Together ‘There Was Magic’: Two Fluid Dancers in Our Racing Times

Ashton Edwards rushed across the stage and straight into Taylor Stanley’s arms on a Sunday afternoon at New York City Ballet. This wasn’t unexpected. In “The Times Are Racing,” a fervent ballet by Justin Peck, that hug is part of the choreography — a freeze-frame of raw emotion, like a stop sign dropped into a sea of hurtling, sweeping bodies. The embrace is a signal for a new beginning: an intimate pas de deux that unfolds like a dream within a dream.

“I felt like I was running with full force,” Edwards said in an interview, “recklessly, just throwing myself out there.”

Standing out there, poised to catch Edwards in a tight embrace, was Stanley. Their performance glowed, and not just because it was newsworthy: This was the first pairing of two nonbinary dancers in a major pas de deux at City Ballet.

But what mattered more was the energy between their physical forms; the warmth they radiated even at a distance; and their phrasing, which was so fluid that at times they seemed less two bodies than one.

As part of City Ballet’s 75th anniversary celebration, Edwards, a member of Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, came to New York as a guest artist for two shows of “The Times Are Racing,” which they have performed with their home company. Edwards, known for dancing female roles on pointe — which is extremely rare in ballet, where ideas about gender remain stubbornly traditional — is all radiance. While small, Edwards moves with big scale and ever-growing extension; there is no hesitation, only constant attention to detail.

For “The Times Are Racing,” Edwards performed their role, created for a woman, in the original costume. The sight of them in a long-sleeved leotard, floral on top and black trunks on the bottom, was doubly striking, for its outward beauty and for what it illuminated about inner grit. The costume was a symbol of strength and perseverance.

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