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.
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.
This is an example of “smart regifting,” of recycling an idea, concept or suggestion: A somewhat tongue in cheek or perhaps just cheeky suggestion for a holiday gift from 2016 is reprised here. (For other holiday gift ideas, check out our suggestions at The Wright Wreport.)
What we’d put in the Nutcracker gift basket
1. a little nutcracker figure
2. a spray of sugar plums (3-4)
3. imported hot chocolate
3a. mug optional
4. fancy coffee
4a. mug optional
5. elegant tea
5a. steeper and mug optional
6. 6 candy canes (3 red and white, 3 green and white)
7. 1/2 dozen pieces of marzipan
8. gingerbread figures (2-3)
9. a spray of dewdrops
10. a sprig of flowers and, don’t forget
Ofttimes, once the curtain rises, it’s the costumes I remember. They are the shorthand trigger of what the dance I am about to see will be.
This is not an infallible guide, as it was not with Christopher Wheeldon’s Estancia at New York City Ballet the other day. (The gaucho-rich costumes by the designer Carlos Campos, have a touch of J. Crew; the horses are sleekly outfitted for–under the circumstances– maximum stagey realism.)
A WILD RIDE
We last saw Estancia when it premiered in 2010, so the memory lapse can be forgiven. Or perhaps it should not. Estancia is brilliant, lively, original and a wild love story. A huge brava to Ana Sophia Sheller for her portrayal of the wild Country Girl who tames Adrian Danchig-Waring’s wonderfully danced City Boy. Wheeldon has set the piece to the Alberto Ginastera composition commissioned in 1941 by Lincoln Kirstein. Since his American Ballet Caravan disbanded in the next year, Kirstein never got the chance to have Balanchine choreograph. There is plenty of exotica on the pampas on which Estancia is danced; there are cowboys, and city slickers, peasant girls and wild horses (one of whom is danced by Amar Ramasar) and a singer (Stephen LaBrie) in the style of flamenco.
A GALLERY TOUR
Pictures at an Exhibition, set for New York City Ballet in 2014 by Alexei Ratmansky to Modest Mussorgsky’s piano concerto, is artsy, but a touch overly long. Not on a list of personal favorites, but it executes a clever concept, and is well danced by the company.
The cast are costumed, by Adeline Andre, in painterly outfits. Wassily Kandinsky’s “Color Studies…” are the background, in projections created by Wendell K. Harrington and lit by lighting designer Mark Stanley.
Everywhere We Go, Justin Peck’s second dance created for NYCB (in the spring of 2014)set to music by Sufijan Stevens, suffers from mood swings. These, however, cannot detract from the buoyant mood in which the piece has already put you from the moment it opens. Everywhere We Go is exuberant as it opens, and its excitement and energy is infectious, even heart-stopping. In the seventh or eighth movement, the nine-part dancework lurches into a depression. Everywhere We Go is still exhilarating, just seems to be a little less upbeat.
Among the many thrills offered up by Everywhere We Go is the pleasure of seeing Robert Fairchild and Amar Ramasar partnering. Peck is a master at this kind of male-bonding, but, with 25 dancers on stage, he gives us much much more to enjoy.
In ballet-making, as in all things in life, younger hands must eventually prevail and take over. It is progressive, and these new sensibilities need to be heard. Justin Peck can be counted upon as one of this new band of dancemakers, as can the new-to-me Nicolas Blanc, whose Mothership takes off with a distinctly electro tempo, provided by the music of Mason Bates.
In Belles-Lettres, Justin Peck uses costumes to paint a picture in which the drama of the music is reconstructed in the drama of the steps. The piece is set to Cesar Franck’s Solo de piano avec accompagnement de quintette à cordes.
The Most Incredible Thing is another Peck costume drama. Set to commissioned music by Bryce Dressner, this piece was preceded by enough hype to lift an air balloon aloft. All the hype is true and well-deserved. It is not just the 50 dancers on the stage that make this a BIG ballet. The Hans Christian Anderson fairy-tale is clothed by Marcel Dzama, supervised by Marc Happel, for maximum odd effects.
Classic meets modern
Peter Martins, @NYCBallet’s Ballet Master in Chief, has choreographed a great number of works for the company, including the overwhelming lovely Barber Violin Concerto .
She steps into his embrace, and this being ballet, the embrace is more intimate than you would normally expect. When they switch partners, one couple is wild and tender, while the second take great effort in their relationship.The conceit in this energetic and stirring piece is ballet’s flirtation with modern dance.
For many of the new wave of choreographers, the flirtation has become a collaboration, with modern steps and moves heavily incorporated into their ballet creations.