If there’s one thing dancers do well, it’s motion. Yet when it comes to dance companies — especially big ones — mobility doesn’t always come easily. This past summer, one of the nation’s top dance companies, the New York City Ballet (NYCB), took a bold move to address that problem. Their solution: New York City Ballet MOVES, a small touring arm of the Big Apple-based troupe of nearly 100 dancers. Next Tuesday, October 18, and Wednesday, October 19, MOVES comes to Santa Barbara’s Granada Theatre.
During the past few decades, many top dance companies worldwide have formed “second companies” — touring groups where younger dancers are groomed for the main troupe, or for comparable roles in other major companies. Nederlands Dans Theater formed NDT2 for this purpose; American Ballet Theatre has ABT II; Paul Taylor Dance Company, Taylor 2; and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II.
But with MOVES, NYCB is trying something markedly different.
This isn’t a second company for less-experienced dancers, MOVES artistic director Jean-Pierre Frolich explained in a phone interview last week. Instead, it’s made up of a rotating cast of about 20 performers from the main company, including principal dancers. For years, NYCB Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins envisioned a way to bring the company’s world-class dancers, repertory, and live music to more audiences. With MOVES, that vision has become a reality. While the main company will continue to offer its full New York season, MOVES will be on the road. Rather than touring with the full NYCB Orchestra, they’ll travel with a small group of chamber musicians.
“It’s really exciting to have a small company to tour America,” Frolich explained. This way, people are able to afford to see the company, and we are able to bring them a very high quality of dance.” He’s right to note that most NYCB performances aren’t easily accessible to most Americans; even if you can make it to Manhattan and afford a place to stay, a single ticket to a show at the Lincoln Center can put you out $149.
MOVES had its debut performance in Vail, Colorado, last July, and went on to Jackson, Wyoming, in August. Their shows at the Granada October 18 and 19 mark their California debut. They’ll present two separate programs here: Tuesday features Jerome Robbins’s “Dances at a Gathering,” Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain,” and Peter Martins’s “A Fool for You,” while Wednesday night includes Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia,” George Balanchine’s “Sonatine,” and Martins’s “Zakouski” and “Hallelujah Junction.” In both cases, audiences will get a taste of the company’s signature neoclassicism, a legacy begun by Balanchine, who directed NYCB from its inception in 1948 until his death in 1983 and carried forward by Wheeldon, one of the most sought-after contemporary ballet choreographers living today. All works will be performed to live music by composers ranging from Chopin to Ray Charles to Arvo Pärt.
Those familiar with the company will be delighted to see NYCB star and principal dancer Wendy Whelan on the Granada’s stage, along with a number of other top artists. And while MOVES offers a rare chance for Santa Barbara audiences to see such renowned performers live, Frolich explained it’s also a great opportunity for the company. Not only do dancers get a chance to try new roles, but they have a rare chance to get to know each other better on the road. “Touring with a small company creates a kind of a family atmosphere,” he explained. “We get to hang out with each other outside of the studio.”
In the near future, Frolich hopes to take MOVES to Europe, as well as to begin commissioning new work specifically for the company. In the meantime, he says, MOVES should stand as a model for other large-scale companies that find it increasingly difficult in this economic climate to locate venues that can afford to present them.
What’s certain is that the world is changing, and dance companies have to change with it. For NYCB, it all comes down to flexibility, staying in motion, and finding new ways to move audiences.
New York City Ballet MOVES will perform at the Granada Theatre on Tuesday, October 18, and Wednesday, October 19, at 8pm. For tickets or more information, call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.