Kathryn Bennetts credits William Forsythe's Artifact with changing her life. “I've heard a lot of people say that—the piece is just a monster in its importance," she says during a break in rehearsals at Boston Ballet, where she and Noah Gelber are staging the full-length work for what will be its North American company premiere tomorrow night.
Bennetts has danced in and staged Forsythe ballets for more than 30 years as a Stuttgart Ballet soloist, ballet mistress at the Frankfurt Ballet and artistic director of the Royal Ballet of Flanders. “Audiences are transported, even overwhelmed, by the enormity of Artifact. It ends with a bang, after which the audience tends to sit in silence for a minute."
“It makes you think about society and life for days after," she says.
Video by Ernesto Galan, Courtesy Boston Ballet
Even as a seminal work—the first full-length ballet Forsythe created as director of Frankfurt Ballet in 1984—Artifact is not pinned to its place in history, forever under glass. Forsythe has allowed his “ode to ballet" to evolve with the advancement of ballet technique and his own experience as a choreographer, says Bennetts.
For the first ballet of a new five-year relationship with Boston Ballet, Forsythe came to town just a few weeks before opening night to tweak certain parts to suit specific dancers, while creating a new group section before the finale and updating Act Three. (In the early years, Act Three gradually included less improvisation and more structure. “Part three in Frankfurt was rather crazy aggressive," says Bennetts.)
Boston Ballet rehearses Artifact. Photo by Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet.
“Bill doesn't hold on to the past," Bennetts explains. “He doesn't get sentimental; he can just let it go." After all, Forsythe was 33 years old when he choreographed Artifact. “Now he says he's a grandpa. His movement is less harsh, less like an attack."
He wants this to be the Boston version, says Bennetts. “Bill always wants to update certain parts for the dancers in front of him. It challenges them, but it's also an older piece and the technique has improved."
Forsythe working with Misa Kuranaga. Photo by Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet.
Forsythe is also spending time with the Boston Ballet dancers just as he's discovering his enthusiasm for ballet again. “He took a break for a long time, and I think he's having fun challenging himself as much as the dancers," says Bennetts. “This process is also for himself—he's like a painter or an actor watching himself in film. He has examined this work for more than 30 years and never had time to fix it."
“I've never met anyone not blown away by this piece, but every choreographer has doubts," she adds. “Recently he said to me, 'I can actually do this.' "
Photo by Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet
We're sure of it.
William Forsythe's full-length Artifact runs February 23–March 5, 2017 at the Boston Opera House.
Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival
Faye Driscoll's Thank You For Coming: Play. Photo by Maria Baranova, Courtesy BAM.
Packed with cutting-edge choreography, the Next Wave Festival is bursting at the seams this fall. Five artists return, each following their own wave of unorthodoxy: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Reggie Wilson, Jonah Bokaer, John Jasperse and Nora Chipaumire. But NWF also includes several risk-taking artists new to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Faye Driscoll’s Thank You For Coming: Play is not at all polite: It can seem to destabilize the very floor underneath the dancers—and the audience. Shen Wei’s cooler sensibility joins the spare music of Morton Feldman’s opera Neither to a brief libretto by Samuel Beckett. ZviDance’s On the Road is inspired by Jack Kerouac’s famously funky beat novel. And as part of the new Brooklyn-Paris Exchange, the wily duo Company Wang Ramirez intertwines opposites in a dreamscape of feints and head spins in their Monchichi. To bring us back to a hard-hitting reality, Kyle Abraham’s Pavement surges through urban scenes that sometimes hint at police brutality. Sept. 7–Dec. 18, Brooklyn, New York. bam.org. —Wendy Perron
Woke up Blind tours to NYC in November. Photo by Rahi Rezvani, Courtesy NDT.
