Tale of two cities
Barbara Newman explores the different attitudes to dance in New York and London
The statement, attributed to George Bernard Shaw, that ‘england and America are two countries divided by a common language’ applies as easily to dance as to words. Both London and New York overflow with dance in the autumn, offering more than the general public can absorb or afford, yet they set out noticeably different wares in noticeably different ways.
The english ballet companies are again concentrating on fullevening narratives, spicing the schedule through to Christmas with novelties. Reviving all three acts of Macmillan’s Anastasia— he choreographed the third act first, in 1967, and, for some time, it stood alone—gives many of the Royal Ballet’s principal artists a chance to extend their dramatic expressivity; the company last performed the entire work in 2004. An imminent triple bill by Wayne Mcgregor will include guests from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, appearing with the company for the first time, and a new work with a commissioned score by the American composer Steve Reich.
Launching the season, David Bintley’s spectacular new staging of The Tempest for Birmingham Royal Ballet leans heavily on elaborate designs and concise, realistic acting, showing the dancers at their most dramatic before they move on to The Nutcracker, Cinderella and Cop- pélia. english National Ballet (ENB) is focusing on Giselle, in both Akram Khan’s earthy new interpretation and Mary Skeaping’s traditional setting.
Dance lovers in New York face a completely different choice. For its recent four-week run in the David h. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, New York City Ballet (NYCB) distributed 23 pieces among seven programmes. Twelve of the ballets reveal the genius of the company’s founding choreographer, George Balanchine, whose vast output continues to delight the audience more than 30 years after his death.
More surprisingly, the opening-night gala featured four world premieres, three by dancers in the company of whom one, Justin Peck, has established a considerable reputation by fulfilling commissions for the resident troupes in Paris, San Francisco, Miami, Seattle and Los Angeles as well as NYCB. The fourth premiere came from Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, who has not worked with NYCB before, but made A Streetcar Named Desire for Scottish Ballet and the striking Broken Wings, about Frida Kahlo, for ENB.
All four of these creations may not survive, although the breezy insouciance of Peter Walker’s ten in seven, underpinned by an onstage jazz quartet led by the score’s composer, Thomas Kikta, had an immediate and potentially lasting appeal. What impressed me more than their relative merits was that all the choreographers explored the classical ballet technique on a clear, well-lit stage without distorting the vocabulary, turning it into acrobatics, hiding it in shadows or costumes, or overwhelming it with scenery or projections.
Following NYCB into the same theatre, American Ballet Theatre’s 12 performances comprise several combinations of eight ballets, one of them a world premiere by Jessica Lang, another a display piece for the students of the company’s school. Mixed bills evidently satisfy a deeper hunger in New York than in London for variety, a hunger eager to sample all the facets of ballet—historical and experimental—and contemporary dance as well.
New York’s Fall for Dance season packs the New York City Center annually, not solely because viewers are curious about choreography they may never have seen, but also because every
Richard Alston Dance Company (seen here in Buzzing Round the Hunisuccle) is currently on tour in the UK
Unframed, choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa for NYCB