The Pleasant Shock of Breaking Ballet Conventions

October 6, 2012

There are unspoken conventions in ballet that no one ever challenges. I mean, you don’t just lie down in the middle of a performance. But New York City Ballet corps member Justin Peck, in his world premiere, Year of the Rabbit, had eight dancers do just that. On their backs, with half their bodies extending out of the wings, lying comfy-like, arms behind the head lounge-style, while the principals did their stuff center stage. Even more shocking, all eight suddenly curled back up and out of sight in one fell swoop, leaving the two main dancers looking around, paranoid about what might happen next. Brilliant. It was a use of the side space I haven’t seen since Trisha Brown’s Set and Reset (1983). Not to mention slipping in a shard of psycho-drama in an otherwise “abstract” piece.



Toward the end, Peck sets up four rows of dancers, just like the finale of countless Balanchine ballets. After all the strange geometric shapes of Peck’s groupings (possibly related to the rabbit and other Chinese Zodiac figures like tiger, ox, and rooster), you can’t help but be a little disappointed that he reverts to an old-world sense of pageantry. But then a single dancer dashes into a different row, and another dancer leaves her row, and general mayhem breaks up the lines. We are seeing the order of ballet deconstructed before our eyes. This could have been interpreted as an insult to the House of Balanchine, but it was a blast!

Here’s to knowing what rules to break in order to usher in a fresh breeze!


(Photo: Paul Kolnik, Courtesy New York City Ballet)