Ballet Focus https://balletfocus.com Ballet and Photography Commentary Mon, 22 Jun 2020 13:17:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.2 56760047 Fall Lincoln Center Performances Cancelled https://balletfocus.com/fall-lincoln-center-performances-cancelled/ https://balletfocus.com/fall-lincoln-center-performances-cancelled/#respond Sun, 21 Jun 2020 17:48:31 +0000 http://balletfocus.com/?p=15476 Above photo: the closest my daughter and I will get to the Met or Koch Theaters for awhile Not unexpected but still shocking are the 2020 cancelations of fall Lincoln Center performances from New York City Ballet, New York Philharmonic, […]

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Above photo: the closest my daughter and I will get to the Met or Koch Theaters for awhile Not unexpected but still shocking are the 2020 cancelations of fall Lincoln Center performances from New York City Ballet, New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera, and American Ballet Theatre due to COVID-19. The Met Opera plans a New Year’s Eve gala; NYCB will cancel its Fall Season and five-week Nutcracker run and hopes to have a Winter Season starting January 21; the New York Philharmonic plans on starting back January 6. As with everything in the COVID era, all plans are subject to change.

A silver lining from the COVID tragedy that has resulted in excruciating performance cancellations is the great new ballet works available for streaming (with minimal sports alternatives such as cornhole throwing on ESPN). Numerous ballet companies have stepped up during the COVID quarantine with great recent works, not just rehashed pieces from the 1980s. I have always wished that dance would be more like sports with plentiful options on television. Exciting dance programming available for TV was rare, with such works limited to in-cinema streaming.

A few weeks ago, I had a great night on the couch, binge-watching dance consisting of 1) New York City Ballet’s final digital Spring Performance that included excerpts from recent works such as Justine Peck’s The Times Are Racing, Kyle Abraham’s The Runaway, Gianna Reisen’s Composer’s Holiday, and Alexei Ratmansky’s Voices; 2) the wonderful The Violin from the Royal Ballet, choreographed by Cathy Marston from earlier in the year; and 3) Miami Ballet’s Balanchine Firebird. On other evenings, I took in New York City Ballet’s Midsummer Nights Dream, Alvin Ailey’s Revelations with informative pre-performance interviews and perspective, and San Francisco Ballet’s Snowblind by Cathy Marston. The Royal Ballet’s La Fille mal gardée, staring Marianela Núñez and Carlos Acosta was a delightful work and is currently on its YouTube channel. I look forward to Dance Theatre of Harlem’s digital season that runs until mid-July, starting with Arthur Mitchell’s Creole Giselle. Also, Angel Corella’s Pennsylvania Ballet with a mix of classic and new works such as Don Quixote, Giselle, Rubies, D.G.V.: Danse à Grand Vitesse, Glass Pieces.

It is a great experience being able to select from many great ballets, binge-watching from the comforts of my home. Hopefully, when this terrible crisis ends, dance troupes will continue with streaming opportunities. In addition to getting in front of arts fans, it allows people outside of major population centers to enjoy dance. Companies could also introduce a pay per view for newer works, generating revenue in these uncertain times.

ABT Needs Digital Content

American Ballet Theatre is noticeably absent from the streaming party. ABT has not streamed any performances during its canceled spring Met season, producing uninspiring interviews with limited views on its YouTube channel. I have heard that ABT does not have the rights to stream works from the Metropolitan Opera House, and the company cannot show dated performances from the Live From Lincoln Center and Dance in America series. On the other hand, NYCB can stream works; ten years ago, the company struck a deal with its unions to allow for film rights for its social media channels, according to Gia Kourlas of The New York Times.

I understand that companies that have a home theater, such as New York City Ballet, Royal Ballet, Mariinsky, Bolshoi, Metropolitan Opera have a built-in advantage in streaming works. As ABT does not have a home theater, I assume it is a matter of money they did not want to spend to obtain streaming rights. However, Dance Theatre of Harlem can stream works on YouTube this summer from performances at City Center and touring theaters. If DTH, with 2018 revenue of $7 million can have a successful digital season, why can’t ABT, with 2018 revenue of $50 million? Same logic for Pennsylvania Ballet, with 2018 revenue of $14 million. Why can’t ABT film performances at Segerstrom Center and/or Kennedy Center?

Looking forward, without digital content, ABT must produce original material in the fall to maintain interest of dance fans and donors. Early signs are encouraging: “We are committed to continuing to create through this crisis, and we are exploring a range of outdoor and digital opportunities. While we cannot gather large groups in traditional venues, we can find new ways to deliver on our mission of reaching the widest possible audience, increasing access to the art form of ballet and the inspiring artists of American Ballet Theatre,” says ABT Executive Director Kara Medoff Barnett. The company could put together works with a limited number of dancers in one of the many empty theaters in New York and stream on YouTube. Excerpts from Alexei Ratmansky’s Nutcracker would be popular given the lack of a live performances. Pas de deux excerpts from popular ballets would be well received (Catherine Hurlin and Aran Bell would be a joy to watch). Original works with a limited number of dancers could explore the company’s creative side.

