The final week of the New York City Ballet’s winter season showcased a world premiere: Justin Peck’s “Rotunda,” to a commissioned score by Nico Muhly. Few companies would try to pull off a new work at the close of a season that commences after six weeks of “Nutcrackers,” and immediately after a grueling two-week run of “Swan Lake.” So it wasn’t surprising that by Friday night there were some casting replacements due to injury. But NYCB always operates on the edge of what is physically possible—in terms of both stylization and scheduling.
“Rotunda” began with Gonzalo Garcia alone on the stage, lying in repose, though he was quickly joined by the bustling cast of twelve in signature Peck huddles, starbursts, and pulsing clusters. The ballet’s structure mostly followed this pattern. True to the title, the group reconvened in the round in between solos, duets, and other smaller groupings. It was as if watching an assembly of people interact in society, and then following a few of them home to their apartments for the evening. Or perhaps the solo dances were a fleeting glimpse into private thoughts—many of the segments were bookended by silence, as if they elapsed during suspended moments in time.
I liked the more meditative of these highlighted passages the most. Sara Mearns and Gilbert Bolden III—who pair well together—brought an unaffected intensity to their pas de deux full of slinky shoulders and deep “Chaconne” lunges to fourth position on pointe. They nicely captured the brooding weightiness of Muhly’s strings and chimes. And there was a breezy connection between the leggy duo of Andrew Scordato (subbing for Adrian Danchig-Waring) and Miriam Miller (who pulls focus in the group sections). They gamboled about in tour jetés to a shimmering musical segment.
Best of all was Garcia in his pensive final solo. I had never thought of the jaunty, leprechaunish temps de cuisse step as having any potential for philosophical enquiry. I was wrong. Peck slowed the step way down and syncopated it, casting it in an entirely new light. Garcia, wonderful throughout, finished this solo once again daydreaming on the floor. The cast re-entered for an exact repeat of the opening of the ballet, but done in reverse. The group scattered offstage in the last moments, leaving Garcia hovering as if on a precipice before erasing him with a blackout.
This limning of Garcia’s interiority was a nice development from Peck. Otherwise, “Rotunda” would have been indistinguishable from many other of his ballets. Indeed, overall there was that bubbly playground feel: just a group of carefree kids in colorful practice clothes working their energy out (the costumes were by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung). Sometimes in the circular gatherings the dancers would throw in their hands, as if agreeing to the rules of a new game or enacting “go team!” before a play. The faster sections often had a facile aimlessness to them. The steps were all transitional and switched directions on a dime. It takes a dancer with real authority to make you care about so much choreographic flightiness. Only Mearns had the gravitas to pull this off—making her restless, speedy solo evocative of a tormented mind rather than just technical busywork. But she, along with Bolden and Garcia, did make me care, which demonstrated a welcome spark of maturity from the talented young Peck. He has always been eminently capable of moving people around the stage; maybe now he’s starting to show us why he does it.