Five years ago, New York City Ballet’s fall gala became an event for fashion onstage: an annual rendezvous in which new choreography joined new couture. Since 2014, the formula has been four creations, made by four different choreographers, each with a design team from the fashion world.
More recently, the new ballets have been commissioned from remarkably young choreographers. The oldest at this year’s gala, on Thursday evening, was Troy Schumacher, 31; the youngest, Gianna Reisen, 18. These young dance-makers in turn have brought revisions to ballet’s sociology — a young and liberal view of both dance and life.
In just a few years, thanks in good measure to these galas, City Ballet audiences have become accustomed to same-sex pairings amid ballet’s more institutionalized heterosexuality. And though City Ballet has featured ethnic diversity since its inception in 1948, this has become increasingly evident of late. All four of Thursday’s premieres showed how ballet is changing.
The cast for Mr. Schumacher’s “The Wind Still Brings,” designed by Jonathan Saunders, showed men and women in skirts and culottes of widely differing lengths. In Lauren Lovette’s “Not Our Fate,” only two of the five male dancers are white, and the others are featured in same-sex couplings. Ms. Reisen’s “Composer’s Holiday” focuses on male-female duets, framed by separate male and female corps de ballet, but it too includes a little same-sex partnering. And Tsumori Chisato’s wittily inventive costuming for Justin Peck’s “Pulcinella Variations,” with commedia dell’arte imagery filtered hilariously through postmodern and surreal lenses, includes one breathtaking outfit in which Indiana Woodward looks part-ballerina and part-naked; her incomplete tutu gives the impression of totally exposing one side of her body from armpit to ankle.
We can and should argue about which aspects of all this are actually good, but the sheer youthfulness and anti-stuffiness of Thursday’s gala were most welcome. (All four pieces continue in repertory this fall.)
Argument is likely to focus on the first three. Mr. Schumacher’s “The Wind Still Brings,” set to the last three movements of William Walton’s Piano Quartet in D minor, is highly uneven. (It’s also the second Schumacher creation for City Ballet during which I’ve wanted scissors to cut off all the loose strands flying from the costumes.) Mr. Schumacher, using 14 dancers, only occasionally persuades me that this is dance music; and he allows himself to get stuck in various ruts along the way. You see lone women traveling across the stage on point (bourrées) and dancers of both sexes lying down as if to sleep so often that they become clichés while you watch. And the costumes, in various shades of blue and mauve, generally distract.
“The Wind Still Brings,” though, covers a wide range of moods and structures. The sleep imagery (which at times suggests both death and sleep) is contrasted by sequences of high energy and formally geometric organization. And most of the dancers, all experienced members of the corps, have individual material that allows them to register in new ways; the full-bodied adagio solo for Devin Alberda is just one of several examples in which Mr. Schumacher adds to our knowledge of a performer.