Four premieres at City Ballet and a few surprises at Fall for Dance

New York City Ballet had its gala on Sept. 30, featuring new works by four youngsters: Robert Binet, Myles Thatcher, Troy Schumacher, and Justin Peck. Here’s my review for DanceTabs.

New York City Ballet in Troy Schumacher’s Common Ground, with costumes by Marta Marques and Paolo Almeida of Marques’Almeida. Photo by Paul Kolnik
New York City Ballet in Troy Schumacher’s Common Ground, with costumes by Marta Marques and Paolo Almeida of Marques’Almeida. Photo by
Paul Kolnik

Over at City Center, Fall for Dance kicked off with two varied programs, each containing a surprise. See my review here.

Rachelle Rafailedes and L.A. Dance Project in Murder Ballades. Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.
Rachelle Rafailedes and L.A. Dance Project in Murder Ballades.
Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.



Chopin Dances

Yekaterina Kondaurova and Yevgeny Ivanchenko in Jerome Robbins’ In the Night, by Julieta Cervantes.
Yekaterina Kondaurova and Yevgeny Ivanchenko in Jerome Robbins’ In the Night, by Julieta Cervantes.

You can read my review of the Mariinsky’s all Chopin, all piano triple bill, for DanceTabs, here.



A Fond Farewell—Jenifer Ringer

Final farewells. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Final farewells. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Jenifer Ringer danced her last dance yesterday at New York City Ballet, in a program that combined Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering and Balanchine’s tribute to the British Isles, Union Jack. Unsurprisingly she seemed relaxed, dancing with her usual musicality and emotional transparency. Here’s my review of the show, for DanceTabs.

The cast of Dances at a Gathering. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
The cast of Dances at a Gathering. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

I’d love to hear people’s memories of her dancing. I’ll never forget a public coaching of Liebeslieder with Violette Verdy. Dressed in rehearsal clothes, under bright studio lights, Ringer and Jared Angle  conjured a completely enclosed world in which only they existed. After they finished Verdy said simply, “that was perfect, I have nothing to say.”

Jenifer Ringer in Union Jack. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Jenifer Ringer in Union Jack. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Interview with Michaela DePrince (for DanceTabs)

Michaela DePrince and Sam Wilson of Dance Theatre of Harlem. Photo by  Matthew Murphy.
Michaela DePrince and Sam Wilson of Dance Theatre of Harlem. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

After posting my interview with the great American ballerina Virginia Johnson (now artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem) on DanceTAbs, I heard from the young dancer Michaela DePrince. Ms. DePrince, who danced with DTH for a year, has since moved on to Dutch National Ballet’s junior company, based in Amsterdam. As many of you know, Ms. DePrince was born in Sierra Leone, under very difficult circumstances in the civil war there. She lost her parents at a very young age, and saw some horrific events while living at an orphanage, including the killing of her pregnant teacher. Adopted by a New Jersey family, she has thrived. She discovered her love of ballet early, and went on to study at the Rock School in Philadelphia, and then the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis school (affiliated with ABT) in New York. A few days ago, we chatted over email about her life, her training, and her career so far. The issue of racial inequality in ballet inevitably came up. It is her feeling (echoed by many others) that artistic directors are wary of taking non-white dancers for fear of upsetting the homogeneous “look” of the corps de ballet. It’s interesting, though, that in some countries, such as Cuba, this does not seem to be an issue. One of the great pleasures of seeing the Ballet Nacional de Cuba a couple of years ago at BAM, was seeing how mixed the ensemble really is, and what vitality this produces onstage. The company reflects the country; this, automatically, makes ballet seem of our time. You can read my interview with Michaela de Prince here.

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.

Onward, Ballet

Ashley Laracey and Taylor Stanley in Troy Schumacher's "Warehouse Under the Hudson"
Ashley Laracey and Taylor Stanley in Troy Schumacher’s “Warehouse Under the Hudson”

After a little hiatus, here’s my first review of the pre-season, for DanceTabs. It’s a roundup of the second half of the so-called “Ballet v6.0 Festival,” a showcase of young choreographers working outside of the large ballet institutions (presented by the Joyce Theatre).  I caught the work of three choreographers: Olivier Wevers, Troy Schumacher, and Jessica Lang. Been wondering what the up-and-coming generation of ballet choreographers is up to? Well, here’s a peek.

A short excerpt: “There are lingering questions in people’s minds about ballet’s validity. Mainly, these tend to focus on the academicism of its forms, on the question of what is suitable content for dance, and, inevitably, on the stark gender division implied by the pointe shoe. What are the ethics and esthetics of dancing on pointe in 2013?”
I welcome comments, complaints, corrections, in fact reactions of any kind.

