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Drew

New York City Ballet and New Work

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Does City Ballet try to keep a fixed number of dancers on their roster or does the number vary? Is the number of new dancers that that they hire as apprentices each year, based on the number of people that retire from the ranks of the corps de ballet or the number that retire from the entire company?

Since city ballet has such vast Balanchine and Robbins repertoire, why do they need ANY outside choreography? If they danced nothing but Balanchine and Robbins they couldn't go for years and never repeat themselves?

Does the the core City Ballet audience really want to see other works?

Sort of off the original topic but...

NYCB has always been committed to dancing premiers and even when Balanchine and Robbins were alive danced works by other choreographers--some of substance, many...not so much. Their core audience? If, as a onetime New Yorker, now non-New Yorker who comes to NY periodically to see NYCB I count as core audience, then I can answer that I certainly think the commitment to new work matters.

As a result of the company's commitment a number of major new works including works by Wheeldon and Ratmansky have premiered there, as well as works by choreographers such as Preljocaj, Bigonzetti, and Forsythe that I at least don't find a waste of time. (Balanchine's ballets are, of course, incomparable and the basis as they should be of the repertory.) As you probably know several critics have started championing Justin Peck in the last year. Peck and Wheeldon really emerged through NYCB and Ratmansky's career took a great leap forward with the creation of Russian Seasons for the company...Namouna which is arguably his best ballet was created for them. These works contribute to NYCB, but also to ballet as an art form. (I would rather see Namouna a third time than, say, Robbins' I'm Old Fashioned.)

The importance of new works in developing dancers has often been debated on this website--indeed the whole issue you raise about repertory has been taken up, and a lot of different perspectives expressed...but for myself, I think it wouldn't be NYCB if it were simply filling a curatorial function even if that is the company's most important function.

The dancer numbers have grown and contracted over the span of years (recently contracting after the 2008 financial crisis for example), but within any short period of time the numbers are I believe usually pretty steady and retirements/departures do impact the numbers of new dancers they can accept or promote. Others, who follow the day to day workings of the company more closely than I, can comment in more detail on that.

More related to topic (though not to the larger structural issues): Perhaps I missed it, but I don't recall that Gen Horiuchi has been mentioned. He came to NYCB in the early 80's (Wikipedia says invited by Balanchine) and was frequently featured by Peter Martins, who created roles for him--actually one of the more prominent dancers of the early Martins era.

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NYCB places a great deal of emphasis on new work (the captions at the beginning of "Ballet 422," the new documentary following the creation of Justin Peck's Paz de la Jolla, describe NYCB as a "creative ballet company." I puzzled and puzzled over this until I decided they were making a point about their tradition of new choreography).

In some ways, they more closely resemble a typical modern dance company, with the usual emphasis on making all things new, than older models of ballet companies that depend on the historic repertory.

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NYCB places a great deal of emphasis on new work (the captions at the beginning of "Ballet 422," the new documentary following the creation of Justin Peck's Paz de la Jolla, describe NYCB as a "creative ballet company." I puzzled and puzzled over this until I decided they were making a point about their tradition of new choreography).

In some ways, they more closely resemble a typical modern dance company, with the usual emphasis on making all things new, than older models of ballet companies that depend on the historic repertory.

I'm sure I've said this before, but NYCB is the MoMA of ballet companies. They both started out as places with a commitment to the new -- not just a commitment to display it, but also to enable people learn how to look at it -- and found themselves decades later in possession of a fabulous permanent collection that, for the larger public at least, overshadows the new work they champion today. And, they're both often criticized for expending blood and treasure on new initiatives rather than on the care and feeding of the permanent collection. It is a tough problem for once small and scrappy but now big and "establishment" institution to solve.

And Drew, you are absolutely right about Namouna vs I'm Old Fashioned. Every time the lights go down and the song starts up, I find myself wishing they'd just can Robbins' ballet altogether and let us watch Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth for the next 20 minutes. Heck, I'd rather sit through Spectral Evidence than I'm Old Fashioned. (But I do love love love Namouna. I'd trade Union Jack for it in a heartbeat and never look back.)

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NYCB places a great deal of emphasis on new work (the captions at the beginning of "Ballet 422," the new documentary following the creation of Justin Peck's Paz de la Jolla, describe NYCB as a "creative ballet company." I puzzled and puzzled over this until I decided they were making a point about their tradition of new choreography).

In some ways, they more closely resemble a typical modern dance company, with the usual emphasis on making all things new, than older models of ballet companies that depend on the historic repertory.

Is there a feeling among City Ballet fans that this emphasis on new work post Balanchine and Robbins is worth the time and effort? Are there really that many works of note that have been created since their deaths? I ask because it seems that the critical reception of many recent works - with the occasion exception of Wheeldon and Peck - seems to imply that the new stuff falls short of the master.

