Photo © American Ballet Theatre.
For its debut performance at the Abu Dhabi Festival last week, the American Ballet Theatre wanted to introduce Emirati audiences to the classical repertoire, since there wasn’t much of a ballet tradition in the region. (In fact, there was zero ballet tradition, since, until oil was discovered there about 50 years ago, Abu Dhabi was a tiny outpost of pearl divers and Bedouins.) That ruled out modern dance. The company was also told to present something “family friendly,” according to ABT’s artistic director Kevin McKenzie, so there went Swan Lake, with its tragic ending and hints at bestiality. (More importantly, says McKenzie, the auditorium at the Emirates Palace, where the Abu Dhabi Festival’s performances were held, could not support the technical requirements involved in ABT’s elaborate production of the classic.)
With those restrictions in mind, McKenzie chose to put on Léo Delibes’s Pygmalionesque comedy Coppélia, based on the late Frederic Franklin’s staging, which itself owes much to the original 1870 production. During Friday’s performance, it was as classical as it gets: all tutus, grands jetés, pas de chat and men in tights. More notable, for fans of ABT, was the casting of Misty Copeland as Swanhilde, the New York ballet sensation’s debut in the role. Copeland, the company’s first African American female principal dancer, who has gained national attention with her new memoir Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina (Touchstone), will premiere the role in New York in May. During last week’s production, aside from a few wobbly poses that will no doubt be smoothed out before next month, Copeland exuded a star’s grace.
One sure sign of the locals’ unfamiliarity with the form was the uncontrollable giggling from the women dressed in black abayas behind me, at the sight of dancer Herman Cornejo’s decidedly non-family-friendly bulge. (To be fair, it did seem in need of a codpiece.) But overall the production, backed by the Dresden Philharmonic, transcended the tameness of the material and earned a standing ovation.
As McKenzie put it in an interview that morning: “Dancing to music—who in the world cannot relate to that?”
© Andrew Eccles
New York is no stranger to holiday traditions, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which kicked off its annual holiday residency at New York City Center yesterday and continues the run through December 30, is one of them. Bringing an amalgam of debuts and classics this go-around, the troupe has plenty to share.
“The diversity of our repertoire at Alvin Ailey presents a wonderful challenge,” says dancer Alicia Graf Mack. “In any given performance, I can perform movement from classical modern with ballet influences to hip-hop.”
Graf Mack, who performed with Ailey from 2005 to 2008 and rejoined last year, appears in a variety of pieces, including From Before, a blend of African dance and Caribbean accents by Garth Fagan, who choreographed Broadway’s The Lion King, and Petite Mort, the handiwork of European choreographer Jirí Kylián, which depicts a battle of the sexes carried out in ball gowns and done to Mozart. Perennial favorites include an anthology of seminal Ailey works (Love Songs, For Bird—With Love) and the show-stopping Revelations—a survey of African American spirituals as soul-stirring as they come. Graf Mack says she gets to know the troupe’s patriarch, who died in 1989, a little better every time she performs it—a feeling that informs everyone involved.
“I feel extremely blessed and honored to be a part of the legacy of Alvin Ailey,” she explains, “and to contribute to the cultural fabric of New York City during the holiday season. Through December 30; 131 W. 55th St.; 212-581-1212; alvinailey.org.
Jeff Busby / Courtesy The Australian Ballet
The Australian Ballet is paying a visit to Lincoln Center for six performances and two programs in celebration of its 50th anniversary. The first, Infinity (June 12–13), includes a collaboration with Bangarra Dance Theatre, Australia’s premier indigenous modern-dance company. The work, Warumuk – In the Dark Night, blends two dance traditions and pays homage to the night sky of northern Australia. The second program is Graeme Murphy’s brilliant and inventive Swan Lake (June 15–17), in which Siegfried isn’t a sorcerer but a man torn between his new bride, Odette, and his former lover. Murphy’s fresh take on the classical canon is not to be missed, and neither is the entire production. The Australian Ballet comes to the U.S. infrequently; a Bangarra visit is even rarer—and it’s a long trip to see them at home Down Under. $29–$149; 20 Lincoln Center (Columbus Ave. and 63rd St.); 212-496-0600; davidhkochtheater.com.
The New York City Ballet Spring Gala at Lincoln Center—one of the most highly anticipated fetes of the year—celebrates the company’s storied history and evolution, with dinner, dancing and a performance featuring two new ballets on May 10. Natalie Portman, who won an Academy Award for her role in 2010’s ballet thriller Black Swan, chairs the event, but the centerpiece of the evening is the world debut of a new work choreographed by principal dancer Benjamin Millepied (Portman’s husband) to a newly commissioned score by Nico Muhly. Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, who designed the costumes for Black Swan, did the same honors for this piece.
The company will also debut a work by Peter Martins, and revive George Balanchine’s iconic Symphony in C, which French composer Georges Bizet created when he was a 17-year-old student at the Paris Conservatory. The Balanchine number will feature all-new costumes laden with Swarovski crystals. A cocktail reception and a black-tie supper ball—complete with dinner and dancing on the promenade—will bookend the ballets. Single tickets start at $5,000; tables start at $25,000; May 10; 212-870-5585; nycballet.com.
The Joyce Theater Foundation, New York’s preeminent dance hub, will host its annual black-tie spring gala on April 4, featuring a rare stateside performance from Sylvie Guillem. Guillem, who began her career as the youngest-ever étoile (principal dancer) at the Paris Opera Ballet, is now widely regarded as one of the greatest ballerinas of her generation. She will perform the American première of 6000 Miles, a program of contemporary works by renowned dance makers Mats Ek and William Forsythe. Though Guillem became a star dancing classical ballets, it is in contemporary choreography that her blend of sensuality, near-flawless technique and quirkiness is best appreciated—and while the Forsythe portion of the evening is a pas de deux (with Massimo Murru from Teatro alla Scalla Ballet), the Mats Ek piece, created purely for her, is a solo. 6000 Miles will run April 4, 5 and 7; gala tickets, from $1,000; joyce.org.
Paul McCartney in action. Courtesy of New York City Ballet.
If anyone deserves to be called a living legend, it's Paul McCartney. The Beatles veteran has accomplished more in a single lifetime than any other living musician, and is even listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for his unprecedented success as a composer and musician. Now, at age 69, McCartney steps onto a new stage. Tonight, Thursday, September 22, his first original orchestral score for dance, Ocean's Kingdom, will debut at the annual gala for the New York City Ballet. Choreographed by Peter Martins and featuring 48 dancers, this sweeping underwater ballet follows King Ocean's daughter, Princess Honorata, as she takes on a terrestrial love triangle. McCartney's own daughter, Stella, designed the costumes for the ballet. Additional performances are slated for September, and the run picks up again post-Nutcracker in January. For those who simply can't wait, the score will also be released on disk October 3.
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