Nederlands Dans Theater
What does Nederlands Dans Theater look like now that it no longer perfoms the work of longtime director/choreographer Jirí Kylián? Big Apple audiences will learn this fall when the company presents four U.S. premieres. The dancers’ musicality will be evident in demanding works like Sol Léon and Paul Lightfoot’s Safe as Houses and Stop-Motion, in which they fold into inventive contortions and rapidly change formations. Marco Goecke’s Woke up Blind, full of angular shapes, arms moving vibrantly and couples frantically interacting, shows off the dancers’ flexibility. In Crystal Pite’s The Statement, NDT brings the drama with their signature contemporary moves. Based on Jonathan Young’s poem, the piece seeks to turn the power dynamics of corporate office life into art. New York City Center. Nov. 16–19. nycitycenter.org. —Helma Klooss
Straight Outta Philly
Rennie Harris Puremovement will pair up with Philadanco. Photo Courtesy RHPM.
Joan Myers Brown and Rennie Harris have always enjoyed a special relationship. He’s taken hip hop from the North Philly streets to stages around the world, and Brown, the Philadanco founder recently named one of America’s Irreplaceable Dance Treasures by the Dance Heritage Coalition, has commissioned his dances for Danco to show those phenomenal dancers’ range. Now, for the first time, Rennie Harris Puremovement and Philadanco join forces for a shared program—Straight Outta Philly. Harris will rework his Philadelphia Experiment for both groups to dance together, putting Danco’s modern and classically trained dancers into rhythm house mode. To complete the show, each group is performing two favorites from their own repertory, aiming for synergy. Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, Nov. 17–20. kimmelcenter.org. —Lisa Kraus
Crystal Pite. Photo by Michael Slobodian, Courtesy Kidd Pivot.
Crystal Pite at Paris Opéra Ballet
Crystal Pite’s star keeps rising. After a string of successes, including her harrowing Betroffenheit at Sadler’s Wells last spring, the Canadian choreographer is gearing up for a major ballet debut. In September, she will premiere her first work for the venerable Paris Opéra Ballet, sharing top billing at the company’s opening gala with her former mentor, William Forsythe. Her piece will be set to Max Richter’s take on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, with set designs by her longtime creative and life partner, Jay Gower Taylor. Expectations are high for the only woman Benjamin Millepied commissioned to create a work for POB during his short tenure, but her modern inventiveness and dark sense of theater should speak to the French company’s strong contemporary streak. And the season may be a landmark one for Pite, who will follow up with a creation for The Royal Ballet in March 2017. Palais Garnier, Paris, Sept. 24–Oct. 9. operadeparis.fr. —Laura Cappelle
Nrityagram. Photo by Nan Melville, Courtesy Lincoln Center.
Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival
A welcome alternative to the New York City bustle, Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival presents performances that glow with some kind of spirituality. This year’s dance portion includes works by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Liz Gerring and a mini-festival of pieces either from or inspired by South India, curated by Mark Morris. Cherkaoui’s Babel(words), choreographed with Damien Jalet, highlights the intimacy—both wanted and unwanted—of living in urban spaces. Gerring’s world premiere, (T)here to
(T)here focuses on a couple whose dancing veers closer and farther from each other. Morris has invited the all-female Odissi troupe Nrityagram and the all-male Kerala Kalamandalam, which specializes in kathakali, a dance-drama form infused with martial arts. His own group performs a selection of his India-inspired pieces. Oct. 16–Nov. 16, various venues in New York City. whitelightfestival.org. —WP
Soft Goods merges onstage and backstage realms. Photo by Sean Smuda, Courtey Karen Sherman.
Karen Sherman’s Soft Goods
After 20-some years as a choreographer, dancer and stagehand, Minneapolis-based Karen Sherman has the chops to contrast two worlds: stagehands, whose job requires them to disappear, and dancers, who are constantly exposed to scrutiny. Her new work Soft Goods shines the spotlight on the complicated social dynamics of the production world. A cast of 10 dancers, stage technicians and the entire production crew illuminates the elegance of manual labor, the dedication inherent in each profession and the dynamic tension between symbiotic cultures. Soft Goods, which is co-commissioned by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, PS122 in New York and the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, premieres at the Walker Art Center, Dec. 8–10. It will travel to PS122, Austin’s Fusebox Festival and UCLA during 2017. walkerart.org. —Linda Shapiro
Celebrate Forsythe at the Music Center
SFB in Pas/Parts 2016. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy The Music Center.
