Center for Ballet and the Arts hopes to help ballet move forward
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."
Pacific Northwest Ballet principals Rachel Foster and Jonathan Porretta took their final curtain call on June 9, 2019. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB
We all know dance careers are temporary. But this season, it feels like we're saying goodbye to more stars than usual.
Many have turned to social media to share their last curtain calls, thoughts on what it feels like to say farewell to performing, and insights into the ways that dancing has made them who they are. After years of dedicating your life to the studio and stage, the decision to stop dancing is always an emotional one. Each dancer handles it in their own way—whether that means cheekily admitting to having an existential crisis, or simply leaving with no regrets about what you did for love.
We will miss these dancers' performances, but can't wait to see what awaits each in their next chapters.
A previous lab cycle. Photo by Evan Zimmerman/MurphyMade, Courtesy RRR Creative
Choreographic incubator Broadway Dance Lab has recently been rechristened Dance Lab New York. "I found the nomenclature of 'Broadway' was actually a type of glass ceiling to the organization," says choreographer Josh Prince, who founded the nonprofit in 2012.