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Columbia Night at New York City Ballet's New Combinations

Published on
March 11

The dancing waters of the fountain at Lincoln Center gave us the perfect welcome to the Columbia Night at New York City Ballet’s New Combinations. This was my first time at the David H. Koch Theater.

The elegant lobby, the marble staircases and the lofty ceilings preceded the exhibition of the contemporary artist Dustin Yellin. Fifteen colorful sculptures occupied a great deal of the promenade of the theater. The three-dimensional shapes of human bodies trapped between several layers of glass were made of an inexplicable substance. Taking a closer look, it surprisingly turned out to be a collection of images cut out from books, magazines and other everyday material, representing for the artist our "cultural DNA." Yellin’s collection was the appropriate introduction to the artistic expression of other bodies: the dancers of the New York City Ballet. 

I then found myself in the middle of thousands of red seats and an enthusiastic public anticipating these “new combinations” of dance.

The first of the three ballets scheduled for the evening was Pictures at an Exhibition. The choreography of Alexei Ratmansky carried the audience to a multicolor world, made of energetic dancers wearing vivid costumes, surrounded by playful light effects. Icing on the cake was projections of Color Study: Squares with Concentric Circles, a masterpiece by Wassily Kandinsky, where he “applied streaks and blobs of colors onto the canvas” and “made them sing with all the intensity [he] could.” I would say the dancers exuded that same intensity.

Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes particularly affected me that night. The talented Resident Choreographer, Justin Peck, characterized the four episodes of the choreography with strong distinctive features: “kinetic quality”, recurrent patterns, synchronicity, vitality and competition. From Justin Peck’s notes: “It could never be everything to everyone, but hopefully it will be something to someone”. And it absolutely was something.

Gestures and steps came one after another in the choreography of Christopher Wheeldon, and, accompanied by the strong presence of the Orchestra, made of Mercurial Manoeuvres a playful ballet. The piano and trumpet, acting as main characters, brought unexpected and elegant humor to the whole auditorium.

But the Columbia Night at the New York City Ballet was not over for us. A backstage tour organized by the staff of the Arts Initiative brought us in the very heart of the theater.

Walking through the narrow hallways usually out of public view allowed us to imagine the tumultuous atmosphere and excitement that precedes a show. Small notches on a wall marked the growing height of dancers who attended that theater since they were children. The space behind the stage dedicated to warming up before the performance recalled a typical scene from a ballet studio with weary pointe shoes in their memorable faded color lying beside a barre. Then something unexpected happened: the brick-red curtains were suddenly raised. It was such a fascinating view. We stared in awe at the terrific theater with its innumerable seats, admired the orchestra space as well as the very high ring, and were blinded by the powerful light on the stage. And that was nothing compared to what the dancers probably feel during their show. 

So, for a few minutes, we felt like the admired floating bodies of the New York City Ballet.