On May 8, New York City Ballet held its spring gala, marking fifty years since the opening of the State Theatre. Along with a toast, a short film, and a song from “Carousel,” the evening included two ballets: Balanchine’s whirling “Allegro Brillante” and the première of Justin Peck’s new “Everywhere We Go.”
“Peck has the mind of a mathematician; he finds ways to subdivide the stage and keep the eye continually guessing. Shapes appear momentarily and dissolve, only to reappear again somewhere else. Soloists weave in and out of the ensemble. The body is also subdivided in surprising ways: sometimes only the arms move, in complex phrases combining staccato and stretched combinations; other times, just the torso, or just legs.”
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.
Dance Theatre of Harlem is back, after a hiatus of almost ten years. You can read my review of one of their programs, for DanceTabs, here.
And here’s a short excerpt:
“What is the place of a predominantly black American ballet company today, in our supposedly “post-racial” America? We have a black president and a black ambassador to the United Nations, and yet, if one looks at most of our ballet companies, there is nary a black dancer to be seen….The problem is more frustrating than simple racism.”