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.
Ballet, and I guess, all forms of dance, has always had the effect of transporting me.
In one piece on the program the other day at the New York City Ballet, Peter Martins’ choreography to Stravinsky’s propellant Jeu De Cartes took me away in a most pleasing riot of jumps and jetés. Diamonds, spades, hearts and clubs were displayed in spirited combinations; there were knaves and face-cards acting in harmony. The Queen and her cavalier dresses in kitschy abandon by costume designer Ian Falconer pranced happily to the stirring melody.
This was just the first of five transportive moments that afternoon. And one of the most original and electrifying was Peter Walker’s ten in seven. This is a dancework we had seen before, and were looking forward to with delight. It was even more splendid on a second watching. ten in seven, with a guitar-led band on an on-stage bandstand, and 5 coupled dancers is electrifying. That guitarist leading the band is Thomas Kitka, who also wrote the commissioned score.
Equally intoxicating is Alexei Ratmansky’s new Odessa. Ratmansky reponds to the eclectic styles in the score with fire. The costumes by Keso Dekker are splendid. In the dance, when passion meets brutality, I wanted to be the one to alert the police. In fact every aspect of Odessa, which premiered on May 4th, feels as if it is energized by Leonid Desyatnikov’s music, Sketches to Sunset from 2006.
Lauren Lovette’s For Claraleft us with wanting more when last we saw it. This viewing was no different except that the lovely piece, set to music by Robert Schumann, was even more admirable. Ms. Lovette has succumbed to romantic impulses with great subtlety, and in the most charming of ways.
New York City Ballet’s resident choreographers are always a talented and innovative bunch. When Christopher Wheeldon filled that role, he quickly became our favorite. Fashions come and go, but we still thrill to his works, like Carousel: A Dance, which we never see often enough. After the Rainis another such, and it gets better with repeated exposure. On this occassion, it was danced by Maria Kowroski and Ask la Cour both of whom execute the piece with elegance and style.
Justin Peck, currently the Choreographer in Residence, got his first-ever all-Peck program recently. Two of the pieces, The Dreamers (a duet, danced by Sarah Mearns and Amar Ramasar on this occasion) and Everywhere You Go(for what looks like an entire company), both familiar, are welcome additions to the permanent repertoire. Peck has an interesting way of partnering male dancers, and lots of energy even in his sometimes dystopic moods. New Blood is an interesting new work, that will take a few viewings to absorb and analyze.
The dancers– from corps to principal–earn my unbridled admiration with ever step they take.
Ticket prices are a frequent topic of discussion among theater-goers. Not much wonder when the cost of a seat to see Hello Dolly!or Hamilton for instance can go as high as $1600+. Of course, the savvy buyer will find tickets for these attractions at better prices as well. Even the less hyped Broadway show sells in the range of $99 (discount for the orchestra) and $239 (premium). I get it, it’s expensive to mount a Broadway attraction. When a show closes before its scheduled time, the producers don’t get back their investment.
The fact that the arts are a business in no way detracts from their art. In any given season, despite the iffy-ness of ROI, there are some 35+ (this 2016-17 season, it’s 39) productions put on the Broadway stage.
For the for-profit theater, revivals and transfers of off-Broadway hits seem like the better bet. Musicals always seem to drive the market, although I read a stat that those who go to musicals, generally go to 4 vs those who like a straight play see 5 in the same period. The not-for-profit houses have different mandates: Playwrights Horizons produces new, often commissioned, work, for instance.
On the other hand, The Mint revives plays that have not seen the stage for a long while, with the motto, “Lost Plays Found Here.”
The struggle to get investors to back a project can be complicated. Predicting the public’s taste can be a risky business. For producers, raising money for each production involves looking beyond their own pocket. Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU), for instance, has an annual bootcamp for perspective investors. This past February the workshop was called Raising Money for Theater: Who, How and When to Ask. TRU offers seminars on the business all year round.