ABT has been woefully behind the times, thinking of performance video as a “nice to have” but not entirely necessary. The COVID crisis has dramatically exposed the company during the lockdown. In the near term, the company must finally engage in creative thinking by streaming original works rather than dull interviews to survive. After the COVID crisis, ABT should produce and stream original content, possibly from other theaters if Lincoln Center is not cooperative. ABT could take the lead of the Australian Ballet, which filmed Rudolf Nureyev’s Don Quixote in a converted airport hangar in Essendon, Australia in 1972, using a soundtrack which had been pre-recorded a month earlier. Below is an interesting video on the filming of the classic.

Whatever the methods, ABT must stream content to remain relevant in the dance world given the uncertainty that lies ahead on live performances.

For more thoughts, check out my previous article on dance and the performing arts in the COVID era. 

 

 

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Dance Theatre of Harlem Announces Digital Season https://balletfocus.com/dance-theatre-of-harlem-announces-digital-season/ https://balletfocus.com/dance-theatre-of-harlem-announces-digital-season/#respond Mon, 01 Jun 2020 00:34:57 +0000 http://balletfocus.com/?p=15427 Above photo: Dougla, April 4, 2018. Great news from Dance Theatre of Harlem as the company announced a digital season of wonderful works. The season comes just in time as the entertaining New York City Ballet Digital Spring Season came […]

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Above photo: Dougla, April 4, 2018. Great news from Dance Theatre of Harlem as the company announced a digital season of wonderful works. The season comes just in time as the entertaining New York City Ballet Digital Spring Season came to an end Friday. New York ballet fans now have another two months of high-quality works. I previously reviewed many of these performances and particularly enjoyed Robert Garland’s Nyman Spring Quartet #2 and Geoffrey Holder’s Dougla. Works by Anabelle Lopez Ochoa, Darell Grand Moultrie, and Nacho Duato are also on the bill. Check out the DTH website for more details. Below is the DTH On Demand Virtual Ballet Series lineup. All Saturdays at 8 pm EST on the DTH Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook channels. The performances are from various years and venues such as New York City Center and other theaters on tour.

June 6: Creole Giselle hosted by DTH Artistic Director Virginia Johnson

June 13: Vessels choreographed by Darell Grand Moultrie

June 20: Return choreographed by Robert Garland

June 27: Balamouk choreographed by Anabelle Lopez Ochoa

July 11: Guggenheim performance of Tones II choreographed by Arthur Mitchell and Nyman String Quartet #2 choreographed by Robert Garland

July 18: Coming Together choreographed by Nacho Duato

July 25: Dougla choreographed by Geoffrey Holder

The idea for a digital season arose during the bleak days of March when DTH was set to perform at the Detroit Opera House. After a lecture demonstration with several more performances remaining in Detroit, DTH canceled the tour due to COVID concerns and the company took an unexpected flight back to New York. “It was a big letdown as Detroit is a special place for DTH, and we were settled in for several performances,” DTH dancer Christopher-Charles McDaniel says. “The April New York City Center cancellation was devastating and heartbreaking. We don’t perform much in New York and always look forward to the season.”

Out of heartbreak came the idea of a digital season. Over the weeks after the season cancellation, Christopher and a team of dancers, a marketing team, Anna Glass, stage manager Heather Olcott, and DTH Artistic Director Virginia Johnson brainstormed about the best ways to move into the troupe’s digital existence. The team assembled an impressive series of works. Check it out.

Yinet Fernandez and Da’Von Doane, Tones II. Click for more photos.

 

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Photos of New York City in COVID Quarantine https://balletfocus.com/photos-of-new-york-city-in-covid-quarantine/ https://balletfocus.com/photos-of-new-york-city-in-covid-quarantine/#comments Wed, 06 May 2020 01:04:37 +0000 http://balletfocus.com/?p=15141 Check out my photography website notmydayjobphotography.com for photos of New York City during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) quarantine lockdown. The hustle and bustle of large crowds are the trademark of New York, and witnessing the city devoid of people during this […]

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Check out my photography website notmydayjobphotography.com for photos of New York City during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) quarantine lockdown. The hustle and bustle of large crowds are the trademark of New York, and witnessing the city devoid of people during this historic and frightful period is bizarre. By my walking journeys for two recent Saturdays, residents are adhering to social distancing directives in places generally impassable such as Times Square and Grand Central Station. 

