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..
Modern dance, like modern painting, or architecture or any of the other arts afflicted with the prefacing descriptive, is only as modern as its times.
History places the origin of this genre of choreography at the turn of the last century. Those origins were reactive in nature, as an antidote as it were to “classical ballet.” The style is meant to be expressive of the inner feelings of the dancer; the expressions are free from the restrictions of structured steps. The modern dancer uses movement to reveal his/her inner soul. Today, modern dance is some 100 years old, and yet it is still expected to emote and move with all the flexibility of a youngster.
The style represented by the pioneers of the form has come to be codified. Its spontaneity is no longer its main vision or purpose. Dance may be a step in time, a fleeting movement, quick and quickly forgotten, but we keep records of its progress nonetheless.
Many of those pioneers are no longer with us; some have left behind active companies to carry on their legacy. Their companies carry their name as a banner; it is a reminder that the master who founded the troupe set the style for it. Just as we recall the steps of the waltz or the cha cha or the fox trot, the choreography that underpins Martha Graham‘s or Merce Cunningham‘s endowment can be notated and remembered. Dancers who know the steps pass on this knowledge f or future generations; there are videotapes of works by Paul Taylor, Jose Limon. even Isadora Duncan extant. The Balanchine style of ballet is preserved and inherited in much the same way.
Then what happens to the dancers who worked under the founding modern dance choreographer after s/he is gone? Their careers will change. Some will be absorbed into other groups. Others will band together to form new dance ensembles. They will turn to choreography themselves, or find star turns in other modern companies.
Paul Taylor foresaw a succession for his company, as Alvin Ailey had before him. He started presenting the works of emerging artists alongside his own several years before his death last August. He had gone so far as to rename his company Paul Taylor American Modern Dance to allow for the collaborations he incorporated into the troupe. Like Ailey, he appointed a successor, Michael Novak, from within the ranks of the company. For 3 weeks this fall, October 17 through November 20, the company will honor Taylor in its Lincoln Center Season; the dancers, who can’t seem to settle on PTDC or the more inclusive moniker of PTAMD, will present 10 of Taylor’s masterpieces alongside commissioned works by Kyle Abraham and L.C. premieres by guest resident choreographers Pam Tanowitz and Margie Gillis.
His alumni remain loyal to the company. Some also have seen fit to test their wings with other projects. Two PTDC alumni, Laura Halzack and Michael Trusnovec join current PTDC dancer Michelle Fleet and film exec VJ Carbone in bringing the Asbury Park Dance Festival to inaugurate on September 14th. Another Paul Taylor dancer’s Parisa Khobdeh Dance Company, for instance, has just completed its premiere outing with a piece called Nevertheless, which will also be at the Dumbo Dance Festival on the 12-13 of October. Khobdeh will be dancing in the upcomng PTAMD season, but she is forging a place for women-centric dance works with her own company.
In a way, we can consider this kind of after-life of dance company members to be part of the legacy of the masters who founded the great modern dance movement.
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.
Going to theaters to see drama, comedy or dance is one of the ways in which New Yorkers get to spend their free time. New entertainments abound. Here is a short and very incomplete list of suggestions for you:
You’ve heard a good deal from us about the New York City Ballet, a company which enjoys many seasons at its New York Lincoln Center hq. It will continue its present winter presentations with classics and new works from the repertory and Peter Martins’ Romeo and Juliet starting the week of February 13th. Balanchine, Ratmansky, Peck, Peter Walker etal return from February 24th through March 4th, at which point the Paul Taylor troupe takes the David H. Koch stage.
A special performance on Tuesday, March 6 at 7pm – Dance for All generously underwritten by Taylor Foundation Trustee Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown – has been added to the 2018 Season of Paul Taylor American Modern Dance (PTAMD) at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. All seats to this performance by the Paul Taylor Dance Company, with music performed live by Orchestra of St. Luke’s, featuring Paul Taylor’s classics Arden Court, Banquet of Vultures and Promethean Fire, will cost just $5. Tickets to the performance,, will go on sale, Wednesday, February 7 at 10:00 a.m. at the Koch Box Office at 20 Lincoln Center Plaza or at www.boxoffice.dance. There are no facility fees or convenience charges for these tickets.
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.