The Spell of “Dances at a Gathering,” and other things

Tiler Peck and Joaquín de Luz in Dances at a Gathering. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Tiler Peck and Joaquín de Luz in Dances at a Gathering. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

For DanceTabs, I reviewed two programs at NYCB, “Just for Fun” (Carnival of the Animals, Jeu de Cartes, and The Four Seasons), and “Tradition and Innovation” (Vespro, Duo Concertant, and Dances at a Gathering). Yes, the company has taken to “naming” its programs, and also to grouping them by theme, which I often find to be problematic–too much of a good thing, not enough contrast. But still, serendipity happens. The seasons’ single performance of Jerome Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering” turned out to be one of the freshest renditions I’ve seen in a long time. Tiler Peck, in particular, was ravishing as the “girl in pink” (see photo above).

Christopher Wheeldon’s “Carnival of the Animals,” which the company hasn’t done for a while, turned out to be a be a bit of a disappointment. It’s flat, and tries too hard to be funny (without succeeding). But there are some lovely images, like this one, of a mermaid, danced here by the beautiful Lauren Lovette.

Lauren Lovette in Carnival of the Animals, by Christopher Wheeldon. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Lauren Lovette in Carnival of the Animals, by Christopher Wheeldon. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Just Jookin’

Smiling at a café in Midtown. Photo by yours truly.
Smiling at a café in Midtown. Photo by yours truly.

The young dancer Lil Buck, from Memphis, has become a bit of a sensation, ever since a video of his moves emerged on YouTube. There was something strangely fascinating about the dancer in the video, a kind of intensity and focus surprising in such a young performer, engaged in what looked essentially like an improvisation. And then, there was the oddness of the video itself: a mashup of Saint-Saëns’s Le Cygne and a type of hip hop dance known as jookin’. The two actually worked quite well together, in part because jookin’—which was developed in Memphis in the eighties, in response to a very specific local strain dance music—is characterized by glides and legato phrases that mesh quite well with the longer periods of classical music. With its waves and twists, it’s certainly eye-catching, but it’s also expressive. Or at least it can be. (Of course, it helped that Buck’s accompanist that day was none other than Yo Yo Ma.)

Buck’s musical courage did not end with The Swan (which, it turns out, whas developed in conjunction with a ballet teacher in Memphis). Through his association with the former New York City Ballet dancer Damian Woetzel (now head of the Vail International Dance Festival and a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities) he has begun to explore jazz, Basque bagpipe music, klezmer, Stravinsky. This summer, at Vail, he’ll take part in a duet with another paragon of musicality, the City Ballet dancer Tiler Peck.

A couple of months ago I sat down with Buck, who is also a singularly sweet guy, at a café in midtown, near his hotel. The result is this profile in Dance Magazine.