Times Square is one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions, with an estimated 50 million visitors annually with 460,000 on its busiest days. Not so recently with the lockdown. A few Saturdays ago, I was able to walk down Broadway in front of the iconic ball drop building (One Times Square) without encountering much traffic. With no Broadway shows and shops open, there was not much going on. There were a few people, maybe to take in the historic lack of people on a normally bustling day. Duffy Square, where the TKTS booth is located, was vacant and caged off with a single security officer patrolling. Check out the contrast between Times Square in the photos below with the color version from 2011.

Times Square, Photos of New York City in COVID Quarantine

I walked down Fifth Avenue last Saturday, and it was as deserted as Times Square with all shops closed. I was able to take photos in the middle of the street, something unthinkable in March. I passed by Rockefeller Center, which had a fence in front to keep people away from the plaza and restaurant where the ice skating rink is located in the winter. Sometimes I could not see another person; an eerie calm in a usually jammed location.

I have always wanted to photograph Grand Central Station without people and anticipated that I would need to show up at 3 am in normal times to capture the grand station. Visiting last week on a Saturday mid-morning, there were only about five people in the sweeping concourse at any time. Virtually alone, one can gain a robust appreciation of the spectacular architecture and lines the building presents.

Originally from Kansas, I moved to New York for of the boundless energy the city offers. Settled in, I quickly embraced the tradition of complaining about the city, particularly the frenzied crowds. Going through this tragedy, I will never again whine about the congestion of New York City, and will concentrate my ire on the hapless sports teams.

Rockefeller Plaza, Photos of New York City in COVID Quarantine

Rockefeller Plaza, April 25, 2020. Click for more photos.

Fifth Avenue, Photos of New York City in COVID Quarantine

Fifth Avenue, April 25, 2020. Click for more photos.

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NYCB Digital Spring Season Announced https://balletfocus.com/nycb-digital-spring-season-announced/ https://balletfocus.com/nycb-digital-spring-season-announced/#respond Tue, 21 Apr 2020 00:36:05 +0000 http://balletfocus.com/?p=15021 Above photo: premiere of Justin Peck’s Rotunda Exciting news from New York City Ballet, as the company announced a digital Spring Season after canceling its Koch Theater season due to COVID-19. The NYCB digital season will run from the originally […]

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Above photo: premiere of Justin Peck’s Rotunda Exciting news from New York City Ballet, as the company announced a digital Spring Season after canceling its Koch Theater season due to COVID-19. The NYCB digital season will run from the originally scheduled April 21 to May 29, featuring performances every Tuesday and Friday at 8 pm EST on the company’s YouTube, Facebook, and website (see the NYCB website for details). Tomorrow, fans will see Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante with Tiler Peck and Andrew Veyette filmed January 18, 2017 and on Friday, the February world premiere of Justin Peck’s Rotunda. Next week will feature Balanchine’s Apollo and Ballo Della Regina. Also, the company will present weekly podcasts with discussions on some of the ballets included in the digital season; movement classes taught by NYCB Associate Director Wendy Whelan on Instagram Live; Ballet Essentials Online with movement combinations inspired by Balanchine works; and Saturday morning movement activities for children. This lineup is an impressive array of digital activity for bummed out ballet fans anticipating spring performances at Koch Theater. I have not seen anything as systematic as the NYCB digital Spring Season from any ballet company in response to canceled seasons. NYCB deserves much praise, not allowing depressing recent events to hinder its mission. 

The NYCB digital season lays the groundwork for paid streaming that I discussed in my COVID-19 and the Arts article. Given the volatility and unpredictability of the virus, audience entertainment events are highly speculative this year and arts organizations would be foolish to expect business as usual in the fall. Social distancing will likely be a constant as the emergency phase of the virus subsides, with limited seats available in theaters-if at all. For revenue, live or recently taped events could be streamed to paid subscribers, generating meaningful revenue. Eight billion global potential customers far outnumber the 21 million that reside in the New York metro area.

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Dance and Performing Arts in the COVID-19 World https://balletfocus.com/dance-in-the-covid-19-world-coronavirus/ https://balletfocus.com/dance-in-the-covid-19-world-coronavirus/#respond Sat, 11 Apr 2020 16:22:46 +0000 http://balletfocus.com/?p=14746 The coronavirus (COVID-19) has devastated dance and performing arts, with New York spring season cancellations of New York City Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and many others. Starting balletfocus.com in 2013, I never thought I would write […]

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) has devastated dance and performing arts, with New York spring season cancellations of New York City Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and many others. Starting balletfocus.com in 2013, I never thought I would write about infectious disease given that I know nothing about the topic. However, with COVID-19, we are all amateur virologists trying to make sense of the scrambled world the virus has upended.