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NYCB places a great deal of emphasis on new work (the captions at the beginning of "Ballet 422," the new documentary following the creation of Justin Peck's Paz de la Jolla, describe NYCB as a "creative ballet company." I puzzled and puzzled over this until I decided they were making a point about their tradition of new choreography).

In some ways, they more closely resemble a typical modern dance company, with the usual emphasis on making all things new, than older models of ballet companies that depend on the historic repertory.

Is there a feeling among City Ballet fans that this emphasis on new work post Balanchine and Robbins is worth the time and effort? Are there really that many works of note that have been created since their deaths? I ask because it seems that the critical reception of many recent works - with the occasion exception of Wheeldon and Peck - seems to imply that the new stuff falls short of the master.

There have been several threads discussing exactly this issue -- with many different perspectives expressed -- so it might be worth your time to do a search. I will say that the fact is that if a company is unwilling to risk duds and other works that are merely okay, then it is unlikely to get masterpieces either....especially since even the best choreographers need a chance to develop, take risks etc. Nor do I think it is a bad thing for NYCB audiences and dancers to have been exposed to choreographers who have developed elsewhere such as Preljocaj--whose Spectral Evidence for the company has been controversial, but not without admirers. Has there been a lot of less than stellar work to sit through? More than is ideal? Sure...I think so at least. But the idea of turning NYCB into a company that does nothing but Balanchine and Robbins is, I think, a nonstarter even for those who wish the company would do fewer new works. (In a wierd way it wouldn't even be Balanchine's company if it did nothing but Balanchine...that doesn't seem to be what he thought a ballet company should be.)

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Of course it's to be expected that most new work will probably fall short of being masterful, but of course there is only one way to get new masterpieces . . .

In the years since Balanchine's death, NYCB has had whole festivals devoted to new choreography, specifically the six Diamond Project festivals, funded by the late Irene Diamond. Wheeldon's first NYCB work, the 1997 Slavonic Dances (with Monique Meunier, if memory serves!) was a Diamond Project ballet. The American Music Festival in 1988 also presented new work. If I'm not mistaken, few of these pieces have had a life since.

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Are there really that many works of note that have been created since their deaths? I ask because it seems that the critical reception of many recent works - with the occasion exception of Wheeldon and Peck - seems to imply that the new stuff falls short of the master.

Yes.

NYCB premiered plenty of non-Balanchine junk when he was alive and in charge. And one should note that the critical reception of Balanchine's and Robbins' own work -- right up to their deaths -- wasn't uniformly rapturous, either.

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I hadn't revisited this topic for a few days, and I see that it has morphed into a topic about the benefits of new choreography. While I agree with the idea that new choreography is important to the company, sometimes it turns into pandering to new audiences (see Ocean's Kingdom, Bal de Couture) with works that are trash just to have a celebrity name attached to the pursuit (Valentino, Paul McCartney, Stella McCartney). Also, I think the Diamond Project put too much focus on churning out massive numbers of new works without keeping an eye on quality ("Call Me Ben").

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I hadn't revisited this topic for a few days, and I see that it has morphed into a topic about the benefits of new choreography. While I agree with the idea that new choreography is important to the company, sometimes it turns into pandering to new audiences (see Ocean's Kingdom, Bal de Couture) with works that are trash just to have a celebrity name attached to the pursuit (Valentino, Paul McCartney, Stella McCartney). Also, I think the Diamond Project put too much focus on churning out massive numbers of new works without keeping an eye on quality ("Call Me Ben").

I suspect that at least some of this is pandering to gala donors rather than new audiences. For all kinds of reasons, it's easier to sell gala tables if you've got a marquee name somewhere on the program. That name could be a gala honoree or it could be someone who made some sort of artistic contribution to a gala premiere. Paul McCartney and Valentino are even older than me -- do their names register in any meaningful way with the younger members of the new audience pool? But there's a whole network of folks around Valentino (and Stella McCartney) who will likely show up at that gala and with whom one might want to rub elbows by buying a few seats at a table. It's venal, but 'twere ever thus.

I hope someone is doing a cost / benefit analysis of these "please pull out your rolodexes and fill a table" pi├Ęces d'occasion that live for a season and then vanish -- and that analysis had better include the opportunity cost of expending blood and treasure on a gala bauble instead of a worthy permanent addition to the repertory. I sure hope no one was expecting Ocean's Kingdom or Bal de Couture to be the Balanchine / Prokofiev / Rouault Prodigal Son des nos jours ...

Lil Buck, Woodkind, JR, and Faile are in a different category, but other than Promenade installations, the company hasn't quite sorted out how to make use of their talents in a way that generates art in addition to buzz.

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