By Tresca Weinstein
Longtime supporters of the New York City Ballet may have gotten their feathers ruffled by SPAC Executive Director Marcia White’s recent announcement that, come summer, the company will no longer be the only ballet game in town. But no one should feel threatened — there’s room for lots more tutus in what was formerly NYCB’s territory.
The addition of other ballet companies (Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada) to SPAC’s 2013 offerings should in no way dilute or detract from City Ballet’s time-honored place in the Capital Region’s cultural firmament.
If anything, it will shed light on the company’s strengths and versatility by providing a context in which different perspectives and artistic visions can coexist. Each of these three companies brings something exciting and valuable to the stage; together, they may even expand the region’s dance audience.
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s dancers may wear toe shoes, but they have the souls of modern dancers. Since its founding in 1996, the company (which has homes in both the cities it’s named after) has built a repertory of work by forward-thinking contemporary choreographers such as Twyla Tharp, Karole Armitage and Jiri Kylian. The troupe has been described as having the “style of a chameleon,” according to co-directors Tom Mossbrucker and Jean-Philippe Malaty. The company adheres to what’s been called the “all star, no star” system; with only 11 dancers, it lacks the hierarchy built into the structure of larger companies like NYCB. And because the troupe isn’t above engaging in playful gimmicks like black light special effects (as seen in Moses Pendleton’s 2002 “Noir Blanc”) or staging a work performed entirely in chairs (Itzik Galili’s 1998 “Chameleon”), it’s a perfect complement to NYCB’s purity and poise. The company will present three performances, July 24-25.
The National Ballet of Canada bears a stronger resemblance to NYCB: The companies were founded in three years of each other (NYCB in 1948, NBOC in 1951) and both are grounded in classical repertory.
City Ballet has about 85 dancers; NBOC has 60. Each boasts a patron saint: the choreographer and dancer Celia Frank is NBOC’s equivalent to George Balanchine.
Like City Ballet, NBOC is loved and lauded in its home city (Toronto) and home country. Under the direction of Karen Kain and Kevin Garland, the company serves up traditional and family-friendly fare such as “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (choreographed by former City Ballet star Christopher Wheeldon) and “Giselle,” which will be performed at SPAC for the first time next summer. The company will have four SPAC performances, July 16-18.
NBOC also stretches in new directions: Its 60th-anniversary season includes recent work by Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo and a new full-length version of Bizet’s “Carmen,” billed as containing “unflinching carnality.”
While Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performs regularly at Jacob’s Pillow, NBOC is rarely seen in these parts. Its appearances at SPAC will offer ballet lovers the welcome opportunity to observe the subtleties and nuance that define and distinguish each company’s approach.
When it comes to art, in any medium, more is almost always more. As long as these three companies’ programs complement each other rather than compete, this bet should be a winning one for SPAC and for White. It certainly will be a win for audiences who can afford to take advantage of the season’s added richness and variety, while remaining true to the home team.