Purgatory at the New York City Ballet

 


About a week ago, New York City Ballet announced its annual promotions. For those dancers moved up from the corps, it is impossible not to add worry to the elation. 

 
 The problem this year is not what it sometimes is–that the dancers have yet to distinguish themselves. This crop–Lauren King, Ashley Laracey, Megan LeCrone, Lauren Lovette, Georgina Pazcoguin, Justin Peck, Brittany Pollack, and Taylor Stanley–is rock solid. The problem is the unnecessary trial that New York City Ballet puts soloists through. The dancers are withdrawn from many of their plum roles and given little in return, because though there are many occasions for a non-principal dancer to shine, as demi-soloists in the symphonic ballets, for example, or as a member of the corps in the chamber ballets, these parts do not count as solo roles. 

 
 The limpid and lovely principal Teresa Reichlen put the conundrum succinctly in a recent conversation with my esteemed and prolific colleague Marina Harss over at Dance Tabs: “You immediately lose all your corps parts but you’re not yet a principal, so you’re third or fourth in line for roles. It’s a hard position to be in.”

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Reichlen in one of the few soloist roles, in Jewels‘ “Rubies” act.

 

 

The dancer is trying to improve her artistry without enough material to do so. Anyone who has attended New York City Ballet long enough to notice has witnessed careers needlessly wilt at this stage. Reichlen overcame the difficulty by imagining, she said, she had reached the end of her career, so why not enjoy herself? But why push dancers to such extremes? It’s not as if institutionally guaranteed misery will improve them. Reichlen was about to quit.

 

 My suggestion to Peter Martins and team is simple and obvious: do not strip the soloists of leading corps roles until they have been given sufficient principal and soloist parts to keep their dancing card full.

******
 

Speaking of New York City Ballet talent, here is my review of corps member and choreographer Justin Peck’s third effort for his troupe–Paz de la Jolla. Very nifty if not quite as astounding as Year of the Rabbit this fall. The costumes, though, by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, were superb. Borrowing a page from the downtown scene, the designers clad the dancers in similar but individual designs. They became a gaggle of individuals rather than the usual ballet regiment. The costume sources were also inspired: 1950s beach wear in a subdued palette.

 
 As for NYCB reach: my review of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s first visit in 17 years to City Center. The West Coast company brought Balanchine and did him differently than we’re used to here. Intriguing! The PNB women were so uniformly leggy and tall that, especially when they moved in unison, the choreography gained an unusual solidity. 
 
 Meanwhile downtown at New York Live Arts, Karole Armitage made me wish she had keener, tougher advisors, to help her weed out the clichés. One thing you can count on her for, though, is promising dancers. 
 
 So too with Janet Eilber. In the last year or so, the Martha Graham artistic director has made wonderful hires to augment the likes of delicate amazon Katherine Crockett, and this season a new work was also great, the best the company has had since they began adding contemporary work: Richard Move’s The Show (Achilles Heels), originally made for Baryshnikov and Debbie Harry. I review here
 
 I didn’t see Doug Varone’s Lamentation Variation for the Graham company, but I did catch his new Mouth Above Water up at the 92nd Street Y at the start of its annual Harkness Dance Festival. As the festival’s curator, Varone has implemented a new and inviting format, not to mention assembling an excellent crew of choreographers. The lineup continues this month with Kate Weare, Liz Gerring and Ronald K. Brown (the man is everywhere!), all dancemakers inclined toward physically nuanced and capacious movement toward an emotionally rich end. 
 
 Speaking of lamentation, word is finally out (after being hushedly passed around for more than a year) that Trisha Brown has suffered a series of small strokes that have affected her memory; she will not be making any new dances. Her BAM season this year, which offered her last two works, was a bittersweet affair. I report here.
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