Coaching at NYIBC

June 16, 2009

I have been entrusted with teaching the contemporary duet for the 25th anniversary of the NY International Ballet competition.  It is my first time involved in this particular competition, which got under way on June 8th.   Richard Chen-See, a friend and fellow former Paul Taylor Dance Company member, is now the director of NYIBC, taking the reigns as founder Ilona Copen retires. Richard asked me to re-stage Aureole, Paul’s seminal piece from 1962, a work I performed often during my tenure in the company and have set on several companies.

In the first week I taught the central duet to 48 dancers from across the globe.  This lyrical work launched Paul’s choreographic career due in part to its stylistic departure from Graham. It is also the first piece ever to enter the repertory of a ballet company, a relevant fact for these dancers on the brink of their careers.

“Relax…breathe…plié.…give in to gravity… contract… spiral…be natural…..connect to your partner..”

Just some of the things I find myself reiterating throughout the day to these primarily classically trained young dancers (ages 17-24). Shedding all affectations and being themselves is the hardest “character” to perform. It takes vulnerability, which takes maturity. For many, moving seamlessly and organically from one moment to the next with no poses or grand emphasis is foreign territory. Communication obstacles and cultural barriers aside, this is a new movement “language.” There is no technical virtuosity, no 32 fouettés they can whip off proudly. It is deceptively simple in its grounded, loving tenderness. It is all nuance. One day an observer told me the duet gave her the feeling of witnessing a love she “wanted to take home with her.” The perfect reaction!

How do you judge such radically different work? I can’t imagine! All 24 couples will perform the same pas de deux repertoire beginning on June 24.  Aureole will be performed only if they make it to round two.  (Which could break my heart!)

Everyone I have met involved in NYIBC- directors, fellow coaches and an army of loving volunteers- all truly care about the dancers and the educational component of this competition. What an amazing experience, taking class and having intimate coaching sessions with luminaries of dance.  Getting to work with the legendary Cynthia Gregory (my absolute hero as a young girl at SF ballet school before I threw away my pointe shoes) of American Ballet Theatre fame on Raymonda, and Winthrop Corey, director of the Mobile Ballet and former dancer with the National Ballet of Canada on Paquita.

I am struck daily by the camaraderie of the dancers. I have yet to see any “competition” between them. They live together in the Fordham dorms, and spend their days in the (gorgeous!!) Ailey studios just down the street. They seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company, supporting one another in the studio and laughing at lunch breaks. They are making the most of their time here, and remain absolutely focused ignoring the allure of the big city just beyond the floor to ceiling windows.

I am truly honored to be among them and it is a pleasure to pass on my knowledge. This week we broke into short coaching sessions for each couple.  Here I feel I can do the most good, getting to know them individually. What a joy to guide them in getting the most out of themselves and this experience! Aureole finds more breath and life each day as it settles into their muscularity.