A spirit of healthy competition between performers is often at play in works by William Forsythe; expand the scenario to multiple companies, and the conditions are perfect for pyrotechnics. Houston Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and San Francisco Ballet converge in downtown L.A., each bringing one Forsythe work. Prior to the three-day run, Forsythe himself will refresh Pas/Parts 2016 (with SFB) and The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude (with PNB). Having just acquired it for their season opener, Houston Ballet’s Artifact Suite will be freshly baked. The mini festival caps a month of programming in various venues, dubbed Fall for Forsythe, which includes two days of site-specific works at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, tie-ins at the Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center at USC (where Forsythe is on faculty) and a costume retrospective. The Music Center, Los Angeles. Oct. 21–23. musiccenter.org/forsythe. —Zachary Whittenburg
The Royal takes on the fractured life of Anna Anderson. Photograph by Rick Guest, Image by AKA, Courtesy ROH.
Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Anastasia
Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s full-length Anastasia polarized reviewers when it first premiered in 1971. His use of idyllic classicism and stately court etiquette felt familiar in the first two acts, but the third took a strange turn with its stark expressionism. MacMillan’s taste for psychological drama will be on display again when The Royal Ballet revives this lesser-seen work (it last emerged over a decade ago) in October. The ballet traces the story of Anna Anderson, the woman who tried to persuade the world that she was the Grand Duchess Anastasia. The first two acts paint a clear picture of a teenage Anastasia living in the Imperial Russian court on the precipice of destruction. But the third becomes murky, with Anderson in an insane asylum grappling with fragmentary recollections of what she believes to be her prior life. A journey not so much into the past as into the fluid nature of memory and the psychology of identity, Anastasia promises at the very least to intrigue. Royal Opera House, London, Oct. 26–Nov. 12; in select cinemas on Nov. 2. roh.org.uk. —Courtney Escoyne
Mark Morris’ Layla and Majnun
Morris in rehearsal. Photo by Amber Star, Courtesy MMDG.
The eighth of Mark Morris’ full-evening entertainments, Layla and Majnun is one of the more intriguing. Thanks to cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble and Azerbaijani vocalists Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova, the Brooklyn-based choreographer became fascinated with this tragic tale of thwarted love. Its roots stretch back through the centuries. We have the 12th-century Persian poem by Nizami Ganjavi (Morris claims he rereads it before every rehearsal of Layla and Majnun with the Mark Morris Dance Group). And we have the 1908 Azerbaijani opera by Uzeyir Hajibeyli, a work that exploits the improvised vocal style called mugham. Considered a treasure of Middle Eastern music, this is its first large-scale performance in the West, and it’s no surprise that its director-choreographer should be Morris, whose passion for world dance is traceable to his childhood. Cal Performances, Berkeley, California, Sept 30–Oct. 2; Meany Center for the Performing Arts, Seattle, Oct. 6–8; University Musical Society, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Oct. 13–15. laylaandmajnun.org. —Allan Ulrich
Mondays can be a struggle. But thanks to 52 Portraits, a dance video series produced by Sadler's Wells, I get my #MondayMotivation courtesy of some of the coolest dancers and choreographers working today. Every Monday, the site posts a new video "portrait" of a dance artist; the plan is to release one for every Monday of 2016. The portraits are by turns funny, thought-provoking and poignant, but all are equally gripping for distinctly individual reasons.
The project is a collaboration between choreographer Jonathan Burrows, composer Matteo Fargion and videographer Hugo Glendinning. Each video is brief, some only a minute long, and features a dance artist at a table in front of a simple black backdrop. The choreography is primarily gestural, reflective of the subject's individual style and background; the lyrics are comprised of statements made by the subject during the filming process, set to the tune of existing songs. The result is a deeply personal glimpse of the dancer or choreographer at a moment in time.
Take, for example, this portrait of choreographer Crystal Pite.
Pite shows off her lighting-quick hands and arms, repeating small sets of frustrated, precise movements as the score describes her struggles with memory since having her child.
