Up a steep and very narrow stairway

I rarely go to the ballet. It lives in that silvery area between work and not-work, so I tend to just not think to buy tickets. On Saturday afternoon, though, my friend Rebecca had tickets to New York City Ballet’s 21 Century Movement program, and I was more than happy to tag along. Impressions, in no particular order:

“Different” is nice, but it sure isn’t pretty.
I cannot say enough positive things about New York City Ballet’s logo and current ad campaign. The clean lines of both the fade-to-black block font and the provoking but elegant photos are striking and intriguing. One gets the sense that this is traditional ballet (the dancers in the ads are wearing “normal” ballet costumes and leotards) at its finest but with an edge.

NYCB.jpgNew York City Ballet has managed to convey a contemporary image without
losing its original identity, which is really quite remarkable and rare for performing arts organizations.

“Pretty” is what it’s about.

There’s always a lot of talk about how orchestra members shouldn’t wear tuxedos and black dresses; it makes the art form seem stodgy and culturally irrelevant. (See Greg Sandow’s discussion of the topic here.) I would have tended to agree until I saw Saturday’s program.  The first piece – Jorma Elo’s “Slice to Sharp” – featured dancers in sleek, blueish piped leotards (photo here) and, while performed to pieces by Biber and Vivaldi, was modern. Next came Peter Martins’ take on Adams’ “Hallelujah Junction” (photo here), and again, the costumes were clean and contemporary.  Third on the program was the the world premiere aspect of the afternoon: Melissa Barak’s “A Simple Symphony”, performed to the 1934 Britten piece of the same name. The curtain went up and behind it was the most traditional ballet tableau one could have possibly imagined (photo), and the entire audience gasped with delight. Right or wrong, this is what people apparently came to see, even in a program called 21st Century Movement. Tutus and cavaliers and pink pink pink and flower trim. This made me think:  if I went to the NY Philharmonic and all the players were wearing jeans and hoodies, would I feel like I was missing out on The Concert Experience? Would I feel a bit cheated? I shocked myself by answering “Maybe a little…” in my head. What if I don’t want to relate to the ballerinas? The musicians in the orchestra? They are, in fact, not just like us. If I wanted a world without tutus and tuxedos, perhaps I would have gone to see a movie. To promote escapism or not to promote escapism…

And though she was twenty-two, though she was twenty-two, though she was twenty-two.
Has everyone seen the New York City Ballet’s YouTube channel? It inspired me to encourage channels for Hilary and The King’s Singers.
My favorite part of New York City Ballet’s channel is the footage of the dancers in
performance when they were little kids.  Incidentally, this same footage
was playing on flat screen TVs in the lobby of the David H. Koch
Theater. Beyond just being well, adorable, this footage is inspirational for children who come to the ballet, and thoroughly entertaining for…let’s
say “retired” “ballerinas”…like myself, whose fathers have tapes and
tapes of similar footage in an attic somewhere. I’m trying to get my
hands on childhood performance footage of my clients now, too. I would love to see footage of orchestra members playing their instruments as kids, in a hall’s lobby or on an orchestra’s YouTube channel.

And he’d say, “Maggie, do you wanna dance?”
Sadly, I didn’t see the 21st Century Movement program mentioned on contemporary music blogs like The Rest is Noise or Sequenza21. It’s entirely possible that the program was pitched to these writers and just not picked up, but I find it hard to believe that a program that included Britten and Adams (not to mention Shostakovich and Biber) wouldn’t at least be mentioned a few places if brought to writers’/editors’ attentions. The house on Saturday afternoon looked pretty full, so perhaps the ballet doesn’t need the extra coverage. But when we have pure and creative crossover like Saturday’s program, I really hate to see missed other-genre press opportunities.

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