Cancellations of performances are a necessary consequence in the Emergency Phase of the virus cycle to “flatten the curve” to prevent the medical care system from being overwhelmed by sick patients. Once the curve is flattened and the Emergency Phase is over, we all look forward to a future period of normalcy fostered by reliable treatments and ready vaccination. “The only thing that really lets us go back completely to normal, and feel good about sitting in stadiums with lots of other people, is to create a vaccine…” says Bill Gates, whose foundation has pledged billions of dollars to develop a vaccine. However, that state is unlikely until sometime in 2021.

Policy prescriptions in the Emergency and Normal phases are simple: social distancing in the former and life as normal in the latter. The middle and treacherous period is what The New York Times’ New York Times’ Ross Douthat calls the Semi-Normal phase. In this period, society constructs ground rules for living with the virus as a constant threat as we conduct cost/benefit analysis for activities we took for granted in February.

What will the dance and performing arts in general be like in the Semi-Normal phase, say starting this summer? Here are my projections on dance and performance arts in general in the COVID era:

Social Distancing Remains and Slows Dance Recovery

Although the Emergency Phase of the virus will end shortly, social distancing will remain, putting a damper on dance’s recovery. I will be relieved when the curve flattens after weeks of heartbreaking virus news…but not likely to sit through a three-hour ballet (or sports event) in a crowded theater. Joshua Rabinowitz and Caroline Bartman of Princeton University argue that the amount of exposure to a virus (viral load) is important; while a fleeting contact with someone with the virus may be benign, sitting next to the same person for a lengthy period could be lethal. This does not bode well for audience entertainment events. If events are held, there could be distancing in seating, significantly reducing revenue. Masks at public events may be ubiquitous as people seek protection. Attendance from the elderly, a vital arts constituency, will be reduced substantially given that the virus is especially hard on this segment.

Projections in the Wall Street Journal from Broadway theater professionals of June to September openings are optimistic. After months of viewing others as lethal threats, it is difficult to imagine thousands of people flocking to shows soon. Moreover, policymakers will be reluctant to allow such events; large gatherings can turbocharge the opportunistic and pernicious virus, providing it the opportunity to re-emerge (see When Sports Return, Will the Fans? in the Wall Street Journal for commentary on sports fan participation in the Semi-Normal phase that also applies to the arts).

I hate to say it, but the prospect for performances for the remainder of 2020 is highly speculative.

Less support for the Arts

Arts organizations will feel a monetary pinch as the deep recession will drain cash from arts patrons. For those with philanthropy funds, health care services and vaccine development will be prioritized.

Lost Group of Young Artists

Like most artists, dancers do not make much money, even in good times. Based on canceled and reduced performance opportunities, I fear that some talented dancers will walk away from the profession in pursuit of more stable employment while some younger dancers choose not to pursue the art form professionally. This will have negative consequences for the arts for many years.

Ballet Working Conditions

Dancers work in cramped conditions, with many jammed into a studio for class and rehearsal, facilitating virus spread. Companies must consider how to protect dancers, possibly through testing. Hopefully, readily available virus tests will be available shortly.

Streaming Vital for Additional Revenue

Although some dance troupes such as Australian Ballet and Royal Ballet offer a few free taped performances via streaming (Siobhan Burke of The New York Times provides more dance streaming alternatives), companies could charge a fee to view live or recently performed works to enhance revenue. A portion of Misty Copeland’s 1.8 million Instagram followers paying $10 a performance generates real cash, which would add to ABT’s recent annual ticket sales of around $18 million. There is much-untapped potential in streaming, critical given the inevitable slowdown in attendance and donations.

The arts are in the same boat as sports in terms of uncertainty on live audiences this year. However, because of large television revenue, big-time sports will survive and possibly thrive even if few (or no) fans are allowed in the stadium. “Although ticket sales constitute an important revenue stream for individual NFL teams, they are nonetheless relatively small compared to quickly growing revenue from TV deals…” according to Investopedia. Ballet companies should follow the lead of professional sports and make more live performances available to the masses.

I have heard that unions are a barrier to using such technology; I do not know if unions are resistant to change or a useful scapegoat. Whatever the reason, it is in everybody’s interest to have financially healthy organizations that steaming facilitates.

Dance Arts COVID-19 Times Square

Deserted Times Square, 46th and Broadway, Saturday Afternoon, April 4. Click for more photos of Times Square and Lincoln Center during the COVID crisis.

Final Thoughts

It is hard to be optimistic about dance and the performing arts over the next year given the uncertainty on live performances. The positive is that the tragedy may force organizations to embrace technology to make the arts more accessible to the masses, a theme that I preached about in 2016. 

