Back to Basics–Balanchine “Black and White” at NYCB

Sterling Hyltin in "Symphony in Three Movements." Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Sterling Hyltin in “Symphony in Three Movements.” Photo by Paul Kolnik.

New York City Ballet went back to basics this week with its “Black and White” program. All Balanchine, all modernist ballets performed in pared-down leotards and tights: The Four Temperaments, Episodes, Duo Concertant, and Symphony in Three Movements. Here’s my review of the evening for DanceTabs.

And a short excerpt: “The program, a compilation of modernist ballets set to music by Webern, Hindemith, and Stravinsky that span three decades (1946-1972), is a kind of compendium of the choreographer’s most radical, game-changing esthetic. Its distinctive mix of courtliness, mystery, and eroticism still surprises. Not to mention its musical intelligence, which can make sense of a work as impenetrable – and as seemingly undanceable – as Anton Webern’s pointillist Opus 21 symphony.”

The “Black and White” program repeats on Sept. 28, Oct. 1, Oct. 4, and Oct. 13.

MacArthur fellowships for Kyle Abraham and Alexei Ratmansky

Photo by Simon Schluter for

It was just announced that two choreographers, Kyle Abraham and Alexei Ratmansky, have won MacArthur fellowships. Congratulations to both!

It’s no secret that I think Ratmansky is one of the most quietly innovative choreographers working today, breathing new life into ballet without making grand pronouncements about his intentions. Mainly he revitalizes by doing, by taking history into account while also taking stock of the present, and making the language of ballet seem new and fresh and of our time. Dancers who work with him become more connected to the music, and to their own imaginations. The music he uses opens up and reveals new secrets. In his dances there is space for humor, classicism, vulgarity, warmth, loneliness, despair.

I’ve been excited about Ratmansky from the beginning and have written about his work several times since his arrival in NYC. In 2009, when he had just been named choreographer in residence at ABT, I wrote this piece, “Ratmansky Takes Manhattan,” for The Nation. Earlier this year, I wrote a long piece about the making of his recent Shostakovich Trilogy, also for The Nation, “Running Like Shadows.”  In 2011, when ABT first performed The Bright Stream, I did a little essay on the ballet’s history for Playbill. A few of the outtakes from several interviews appeared in this cumulative q&a in DanceTabs, “Balletic Musings, a Continuing Conversation,” in August.

Needless to say, the MacArthur is great news. Dance is back. Congratulations to both!

Small, but Still Kicking, but for How Long?: New York Theatre Ballet

IMG_5910A much-loved New York institution, New York Theatre Ballet, and its related school—not to mention the Dokoudovsky conservatory of ballet downstairs—are facing an uncertain future as their landlord, a church, sells off the parish house in which they have been housed for over thirty years. If they go, another little bit of New York’s character goes with them.  Last week I trudged up the five floors of the run-down but still beautiful building and watched a class for 8 and 9 year-olds. I wrote a little piece about it for the New Yorker’s culture blog.

Gala Fare–NYCB Salutes Fashion, and, yes Ballet

Craig Hall in Iris Van Herpen's design for Neverwhere, by Benjamin MIllepied.
Craig Hall in Iris Van Herpen’s design for Neverwhere, by Benjamin MIllepied.

New York City Ballet held its fall gala on Thursday (Sept. 19), at which it introduced three collaborations between choreographers (Justin Peck, Benjamin Millepied, and Angelin Preljocaj) and designers (Prabal Gurung, Iris Van Herpen, Olivier Theyskens). The focus of the past few galas has fallen—thanks to Sarah Jessica Parker, who’s on the board—mainly on the fashion side, and less on the side of intriguing choreography. The three works had their merits, but all the fuss seemed to be about the costumes. It’s clear that the tactic is meant to attract and entice the gala patrons, who get two thrills for the price of one: new choreography, big-name designers. But one wonders if they really feel they are getting a good deal? The applause at galas is always on the polite side, so it’s hard to tell. The evening looked sold out. So much the better. But will these ballets merit viewing and re-viewing?

Here’s my review of the evening for DanceTabs.

Of Bugs and Men—Arthur Pita’s “Metamorphosis” at the Joyce

Edward Watson in The Metamorphosis. Photo by Tristram Kenton.
Edward Watson in The Metamorphosis. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

Finally, a production that puts contem-porary ballet’s  extreme feats of flexibility to use! Arthur Pita’s “Meta-morphosis,” now playing at the Joyce, is a kind of cross between the rubber-band contortions of Wayne McGregor and the theatrical savvy of Matthew Bourne. And at the heart of it all, an extraordinary performer, Ed Watson, who, for an hour and a half, ties himself into knots to give physical form to the torments of Gregor Samsa, the victimized hero of Kafka’s tale. But in the end, the problem remains; our eye becomes inured to the strangeness and the effect dissipates. Here’s my review for DanceTabs.

I’d love to hear other people’s reactions to the show.

Virginia Johnson, DTH, and the Question of Race

Virginia Johnson with her DTH dancers. Photo by Andrea Mohin for the Times.
Virginia Johnson with her DTH dancers. Photo by Andrea Mohin for the Times.

This summer, I spoke with Virginia Johnson, the longtime star of Dance Theatre of Harlem, who is now the troupe’s Artistic Director. You can see the interview, on DanceTabs, here.

Under Johnson’s tutelage, the company has returned from the brink for a successful first season. This fall, her dancers will perform at Fall for Dance in New York. In our interview, we talked about her life in dance, the rise, fall, and rise of Dance Theatre of Harlem, and the very real challenge of diversity in ballet. Here’s an  excerpt: “I look at these dancers and I see that they’re not being corrected. There are some very basic things going on that reveal that they’re being ignored. And we see changes in them so quickly because they are finally getting corrections. The schools need to not only embrace the fact that ballet doesn’t have a color but actually work with the material in the room.”

The question of diversity in ballet is finally coming to people’s attention. Benjamin Millepied mentioned it in an interview related to his upcoming directorship of the Paris Opera Ballet, in comments that pissed off the French media. (He said, “I can’t run a ballet company now, today, and not have it be a company where people in the house can relate to, and recognize themselves in some ways.” Shocking.) ABT has just announced a new initiative whose mission is to reach out to minority communities through Boys and Girls Clubs across the us. (ABT’s Misty Copeland will be the ambassador for the program, which is called Project Plié.) Meanwhile, DTH will be there.