Or Zenaida Yanowsky, a longtime principal dancer with The Royal Ballet. Yanowsky subtly adjusts and readjusts her classical port de bras with a fluidity that suggests her portrayal of Odette. The quiet music says that this piece is partly about her dealing with the thought of retirement.
One of the strangest yet most mesmerizing videos is William Forsythe's. The lyrics report Forsythe's musings on creativity in the kitchen to his garden to the place of dance in the world, while the choreographer, wearing a mask and a hoodie, plays with the folding of his hands and wrists across and above the table. He settles his fists, then his elbows on the table and looks at the camera directly as we hear, "He says moving makes him curious."
I'm not familiar with the work of all of the artists on the site, but getting to know them through these portraits has resulted in some delightful surprises. Today's contribution from London-based choreographer Seke Chimutengwende, accompanied only by a recording of him "making a sound of the dance he is dancing," brought a smile to my face. His fully embodied movements seem to illustrate a creative thought process.
All of the previous portraits and the accompanying lyrics are available to view on the 52 Portraits website. I, for one, can't wait to see what inspiration they have in store for next week.
Get Your Summer Festival Fix
What's new and alluring at the country's biggest events.
American Dance Festival
ADF's month-and-a-half-long celebration is packing in 61 performances by 26 companies and choreographers. Of special interest are the premieres, including John Jasperse's newest piece, which boasts such stellar performers as Maggie Cloud and Stuart Singer, and the Footprints evening, which features new works by Beth Gill, Dafi Altabeb, and Lee Sher and Saar Harari. June 16–July 30. americandancefestival.org.
Improvisers Angie Hauser and Chris Aiken. Jonathan Hsu, Courtesy Bates
Bates Dance Festival
Though a mix of established small troupes will visit Bates (Dorrance Dance, Doug Varone and Dancers and Kate Weare Company), its most adventurous programming happens in the DanceNOW and Different Voices evenings, which include Houston's Hope Stone Dance, improvisers Chris Aiken and Angie Hauser, performance artist Sara Juli, and others. July 9–Aug. 6. batesdancefestival.org.
Reggie Gray and Peter Sellars' unlikely collaboration, FLEXN. Stephanie Berger, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow
Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival
Jacob's Pillow always gives dancegoers a dependable mix of classical, contemporary, modern and world dance. This summer features some fun collaborations: a premiere by tap dancing trio Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Derick K. Grant and Jason Samuels Smith, a post–Restless Creature program for Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks, and FLEXN, the much-talked-about project between flex-dancing pioneer Reggie Gray and theater director Peter Sellars. June 18–Aug. 28. jacobspillow.org.
Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener. Erin Baiano, Courtesy Vail
Vail International Dance Festival
This year's lineup—the 10th under Damian Woetzel—boasts its usual list of cool kids, from Tiler Peck to Lil Buck. But Woetzel has chosen an unexpected mix for the annual NOW: Premieres program: Jodie Gates, Lil Buck, Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener, Matthew Neenan, Claudia Schreier and Shantala Shivalingappa. Isabella Boylston is the artist in residence, and BalletX the company in residence. July 30–Aug. 13. vaildance.org.
POB in Approximate Sonata. Sébastien Mathé, Courtesy POB
Forsythe Says Good-bye to France
When word got out that Benjamin Millepied was leaving the Paris Opéra Ballet, we also learned that William Forsythe, who had been appointed associate choreographer under Millepied, was leaving his post, too. This doesn't mean he'll never return, but his presence will certainly be limited. His final premiere as an official staffer is a collaboration with the soulful singer-songwriter James Blake. Restagings of Approximate Sonata and Of Any If And round out the all-Forsythe program. July 4–16 at the Palais Garnier. operadeparis.fr/en.
Jason Kittleberger, James O'Hara and Natalia Osipova in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's new work, Qutb. Alastair Muir, Courtesy Sadler's Wells
Osipova and Polunin Team Up
International ballerina Natalia Osipova has recently been exploring of-the-moment contemporary work, and her current project pairs her with another big gig-hopping name, Sergei Polunin. At Sadler's Wells, June 29–July 3, the two will premiere duets by Russell Maliphant and Arthur Pita. Also on the program is a new trio for Osipova and freelance dancers Jason Kittleberger and James O'Hara, by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. sadlerswells.com.