And the Winner is….Benjamin Millepied!

Talk about a meteoric rise. It’s only been a couple of years since he choreographed Black Swan, the film that raised his profile to global proportions. A year since he quit dancing and started his own company, LA Dance Projects. And now this: the Paris Opera Ballet has announced that he will follow Brigitte Lefevre in the position of Director of the Ballet in 2014. To lead the oldest ballet company in the world: it is an enormous vote of confidence in this young man, in his mid thirties. A difficult decision for Laurent Hilaire, Lefevre’s heir apparent and a brilliant former étoile formed by Nureyev, to swallow. (And for Manuel Legris, a nother top candidate, for that matter.) Millepied has proved that he certainly has the intelligence, the tough-mindedness, and the drive, all pre-requisites for the job. And perhaps the taste as well: his repertory choices for LA Dance Projects have been smart and interesting, with an eye to modern dance and to the very best of contemporary ballet. The  decision to perform William Forsythe’s Quintett was particularly canny. As was the decision to have Forsythe himself come and coach the dancers. His personal charisma and connections are certainly part of the package. (The POB will get Natalie Portman as part of the package; the whole family will move to Paris.) He has an eye for dancers and knows how to show them off in his own works. As yet, it must be said, he hasn’t revealed himself to be more than a stylish choreographer. It is possible that he realizes his own limitations—he told the Times that he will not prioritize his own choreography as director of the POB. The fact that he is a choreographer at all is a huge plus for the company—the last choreographer director there, according to Le Figaro, was Serge Lifar, though Nureyev also re-staged many of the classics. Whether Millepied’s lack of familiarity with many of the ballets in the company’s repertory will be a liability is also an open question. Also: Will he be able to handle the dense layers of  a large, French, institution? On the other hand, perhaps he will be able to identify a new generation of French ballet choreographers, an area in which the company has been rather at a loss. Millepied told Roslyn Sulcas of the Times that he wants to put the focus back on ballet; in recent years the company has been known more for its forays into contemporary dance, as if it had lost confidence in the future of ballet. Millepied is a provocative choice, but an intriguing one.

Here is Roslyn Sulcas’s piece in the Times on the decision.

And here’s a fawning profile in Le Figaro. A little excerpt:

“Despite all this, Benjamin Millepied has proven himself to be indispensable! In this world that is increasingly deaf to the unique language of dance, he has decided to dedicate his life to this art….His youth—he is 36—changes nothing; he has always been precocious. His marriage last summer to Natalie Portman, the most brilliant of American actresses, whom he met on the set of Black Swan, did not shake his determination.”
I should think not! It’s a rather romanticized view, but a bit of enthusiasm will be needed to make this transition work.

And a more balanced take, from Libération.  The article mentions that Millepied will make a new Daphnis et Chloé for the company in 2014, and that Portman is looking forward to taking on more European projects.

I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on the decision… Comment below!

An Interview with Troy Schumacher (DanceTabs)

Over the holidays, I sat down with the young choreographer Troy Schumacher, a dancer at New York City Ballet. He recently initiated a collaborative project, Satellite Ballet with a librettist and composer. This year they had their second season. You can find my interview with Troy here.

And a short excerpt:

“Like many dancers, I read reviews. I enjoy reading them, not that I always agree. I want to hear everyone’s honest perspective. I take a lot into account, and dance critics come at it from a position of knowing dance and watching dance all the time. Even too much, sometimes. They point out interesting things. I’m not doing this so people think I’m a genius. I just want to create works and add something meaningful to dance and to ballet and also bring other people to dance with intimate, accessible performances.”

Benjamin Millepied Gets His Groove (DanceTabs)

The upshot of my trip to Peak Performances at Montclair: LA Dance Projects is a worthy enterprise, despite Millepied’s own limitations as a choreographer, at least so far. The performance of William Forsythe’s “Quintett,” especially, is enough reason to give the new ensemble the benefit of the doubt.

Here is my review for DanceTabs:

And here is a short excerpt:

“If one is able to forget about the celebrity hype and the Dior perfume ads, one begins to see Benjamin Millepied for what he is: an ambitious young choreographer and impresario, trying to find his place in the cacophonous, quarrelsome dance world. He has chosen to set up shop in L.A., far from his old stomping grounds. Of course, the celebrity and the perfume ads are inevitably part of the story, since to a certain extent they make the enterprise possible. The exposure provided by one facilitates the other. But the question remains: what does Millepied mean to accomplish with this small ensemble of six dancers which he has called the L.A. Dance Project?”