You think traveling can be a hassle. Imagine traveling with 92 dancers, an entire orchestra, music techs, costume designers, makeup artists and a director. Imagine traveling as the New York City Ballet.
Not an easy task, even for a group that can be quite nimble on stage. Wanting to travel and perform across the country, the New York City Ballet recently formed a performance group that can fit in a carry-on bag, so to speak. "Moves" is a rotating lineup of 17, made up of principal dancers, soloists and core members from the company. This is no student group or "second" act. Moves is the NYC Ballet's all-star players. The traveling troupe makes its official debut at the Vail International Dance Festival opening night Sunday.
"The more people that have a chance to see this kind of work, the more involved that they get with dance," said Kathy Brown, NYCB executive director. "For us, one of the really important goals for Moves is to raise our visibility. We want to expose our work to other parts of the country, and hopefully they come back to our company and other dance companies in their community."
A New York experience in Vail
Small theaters, festivals and even universities are the kind of places Moves will perform, venues that might not be able to present the full company for financial or technical reasons. Brown said it's meant to be the very same experience you would have if you saw the company perform in its theater in New York. The programs Moves will perform are culled from the vast repertory of the NYC Ballet - but the troupe has to be selective.
"When we tour in America with the NYC Ballet, we have a contract to bring our entire orchestra," said ballet master Jean-Pierre Frohlich, who acts as coordinating director for Moves. "Part of the reason we picked this program (for Vail), besides being wonderful ballets, and very well known, is we had to find repertory that was never performed with an entire orchestra."
The musicians' contract is unique to the New York City Ballet, and Frohlich said it makes programming challenging, but they just choose ballets that were originally performed with one or two musicians and then bring them along for the ride.
Removing the fourth wall
For opening night of the Vail International Dance Festival, Moves will present a classic program, including George Balanchine's "Duo Concertant" with live piano and violin, Jerome Robbins' "Dances at a Gathering" and "A Fool for You," with music by Ray Charles.
Moves' second performance, on Monday, presents works made in the 21st century, including "Polyphonia" and "After the Rain," works by Christopher Wheeldon, and, accompanied by two live pianos, "Hallelujah Junction," by Peter Martins, NYC Ballet's master-in-chief.
Audiences will see more of Martins and Moves on Tuesday, when they and festival director Damian Woetzel host "The Male Dancer by Balanchine" at the Vilar Center. The performance is part of the festival's UpClose series, a rehearsal-style event that's part lecture, part demonstration and part fully staged performance. Woetzel describes UpClose as removing the fourth wall of a studio to let the audience see something truly special, and this UpClose will take a behind-the-scenes look at the role of male dancers in the choreography of Balanchine, founder of the New York City Ballet.
"It's three different programs over three different nights, and audiences are getting a cross-section of the New York City Ballet. It's an education," Woetzel said. "There's more to it than just seeing a performance. You leave with more knowledge, more understanding, more passion for what you've just seen. This is the reason why we designed the program this way."
'New ways to exist'
Moves made a test run last summer during a weeklong residency at the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts in Jackson, Wyo. It was such a huge success that it gave the company confidence to continue with the project. The dancers had such a fabulous time, touring Jackson Hole and hiking during their free mornings, that now many dancers are vying for a spot in Moves.
"When you get to be in a small group of dancers, it brings you closer together. It's such a wonderful experience," said Frohlich, who describes his role in the company as a "jack of all trades," teaching, coaching and casting dancers. "People you might not normally be friendly with, you end up being good friends because you are doing everything together - eating, rehearsing, free time."
The overall goal of Moves is to build new audiences, Frohlich said, and also to build new repertory. Since the group is limited because of the musicians' contract, in the future Moves hopes to use up-and-coming young choreographers to create new pieces for the group. For Woetzel, Moves is just another indication of how the arts world is changing.
"It's not just in dance. It's a good time in the arts to think creatively to find new ways to exist in the 21st century," Woetzel said. "Time marches on. You have to keep pace. There are all kinds of artistic endeavors and new ways of doing things. We are the host for this launch, and it's a great moment, it's great place to be, to be a part of something that's not just business as usual."
Cassie Pence is a freelance writer in Vail.