‘Tis the Season

Dance season arrived last week with a vengeance. Suddenly there is just too much to see, too much to choose from! Here are a few of the things I’ve caught around town:

  1. Twyla Tharp at the Joyce
Sara Rudner and Rose Marie Wright in The Raggedy Dances at ANTA Theatre (1972). © William Pierce

 

 

Here’s my review.

2.Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Salva Sanchis’s “A Love Supreme,” at New York Live Arts

Rosas in A Love Supreme. Photo by Maria Baranova.

Here’s my review.

3. The New York City Ballet fall gala, with works by Troy Schumacher, Gianna Reisen, Lauren Lovette and Justin Peck

Indiana Woodward in Justin Peck’s Pulcinella Variations. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Here’s my review. 

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.

 

 

Up in Boston…

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 1.38.02 PMThe movie “Ballet 422” will be opening next week. The Boston Globe asked me to do a background piece for them about the film, which traces the arc of the creation of Justin Peck’s 2013 ballet “Paz de la Jolla” for New York City Ballet. Loved the film. Here’s a link to the feature. And here’s another link, to a review I wrote a little while back when I first saw the film, at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Justin Peck Saddles UP

Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar in Justin Peck's "Rodeo, Four Danced Episodes." Phot by Paul Kolnik.
Sara Mearns and Amar Ramasar in Justin Peck’s “Rodeo, Four Danced Episodes.” Phot by Paul Kolnik.

My review of Justin Peck’s new ballet, set to Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo,” is here. It was performed in a program that also included Christopher Wheeldon’s “Mercurial Manoeuvres” and Alexei Ratmansky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Here’s an image from the latter ballet:

Ramasar, Mearns, and Sterling Hyltin in Alexei Ratmansky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Ramasar, Mearns, and Sterling Hyltin in Alexei Ratmansky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Photo by Paul Kolnik.

“Ballet 422,” or the Hard Work of Art

BALLET422_PRESS_01Last fall I saw the Ballet 422 at the Tribeca Film Festival, which is now coming out in theatres. I can say that it is one of the finest dance films I’ve seen, far surpassing the director Jody Lee Lipes’ previous foray into the genre, New York Export: Opus Jazz. Heretical as it may sound, I found it better than Frederick Wiseman’s documentary La Danse, the film it most closely resembles, partly because much of the choreography in that documentary was so dire. (At almost three hours, it was also excessively long.) Like Wiseman, Lipes doesn’t identify the characters, my one complaint. But he does well to focus his film on a single subject, the creation of a ballet, from start to finish. It’s a nailbiter.

The ballet is Justin Peck’s Paz de la Jolla, made for New York City Ballet in 2013. (It was the company’s 422nd work, hence the movie’s title.) I was there for the première in January and can attest to the fact that it was a pretty thrilling event; the ballet is fast-paced, full of detail, imaginative, and deeply musical. It also includes a real coup, a convincing underwater dream-ballet. A couple (Amar Ramasar and Sterling Hyltin) falls asleep on the beach; the woman rises and is drawn ever deeper into the waves. The dancers’ bodies, intertwined and intricately patterned by Peck, become the sea’s eddies and foam. Peck has a knack for creating vivid, and very specific, imagery with groups of dancers. It’s not just pretty pretty.

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The film shows the process from the very beginning, as Peck works alone in the studio, listening to Bohuslav Martinu’s Sinfonietta la Jolla on a boom box and video-taping short phrases of movement with his IPhone. These ideas are translated into sketches drawn with stick figures and dots representing floor patterns and shapes. There’s no talking, no voiceover, just work. Rehearsals are periods of intense creativity, experimentation, and problem-solving, but also of close observation and rigorous imitation. Peck doesn’t let anything slide. In one scene he corrects a young dancer who is trying to recreate a complex set of movements for the arms. She does it again and again. Each time he says “no,” not unkindly, but unwilling to settle for anything less than what he has in mind.

The sheer amount of work is staggering. At several points in the film, one or another dancer, including Peck (then in the corps de ballet) looks almost inhumanly tired. The work is also mentally exhausting, requiring precise imitation, memory, analysis, instant playback. In one of the most fascinating moments in the film the dancers do nothing more than count out the beats in the music, figuring out how the steps fit into the notes. There’s no artificially-constructed melodrama here—the drama is the work itself.

We see fabrics being dyed and cut, hairstyles being sprayed rigidly into place, tempi adjusted by the conductor, musical dynamics discussed, lights experimented with. (The one thing we don’t see, oddly enough, is the company’s artistic director, Peter Martins.) I chuckled at the sight the mustaches for Vienna Waltzes, all pinned up on a board, each labeled with a dancer’s name. The film-makers have been given remarkable access, even to the inner sanctum of company class, where wan-faced dancers in motley rehearsal gear sweat and go through their daily paces. The backstage areas are unadorned, even dingy. This is the factory-floor where illusions are created.

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Peck is involved in every aspect of the production: costumes, lighting, musical interpretation. Calm, blank-faced, mouth slightly open, he watches, scouring details, and then goes home—we see him taking the elevated subway line to his small apartment where a portrait of Jerome Robbins hangs on the wall—to watch rehearsal videos and fine-tune some more. At only twenty-five (now twenty-six) he shows surprising self-assurance and composure. The only time he seems to lose his nerve is during a slightly awkward interaction with the orchestra—certain boundaries are not be crossed.

As opening night approaches, tension mounts, faces become strained. It’s surprising how few smiles one sees. A few people manage to keep their good humor and spread it around: Cameron Grant, the pianist, with his perfect hair and calm demeanor, is an unflappable, fatherly presence. Amar Ramasar, the male lead in the ballet, seems to be in a perennial good mood. Moments before going onstage, his tense ballerina asks if they should run through their duet one last time. He smiles and says, with gusto, “don’t worry, I’m just going to grab those hips.” Her jaw relaxes ever so slightly.

Ballet 422 is about as close as many of us will ever get to the creation of a new work of art. The dancers are revealed for what they are; phenomenal technicians, willing and intelligent collaborators, tired bodies. At the screening I attended, the dancing, especially by Tiler Peck (no relation) drew gasps from the audience. But another thing also shone through: a kind of loneliness at the heart of the process. At the end of the day, it all comes down to one person, creating something out of nothing.

 

Ethan Stiefel Moves Ahead

Ethan Stiefel as Albrecth in Giselle, 2001. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.
Ethan Stiefel as Albrecth in Giselle, 2001. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

I sat down with Ethan Stiefel a few weeks after his return to New York from New Zealand where, for three years, he was the artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet. We talked about his time there, his transition from dancer to director, his choreographic aspirations, and his plans (and non-plans) for the future. You can find the interview here, at DanceTabs.

Something Old, Something New

Sterling Hyltin and Andrew Veyette with the company in Justin Peck's <I>Everywhere We Go</I>.<br />© Paul Kolnik. (Click image for larger version)

Here’s my review of the Saturday matinee at New York City Ballet, including débuts by Sara Mearns and Russell Janzen  in Balanchine’s Chaconne and my second look at Justin Peck’s Everywhere We Go, from last season.

And a short excerpt: “[Everywhere We Go] begins well, with a striking duet for two men, or rather for a man and his shadow. This shadowing theme suffuses the rest of the ballet, particularly the complicated relationship between principals and corps. Peck constantly subverts the hierarchies of lead dancers and ensemble. Dancers melt in and out of larger formations; at times the shadow figures become the main event. Peck’s configurations for the ensemble are often asymmetrical, non-frontal, kaleidoscopic, but never less than clear.”