My predictions are put forth with great modesty given that most projections on the virus have been wrong (President Trump, January 22: “…we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”; Anthony Fauci January 26, “it’s a very, very low risk to the United States. … it isn’t something the American public needs to worry about or be frightened about.” Mayor de Blassio, March 10: “For the vast majority of New Yorkers, life is going on pretty normally right now. We want to encourage that.”; “Best Case and Worst Case Coronavirus Forecasts Are Very Far Apart: Infectious disease experts still consider a wide range of outcomes plausible.“)

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ABT/NYCB/DTH Seasons in Jeopardy https://balletfocus.com/abt-nycb-dth-seasons-in-jeopardy/ https://balletfocus.com/abt-nycb-dth-seasons-in-jeopardy/#respond Wed, 25 Mar 2020 00:54:28 +0000 http://balletfocus.com/?p=14612 Above photo: Alexei Ratmansky New York Premier of Sleeping Beauty, May 29, 2015 Life has changed dramatically in the past several weeks, with carefree thoughts of spring ballet seasons fading quickly due to COVID-19 concerns. American Ballet Theatre sent out […]

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Above photo: Alexei Ratmansky New York Premier of Sleeping Beauty, May 29, 2015 Life has changed dramatically in the past several weeks, with carefree thoughts of spring ballet seasons fading quickly due to COVID-19 concerns. American Ballet Theatre sent out an email Saturday that confirmed the obvious. “This is not the way we envisioned celebrating ABT’s milestone 80th Anniversary year. Just two weeks ago we premiered a glorious new production, Of Love and Rage, to standing ovations in Orange County, California, and tonight, there are no standing ovations anywhere in America.” The note documented the ABT tours canceled in Chicago, Durham, Detroit, and Abu Dhabi. ABT closed its studios with staff working remotely until April 20. Next in line is the Spring Season at the Metropolitan Opera House as ticket sales have been postponed. “At this time, a decision on if and how we can proceed with American Ballet Theatre’s Spring Season, May 11-July 4, is currently on hold. We are awaiting further guidance from government officials and health experts, and we ask you to please continue to check ABT.org for further updates.” The email concluded on an uplifting, inspirational note: “ABT was founded in 1940 and survived the Second World War. The Company has weathered many crises over the past eight decades, and we will celebrate together, exuberantly, when we survive this pandemic and return to the stage.”

I have not heard anything about the New York City Ballet Spring Season scheduled for April 21-May 31 at Koch Theatre but that season is even more in jeopardy. Strangely, the company has not suspended ticket sales that are currently available online. UPDATE NYCB announced that its Spring Season is cancelled: “We are saddened to announce that our Lincoln Center performances, events and public programming have been canceled through May 31.”

Dance Theatre of Harlem canceled its New York season at City Center scheduled for April 15-18 with hope of rescheduling sometime in 2020. The landing page of the DTH website features a reference to the Dancer Relief Fund: “Now more than ever, we need your support. Please consider contributing to help us during this critical time. Every contribution is significant in helping us to sustain operations, and deeply appreciated by everyone at DTH.”

With theaters closed, the only ballet available is dancers on Instagram working out at home, some giving class using their kitchen counter as a barre. Noteworthy is the Royal Ballet’s Vadim Muntagirov performing a Swan Lake solo in his cramped living room.

View this post on Instagram

Keep strong and be happy everyone 💪🏻

A post shared by Vadim Muntagirov (@vadimmuntagirovofficial) on

It is indeed an odd time in New York City during the shutdown. The hustle and bustle of the city has vanished as crowds have largely dissipated with Times Square resembling a ghost town. No theater, sports, and group activities that make the city a magnet for people worldwide. Storefront windows of non-essential businesses have been covered with plywood with barrier netting reminiscent of preparations for an imminent hurricane. Restrictions have forced people to improvise such as home workouts instead of going to a gym, work from home rather than riding the subway/bus, contemplating Zoom Passovers, and reading rather than attending theater performances. Such hardships pale in comparison to those laid off in such sectors as the arts, restaurants, and hotels as they struggle to make ends meet.

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NYCB Premier: Peck’s Rotunda https://balletfocus.com/nycb-premier-pecks-rotunda/ https://balletfocus.com/nycb-premier-pecks-rotunda/#respond Sun, 01 Mar 2020 22:02:46 +0000 http://balletfocus.com/?p=14410 Justin Peck’s Rotunda has similar themes in his Principia and Rodeo with a great community feel as dancers flow from one combination to another. Although the work, which New York City Ballet premiered Wednesday, does not break any new ground […]

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Justin Peck’s Rotunda has similar themes in his Principia and Rodeo with a great community feel as dancers flow from one combination to another. Although the work, which New York City Ballet premiered Wednesday, does not break any new ground for Justin, it is highly entertaining, and I look forward to seeing it again in the 21st Century Choreographers IV program in the Spring Season.

