All over America, little girls and boys dream of becoming great dancers. Once in a while, those dreams come true. Take Tiler Peck, who grew up dancing in Bakersfield, California, and was recently named a soloist with the New York City Ballet (NYCB). Last week, Peck appeared in Santa Barbara with NYCB MOVES, a new, rotating group of performers who will bring the company’s more streamlined repertory works to smaller cities across America. For the first time in its 63-year history, the nation’s most illustrious ballet company is touring the towns where many of its dancers were born, and where its future stars may well be in the audience.
MOVES made its West Coast debut at the Granada with two programs featuring seven of the most stripped-down, elemental dances in NYCB’s neoclassical repertory: those by founding choreographers George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, alongside more recent work by Peter Martins and Christopher Wheeldon.
Program A opened with Robbins’s “Dances at a Gathering” from 1969: a series of romantic solos and pas de deux set to Chopin. Peck was among the standouts in this cast. At 22, she’s a commanding technician with irrepressible buoyancy and nuanced expression. Beside her, principal dancer Wendy Whelan was all angular power, while Sara Mearns unfurled her développés and struck her arabesques with crisp control.
An excerpt from Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” followed. Set to the haunting music of Arvo Pärt, this duet could stand for what MOVES offers: one piano and one violin, the mesmeric joy of an adagio duet, and the stark beauty of the human body. (Whelan wears a pale leotard; her towering partner, Ask la Cour, is bare-chested.)
The following night, Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia” set the stage. The curtain rose on a line of four couples. They paused a beat before launching into a frenetic sequence of lifts, pirouettes, and plunging arabesques. There was a sense of having walked into a ballet studio mid-rehearsal; they’re intensely focused, and not on the audience. An atonal score by György Ligeti matched the controlled chaos. Few works could provide more complete contrast than Balanchine’s sweet, ephemeral “Sonatine,” in which the young lovers link hands at every chance.
The evening closed with Martins’s “Zakouski”—a rousing pas de deux set to the music of Russian composers and replete with thigh-slapping jumps—and “Hallelujah Junction,” a work for 11 dancers set to the duo-piano score of John Adams and featuring principal dancer Janie Taylor, who despite her enchantingly delicate port de bras seemed to be missing structural integrity.
All the while, somewhere in the audience sat a child hatching dreams.