Ticket prices at the profit-making theaters are certainly a ticket to recouping the cost of mounting a production. How do the not-for-profit productions–both on and off-Broadway– make ends meet? Concerns over government defunding of the arts makes this year a particularly critical one for the not-for profit theater and its counterparts in dance.
Asking for money becomes an art of its own. Inventive ways of getting donations crop up all the time. A gala is, often, called for, and will attract a reasonable amount of money. Galas usually include dinner and a chance to mingle with the talent after a performance. Some galas have themes, like for instance the Ballet Hispanico’s 2017 Carnival Gala Celebrating Trailbrazing Latina Leaderswhich honors Rita Moreno and Nina Vaca. The black-tie event is on May 15th at the Plaza Hotel.
The honored guest is a standard approach. Keen Company, a subscription house with a long history off-Broadway, for instance, holds its 2017 Benefit Gala on May 22nd with guests Molly Ringwald and Amy Spanger. The Pearl Theatre Company and Playwrights Horizons are under similar constraints to raise funds beyond the monies brought in by subscribers by throwing parties for patrons and offering opportunities to support them. The latter brings Patti Lupone, Christine Ebersole and Kelli O’Hare to the Playwrights Horizon gala on May 8th. The Pearl offers classes through its Conservatory.
Most of the dance troupes hold Galas at season kickoff; for New York City Ballet this corresponds with the Fall and the Spring openings. Paul Taylor American Modern Dance generally has theirs on the second night of performance each spring at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. (The theater is in itself an example of major fund-raising efforts, with Koch having paid for a renovation of the house which is home to @NYCballet and visiting dance cos.)
Youth America Grand Prix galas are a little like a serues of awards ceremonies. (We’ve talked of past YAGP galas on several occasions at VP.com.) The American Ballet Theater, although they have a gala as well, takes a slightly different approach to year round fundraising. It has patrons supporting dancers, an individual member of the troupe can be billed as being sponsored by a donor.
Subscription tickets are supplemented by sales of regularly priced tickets but that is far from enough to cover the costs of running a theater. Roundabout Theatre Company and MTC hold benefit evenings, inviting their subscribers and other patrons to dine with theater luminaries. Second Stage are holding their “Spot On” gala with honorary chair Bette Midler on May 1st. They also hold an annual bowling with the artists event; you can’t spell fundraising without fun.
Subscription houses depend on membership support (see the Pearl’s program of offers) to be able to offer their programming; subscribers are asked to give a little more. Seat-naming is another popular–and fairly democratic– way to bring cash into the house; the average donor can generally afford to put a plaque on a seat. On a grander scale, we have patrons who fund an auditorium or a theater (see David H. Koch above) or a patron’s lounge. Sometimes the sponsor is corporate like American Airlines for whom Roundabout’s 42nd Street house is named. With sponsorship come other perks, of course, like good seats, and access to staff.
Theater is a demanding artform. Give a little, get a lot.
It sounds like there is some sort of Zen maxim in the name of the New York City Ballet’s spring season. It features a festival entitled “Here/Now.” It promotes a whooping 43 works by its extensive roster
of post-Balanchine choreographers. These include Christopher Wheeldon, Alexis Ratmansky and young Justin Peck. Members of
the troupe, like Justin Peck, Lauren Lovette and Peter Walker, also
contribute dancepieces to the season’s repertory. We’ve witnessed
these imaginativre works each has created before this at there September
20, 2016 premieres and were very impressed.
The Spring programming begins on April 18th with a dash of Balanchine
and Robbins. Then it moves on to the “Here/Now“festivities and ends with
a touch of the perennial favorite, Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The New York City Ballet ends its winter season at Lincoln Center this weekend with what for us is a highlight. The program of Richard Rodgers inspired ballets by three disparate but compatible choreographers.
It is hard to pick a favorite from among the three, but Carousel (A Dance)gets the nod for the rearity of its performance. Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet retells the cental romance from the 1945 musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Carousel (A Dance), created in 2002, is set to “The Carousel Waltz” and “If I Loved You.”