Rotunda consists of 12 dancers to an original score by Nico Muhly. The company did not break the costume fund bank as the attire is dance class informal (costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung), with each dancer having a unique look to a stark and plain setting with lighting by Mark Stanley.

As with Justin’s previous works, he weaves dancers around the stage in intricate patterns, sometimes in circles, other times in rows. The designs are fascinating, intricate, and clearly woven. The work moves at a brisk pace with seven segments. Getting the most attention was the expressive Gonzalo Garcia, who opened the work on the floor lying on his back. He got up, joined by other dancers with recurring groupings from large to small. He also had a brooding, introspective solo in the seventh segment interspersed with sissones as he wondered the stage as if searching for something. He closed the work alone at the front of the stage as the other dancers left as the lights went out. Another highlight was Sarah Mearns and Gilbert Bolden III with a somber pas de deux filled with emotion.

Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse, which debuted with the Royal Ballet in 2006 with its NYCB premiere in 2012, is set to Michael Nyman’s score composed to commemorate the 1993 inauguration of the north European train line of the French TGV. Twenty-six dancers weave in and out of the mangled metal-like structure at the back of the stage. A highly entertaining work to the throbbing Nyman score; I particularly enjoyed Teresa Reichlen and Taylor Stanley, a couple rarely seen together because of the height differential, and Megan Fairchild and Gonzalo Garcia. NYCB should perform this work more often. 

Megan Fairchild and Gonzalo Garcia. Click for more photos.

NYCB Wrap-Up

NYCB ended its Winter season today. The season was mixed; highlights included Balanchine classics performed early in the season (Stavinsky Violin ConcertoMonumentum Pro Gesualdo and Movements for Piano and Orchestra and Firebird). The classics are in good shape under new management with several standout performances. On new ballets, I am fond of Peck’s Rotunda but not Alexei Ratmansky’s Voices. I did not connect with Voices, possibly because I found the voices irritating and mostly unclear even when in English. The solo variations were fine, but nothing stuck. Swan Lake was largely mixed for the four casts I saw with no all-around great performances. Some had segments that were very good offset by parts that were lacking. For my NYCB reviews, click the NYCB tab just below the top photo.

Jovani Furlan, a former Principal Dancer from Miami City Ballet who joined NYCB in August, landed a lead role in Swan Lake. No other young dancer broke through in a big way this season. NYCB has a large number of dancers nearing retirement; I count nine out of the 21 Principal Dancers in their late 30s or early 40s. The company will have a wave of retirements soon and needs to move younger dancers forward in lead roles. 

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NYCB Swan Lake Final Thoughts https://balletfocus.com/nycb-swan-lake-final-thoughts/ https://balletfocus.com/nycb-swan-lake-final-thoughts/#respond Wed, 26 Feb 2020 02:35:31 +0000 http://balletfocus.com/?p=14321 New York City Ballet’s Swan Lake was largely mixed for the four casts I saw (missing Teresa Reichlen/Peter Walker and Ashley Bouder/Jovani Furlan) with no all-around great performances. Some had segments that were very good offset by parts that were […]

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New York City Ballet’s Swan Lake was largely mixed for the four casts I saw (missing Teresa Reichlen/Peter Walker and Ashley Bouder/Jovani Furlan) with no all-around great performances. Some had segments that were very good offset by parts that were lacking. Here are general themes starting with the high points.

  • Joseph Gordon has established himself as the best NYCB male dancer-with nobody close in second place. In his Prince Siegfried debut, Joseph was impressive in the lakeside scene with strong technique that allowed him to sail through the difficult parts. Notable was his multiple turns with very rapid and hard spots, evincing excitement.
  • It was great to see Tiler Peck back in action after a severely herniated disc in her neck kept her out of action for seven months. Tiler was understated in her Odette solos Wednesday with low arabesques and penchés, understandable given what she has been through and the rigorous demands of the role. She unleashed her considerable technique in her Odile solos with controlled turns, particularly on her fouettés, with a series of double turns and finished with a flurry of singles.
  • As I noted in my first Swan Lake article last week, I am not a fan of the Jester role, a gimmick that detracts from the story. However, it is a guilty pleasure when done well, with many pirouettes, turns in second position, and beats. Daniel Ulbricht owns the role, having performed it for over ten years. He was expressive and on the mark in two performances I saw. A tough act to follow, but Spartak Hoxha and Roman Mejia were also outstanding with both providing effortless turns and leaps.
  • Among the female leads, Sara Mearns gave the most complete performance with a smooth Odette portrayal followed by a sinister Odile while Megan Fairchild was technically strong. Lauren Lovette’s Odette was dramatically sound, showing both vulnerability and strength. Her turning skills let her down in the Odile segment, with problems on pirouettes and fouettés (Lauren’s Instagram summary is interesting). In general, I question the wisdom of not casting proficient turners in the role given its treacherous parts. I have made similar comments on American Ballet Theatre’s casting; three of the seven Swan Lake performances in the upcoming Met Season are slotted for dancers known to struggle with the steps, while Skylar Brandt and Sarah Lane sit on the sidelines. I do not think that fouettés are everything; this is not an ice skating competition, but the skill is correlated with other complicated steps in the Odile solo.
  • Aside from Joseph Gordon, the other men were fine but not distinguished. While other ballet companies sometimes struggle with Balanchine works, the NYCB men are like a fish out of water in classical Petipa full-length roles. This is understandable; aside from the annual Nutcracker, the week surrounding Valentine’s day with Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty (broken up by Romeo + Juliet some years) are the only opportunities in full-length roles. I missed seeing Jovani Furlan, formerly a Principal Dancer at Miami City Ballet. He could provide heft in the Cavalier parts.

On to the final week of the NYCB season. I look forward to the premier of Justin Peck’s Rotunda Wednesday, his collaboration with contemporary composer Nico Muhly. Look for thoughts and photos later this week. 

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NYCB Swan Lake: Lovette/Ball Debut; Tiler Peck Returns https://balletfocus.com/nycb-swan-lake-lovette-ball-debut-tiler-peck-returns/ https://balletfocus.com/nycb-swan-lake-lovette-ball-debut-tiler-peck-returns/#respond Sat, 22 Feb 2020 21:17:10 +0000 http://balletfocus.com/?p=14274 Lauren Lovette and Harrison Ball made their debuts as leads in New York City Ballet’s Swan Lake Friday in a very mixed performance with some high moments and very low lows The Highs: Lauren was effective dramatically, particularly as the […]

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Lauren Lovette and Harrison Ball made their debuts as leads in New York City Ballet’s Swan Lake Friday in a very mixed performance with some high moments and very low lows

The Highs: Lauren was effective dramatically, particularly as the frightened swan when she first encountered Prince Siegfried. Her fear resonated throughout Koch Theater on her meeting with the Prince in addition to her vulnerability and steely resolve as she battled the evil Von Rothbart. Her solos were smooth in the Act I Lakeside scene, aided by her effortless and supple backbends. Lauren, as Odile, was a sly seductress, expressive and sinister when she tricked the dumfounded Siegfried into swearing his love to Odile. The final lakeside scene was heartfelt as she remained a swan forever as she bid farewell to the Prince.

Harrison was a reliable partner in his debut, providing robust support to Lauren. His solos were fine, although not distinguished with reasonable beat steps and pirouettes. His shining moment was on his turns in second position, with rapid single turns, which ended with a controlled quad pirouette. Dramatically, he complimented Lauren well.

NYCB final bows are boring. Other major companies view bows as an extension of the performance with numerous bow variations depending on the production and dancers; NYCB bows are all the same, with the leads barely acknowledging each other. There was some drama in Lauren and Harrison’s bows. On the second bow in front of the curtain, Lauren anticipated Harrison would join her. He did not, leaving her for a solo bow in her debut in the role. She looked meekly into the curtain opening as if to say Harrison!…Harrison!…HARRISON! She gave up and proceeded with a solo bow. A class touch from Harrison, allowing Lauren to bask in solo glory.

The Lows: A dancer must be highly technically proficient, particularly on turns, to pull off the demanding Odile role. Odile must shine technically by dazzling Prince Siegfried into a state of extreme desire, enticing the Prince to break his vow to Odette. My disagreement with ABT Swan Lake casting is not putting the most technically skilled turners in the Odette/Odile role with 3-4 slots reserved for dancers that struggle with the choreography, in particular fouettés. The NYCB casting of Lauren seems similar as she struggled in her Odile solos. She had turn problems in her first solo, but most problematic was her fouettés. She started with a double pirouette and quickly traveled downstage. It was apparent her turns were not sustainable and she attempted a turn in second position, similar to ABT’s Christine Shevchenko. That did not go well and Lauren aborted the turns in favor of piqué turns with arms flailing.

Lauren will dance the role again Sunday. Will be interesting to see if she makes adjustments to her solos.

NYCB Swan Lake

Lauren Lovette and Harrison Ballet. Click for more photos.

Wednesday: Tiler Peck and Joseph Gordon

Great to see Tiler Peck back in action after a severe herniated disc in her neck that kept her out of action for seven months. Gia Kourlas of The New York Times explains that most doctors Tiler consulted recommended disc replacement or fusion surgery. She opted to rest, hoping her spine would heal on its own. After taking off the summer from physical activity and not moving her head much for six months, an MRI showed improvement. In November, she was back dancing the Sugarplum Fairy in Nutcracker and Balanchine’s challenging Allegro Brillante in January.

