devin Alberda

Costumes: Herve-Pierre, supervised by Holly Hynes
Set: Maya Schweizer, supervised by Mark Stanley
Lighting: Mark Stanley

Premiere: 1997, New York State Theater

The lady from Atlanta nailed it.

She may have been already a little lit, asking me, “So what did you think?” (I think she mistook me for her husband in the bar line.)  I said something forgettable (cribbed from the program notes), before she offered her own – much more perceptive – aperçu:

“I say it was the settlers versus the indians.”

(She really liked the previous evening’s performance of Hedwig and the Angry Inch with Neil Patrick Harris, but I digress.)

We were discussing Angelin Preljocaj’s first work for NYCB, a 1997 ballet for twelve dancers commissioned for the Diamond Project, reprised for the 2014 spring opener. The director of Ballet Preljocaj, based in Aix-en-Provence, Angelin Preljocaj was born near Paris where he started in classical ballet before turning to contemporary dance, studying and working with a stellar list of choreographers including Karin Waehner, Zena Rommett, Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber, Quentin Rouillier, and Dominique Bagouet.

To my eye (for what that’s worth), Waehner’s expressionism and Cunningham’s sense of space had a lasting formative impact. That combination of a dark narrative sensibility matched by clean lines, along with a virtuoso’s appreciation of pure speed, may have played a role in Peter Martins’ decision first to commission this work and second to cede creative control entirely to Preljocaj.

Depending on the context, la stravaganza can be translated as “extravagance” or, perhaps even better, “fantasticness.” Set to a mix of Vivaldi and electronic music and depicting an encounter between six couples dressed in contemporary clothes and six who could have stepped out of Baroque theater, Preljocaj’s ballet is, to my mind, foremost a ghost story and secondly an essay on what it means to perform dance in its historical context.

In other words, settlers and indians.

I repeat, one important theme emerging from this series is the absolutely integral role played by the corps de ballet in NYCB’s artistry.