There was a time when ballet fans (who probably preferred being called afficianados) thought of ballerinas as novitiates of the stage.
Like Mary Magadalene, mother to the nuns that followed, we see our novice sometimes succumbing to the siren call of the ballet master. His charisma and artistic prowess were irresistible draws, as were his faith in her abilities. He may see himself as a Svengali, but in truth he only teases out her innate talent; his actions do not endow her with her natural gifts.
The dancer and the dance-maker are colleagues, co-equal partners in the dance we are fortunate to witness. Ballerinas have an ethereal quality that makes them shine more brilliantly, if also more distantly. They are our stars, revealing through movement the stories of our lives..
Is it true that youth is wasted on the young? Perhaps not, at least this group of youngsters is making the most of their time and talents. And yes, I am a little jealous.
There is a good deal to be said for getting an early start. Youth is lithe and agile. It is a great season for dancing, Movement can be the lingua franca for the young; it is their body language as it were.
Ellen Robbins’ Dances By Very Young Choreographers at Live Arts, on January 26th and 27th, will be showcasing works by children as young as 8. The dance-makers, ranging in age from 8 to 18, study modern dance and choreography with Ms. Robbins.
The program ranges across the many styles of dance performance, from the humorous, narrative, to the lyrical. The music selections, chosen by the choreographers, include folk, jazz, classical, contemporary.
Ellen Robbins has been teaching dance sine 1966 and has received honors for her work with children. She has taught dance education at Sarah Lawrence and been on the faculties of Bennington College, the 92nd Street Y, and other distinguished institutions. In 2001, Dances By Very Young Choreographers was on the program at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.
After the matinee on January 26th, there will be an evening concert by the Alumni of Dances by Very Young Choreographers, which presents work by dancers who studied with Robbins from 1982 to 2016.
A great performance has an air of inevitability as well as a feel of spontaneity.
It looks like an improvisation, as if invented on the spot.
NYCB carries off this impersonation of spontaniety so well that I often sit through a performance feeling as if it were created there and then just for me.
I am aware that this is a fond delusion on my part. Warren Carlyle plumbed the choreography of the Broadway work of Jerome Robbins to put together the spontaneous combustion that is Something to Dance About, for instance. The cast rehearsed this brilliant compilation, as it did Justin Peck’s tribute to Robbins, the deceptively-titled Easy.
Even pieces I have seen many times, like the great Four Seasons which Robbins set to Verdi grant me the perception of a sneak peak into a newly minted work. Roman Mejia, a young (and apparently much noticed) member of the corps, was a startling revelation to me as the Puckish faun in the fall section of this ballet.
The pas de deux often also looks like invented in the spur of the moment as the show-off pottion of the program. Each dancer jumps in –often literally– to the performance, and takes his or her turn impressing us.
Dance evolves with the times as do all things, artistic or run-of-the-mill. It is what we need to keep in perspective as we watch young choreographers take on the creation of the next new ballet. They will be influenced by what has been termed modern dance, a genre dating back to Isadora Duncan’s day and represented prominently today by, among others, Paul Taylor (and his) American Modern Dance.
Modern dance is meant to be less formal, to eschew the stodgy. Not that Jerome Robbins, or George Balanchine, for that matter, can be thought of as stodgy. The ballets that are stepping, best foot forward, these days, tend to –not exactly relax, since many are as frenetic as they are innovative– be freer in mixing the metaphors of dance forms.
Lauren Lovett and Peter Walker, two of the more recently minted NYCB dance-makers, have emerged as rising stars of ballet. Lovett tends towards a romantic view of the classical. Walker is a bit of a renegade, although his second work, the 2018 dance odyssey, moves to a more traditional line.
The older guard is equally willng to mix things up. At 40, and after many years dancing as a principal with New York City Ballet, and working with his own troupe and as head of the Paris Opera Ballet, Benjamin Millepied is an elder statesman in the world of choreography. Millepied, whose Neverwhere was a lovely revelation at a recent NYCB performance, is a case in point. His work uses classical style married to contemporary scores–Neverwhere is set to music by Nico Muhly– and refreshing ideas about movement. Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence at the American Ballet Theatre since 2008, has given NYCB some delightful novelties, as well. His Odessa and Songs of Bukovina are works that join diverse styles of folk and ballet in beautiful complexity.
Partnering has developed a new look as the 21st century progresses. Partly, this is a reflection of a more liberal social milieu. Gender fluidity is the term of art for this LGBTQ-era. Same sex marriage, mixed use bathrooms, dorms which house both boys and girls on the same floor are part of our new-age maturity.
Equality has certainly not come full-circle. The workplace and the quotidian are still often off-kilter and exhibit the same kinds of inequities that have been with us forever. We are working on it, much as the dance makers are working on many more diverse ways to partner.