Peter Martins’ Thou Swell and Balanchine’s Slaughter on Tenth Avenue on the other hand has given us the pleasure of frequent sightings. Both pieces make the most of a theatrical setting, with the Martins’ ballet using a ballroom for its home, and mingling that dance style in with ballet dance. Martins also gives us singers to accompany the nightclub mood.
George Balanchine’s ballet is a crowd-pleasing vaudeville pastiche with a little tap in the mix.
Dancing in right behind the @nycballet at the David H. Koch Theater, from March 7 through the 26th, is the Paul Taylor American Modern Dance troupe. Paul Taylor is the one of the last of the third generation of modern dance choreographers and pioneers. Taylor, born in 1930, was an original Martha Graham dancer. The New York season is an opportunity to catch up with the new works Taylor has created for his dancers, and for his audience, and to see the beloved ones of the repertory. For several years now, Taylor has incorporated the works of other dance masters in the repertoire.
The premieres this 2017 season include Taylor’s Ports of Call, and The Open Door as well as Lila York’s Continum.
On March 19th, the company has added a special program honoring the modern dance past, with performances of works by Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham and a Paul Taylor. The evening, which begins at 6pm, is called Icons, and features the Paul Taylor Dance Company in Graham’s Diversion of Angels from 1948 and Paul Taylor’s Promethean Fire from 2002, and presents guest artists from France’s Lyon Opera Ballet, Artistic Director Yorgos Loukos, in Merce Cunningham’s Summerspace from 1958.
Paul Taylor American Modern Dance is local, with headquarters in downtown NYC, and this year they are featuring an opportunity for fans to win a $500 Amazon gift card by sharing their New York love. For your chance to win in the We Live Here, Why Do You? contest, get an entry form and visit the company FB page.
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.
Sometimes the music and movement are so in synch that any other dance steps seem unimaginable. Ideally, such inevitability is in all dance works no matter how many combinations come to mind. This score and this choreography are destined for each other.
Justin Peck delivers this kind of feeling in his piece, Heatscape, set to a Bohuslav Martinů concerto. The vigor of the dance and the confidence of the composition meet in perfection. The youthful and exuberant Miami City Ballet is an ideal messenger of Peck’s exciting work, which they brought to life during their Lincoln Center debut from April 13th through the 17th.
Martinů, a modern Czech composer with a classical temperament, seems to have created his Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra (composed in 1925)for Peck’s classically inspiredand very modernHeatscape. In Heatscape, there are tweaked echoes of famous ballet tropes. Once our hero finds his swan, it’s not easy for him to keep tabs on her. Energetic partnering is a hallmark of Peck’s work, and it is well featured in this work.
Fate seems to have played a hand in bringing Lowell Liebermann to Liam Scarlett for his 2012 work, Viscera. The choreographer has also designed the costumes for this piece, dressing his ballerinas in elegantly plush bathing suits. Viscera is set to Liebermann’s Piano Concerto No. 1, classical with a modernist sensibility.
Miami City Ballet was born to perform Ballanchine. Almost literally so. Founded in 1985, under the artistic direction of Edward Villella, a principal with George Ballanchine’s New York City Ballet from the mid 1950s, retiring as a performer in 1979, MCB, currently under the Artistic Direction of Lourdes Lopez (also a former principal with NYCB), cultivates
the Ballanchine technique and showcases his works.
Balanchine’s Bourrée Fantasque gives 42 of MCB’s dancers the stage to show off their artistry. Set to the music of Emmanuel Chabrier, whose work GB admired greatly, Bourrée Fantasque was one of the first pieces Ballanchine created for his newly-formed New York City Ballet in 1949. MCB tackles the witty piece with its usual style and aplomb.
To follow the Miami City Ballet, whose rare visit to New York ends today, April 17th, go to miamicityballet.org/