NYCB Brings Back Rare Favorites
Did you ever see a ballet so fascinating that you couldn't wait to see it again, only to realize it dropped out of that company's repertoire?
I've had this happen several times at New York City Ballet and found myself hungering and wondering: Where did that ballet go? When will I get a chance to see it again? Sometimes I feel like I have to wait years for it to come around again.
Sean Suozzi, Tiler Peck, Andrew Veyette and Megan LeCrone in Oltremare. Photo © Paul Kolnik
Well, this spring some of my favorite recent ballets are coming back, and it will be worth the wait. All of them were made after 1988, and some appeared only briefly before they disappeared from sight. So I am officially welcoming them back.
Here's the scoop: NYCB's fantastically ambitious Spring Season crams 50 ballets into six weeks, from April 18 to May 28. The middle four weeks are devoted to the Here/Now Festival and that's where we'll see some of these highly unusual ballets. The season also includes world premieres by (who else?) Justin Peck and Alexei Ratmansky. Those two plus Christopher Wheeldon will each have a whole program devoted to them. This is a rare tribute because a one-choreographer program is usually only accorded to the giants: Balanchine and Robbins.
The 22 choreographers and 43 ballets represented in Here/Now include Peter Martins, Pontus Lidberg and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa as well as newcomers like Robert Binet, Lauren Lovette and Myles Thatcher.
Now I'll cut to the chase—at least the chase of my personal faves. I tend to like ballets that take us off the beaten track:
- Mauro Bigonzetti's Oltremare (2008) transformed the stage into a place for immigrants to look for a home, love fiercely and fight fiercely. It gave Tiler Peck, Georgina Pazcoguin, Andrew Veyette and others a chance to hurl themselves at their partners in the most astonishing lifts. It's been out of the rep since 2009.
Sterling Hyltin and Joseph Gordon in Neverwhere, photo ©Paul Kolnik
- Every fall gala now matches up a choreographer with a fashion designer, and some of these commissions fade from memory pretty soon. But Benjamin Millepied's Neverwhere (2013) stood out as being daringly strange and super contemporary in its sculptural look. Dutch designer Iris van Herpen concocted layers of shiny black flakes that crackled when the dancers moved. Plus, she invented plastic pointe-shoe boots that made Sterling Hyltin's legs look like tentacles.
- Jorma Elo's Slice to Sharp—last seen in 2009—received an immediate standing ovation at its premiere in 2006. The dancers blazed through super complex moves punctuated with a voguing kind of flair. With its high-wattage density and speed, it's kinetically exhilarating in a way that no other NYCB choreography is.
- The oldest of all these ballets is the slinky Herman Schmerman (Pas de Deux) by William Forsythe (1992). A prototype of gender-bending for our age, it's been out of the rep for three years. I will be curious to see who can carry off the studied cool, the subtle irony and the highly stylized choreography that Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans brought to life.
Here are a couple of ballets we haven't had to wait long for, but I will be happy to see anyway:
- Pictures at an Exhibition (2014), Ratmansky's piece to Mussorgsky's famous music, did not have an overarching narrative, but each scene was evocative: the gnome, the old castle, the ballet of “unhatched chicks." It challenged dancers like Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar to go beyond their emotional comfort zones. With a shifting backdrop of Kandinsky's Color Study: Squares with Concentric Circles, it showed how an abstract dance can be dramatically stirring.
Daniel Ulbricht, airborne, in Rodeo, photo © Paul Kolnik
- Justin Peck's Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes (2015) was deemed a hit right away. Part of the awe is that he took a super familiar piece of music, Aaron Copland's Rodeo, which was made for Agnes de Mille's landmark ballet of the same title, and completely re-envisioned it. Peck's version of Rodeo has energy, humor, masterful form and Daniel Ulbricht dashing across the stage to wake us up.
Sara Mearns, center, in Jeux, photo © Paul Kolnik
- In 2015, Danish choreographer Kim Brandstrup created a surreal version of Nijinsky's Jeux that projected an ominous feeling of danger. Sara Mearns, blindfolded and bewildered but up for a party game, finds herself entering a Kafkaesque realm of ambiguity while Adrian Danchig-Waring dribbles a basketball.
At City Ballet, Balanchine and Robbins are our old friends. The Here/Now Festival brings us new friends that we want to get to know better.
Before too long, dancers and choreographers will get to create on the luxurious 170-acre property in rural Connecticut that is currently home to legendary visual artist Jasper Johns.
If you think that sounds far more glamorous than your average choreographic retreat, you're right. Though there are some seriously generous opportunities out there, this one seems particularly lavish.
