On 1st May, the playbill at New York City Ballet included a paper slip that explained that “due to illness and injury” Pam Tanowitz’s Law of Mosaics was being scratched from the program. A pre-curtain announcement explained that Tanowitz’s other new ballet of the season, Gustave Le Gray no. 1 was also being scratched from the program. The audience was left with Jamar Roberts’ Emanon - In Two Movements, an excerpt from Kyle Abraham’s The Runaway, and Justin Peck’s Partita.

Naomi Corti and Miriam Miller in Justin Peck’s Partita
© Erin Baiano

On the one hand, one hopes for a speedy recovery for all the ailing NYCB dancers. On the other hand, it was a rather threadbare program – less than one and a half hours including a 20-minute intermission. It’s a habit/preference of Associate Artistic Director Wendy Whelan (who is mainly responsible for programming) that new, contemporary works are always bundled into one program, and Balanchine/Robbins classics in another. This doesn’t always work – one tends to get burnout from non-stop 21st-century contemporary ballets all in one program. One wonders if NYCB could/should have thrown in a short crowd-pleaser like Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux.

Jamar Roberts’ Emanon was a work I had not seen at its premiere in the Winter Season. It’s a light, fun ballet with an intriguing jazz score by Wayne Shorter and pretty lavender costumes by Jermaine Terry. It’s empty calories though – one wished that Roberts’ would have leaned more into his background as an Alvin Ailey dancer and choreographer. Only a long solo (danced superbly by Kennard Henson) has an Ailey flavor with its torso contortions and to-the-ground steps.

The rest of the ballet seems to be a tribute to the jazzy allegro dancing that is an NYCB trademark. The ballet starts with an upbeat, high-kicking solo by Mary Thomas MacKinnon and progresses to more solos and duets in the same vein. There were a few echoes of Who Cares? (including the flying finale) and Rubies. The issue is that we already know NYCB dancers can do jazzy allegro like nobody’s business. The dancers sell this piece well, but Emanon ends up being derivative, and you never want to be derivative.

Jacqueline Bologna, Davide Riccardo and Quinn Starner in Jamar Roberts’ Emanon – In Two Movements
© Erin Baiano

The Runaway is constructed around a series of solos for Taylor Stanley. This afternoon, we saw the solo set to Nico Muhly’s music. Stanley is astonishing in the role – his off-kilter arabesque penchées and developpé balances elicited gasps from the audience. I can’t imagine the amount of core strength Stanley’s part requires. But the solo was randomly dropped into a program without any context, and thus was awkward. You need to see the rest of The Runaway for this excerpt to make sense.

Justin Peck’s Partita was good to revisit. I saw this piece in the winter season and back then, it seemed a bit frantic, with too many ideas thrown in. This revival has the dancers slowing down, allowing the steps to breathe. One marker of how much they had slowed down – you no longer heard the squeaking of the sneakers. I could be imagining things but a cappella vocal octet Roomful of Teeth’s rendition of Caroline Shaw’s Partita also seemed more subdued, with less emphasis on the grunts and moans and more on the singing.

Taylor Stanley in Kyle Abraham’s The Runaway
© Erin Baiano

The heart of the ballet is two same-sex duets. The duet for two women (Miriam Miller and Naomi Corti) was tender and contemplative. A recurring motif is how the women cradle each others’ faces with their arms. The duet for two men (Victor Abreu and KJ Takahashi) is faster, more upbeat. One persistent criticism of Justin Peck is that he struggles choreographing pas de deux. In Partita, he seems to have cracked that egg.

Tiler Peck was heroic in this “solo girl” role; she was by far the shortest dancer onstage, but she ran around with her trademark speed, precision and energy. Justin Peck is less skilled with the remaining dancers – Roman Mejia, Gilbert Bolden, and Emily Kikta didn’t have that much to do. Still, Partita has emerged as one of the stronger Peck ballets. If we see more Partita and less Principia, that’s a good thing.