The “Works & Process” series at the Guggenheim Museum offers an inside look at art and, more importantly, its creation. In many instances, especially with dance, the time leading up to performance can be more interestingly layered, meaningful, and precious than the final product. This week’s program offered a delightful glimpse of New York City Ballet’s “Emerging Choreographers,” whose new pieces will premiere at the David H. Koch Theater later in the company’s winter season.
A panel discussion with the two featured choreographers, Melissa Barak and Douglas Lee, opened the evening with moderator Ellen Sorrin. They explained their opportunities involved in the New York Choreographic Institute, an affiliate of NYCB that provides new choreographers with a criticism-free landscape to experiment with their ideas. Barak, a former NYCB dancer herself, attended the workshop in its inaugural year (2000) and then three additional times. It was here that she was truly introduced to the art of creating dance, she said. Lee, on the other hand, had been creating works before he attended his two years at the Choreographic Institute. A principal dancer with the Stuttgart Ballet, he came to create his new work on NYCB without knowing any of the dancers.
After the introductory speaking, Barak’s dancers came out for a presentation of what her rehearsal process was like. Her corps de ballet consisted of some of the newest members of the company: Sara Adams, Megan Jonson, Rachel Piskin, Kristen Segin, Mary Elizabeth Sell, and Lydia Wellington. Principals Sara Mearns and Jared Angle completed the cast.
Barak ran through a brief section of her ballet without music, clarifying details of arm movements and changing minor head positions to her liking. The dancers, in their average rehearsal leotards, tights and warm-ups, repeated her wishes without a word. Later the lead couple worked through a lift, laughing as they struggled to get the right momentum to move on. It was nice to see the dancers in a more casual atmosphere learning rather than showing off in performance.
Following the demonstration, Barak spoke with Sorrin about the theme of her piece – wanting to discover the old within the new. She said that she wanted to go back to what Balanchine had done in creating a great ballet and make something that looked like it had been around for years as opposed to something more contemporary, like Lee’s piece. With a completely different, less classical movement vocabulary, Lee’s work “Life Casting” plays more off the individual styles of his dancers: Kaitlyn Gilliland, Maria Kowrowski, Adrian-Danchig, Waring, Robert Fairchild, and Amar Ramasar.
Excerpts from the piece were danced smoothly, but the small size of the stage seemed to inhibit the beauty of the great height of Kowrowski and Gilliland. Both of their separate pas de deuxs were luscious and circular, inhabiting Lee’s swooping choreography. Robert Fairchild’s sections were particularly abstract yet deep. He joined the choreographer for a brief discussion after he danced.
Lee’s tease with the dancers and Barak’s sample of her romantic pas de deux promise great things for their final works. It should be interesting to see how they fare in the full lighting, costume, and breadth of the stage this season. Barak’s ballet will premiere February 17. Lee’s work will premiere January 22.
(The Works & Process program repeats tonight, Monday Jan. 19 at 7:30pm at the Guggenheim, 5th Ave @ 89th Street)