Every dancer has learned—probably the hard way—that healthy feet are the foundation of a productive and happy day in the studio. As dancers, our most important asset has to carry the weight (literally) of everything we do. So it's not surprising that most professional dancers have foot care down to an art.
Three dancers shared their foot-care products they can't live without.
Dancers trying their hand at designing is nothing new. But they do tend to stick with studio or performance-wear (think Miami City Ballet's Ella Titus and her line of knit warm-ups or former NYCB dancer Janie Taylor and her ballet costumes). But several dancers at American Ballet Theatre—corps members Jamie Kopit, Erica Lall, Katie Boren, Katie Williams, Lauren Post, Zhong-Jing Fang and soloist Cassandra Trenary—are about to launch a fashion line that's built around designs that can be worn outside of the studio. Titled Company Cooperative, the luxe line of women's wear is handmade in New York City's garment district and designed by the dancers themselves.
Royal Ballet dancers Yasmine Naghdi and Beatriz Stix-Brunell recently got together for a different kind of performance: no decadent costumes, sets, stage makeup or lighting. Instead, the principal and first soloist danced choreography by principal character artist Kristen McNally in a stark studio.
The movement is crystal clear, and at the beginning, Naghdi and Stix-Brunell duck and weave around each other with near vacant stares. Do they even know they have a partner? And how should they interact? The situation raises a much larger question: How often do we see a female duet in ballet?
As a student, Milwaukee native John Neumeier appeared in an opera at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. As Hamburg Ballet's artistic director and one of the world's leading choreographers, Neumeier now returns to the Midwest to direct and choreograph a new version of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice, a co-production of the Lyric Opera, LA Opera and Hamburg State Opera. Set to open in Chicago September 23 with the Joffrey Ballet, the ambitious work will see additional engagements in Los Angeles and Hamburg over the next two years.
How did you come to be involved with this collaboration?
It was initiated by the director of the Lyric Opera, Anthony Freud, but I had already been in contact with Ashley Wheater about a separate project with the Joffrey Ballet. The two things came together—and this was really interesting to me because Chicago was important at the start of my career. I was born in Milwaukee, but most of my training was in or near Chicago.
You've previously created version of Orpheus for Hamburg Ballet. What about this particular production caught your interest?
When I got this offer from Anthony, I just went back to the piece and tried to sense what it meant to me now. Gluck's Orphée was part of a push to reform opera and to make a complete work of art involving music, text and dance. What interests me—particularly in this French version we are doing—is that dance plays such an essential role. When Agnes de Mille choreographed Oklahoma!, it was considered a revolution in musical theater, because dance moved the plot along. In Orphée, we can see that the same idea had been realized several centuries ago: that dance would not be just a divertissement, but a theatrical element, literally "moving" the plot along and expressing in another form the emotion of each situation.
Another idea in Orphée which fascinates me is its directness in projecting profound human emotions—emotions not used as an excuse for vocal virtuosity, but expressed in simple and direct musical terms. In Orphée, we have a mythical subject which is related in an extremely relevant, familiar, human way.
What happens when drones become part of the dance? For Margaret Jenkins Dance Company's latest work, Skies Calling Skies Falling, video artists David and Hi-Jin Hudge used a drone hovering 200 to 400 feet above the ground to film the dancers performing in an industrial granary. The resulting footage will be projected onto the floor and walls of the Taube Atrium Theater, creating a dystopian backdrop to the live performance.
Alex Carrington of MJDC, Photo by RJ Muna
It's been 34 years since Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Mayerling touched down on American soil, when The Royal Ballet first performed the great English master's tour de force ballet stateside. On September 22–24, Houston Ballet becomes the first North American company to perform MacMillan's epic chronicle of the murder-suicide of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Crown Prince Rudolf, and his 17-year-old mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera. Chronicling the last chapter of the Hapsburg Empire, the ballet is known for its true-to-life realism, and for the role of Rudolf, which transformed the way male ballet dancers drive a story. It's considered a dream role for a male dancer. And with seven pas de deux with five different women, a deadly difficult one at that.
Driving Houston Ballet's Mayerling train is principal Connor Walsh, who nearly missed this opportunity to dance the part when Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston Ballet's theatrical home, Wortham Center. Now moved to the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts and back in rehearsal, Walsh took a break from his busy schedule to talk about the role of a lifetime.
Have you ever felt like your relationship to dance is something of an addiction? Not to worry, that's completely normal—it's simply the way our brains are wired.
This week, The Washington Post published an intriguing feature that looks at the science of what actually goes on upstairs when we're watching a live performance. The insight comes from the emerging field of neuroaesthetics, which uses tools like brain imaging to study the relationship between art and the brain.
Here are some of the most fascinating takeaways: