The Last-Minute Addition to ABT's Season is Probably Not What You'd Expect
American Ballet Theatre is breaking out of the proscenium.
The company announced earlier today that in addition to the works already scheduled for their two-week fall season at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater (Oct. 18–29), a new work for members of ABT's Studio Company and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School will also take place during select performances. But more surprising than the lateness of the addition is where it will take place: on the theater's promenade during intermission. Entitled Counterpoint for Philip Johnson, the new work will pay homage to the architect of the theater, according to the company's press release. It marks the first time that ABT will perform outside of the traditional proscenium stage at the Koch.
Behind the site-specific work is none other than Benjamin Millepied, who already has a new ballet premiering for the main company during the fall season, and, as his work with L.A. Dance Project attests, is deeply invested in finding new ways to engage audiences with dance.
ABT is hardly the first company to commission a site-specific work for the liminal spaces in its theater: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago opened their 40th-anniversary season with Peter Chu's Space, in Perspective just a couple of weeks ago, while Paris Opéra Ballet is giving James Thierrée use of the public spaces of the Palais Garnier as part of a contemporary program premiering in May 2018.
Hubbard Street dancers in Peter Chu's recent Space, In Perspective, which took over Chicago's Harris Theater. Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Carol Fox & Associates.
And while site-specific work has been an established practice amongst contemporary dance artists for some time, seeing this many major companies taking the plunge is definitely a newer phenomenon, one that speaks to a desire to challenge how their audiences believe dance should be seen. Is anyone else sensing a trend?
Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.