Karole Armitage's last project for Opera Saratoga, Dido and Aeneas. Gary David Gold, Courtesy Opera Saratoga
Armitage Takes the Opera
Saratoga Springs, NY
After directing and choreographing the warmly received opera Dido and Aeneas at Opera Saratoga last summer, Karole Armitage returns this year to lead The Witches of Venice, composed by Philip Glass. The libretto, by Beni Montresor, is about a boy grown from a magical plant who is looking for a companion—and encounters many adventures on the way. Members of Armitage Gone! Dance will join Opera Saratoga's professional singers as well as members of its Young Artist Program and the Capital District Youth Chorale onstage. July 2, 11 and 17, Opera Saratoga. operasaratoga.org.
American dancers have always liked to think of William Forsythe as one of our own. He was born in New York City! He got his start dancing with The Joffrey Ballet! No matter that he's spent the vast majority of his career in Europe, where he created ground-breaking works like In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, and directed Ballet Frankfurt for 20 years then The Forsythe Company for 10 years. We die-hard Forsythe fans have always held out hope that one day he'd make his return.
William Forsythe, photo courtesy USC.
Now, it seems like our dream is finally coming true. When he left The Forsythe Company last year, he insisted he was looking for a more nomadic lifestyle, hopping from one company to the next without being stuck in any one place. He quickly became both Paris Opéra Ballet's associate choreographer, as well as a professor at the University of Southern California's new dance department.
But with his POB contract up, Forsythe is following Benjamin Millepied's lead and leaving the company. His last program of works there (in his official capacity as associate choreographer, at least) will be performed next month.
And right now, it seems like most of his future plans will bring him back to the U.S.(!)
Boston Ballet recently announced a five-year partnership: Starting next season, the dancers will get one new Forsythe work added to their rep each year. (No word yet on whether those will be new creations, but artistic director Mikko Nissinen is hopeful).
Then this week, we found out that the previously announced "Celebrate Forsythe" program at The Music Center in Los Angeles—in which Houston Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and San Francisco Ballet will each dance one of his works—has expanded into a month-long "Fall for Forsythe" extravaganza. Hurray! Check out the lineup of events:
September 29-30: Focus Forsythe: The Choreographer's Process
Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center, University of Southern California
Everyone's invited into the brand-spanking new USC studios to get an insider's look into Forsythe's process. How does he do what he does? Watch him develop work on the students in real time, then listen to USC Kaufman vice dean Jodie Gates lead a conversation between Forsythe and two of his longtime collaborators, Jill Johnson and Christopher Roman.
October 14: Futures in Motion
Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center, University of Southern California
As part of a three-day summit hosted by the USC Choreographic Institute (an interdisciplinary research center that Forsythe advises), this presentation will look at his "Synchronous Objects," an interactive website that translates and re-imagines the organizational structures Forsythe uses to create his choreography.
October 15-16: Site-Specific Forsythe
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Rauf "Rubberlegz" Yasit and Riley Watts in Stellentstellen (2016). Photo via LACMA.
The ultimate mash-up of bodies, Stellentstellen (2016) will be performed by dancers Rauf “Rubberlegz" Yasit and Riley Watts. Watch them entangle themselves until you can't tell who's limb is whose.
Students from USC will take on an immersive dance challenge in Acquisition, a new creation by Forsythe. A press release promises it will "offer visitors the opportunity to personally acquire the choreographic work, which consists of an apparently simple, but cognitively challenging choreographic task." Intriguing.
October 1-23: Forsythe Designed: A Costume Exhibition
Los Angeles-area locations to be announced
Misa Kuranaga in Stephen Galloway's Vertiginous tutu. Photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet.
Love 'em or hate 'em, you can't forget those tutus from The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. This exhibit offers an up-close look at costumes Forsythe designed himself, as well as some he developed with fashion designers like Gianni Versace, Issey Miyake and Stephen Galloway. It will also include videos of dancers performing in the costumes.
