A little over a year ago, I wrote an op-ed for Dance Magazine about the grueling, oppressive grant cycle. It was crying into my pillow, really. I was complaining and desperate to share my story. I was fed up with 10 years of applying for grants and having never received one for the research or development of my work. I was tired of the copy-and-paste rejection letters, the lack of feedback, and what seems to be a biased, inconsistent system.
I couldn't stand that I was made to feel as if I had to ask for permission to be an artist.
Danielle Agami in residency at The Center for Ballet and the Arts.
Los Angeles-based choreographer Danielle Agami is taking on a new role in New York City: performer. While her company Ate9 is on a "vacation," she is in residency at The Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University.
We sat down with Agami to discuss creating her first solo titled framed, which she will perform May 6 at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and why she is excited to get back to her company.
What should we dance about today and how should we go about it?Those questions were on the mind of Nashville Ballet artistic director Paul Vasterling this summer as he spent six weeks exploring new ways of telling stories through ballet as a fellow at NYU's Center for Ballet and Arts.
Over his 20 years as principal choreographer at NB, Vasterling has created a handful of narrative works, ranging from children's stories to Romeo and Juliet and Lizzie Borden (about the Fall River, Massachusetts woman tried and acquitted for the axe murders of her father and stepmother).
Paul Vasterling with Nashville Ballet dancers. Photo by Anthony Matula
Jennifer Homans. Photo by Mathieu Asselin, Courtesy NYU
Jennifer Homans raised eyebrows when she delivered ballet's eulogy in Apollo's Angels, her 2010 book on the history of ballet. Today, when she reflects on writing the phrase “I now feel sure that ballet is dying," Homans says, “I was trying to make people think, but I was also saying what I was feeling. In light of what I had learned in the last decade studying history, I was trying to figure out, Where are we?"
Now, she wants to do her part to prevent the art form from flatlining. In September, Homans opened New York University's Center for Ballet and the Arts, a research institution for exploring new ideas in ballet. The Center will fund several full-time and associate fellows per semester with the help of a $2 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and additional support from NYU, including office and studio space and some administrative salaries and operational costs.
Fall fellows included former New York City Ballet dancer Heather Watts and Trey McIntyre Project co-founder John Michael Schert. Homans has also recruited dance outsiders from different disciplines to help reinvigorate ideas in ballet. Filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, for instance, has chosen to work with choreographer James Sewell to turn one of his films into a ballet. Spring fellows will include Oxford English professor Susan Jones, choreographer Béatrice Massin and composer Scott Wheeler. Public programs so far have included a master class and discussion with Mark Morris and a conversation with Alexei Ratmansky, moderated by New York Public Library's LIVE from the NYPL curator Paul Holdengräber. Events like these will be offered regularly. “My real focus is on creating space for artists and scholars to work and creating a public conversation around ballet and the arts," says Homans. “Ballet is never just itself."
The center's success, says Homans, can only be measured by how artists are stimulated by their experiences. “I don't need to see that we've created three ballets or four books in the course of a year," she says. “If 10 years later, someone creates some great work, whether it's scholarship or a dance, and they say time spent at the center somehow informed this—terrific."