What might we think of the overworked denizens of Wall Street if their uniform of choice were bedazzled and bulbous suits that doubled as tutus? “Play Time,” a new piece from choreographer Gianna Reisen, which premiered last night at the New York City Ballet’s 10th annual Fall Fashion Gala, imagines the hustle and bustle of the city’s white-collar workers, minus the hustle. Not that the dancers moved without urgency. Set to a score commissioned from Solange, the piece ponders what would happen if the tenacity we reserve for maximizing profits instead pointed toward the corporeal necessity of play, towards the body’s ability to flutter with joy and whimsy when unmoored by the vagaries of capital.
In that sense, Solange’s score — the first piece of new music from the artist since her 2019 album, When I Get Home — proved to be a fitting accompaniment. Since her debut, Solange has resisted the tightly defined contours of pop stardom, embracing more eclectic corners of artistry. Her 2017 album, A Seat at the Table, featured a stunning visual performance at the Guggenheim Museum, and her list of accolades can appear to have more in common with a tenured professor than a Grammy-winning musician.
Solange’s “Play Time” score managed to expand on the sonic textures that have come to define her music, all while retaining hints of the modern sensibilities that come with the last name Knowles. The orchestra bellowed cathartic drops and near-elastic loops that never quite settled on a downbeat, electing instead to rev in cyclical crescendos as if programmed in Ableton. Except, of course, this was very much the opposite of the computer-generated music that tops the charts (that would come later in the night, courtesy of a score featuring music by James Blake).
Spanish designer Alejandro Gomez Palomo created the exuberant costumes for “Play Time,” exaggerated takes on classic midcentury office attire, complete with more than 800,000 Swarovski crystals that glimmered with the dancers’ every move. Palomo’s work and Reisen’s playfully mischievous choreography jelled with Solange’s inventive composition. At points, the dancers swayed like children coming into recognition of their own unique rhythm before their orbits collided and the glittering mass entered into a picture-perfect formation plucked from a Solange music video. If the crystalline costumes and acrobatic movements were as daunting as one might imagine, none of the dancers showed it. For the piece’s duration, they were simply having the time of their lives.
The purpose of the Fall Fashion Gala, envisioned by none other than New York City Ballet chair Sarah Jessica Parker, is a marrying of the worlds of dance and fashion. An incidental consequence is the event’s ability to reduce the average age of the ballet’s traditional attendees. Past years have included iconic purveyors of youth culture like Virgil Abloh, and last night’s event felt nothing like the stuffy and elite ballet of our collective imagination. Attendees included Julia Fox, who wore an elaborate silver dress by the designer Zac Posen, as well as Tyler, the Creator, and A$AP Ferg. This was not your grandparents’ ballet.
The final performance of the evening was the world premiere of choreographer Kyle Abraham’s “Love Letter (on Shuffle),” which included a tasteful selection of music by James Blake, pulling largely from his early dubstep releases. The performance was dense with feeling, not unlike being heartbroken and listening to the warm croons of Blake’s most forlorn releases. During a particularly vibrant movement, one of NYCB’s principal dancers glided across the stage hitting a dougie with a ballerina’s grace. In another section, featuring the André 3000-assisted single “Where’s the Catch,” another dancer managed to match three stacks’ frenetic cadence with her feet, shuffling along to one of rap’s greatest poets, successfully collapsing any distance between the modern and classical. A theme for the evening.