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.
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.
Jerome Robbins was a man who knew how to put on a show. His ballets has as much pomp and circumstance, flair and flavor as any of his Broadway show.
At 30-40 minutes, they constitute something like a one-act on every program on which they are featured. Like many another dance-maker, Robbins covered a range of styles and subjects. There’sNY Export: Opus Jazz, the West Side Story Suite, and I’m Old Fashioned with their modern and pop culture motifs.
The Four Seasons, set to ballet interludes by Verdi from a number of his operas, is an exhilirating and very classical entertainment. In it he creates not just a mise en scène that takes us from winter through spring to summer and fall but also hearkens to Shakespeare. A Puck-like figure (puckishly danced by Preston Chamblee at the performance we attended) gambols through the final chapter of the ballet.
The Four Seasons with its processions representing the times and temperatures that progress through the year is at once majestic and light-hearted. Robbins, a much lauded stage choreographer contributed greatly to the NYCB repertoire in his long association with the company. He joined George Balanchine as Associate Artistic Director of the New York City Ballet in 1949.
It’s George Balanchine’s birthday and the NYCB is celebrating it. The season continues amidst a backdrop of allegations of physical and sexual misconduct against Peter Martins, who has stepped down as Ballet Master in Chief. The company is under the collective management of an interim artistic team and a group of Ballet Masters. The backdrop is one I would like to ignore, as it seems likely NYCB boards may have been these many years. The scandal persists, and an email in which NYCB’s board thanks Martins for his service and leadership, and says they are independently investigating seems more problem than solution.
At any rate, New York City Ballet was only under his stewardship; the NYCB always belonged to Mr. B.
Even the dancers who never had a chance to work with Balanchine honor him when they dance. This Saturday was all Balanchine, including Apollo (from 1928) and Cortège Hongrois (1973) as well as Mozartiana from 1981.
As Jared Angle and Megan Fairchild said in introducing the January 27th 2pm program, it covered over 50 years of Balanchine’s interpretations of music. The choreography was brilliant, of course.
Apollo, Balanchine’s first internationally recognized triumph, created when he was just 24 years old, is a collaboration with his friend Igor Stravinsky. The latter provides the music for an idyllic god of prophecy and art and his hand-maidens to captivate. On Saturday, Adrian Danching-Waring was the jazzed-up god as Tiler Peck took on the role as his dancing muse, Terpsichore. Indiana Woodward carried Calliope’s pad and pen, while Ashly Isaacs was Polyhymnia. This dance has never before been a favorite of ours; at Saturday’s performance we had a decided change of heart. Looking forward to a reprise this afternoon!
InMozartiana, where Tschaikovsky pays homage to Mozart, we have the dual authorship of two outstanding composers, as it were. It is a soothing, elegant work, and the elegant Sara Mearns was joined by Chase Finlay as her leading man, and Troy Schumacher as well as an able corps, and students from the School of American Ballet.
Cortège Hongrois, on the other hand, mesmerized us when last we saw it. Yesterday. it was an agreeable dance-piece. Balanchine set it to Alexander Glazounov’s Raymonda, music that is varied and stirring. Cortège Hongrois opens with a grand processional, and has a rousing Finale. The frantic and gorgeous activity of the Czardas and its Variations is followed by the relatively restorative Pas de Deux, performed by Ashley Bouder and Russell Janzen on Saturday afternoon. One the dance regains its composure we witness a full cast frolic that is typical Balanchine, and therefore a perfect end.
Winter 2018 season the New York City Ballet is on now through March 4th. Visit http://www.nycballet.com/ for schedules and ticket information.
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.
Playing favorites gets a bad rep. In fact, it’s a parental rule that moms love all their children equally. Every mother knows that this is hooey; there is always one who stands a little closer to the heart.
My connection to New York City Ballet (@nycballet) goes back many years to the company’s residency at City Center. Over the half-century plus that I have been partial to NYCB, I have had many favorite dancers.
Among the current crop of primas, Sara Mearns is a stand-out favorite. This in no way diminishes the rest of the NYCB troupe who all delight and dazzle. I often find myself loving best the one who is near, as Ado Annie might; I like the NYCballet.
Nonetheless, on my Mearns watch, I find myself fortunate enough to have tickets for one of her performances of the new Bourne (music by Bernard Hermann) ballet,The Red Shoes at City Center starting October 26th. (This time, we will not be sitting in that very last row from which I saw so many of Balanchine’s dancers dance his dances long ago.)
Matthew Bourne has come out of his career catnap to produce his first dance in four years. The Red Shoes, based on the movie that is based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, is the ultimate dancers’ story. It is also a caveat against overreaching. I can’t wait to see La Mearns in the title role of Victoria Page.
George Balanchine, like Paul Taylor, was a catholic balletmaker, finding the arcane in the ordinary. An “All Balanchine” program at NYCB can range over a wide field, landing here in an utterly classical mode, there in the folkloric.
The one we just witnessed included La Valse, in which Sara Mearns was seduced by death (Amar Ramasar, another beloved NYCB Principal) while her original partner, Tyler Angle, is dejected and dismayed.
Robert Fairchild, in his penultimate performance with NYCB, danced Duo Concertantwith Sterling Hyltin. The dance is one of Balanchine’s so-called black and white ballets, set to music for piano and violin written by his friend Igor Stravinsky. It is a sad and luxurious work.
Two of the pieces on the program blended classical with the quotidienne. Square Dance is elegant, and forthright, a very striking and simple ballet, with a hint of the folk dance of its title. Cortege Hongrois, on the other hand, is elaborate. It uses a populist vernacular, blending the czardas with processionals.
La Valse and Duo Concertant are over for now, as is of course the opportunity to catch Robert Fairchild as a New York City Ballet Principal Dancer.
You will be able to catch Cortege Hongroisagain on a program this winter. Square Dancewill be on another one as well.
New and upcoming favorites in the NYCBallet Company appear with each new season. Peter Walker and Lauren Lovette are dancer-choreographers who are classically trained with next gen sensibilities. We are the witnesses to a company that is full of life, and movement, and is always moving forward. Lucky us.