October 21-23: Celebrate Forsythe
The Music Center's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
To cap off the month-long celebration, the cherry on top of the sundae will be Houston Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and San Francisco Ballet sharing a program of Forsythe works. (Apparently, each was personally chosen by the choreographer himself.) Houston Ballet will dance Artifact Suite, Pacific Northwest Ballet will perform The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude and San Francisco Ballet will do Pas/Parts 2016.
Personally, I'm thinking of starting a campaign to name October "Forsythe Month." In the meantime, I can't wait to find out what other Forsythe goodies might be in store.
Boston Ballet principal Misa Kuranaga in Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet.
For most dancers, performing (or even watching) William Forsythe's electric, exaggerated vocabulary is an exhilarating experience. For dancers at Boston Ballet, it will soon be a new norm. Today, the company announced a five-year partnership with the master choreographer starting next season. Although Forsythe will be fresh off his position as associate choreographer at Paris Opéra Ballet this summer, according to a story in The New York Times, preparations have been underway for several years. The dancers have even been workshopping with former Forsythe performer (and Harvard dance director) Jill Johnson to familiarize themselves with his process and style.
So what can dancers and audiences expect? Boston Ballet will add one new Forsythe work to its repertoire for the next five years. Artifact is first up, in February 2017. Although the other works are still being nailed down, artistic director Mikko Nissinen told the Times that he hoped Boston would have the chance to perform works that aren't often seen in North America. No world premieres have been confirmed, but that doesn't mean they're off the table. “Mikko’s support of the work means that the dancers and I can deepen our wonderful relationship,” Forsythe said in a statement to the Times. “And I will have a new home for new ideas.”
It's a major step for the company, especially these days when many dance institutions want a taste of Forsythe. (Both Pacific Northwest Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago mounted all-Forythe programs in 2015, and he's also on faculty at the new dance program at the University of Southern California.)
If you're like me and can't wait until February, get your Forsythe fix with this clip, featuring footage from a compressed version of Artifact danced by the Dresden Semperoper Ballett, and the choreographer's thoughts on the work.
Flyaway Productions' Alayna Stroud. Photo by RJ Muna, courtesy Flyaway Productions.
San Francisco For three years, Flyaway Productions has been exploring urban poverty by dancing in the streets, or, more specifically, in the air above them. Jo Kreiter's final installment in her study, Needles to Thread: Dancing Along These Lines in Continuum Alley, will focus on wage security for garment workers. Twelve free performances in the Tenderloin neighborhood, Oct. 1-10. flyawayproductions.com.
Jesús Carmona. Photo by Emilio Tenorio, courtesy City Center.
Fall for Dance Expands to Canada
Toronto New York City Center’s Fall for Dance festival has created such a successful formula—cheap tickets for diverse programs of excellent companies—that it has spawned a sister event, Fall for Dance North. For its debut edition, the festival is importing Nrityagram from India and DanceBrazil, plus national favorites National Ballet of Canada, Peggy Baker Dance Projects and Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company. Dancers from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will bring Robert Battle’s electric solo Takademe and Christopher Wheeldon’s serene contemporary classic, After the Rain pas de deux. Sept. 29–Oct. 1, Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. ffdnorth.com.
New York City Here’s what’s on tap for the 12th-annual celebration at New York City Center: ballet (Miami City Ballet, Houston Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Boston Ballet), modern (Doug Elkins, Pam Tanowitz, Ailey, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Stephen Petronio Company, L-E-V), cultural dance (Che Malambo, La Compagnie Hervé KOUBI, Companhia Urbana de Dança, Nrityagram, Jesús Carmona & Cía), tap (Dorrance Dance and The Royal Ballet’s Steven McRae—yes, you read that right) and cross-genre collaborations (Fang-Yi Sheu and Herman Cornejo, and Bill Irwin and Tiler Peck). Sept. 30–Oct. 11. nycitycenter.org.
Trisha Takes Philly
Trisha Brown's Leaning Duets. Photo by John Mallison, courtesy Bryn Mawr.
