Performing Arts: Dance
January 29, 2023
Aaron Copland, an American composer of deeply melodic, uplifting scores tinged with jazz, wrote a few of the contemporary dance world's most popular scores for Martha Graham, Eugene Loring and Agnes deMille. 

Inspired by Copland's aural description of the Americana spirit, Justin Peck designed a premiere for the Winter Season entitled Copland Dance Episodes.

The full-evening work involved 30 dancers, incorporated visual design by Jeffrey Gibson who interwove elements of Choctaw and Cherokee Native American art, and included sharply focused lighting design by Brandon Stirling Baker and former NYC ballerina, Ellen Warren's, rainbow colored costumes.

Copeland's sonorous Fanfare For a Common Man booms from the pit, through the visually assertive stage drop.  Painted in bright colors organized in geometric patterns under a central bullseye target, Gibson adds a vertical message (perhaps a metaphorical smoke signal?) saying: "the only way out is through."

When the drop rises, the company, draped in gauzy white loose cocoons,  appears frozen in place. Shedding their sheaths, the company exits and the dance begins.

  Cheerful and full of life, Peck's Copeland Dance Episodes lifts the spirit and engenders hope for the next generation of ballet dancers and choreographers.

Bursting in two-toned leotards and tights (reflective of the drop curtain) the large group sections resemble billiard balls spinning in and out of corners, bumping into each other, flying up and rolling on the ground to the boisterous music of "Rodeo."

Competitive jockeying infuses the ballet, particularly between the re-current male trio of Harrison Coll, Anthony Huxley and the twirling Roman Mejia.

Two skillful couples, Mira Nadon and Taylor Stanley; Tiler Peck and Chun Wai Chan materialize throughout the ballet like wistful memories of young, optimistic love. Elegant and lyrical, Nadon smoothly lengthens her legs stretching from the tips of her fingers, through her supple torso to the tips of her toes. Always a thought provoking performer, Taylor clasps Nadon hands, as bodies pull apart forming a connected, long arabesque that allows Stanley to arch back with arm out resembling a bird about to take flight. Peck and Chan nimbly engage each other and the music. In a series of lifts, Chan places his palm up, caressing a part of her leg, sensitvely supporting the contours of her form.

Although the full length ballet is abstract, the kinetic narrative nods to the originals. In the "Rodeo" and "Billy the Kid" sections, men hop and kick out legs stallion style, boisterously challenging each other bumping shoulders and eyeing the person across the way.

Indeed, Peck infuses the ballet with modern dance idioms-- flinging bodies to the floor, tucking in street dance dodges and pedestrian jaunts.Perhaps this is a good time to note Peck credits the following assistants: Craig Hall, Gonzalo Garcia, Patricia Delgado, and Craig Saltstein.

Combined with NYC Ballet's new generation dancers Ashley Hod, and Indiana Woodward as well as Cole, Huxley and Mejia--Megan Fairchild's understated prominence draws all eyes in her direction. At one moment Fairchild (in Humphrey/Limon dance style), drops to the floor  on her side in one gorgeous breath, and then recovers. I kept hoping it would happen again, but there was only that one, glorious punctuation mark.

Throughout the ballet, same sex partnering, including lifts for the female combos, assume a naturalness belying its recent appearance on ballet stages. 

Does Peck choreographically reference the "pictures" drawn by Copland--at times, yes. Still,  there's enough step and pattern inventiveness to smilingly nod at the winks towards Graham's "Appalachian Spring," deMille's "Rodeo," and Loring's "Billy the Kid." 
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

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