Many choreographers– Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon Benjamin Millipied etc.– experiment with male on male lifts, and Jessica Lang has a woman catch and release her male partner at one point in Her Notes.
Roles can be reversed for Mr. Mom and his executive wife. We’ve come to accept that and to expect to see it in our arts and entertainments. The glass ceiling– and other prejudices and biases– will be broken and taken down in tiny steps rather than with crowbars.
As always, and as our standard preface for these listings, there’s a lot to do and see. New York City theater can keep a body very busy.
Listings for October-November and maybe even December 2017
How time flies? Is it almost the end of this year? Could Halloween be just a week away?
Women’s Project gave this a go in 2016, and it is being reprised at the Westside Theatre.
The cast in Stuffed, playing through February 18th, has changed, except for creator and star, Lisa Lampanelli, and under the same director, Jackson Gray, but it is still a very relateable comedy. You or someone you know has been on and off the diet wagon for a long time. Everyone of us has a relationship to food– love it or loathe it. Can this lead to funny circumstances? With Lisa Lampanelli giving voice to the issues, you bet it can.
Meanwhile, currently at Women’s Project Theatre, What We’re Up Against, a new dark comedy by Theresa Rebeck, playing from October 28th to November 26th, is directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt, and features Skylar Astin, Marg Helgenberger, Jim Parrack, Krysta Rodriguez, and Damian Young.
John Patrick Shanley writes wry comedies based in realism with surreal twists. Examples include Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, as well as Moonstruck, in which Cosmo’s moon overwhelmes the landscape and Cher’s Loretta tells Nicolas Cage’s Ronny Cammareri
that he’s a wolf who chewed off his own hand. His latest, The Portuguese Kid, at MTC at City Center Stage I through December 3rd, stars Jason Alexander as a lawyer beleaguered by family and clients.
Listings are only represent some of the presentations on NYC stages
Matthew Bourne has a new ballet, his first in many years, which is spending five days on the City Center mainstage, from October 26th through November 5th. There’s a rotating cast for The Red Shoes, and a suggestion that children over the age of 8 would enjoy it.
Speaking of the kiddies, take them to Symphony Space on the weekend with Just Kidding, a series of programs dedicated to events for children. This weekend, there is a Halloween fun day planned for Saturday, October 28th at 11am with Joanie Leeds who will lead the musical costume party. Check out the full schedule at the Just Kidding website.
On Saturday, November 4th, the Symphony Space program offers a new way to teach your little ones new languages. Future Hits, a Chicago rock group, brings their irrestible mix of song with learning to the Just Kidding series. One show only at 11a.m.
Zoe Kazan, actress, playwright, has written a new dystopian play, After the Blast, which is at LCT3 in the Claire Tow Theater through November 19th.
Tired of the dystopian world view? Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, about a girls’ soccer squad, is coming to L.C.’s Newhouse Theater beginning November 1st. The team are highly competitive but there is no end-world scenario here. The Wolves had its well-received premiere with Playwrights Realm last year.
John Leguizamo gives us lessons in Latin History for Morons, another Broadway transfer from the Public, to Studio 54 through February 4, 2018. (You may recall that Hamilton went this route….) Leguizamo was inspired by the ignorance of Latino history in his son’s school to create this primer. More information on Latin History for Morons can be found at its official webpage.
Bukovina and Odessa seem like such exotic locales. Actually, I think you would call them provincial.
Alexei Ratmansky has set dances at both places, to the music of his fellow Russian and frequent collaborator, Leonid Disyatnikov. The simply named Odessais on the NYCB repertory this year.
Songs of Bukovina was introduced by ABT (@ABTballet) in a world premiere on October 18th as part of their short fall season at the David H. Koch Theater.
The steps in Ratmansky’s choreography for Songs of Bukovina are delightfully complex (à la Balanchine) and inventive. The costume design by Moritz Junge is as beautiful as anything else in this ballet. The muted costumes of the eight corps members are as soothing as the score with the principals’ outfits offering pops of bright color. The dancing is spectacular.
I consider NYCB to be our home-grown company, and ABT to be a much more Russian inflected troupe. The choreographer Ratmansky is their Artist in Residence. Many of their dancers have hailed from the Bolshoi and other such dance companies. In truth, their current crop of Principal Dancers is a diverse crew, mostly of American origins.
The ABT troupe all have a solid and gorgeous attack in their way of dancing. Precision, beauty, lyricism are their stock in trade.
As if to prove my point, Gillian Murphy and Cory Stearns delivered an intensely Russian style in Other Dances, a piece Jerome Robbins made especially for Mikhail Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova for a 1976 gala. These two ABT dancers were superb.
The ABT specializes in the full-length story ballet, a genre that just is not a favorite with me. For this 2-week fall Lincoln Center season, this year from October 18-29, they showcase the short-form dances which I find more enjoyable.