Philadelphia area Even today, Trisha Brown’s rule-breaking experiments in weight, gravity and coordination reveal new layers of complexity with each viewing. Through June 2016, Bryn Mawr College is offering an exhibition and classes, lectures and performances on its campus and across Philadelphia that let us take a closer look. To kick off the dancing, Trisha Brown Dance Company will perform a program of early works outside (Leaning Duets, Sticks, Spanish Dance, Group Primary Accumulation and Figure 8) on Oct. 18, and those made for the stage (Set and Reset, If you couldn’t see me and PRESENT TENSE), Oct. 23–24. trishabrown.brynmawr.edu.
Forsythe répétiteur Dana Caspersen setting Quintett. Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy Hubbard Street.
Chicago and Ann Arbor William Forsythe’s flashy pointework peppers the repertoire of several U.S. ballet companies, but we don’t as often get to see his modern dance works stateside. So it will be exciting to watch the movers and groovers of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago take on a full evening of it. There’s Quintett, a somber yet playful work that Forsythe made for his terminally ill wife in 1993; N.N.N.N., making Hubbard Street the first U.S. company to acquire the piece; and the loud and epic table dance, One Flat Thing, reproduced. The series will visit Harris Theater for Music and Dance, Oct. 15–18, before traveling to University of Michigan, Oct. 27. harristheaterchicago.org, ums.org.
Invisible Thread rehearsal. Photo by Jimmy Ryan, courtesy ART.
A Do-It-All Dancemaker
New York City Darrell Grand Moultrie has choreographed for ballet, Beyoncé and now off-Broadway: Diane Paulus’ Invisible Thread, which ran at American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA, last year under the title Witness Uganda, is transferring to Second Stage Theatre. The musical, about a young man who volunteers in Uganda, will run Oct. 31–Dec. 20. 2st.com.
Jenny May Peterson in Girl Gods. Photo courtesy Montclair.
Seattle and Montclair, NJ Seattle’s beacon of feminism in dance, Pat Graney, mixes serious issues with absurdism. Like Pina Bausch, she offers surreal imagery, though less glamorous and more grounded. Her newest premiere, Girl Gods, explores themes of family history and the rage many women feel toward society. To underline the contrast between good behavior and the tumult within, her five dancers don cocktail dresses and dance on a blanket of dirt. On the Boards, Oct. 1–4, and Montclair State University’s Peak Performances, Oct. 22–25. ontheboards.org, peakperfs.org.
Benjamin Millepied on his predecessors, the French style and his ambitious new era at Paris Opéra Ballet
Millepied working with Aurélie Dupont. Photo by Agathe Poupeney, Courtesy POB (2)
Ever since the news broke in 2013 that Benjamin Millepied would be artistic director of the Paris Opéra Ballet, many wondered whether the Bordeaux-born choreographer and former New York City Ballet principal was experienced enough to handle the oft-insular company. The unveiling of POB’s 2015–16 season—the first programmed by Millepied—demonstrates that he has the ambition to steer it in a new direction. With 20 creations or company premieres, it puts the focus firmly on new classical choreography. Millepied’s masterstroke is the appointment of William Forsythe as associate choreographer; top names in ballet, from Alexei Ratmansky to Justin Peck, will also make the trip to France next season. Local reactions have been mixed due to the quasi-absence of French choreography, but change is in the air: Millepied is shaking up the status quo in everything from health care to casting. As the company gears up for a brand-new era, the young director sat down for a frank assessment of his new home, and a taste of things to come.
You went from a small operation with L.A. Dance Project to the huge machine that is the Paris Opéra Ballet. Was the transition a shock?
I’m very aware that the two jobs are completely different. The idea behind LADP was to create a home for the American modern dance repertory, but Paris is bringing me back to my career as a dancer. It’s a ballet company, first and foremost. Of course there are all the issues that go with the size—the bureaucracy, the French laws, the unions. There is stuff in the system that’s 150 years old, and there is so much talk about tradition!
How did you construct your first season?
