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.
When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."
But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.
From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.
New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.
A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.
Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.
In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series
The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!
We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.
Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.
Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.
Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you: