Sara Mearns with Raushan Mitchell and Jodi Melnick at Dancespace Project. Photo Courtesy Melncik.

The best artists never stop exploring. Lately, world-class ballet dancers have been pushing their limits with new styles and collaborators from outside the classical ballet world. There was Wendy Whelan's Restless Creature project. There's Natalia Osipova and Sergei Polunin, who are performing a program of contemporary work at New York City Center this week. And there are the many ballet dancers dazzling audiences on Broadway stages, in shows like On the Town, An American in Paris and CATS.

The latest ballerina to embark on an out-of-the-box collaboration is New York City Ballet's Sara Mearns. Last fall, she approached choreographer and dancer Jodi Melnick, a legend of New York's downtown dance scene, about working together. The two had originally met at Dancespace Project's “Platform 2015: Dancers, Buildings and People in the Streets," a project that brought NYCB dancers and downtown contemporary dancers together.

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Want to sit down with Peter Boal, Alexei Ratmansky and Nikolai Hübbe? Okay, maybe you can't bring them into your living room in person. But you can stream their chats at Guggenheim's Works & Process live on your computer. Here are three dates every bunhead should mark on the calendar.

 

September 9 at 7:30 pm EST: Balanchine by Way of Seattle

Watch Pacific Northwest Ballet principals Maria Chapman, Carla Körbes, Seth Orza and Lesley Rausch dance excerpts of George Balanchine’s Apollo, Agon, The Four Temperaments and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. Artistic director Peter Boal will talk about his personal experiences dancing Apollo.

 

September 30 at 7:30 pm EST: Ratmansky Mania

American Ballet Theatre dancers will perform selections of ballets by company artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky, who will be on hand to discuss his career and creative process with members of ABT's artistic staff.

 

October 21 at 7:30 pm EST: A New Bayadére

Catch a glimpse of the Royal Danish Ballet's new La Bayadére by artistic director Nikolaj Hübbe. The dancers will perform excerpts, Hübbe will share his staging ideas and members of the creative team (including stage designer Richard Hudson) will discuss the process of bringing the ballet to life on stage.

 

See them all at ustream.tv/worksandprocess.

What happens when you cross ballet with electronic music? Ballet fans found out last night, watching the innovative choreography by New York City Ballet’s Justin Peck to songs by Sufjan Stevens. At the Guggenheim’s Works & Process, the choreographer and composer, along with conductor Michael Atkinson, discussed their collaboration while NYCB dancers offered a preview of Year of the Rabbit.

 

Inspired by the Chinese zodiac signs, Stevens put out the album Enjoy Your Rabbit back in 2001. Peck heard the music on WNYC and thought it very danceable; he began to experiment with the album's songs at the New York Choreographic Institute in 2010. The result was so impressive that NYCB commissioned him choreograph the full work for the company, and Peck began working with Stevens and Atkinson to translate the electronic music score for string quartet and eventually for a string orchestra. The trio had ballet in mind throughout the music translation process, because, according to Peck, dancers count music differently than musicians.

 

At the event, principal Tiler Peck performed an excerpt while Peck gave her corrections. The contrast between the fluid movements of the body and the rigid electronic music (performed by violins) was enchanting. It was also fascinating to watch the young choreographer at work—Peck is only 24 years old!

 

Year of the Rabbit will have its world premiere next Friday, October 5 at Lincoln Center in New York City.

 

UPCOMING WORKS & PROCESS
:

American Ballet Theatre: Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky. Watch the livestream of the September 30 performance at 7:30 pm EDT at ustream.tv/worksandprocess. I'll also be hosting a conversation about the performance on Twitter. Follow @emdanceballet @WorksandProcess and #WPlive.

Alexei Ratmansky and American Ballet Theatre are a match made in ballet heaven. The artist in residence has a 10-year contract with ABT, and has choreographed abstract and narrative ballets for the company such as The Bright Stream, The Nutcracker and Firebird. At the Guggenheim’s Works & Process on Sunday, ballet mistress Nancy Raffa, and principal David Hallberg discussed what it's like to work with Ratmansky. Apparently, Ratmansky comes to the studio very prepared, with his 2x4 inch black book containing choreography to each count of the score. “The creative flow is in full force everyday,” said Raffa. Hallberg described Ratmansky as being extremely meticulous, and values not only excellence in technique but also the musicality and phrasing. “Sometimes we think to ourselves, ‘He can move on, doesn’t he know the premiere is in two weeks?' ” said Hallberg, who added that for almost every premiere, the ballet is not quite ready yet, as if Ratmansky doesn’t want the creative process to end. “What he makes valid in ballet is that it is never enough.”

At the Works & Process, principals Marcelo Gomes and Polina Semionova performed an excerpt from Ratmansky’s latest work, choreographed to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9. Comprised of three one-act ballets, Ratmansky described the currently untitled ballet as story-less but not abstract. The first of the trilogy will have its premiere at New York City Center on October 18.

Some interesting facts about Ratmansky:

    •    Ratmansky trained under Pyotr Pestov at the Bolshoi Academy, and he recalled how Pestov used to make them do allegro combinations to adagio tempo.
    •    He first started choreographing on himself and his wife Tatiana Kilivniuk.
    •    Ratmansky was 34 years old when he became the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, leading  220 dancers and 20 coaches. Ratmansky brought in 13 new ballets in five years, including repertoire by Twyla Tharp, Christopher Wheeldon and George Balanchine. He left the Bolshoi to realize himself as a choreographer.

American Ballet Theatre’s Fall 2012 season at New York City Center will run from October 16-20, with performances of Alexei Ratmansky’s premiere on October 18, 19, 20.

UPCOMING WORKS & PROCESS
:
Royal Danish Ballet: La Bayadère. Watch the livestream of the October 21 performance at 7:30 pm EDT at ustream.tv/worksandprocess. I'll also be hosting a conversation about the performance on Twitter. Follow @emdanceballet @WorksandProcess and #WPlive.

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