Everything is about choreography and its relationship to music. My goal here is to focus on ballet: I want a repertoire that will challenge the dancers’ technique, utilize their talents. In a way it’s a transition season with Brigitte Lefèvre because there is also some contemporary work with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Maguy Marin, but I chose pieces where the craft of choreography is almost balletic. The seasons after this one will be more classical.
Millepied giving notes on his Daphnis et Chloé
The season has an American feel to it, with Balanchine, Robbins and Justin Peck. How do you feel about the French repertoire, and choreographers like Roland Petit or Maurice Béjart?
I have to get to know their work. My interest doesn’t necessarily lie there, but there are ballets which may be relevant on some programs. My time here is also a chance to do something different for a while, and I don’t see why I should deprive myself of the best people making ballet today, from Alexei Ratmansky to Justin Peck. At some point I won’t be here anymore—I’m sure they’ll get to do other ballets again.
Nureyev productions have dominated the classics in Paris. Do you want to keep them?
We are doing his La Bayadère and Romeo and Juliet next season, and I’m going to keep some of his other works, but not all. There are some where the choreography is really lovely, but essentially he made things that he loved to do himself. He liked difficulty, oppositions, things that are quite awkward. But that’s because he loved technique so much: You have to find that pleasure when you dance his choreography.
You immediately started casting young dancers in big roles, starting with Léonore Baulac and Germain Louvet in Nutcracker.
I feel it’s very important to give dancers roles at the right time, and you have to start quite young if you want to see an evolution. But I want to try to push everybody up, not just young dancers. I want everyone to have more opportunities, which is why we’re doing a ballet like Goldberg Variations next season.
How would you define the French style nowadays?
What I retain of the French style is the elegance, the restraint. But in the last 10 years, I’m missing a lot of the essentials: the épaulement, the musicality... This company had these things at one point, more so than today. There’s been too much concern with positions and not with how you move from one to the next. I want more contrast, more life.
Do you plan on doing away with the infamous internal competition, the concours de promotion?
We’ll see. I think it’s anti-art: You can’t rank dancers, and it’s completely unfair to judge them on one day. The dancers say it’s a chance for them to be seen, but when I started to teach class, a lot of people didn’t come because they were afraid to show themselves. There are a lot of contradictions. If they want to keep the concours, in a way, too bad for them.
Injuries have been a major issue at POB. How are you addressing it?
Dance medicine doesn’t exist in France, and unfortunately that goes along with not knowing how to take care of your body. I’ve been looking for staff to work with me. I found a French orthopedist who is aware of the problem, and we’re bringing in new PTs, Gyrotonic, massages. The culture is going to change, and I want people I can talk to so I know what’s wrong with the dancers and how to cast them.
You’ve mentioned the need for more diversity. Do you want to hire from outside the POB School?
I want to bring in the best possible people, period. I’m not going to just hire from the school if I have better people from outside when we audition.
How will the new academy for young choreographers work?
I think ballet should be taught like music composition. It’s a craft, and choreographers need to have the keys to find their voice. We’ll select a few people from the company and two choreographers from outside, and for one year they will have dance history classes and mentors to work with them. William Forsythe will be a part of it as our new associate choreographer. It’s everything that I wish I’d had.
Is choreography taking a back seat for now in your own life?
I look at choreography differently now. I want to create work that’s right for the company, challenges the dancers, teaches them how to partner. The work I will create next season will be for the corps, to push them.
What are the challenges of being a choreographer-director?
I believe that ballet companies belong to choreographers. You could say some choreographers don’t have management skills, but a ballet company should have someone at the helm with a very clear vision for ballet. If you think of Christopher Wheeldon, Alexei Ratmansky or Justin Peck, they make people dance a certain way. The system that I arrive in here makes it hardly possible to do that. The truth is that today the real tradition of ballet, as it should be, is in America. Whether or not you like how the companies are dancing, they are the right size and the director can have a real impact on the dancing, starting in class. Here, with 154 dancers, seven company classes every day, two theaters, it’s very hard.
You’ve been called an American in Paris by the French press—do you feel French or American now?
Both. I have 20 years of experience in America, but I felt French my whole life there. I think when you come in from the outside, you always bring something.