“You can’t avoid the time in the mud,” said Pontus Lidberg, the Swedish choreographer whose most recent New York City Ballet Commission, The Shimmering Asphalt, will premiere at the David H. Koch Theater at the end of this month. Somehow both mud and shiny concrete bring to mind the humid aftermath of a rain, but on this evening it’s officially frozen outside on 89th and 5th, and Lidberg and moderator Wendy Whelan aren’t talking about the weather–nor, even, about Lidberg’s 2007 film, The Rain. They are describing the creative process every artist must slog through. The mud is “frustrating,” but “necessary” and “normal,” explains Whelan. “It’s like stirring up really dirty water,” Lidberg adds. “Eventually something very clear emerges.”
We are in the Peter B. Lewis Theater in the basement of the Guggenheim Museum on January 9th, 2017, for Lidberg’s “Works & Process” showing, and indeed, the excerpts shown–albeit with layers missing–are luminously clear. The costumes by Rachel Quarmby-Spadaccini are, at this point, sketches projected onto a screen, and only eight out of fifteen total dancers are present. Lidberg and Whelan repeatedly remind us that there will be additional strings, which will help bring David Lang’s commissioned score to life (this evening, it’s played capably by a piano trio). Without these final layers, the dancers are in rehearsal clothes performing on a relatively tiny stage, accompanied by Whelan and Lidberg’s insights. We see plainly the human element of each excerpted passage: its meticulous, mathematical organization of bodies into an order imposed by the music. The partnering and movement vocabulary throughout are like an origami-inspired unfolding of that which can’t be organized, i.e. emotion.
Over the course of the evening, a little too much is made of Lidberg’s contemporary aesthetic, and the fact that it challenges the Balanchine-trained ballerinas to work into the floor, to use all parts of the pointe shoe, and to be more daring in a just-added lift. But, though not groundbreaking in genre (because it is still rather classical in form, as the commission certainly merits), the work’s intelligently crafted intricacies will bring an original new work to NYCB that resides purely in the movement of bodies, music, and simple design, not in any conceptual bells and whistles.
You can read more about Lidberg in a photo essay in our upcoming print journal.
Click here to buy tickets to the premiere of The Shimmering Asphalt in NYCB’s New Combinations bill alongside a Justin Peck premiere and Peter Martins’ ballet, Fearful Symmetries, on January 26 and 28 (eve), February 1, 2, 4 (eve), and May 17 and 19.