February 22, 2016
“At New York City Ballet, Works That Tell Stories and Don’t”
by Alistair Macaulay
“Friday evening and Saturday afternoon brought several ballets into repertory for the first time this year. Kim Brandstrup’s “Jeux,” which had its premiere in October, is a mystery story about games people play with (and on) one another. It’s very sensitively fitted to the many changes in Debussy’s wonderful score, with admirably fluid patterns for the supporting ensemble, but lacks substance in terms of focal steps. What makes it matter is Sara Mearns’s central performance. You follow her as though she were a powerful actress through a series of emotional situations, sometimes with your heart in your mouth. A passage of heartbreak is especially memorable, and Mr. Brandstrup superbly shows how remarkably she dramatizes off-balance movement.
Christopher Wheeldon’s pas de deux “This Bitter Earth” (2012), which used to be a vehicle for Wendy Whelan, was revived with both Ms. Peck (Friday, propped up by Tyler Angle) and Ms. Mearns (Saturday, her role debut, with Craig Hall). Set to Max Richter’s earnestly sentimental arrangement of Dinah Washington’s recording of the earnestly sentimental title song, it seems to want us to sob on its shoulder for no good reason. Here’s another of those effectively showy Wheeldon duets in which the man loyally but anonymously squires the woman as she makes endless demands of his strength and patience. With Ms. Peck, it’s harmless, well focused, but lightweight. With Ms. Mearns, it has a juicy richness and dramatic daring that go beyond Ms. Whelan’s original, remarkable performance.”