Danceletter 3

At the Ballet

Last weekend I went to New York City Ballet with my friend IB, who was visiting from out of town, and who hadn’t been to the ballet in about a decade. I really liked hearing her outside perspective, for instance her spot-on assessment of Justin Peck’s Principia, new this season, as “a ballet for millennials.” (I should note that we are both, technically, millennials.) Forsythe’s Herman Schmerman struck her as “gendered,” and I had to break it to her: Pretty much all ballet is gendered. Both of us cried during Kyle Abraham’s The Runaway. People (myself included) have talked so much about his use of Kanye West and Jay-Z, but let’s not forget about that devastating James Blake section at the end. We agreed that Taylor Stanley (The Runaway’s star) is astonishing. If you haven’t seen the work, or even if you have, there are a bunch of good videos here.

I was thinking about things I’ve said, in print, about Justin Peck, and whether they hold up. I’ve always admired his efforts to play around with partnering conventions. In 2014, reviewing his Year of the Rabbit, I wrote: “How is it that the women in Mr. Peck’s work seem autonomous, even when lifted and supported by their male peers?” Later that year, after seeing Everywhere We Go, I observed: “In an art form so often concerned with romance, Mr. Peck consistently seems more interested in friendship.” And in 2017, reflecting on The Times Are Racing, I noted “his boldness in creating gender-neutral roles for two central duets, a rarity in ballet and a refreshing statement.”

Lately though, maybe having been sufficiently refreshed, I find myself feeling impatient. Principia, a large ensemble work to a Sufjan Stevens score, contains a lot of beautiful same-sex partnering — more than we could have expected five years ago. But I’m ready for Peck, or someone, to start pushing gender-role boundaries further and faster, especially when it comes to relationships among women. There’s a long section for just the women in Principia, in which partners sort of thread their arms together and make kaleidoscopic shapes with their hands. It’s a nice attempt at switching up the old man-supports-woman dynamic, but overall it’s so delicate, so… cute. In 2017 Lauren Lovette made a breakthrough (for herself and the art form) with her romantic male duet in Not Our Fate. But I have yet to see female partnering on the City Ballet stage, by an artist of any gender, that expresses something more complex or daring or nuanced than “we’re friends having a great time.” When will we move beyond that?

Maybe when more women start making ballets (paired with more opportunities to present them on a large scale), and yes, I talk about this all the time, but even old, basic points bear repeating. There’s some excellent news on this front (about which I’ve already freaked out on social media): Pam Tanowitz, great inventor of works rooted in but stretching the limits of the classical vocabulary, will create her first work for City Ballet this spring and another in 2020. It took a while for the powers that be to extend this invitation, but better late than never, and I’m so excited to see what she does.

From the Internet

Three finds in keeping with the ballet theme:

Ballet shoe emoji: My brother, a software developer whose field every so often intersects with mine, informed me that a ballet shoe emoji has been approved, to be released (I think) later this year. I can’t claim to have read every word of this proposal for its creation — written by a tech company manager and barre class enthusiast in Brisbane, Australia — but skimming it was entertaining. The emoji itself, alas, looks kind of like a pink loafer with ribbons.

Joan Acocella on New York City Ballet: You’ve probably already read this, but just in case, I’m leaving it here. I appreciate Acocella’s analysis of the reign of Peter Martins through the lens of his often “middling” ballets. I’m also glad that she acknowledges the shadiness of the company’s “investigation” into the allegations of abuse against him. My only reservation about the essay is its largely uncritical glorification of Balanchine. Don’t get me wrong: I love a Balanchine ballet and basically agree that he was “an artist on the order of Bach or Tolstoy.” But surely there’s more to say about his attitudes toward women than the mere aside that his “career was marked, even shaped, by serial infatuations.” Surely Martins didn’t singlehandedly foster a culture of mistreating dancers. For more on that, I recommend this blog post by James Steichen.

Swapping Roles in Class: Speaking of gender and ballet, did you see this article by Madison Mainwaring on women training in men’s technique and vice versa? One of the more hopeful and genuinely eye-opening ballet-related stories I’ve read lately.

What I’ve Been Working On

A lot (at least it feels that way), but I don’t have much to show for it just yet. For now I give you my review of Camille A. Brown’s ink, which I loved. Her company is touring, so check to see if ink is coming to a stage near you.

Shows (etc.) to See

Is it just me, or is it kind of a quiet time? I’m looking forward to the flamenco dancer Farruquito at Town Hall on Feb. 22 (wrote a tiny bit about him here); Angie Pittman / Johnnie Cruise Mercer at Danspace Project, Feb. 28-March 2; and (a little last-minute but) Emily Wexler’s open studio at MoMA PS1 tomorrow, Feb. 17.


In awe of these people:

Thank You!

The response to Danceletter has already been much greater than I expected. ~Thank you~ for signing up, sending encouraging words, and replying with your own stories and thoughts and questions. (FYI, if you reply to the email, it goes directly to me, and I like to hear what you think!) As always, feel free to spread the word, tell a friend, etc.

Till next time,