It came as a big surprise last fall to learn that Lincoln Center Festival would cease to exist, effectively immediately. The announcement came on the heels of a summer featuring one of the festival's biggest triumphs: four days of performances in which Paris Opéra Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet and New York City Ballet danced Balanchine's Jewels side by side. What other New York institution could pull off such a thing?
The festival, a mainstay of New York City summers since 1996, has made its mark by bringing dance, music, theater and hybrids thereof from all over the world. The first sign of change came in June, when its artistic director since 1998, Nigel Redden, announced his retirement. Then, in November, Jane Moss, artistic director of the whole of Lincoln Center, announced that the festival would cease operations. According to The New York Times, the sum total of Lincoln Center summer programming will go from seven weeks to five in 2018.
The disappearance of the festival is an especially tough blow for dance in the city, given that it has a record of importing big productions from abroad that are too elaborate or expensive for other presenters. (The three-company Jewels is a perfect example.) In 2016, audiences got to see Christopher Wheeldon's acclaimed The Winter's Tale, danced by the National Ballet of Canada. The year before, the National Ballet of China (which hadn't been to New York City in a decade) brought The Red Detachment of Women and The Peony Pavilion. Contemporary dance has also been represented: 2014 featured a fascinating retrospective of works by the Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. Alongside the Brooklyn Academy of Music and The Joyce Theater, the festival has been one of the city's main windows to the larger dance world.
National Ballet of Canada brought Christopher Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale to New York City audiences through Lincoln Center Festival. Photo by Karolina Kuras, Courtesy NBoC
Some have criticized the festival for its lack of a clear curatorial voice. The New York Times' music critic Zachary Woolfe called it "jumbled and tired." But in a way, its eclecticism was its greatest strength. You never knew what you might see.
Moss recently explained by email that the decision was made in part as a response to the "constricting financial climate that all arts organizations are now facing." At the same time, she wrote, Lincoln Center "plans to maintain a strong commitment to dance, reflected in summer programs and our fall White Light Festival." Let's hope that happens. Otherwise, New York's dance scene will certainly be the poorer for it.