Saturday, April 17, 2010

New York Theatre Ballet-Dance on a Shoestring

NYTB Dance Gallery, New York City
April 10, 2010

These days, audience development for ballet companies must be high on the priority list. The situation is dire; the economy is bad and funding opportunities for the arts seem to dry up a little more every day. In such a climate, fostering long-term relationships with subscribers is of utmost importance. For some groups, it may even be the key to their survival. Repertory choices need to be broad - new exciting ballets that appeal to a wider audience coupled with classics that balletomanes adore. But, a well-rounded repertoire is not enough anymore. Audience participation has to be more than 6-10 trips to the theater every season. Entrenched involvement should be the goal; a two-way conversation between the company and the patrons. Events, parties, and receptions are fine ideas but they are really 'old school'. Everyone needs to start thinking outside the box like they are doing at New York Theatre Ballet. Under the guidance of Artistic Director Diana Byer and Associate Artistic Director Christina Paolucci, they are cultivating a true community spirit in support of the company. Their 'Dance on a Shoestring' program provides magnificent but intimate performances in their studio space for only $15 a seat. This is what inspires audiences to make long-standing commitments to dance, not fancy champagne auctions.

The joy of the company was palpable in each of the five works on the program. The waltz from Sleeping Beauty took two children from the school and put them onstage with NYTB dancers. This is very special because it is accurately represents the breadth of any company. Seeing the school is important, and the kids who danced this waltz were very good. Some performers could learn a thing or two watching the young boy's (Kai Monroe) double pirouette. Marco Pelle's Transit is a visual triumph. The soloist, Kieran Stoneley, began with his back to the audience, and wore a mask on the back of his head. As he moved his arms through the choreography, an optical illusion was created where the back of the body was being transformed into the front. Once that sequence was complete, he removed the mask and arose from the floor. Then, Stoneley performed the most beautiful promenade in attitude, a movement missing from so many men's variations. We were fortunate to see this breathtaking position again in Antony Tudor's Soiree Musicale; his is maybe the best example from a male dancer of the correct line in attitude. The Tirolese section of this work, danced by Elena Zahlmann and Mitchell Kilby, was joyous. Petit allegro sequences like this one need sufficient plie, suspension and ballon so as to not appear labored. Zahlmann and Kilby met these technical demands, though the quality of their variation displayed much more than textbook accuracy. The final mention must go to Carmella Lauer, who performed in three of the works. Her presence onstage was both stunning and compelling. Whether dancing or just watching her fellow company members, she was always in the moment.

The final piece, Suite from Mazurkas (choreography by Jose Limon), did present some challenges. This particular dance is full of fast footwork, running steps, and leaping sequences; very playful combinations of movement. The NYTB dancers have definitely grasped the spirit and emotion in this choreography, but they are still missing some of the groundedness required for this type of modern dance. The 'up' was there: flow, suspension and height inarguably present in all the jumps. Giving into the floor needs more attention. The upper body curve that is characteristic of Limon technique was also a bit stunted. The women, specifically, need to let go a bit more to reach greater freedom in the torso. The piece is close and is good on this company, it's just not quite there yet.

After my first 'Dance on a Shoestring' event , I am a little sad that I don't live in New York. If I did, I would come to see New York Theatre Ballet in any performance I could. This is what really thoughtful outreach can do. This company should be applauded for its efforts toward building a lasting dialogue between its patrons and its company activities.

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