Last spring American Ballet Theatre artistic director Kevin McKenzie announced the company's Women's Movement, a multi-year initiative to support the creation of new work by female choreographers. ABT's fall season, running October 17–28 at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater, sets the project in full swing. The opening gala features a world premiere by tap extraordinaire Michelle Dorrance. A co-commission with the Vail Dance Festival, this work marks ABT's third collaboration with Dorrance this year: She created Praedicere, a pièce d'occasion for ABT's spring gala, as well as a work on company dancers at Vail last summer. The gala performance also includes past and present works by two female choreographers: Twyla Tharp's 1986 In The Upper Room and Lauren Lovette's 2017 Le Jeune, which will be danced by the ABT Studio Company.
Have you ever dreamt of the chance to choreograph for American Ballet Theatre? Thanks to ABT Incubator, the company's newly launched choreographic initiative directed by company principal (and recent author) David Hallberg, that wish could become a reality this fall. The two-week choreographic lab will run from October 31-November 10 at ABT's New York studios and will give both members of the company and freelance choreographers the chance to create new work on dancers from ABT and the ABT Studio Company. Participants will also have access to crucial dance making tools including a stipend, studio space, collaborators, feedback and mentorship from Hallberg and other artists. They'll present their creations in a private showing on November 10. "It has always been my vision to establish a process-oriented hub to explore the directions ballet can forge now and in the future," said Hallberg in a statement released today. "I am thrilled that Incubator will provide the resources for emerging and established creators to explore movement and new paths in dance."
On March 14, The Washington Ballet will present a triptych of new works by Marcelo Gomes, Gemma Bond and Clifton Brown. "What I found really interesting with these three is that they're all still performers," says TWB artistic director Julie Kent. "They serve both as muse and as creator."
Though Gomes and Bond share the same American Ballet Theatre genesis as Kent, Brown is best known for his many years with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and choreographers Lar Lubovitch and Jessica Lang. Kent and Brown met many years ago while working on a duet by Lang. "I knew that he was interested in choreography," says Kent. "And one of my responsibilities as director is to develop young talent."
Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky will have world premieres on two coasts this winter. On February 10, Miami City Ballet will debut his new one-act version of The Fairy's Kiss to Stravinsky's celebrated score, a homage to Tchaikovsky. The following month, on March 15, at California's Segerstrom Center for the Arts, American Ballet Theatre will premiere his Whipped Cream, a new full-length story ballet to a Richard Strauss libretto and score.
Ratmansky has often looked to ballet history for inspiration. Fairy's Kiss, known as Le Baiser de la Fée when it was originally choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska in 1928, has been staged by Sir Frederick Ashton and Sir Kenneth MacMillan, and several times by Balanchine. Its story comes from The Ice-Maiden, a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, and Ratmansky has kept the narrative. A young man, about to be married, is bewitched by a fairy's kiss and stolen away from the mortal world. “I asked Alexei for a narrative work, possibly one with a Russian flavor to it," says MCB artistic director Lourdes Lopez. “Our dancers have a very strong dramatic quality and short narrative works are not a large part of our repertoire." Ratmansky had created an earlier version during his tenure at the Bolshoi Ballet; this is a new production with new choreography.
Jessica Lang is equally comfortable creating work for high-profile ballet companies and her own contemporary troupe. Her latest work for Pacific Northwest Ballet, Her Door to the Sky, premiered at Jacob's Pillow last August, but will have its West Coast run March 17–26. The ballet uses Georgia O'Keeffe's patio-door series of paintings as its inspiration. "It took O'Keeffe 13 years to buy her home and fix it up, all because she saw that door," Lang says. "I was attracted to its significance and the idea of home. I also wanted to choose a subject besides her flowers. She stopped painting them because she was offended by critics' obsession with linking the images to her sexuality."
For the last two years, Ballet West's Emily Adams choreographed for the company's Innovations program. Now, she's standing on the other side of the studio, preparing to dance in Jessica Lang's Lyric Pieces. Adams spoke with Pointe about working with an established female voice and how it's inspired her as a choreographer.
How do you stay connected to dancemaking throughout the season?
Every once in a while, Adrian Fry—another choreographer/dancer in the company—and I will go into a studio and start collaborating, even if it's not for a performance. It's just to get the creative juices flowing. I choreographed for Innovations the last two years, but this season I wanted to dance. I think if choreography is something you like to do, it's not going to suddenly stop. I plan to continue pursuing it.
Since 1997, American Ballet Theatre's "Make a Ballet" program has offered NYC schoolchildren the opportunity to design and produce original performance pieces. This year, renowned choreographer Jessica Lang helped students from the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts create a ballet inspired by Central Park's Bethesda Fountain, which the students performed at their spring dance concert and will dance again at the Metropolitan Opera House on May 26. We talked to Lang about her work with "Make a Ballet."
How did you first become involved with "Make a Ballet"?
John Meehan, the former director of ABT Studio Company, approached me about working with the program after I had choreographed three works on his company. He said he wanted to expose the students to a professional choreographer. Because of my schedule with commissions from companies throughout the year, we decided to set up a co-teaching situation with my husband, Kanji Segawa. The two of us have been choreographing for the program together since 2003.
Why is this project unique and important?
"Make a Ballet" is such a wonderful program because it educates through hands-on experience. The students get the opportunity to work with top professionals in dance, design, administration and production. These valuable experiences allow them to understand what it takes to literally make a ballet come to life on stage.
Tell us about the piece you worked on with the Frank Sinatra students this year.
Every year the program has a central theme for all of the schools to work from. This year, the theme is Frederick Law Olmsted, who was famous for co-designing many well-known urban parks. Each school was assigned a park around NYC, and Frank Sinatra got Central Park. We had a field trip to explore the park and we decided the theme of our dance would revolve around the Bethesda Fountain and the images of water.
How has working with the students inspired you?
I really enjoy working with the "Make a Ballet" students every year. They are honest and excited by the process we give them and it is always one of the most rewarding moments to witness them perform their dance for the final time at the Metropolitan Opera. The enormous growth every student makes is inspiring and their efforts, as well as Kanji's and my own, pay off in that moment. We are proud of them and they are proud of themselves. I work with professional dancers every day, but making myself available for these students is something that I find really important. I believe education is part of my responsibility as an artist.