Sara Mearns & Jodi Melnick: Ballet Glamour Meets PostModern Glamour
When New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns got a hankering to work with a woman choreographer, she was tapping into a something that has become a big issue in the dance world. (Hey, if a woman can run for President, why can’t more female choreographers be hired by NYCB?) She didn’t want just any woman choreographer, but someone who could challenge her. That’s a tall order for a ballet superstar who has danced lead roles in more than 30 Balanchine ballets and 10 Robbins ballets.
But Melnick comes from another side of town. In our Feb. 2013 cover story, “Downtown Diva,” she said that, for her, ballet “was physically unenjoyable.” She’s danced with some of the most interesting, (post)modern dancemakers, including Twyla Tharp, Sara Rudner, Trisha Brown, Vicky Shick and Susan Rethorst. She has an uncanny ability to imbue movement with high style yet allow it to read in a plurality of ways. In her choreography, the impetus for movement starts from deep within; she can turn the subtlest kind of gesture into something fascinating. Her brand of charisma is inimitable. But then, so is Mearns’. In our cover story on Mearns, “No Holds Barred,” writer Astrida Woods called her dancing “explosive and passionate.” She is no ordinary ballet dancer.
The two worked together for Danspace’s “Platform 2015: Dancers, Buildings and People in the Streets.” I remember Mearns was strewn on the floor in a decidedly unballetic pose as the audience filed in. She was wearing sneakers; I’d never seen her looking so….athletic. What Melnick and Mearns have in common is that, no matter how hard they try to shed their virtuosity, they both have a rock bottom kind of glamour.
When Mearns approached Melnick for this project, she was willing to explore but did not promise to make a ballet. But one thing leads to another, and she has made a ballet—for Mearns and NYCB dancers Jared Angle and Gretchen Smith. The working title is Working in Process/ New Bodies.
Melnick’s residency at the Guggenheim Museum’s Works and Process series culminates in performances Nov. 13 and 14. Claudia La Rocco, the dance critic who conceived last year’s Platform, will moderate. Original music is by Robert Boston, with additional live music for harpsichord and violin by György Ligeti and Heinrich Biber.
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
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:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"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.