Tiler was understated in her Odette solos Wednesday with low arabesques and penchés, understandable given what she has been through and the rigorous demands of the role. She unleashed her considerable technique in her Odile solos with controlled turns, particularly on her fouettés with a series of double turns and finished with a series of singles. In his debut, Joseph was impressive in the lakeside scene after a sluggish start at Siegfried’s birthday party. Joseph is technically strong and sailed through his solos. Notable was his multiple turns with very rapid and hard spots, evincing excitement. Joseph has established himself as by far the best male dancer at NYCB.

Check back in a few days with my final thoughts on NYCB’s Swan Lake.

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NYCB Swan Lake: Low Energy on Valentine’s Day https://balletfocus.com/nycb-swan-lake-low-energy-on-valentines-day/ https://balletfocus.com/nycb-swan-lake-low-energy-on-valentines-day/#respond Mon, 17 Feb 2020 02:51:12 +0000 http://balletfocus.com/?p=14150 Peter Martins resigned as Ballet Master in Chief from New York City Ballet in 2018, but his full-length productions live on: Swan Lake, Romeo+Juliet, and Sleeping Beauty. I like his more traditional Sleeping Beauty; however, I an undecided on which […]

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Peter Martins resigned as Ballet Master in Chief from New York City Ballet in 2018, but his full-length productions live on: Swan Lake, Romeo+Juliet, and Sleeping Beauty. I like his more traditional Sleeping Beauty; however, I an undecided on which I dislike more, Swan Lake or Romeo+Juliet, both marred by ghastly sets and costumes by Per Kirkeby. The Romeo+Juliet backdrops are strange abstract creations, sometimes resembling spray paint can graffiti, making it difficult to distinguish scenes. It does not help that the flow of the work is disjointed at times in this two-act ballet filled with repetitive steps.

Martins’ Swan Lake debuted in 1996 with The Royal Danish Ballet and 1999 with NYCB. Martins’ Swan Lake has fairly standard choreography; what sets it apart, and not in a good way, is the minimalist costumes and sets by Kirkeby. In Act I, the audience is greeted by an explosion of ugliness: a strange orange/yellow backdrop rather than the traditional village scene background. Male dancers wear simple bright-colored shirts rather than 18th century appropriate attire with Prince Siegfried clad in blue with black accents and boots. The first act backdrop doesn’t look suitable for a village scene but more of an abstract ballet. While the setting of the Act I Lake Scene is relatively traditional, Act II does not resemble a palace, but a library filled with empty bookshelves.

Aside from aesthetics, the choreography is somewhat standard Swan Lake, with many segments similar to the American Ballet Theatre version. However Martins opted to simplify several steps: taking out the six beats in the assemble from the first female soloist in the Pas de Trois; removing the overhead lift in the Lakeside pas de deux and inserting a simple shoulder sit; deleting double tours to arabesque in Siegfried’s second Act II solo in lieu of simple assembles. Unlike the ABT version, Martins’ Swan Lake makes use of a Jester in Act I, a gimmick that distracts from the flow of the story.

The company opened its Swan Lake 12-performance run  with Sara Mearns and National Ballet of Canada Principal Dancer Guillaume Côté, subbing for an injured Tyler Angle. The Valentine’s Day performance was competent but low on energy and distinction. Sara and Guillaume were fine technically but lacked a powerful bond, understandable given that he took on the role about two weeks ago (they also performed Sunday afternoon in a performance I missed). The pas de deux was well done with no issues, but there was no sense of connection. For the solo work, Sara opted for 29 single fouettés, but could not pull in at the end and instead finished out the music with chaîné turns. There was nothing off kilter in Guillaume’s solo work, but like most of the work by NYCB men, scored low on the WOW! factor meter.

Other roles lacked energy. Silas Farley as the evil Von Rothbart did not leave much of a mark and was dull at times. The Pas de Trois from Erica Pereira, Brittany Pollack, Spartak Hoxha (subbing for Aaron Sanz) was workmanlike and lacked distinction.

NYCB Swan Lake

Daniel Ulbricht as the Jester. Click for more photos.

I am not a fan of the Jester, but Daniel Ulbricht provided fireworks. In his late 30s, he has unfortunately not escaped Jester/Puck roles and has not advanced to leading roles. He displayed nice, extended pirouette en dehors, elevated double tours, and articulated beats. Particularly interesting was a traveling diagonal of entrechat six — also, an innovative pirouettes á la seconde that changed tempo from fast to slow.

Koch Theater was mostly full with some empty orchestra seats with some occupied seats in the high up fifth ring. The crowd was subdued as Guillaume’s Act I entrance did not register any applause, and Sara and Guillaume just managed to eke out a second curtain call at the end. 

Check back next weekend for more thoughts on four of the six Swan Lake casts.

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