Dancers' Choice: Day of Democracy

June 12, 2011

There’s something exhilarating about dancers choosing their own rep and casting. Too often they just have to do what they’re told without participating in decisions. Once a year at New York City Ballet, for the Dancers’ Choice evening, dancers not only devise the program but also direct the marketing, as it’s not part of the regular subscription series. And the proceeds go for a good cause: the Dancers’ Emergency Fund.

As the previous two Dancers’ Choice have shown, NYCB dancers are very capable of shaping a program themselves. The deal is that Peter Martins asks two dancers to choose pieces from the repertoire and cast it how they want (subject to his approval). This year soloist Adrian Danchig-Waring and corps member Amanda Hankes developed the program around the theme of muse.

This was most obvious in Liturgy, the stunning duet that Christopher Wheeldon made for Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto in 2003. Whelan chose Sara Adams from the corps to learn her role, partnered by Jared Angle. The result was terrific. No, Adams doesn’t have Whelan’s elegiac presence, but she has beautiful lines and allowed the choreography to breathe. It’s a stunning duet that got overshadowed by Wheeldon’s later duet for Whelan and Soto, After the Rain. Both are to Arvo Pärt music, and both combine a kind of celestial tension with unusual-for-ballet curled shapes. I love watching Liturgy; I wait for the silences just before or after the violin is plucked.

There were plenty of other debuts for every rank. Soloist Craig Hall got to dance Apollo, surely the first African American dancer to be cast in the lead in Apollo at NYCB (please correct me if I’m wrong). Hall looked magnificent when the curtain rose, and he danced it his own way: sinuous and somewhat somber. Very interior. For the first three minutes I thought about what it meant to have an ancient god danced by a black man. It opens up the whole idea of who Apollo was and why humans created him. But after that I just watched it for Hall’s personal interpretation and what he might want to work on in the future. I thought he projected strength and nobility, but wished he had let Tiler Peck’s lively Terpsichore pull him into more playfulness in their duet. But this was a momentous occasion and I’m glad I was there.

Other debuts: Soloist Sean Suozzi got to do the Rubies lead, and it was nice to see him do something he could sink his teeth into. Principal Amar Ramasar debuted in the iconic pas de deux from Agon, adding a gritty dynamism to corps dancer Megan LeCrone’s bold performance.

Principals Wendy Whelan and Janie Taylor contributed their recently cultivated photography skills in the form of a handout of a pack of cards. Oh, and principal Ashley Bouder and corps dancer Devin Alberda made charming debuts as raffle ticket sellers among the audience. This really was an evening when the ranking system took a back seat to the collective desire to come together for a cause.