New York Theatre Ballet is not your typical ballet company.
On Saturday, dancers will perform “Sleeping Beauty” with classical choreography in a show geared for young audiences. Next Friday, Feb. 17, the dancers will be working in modern mode with the Bridgman/Packer Dance duo, who integrate movement with video technology.
“We can do all repertory,” said NYTB artistic director Steven Melendez. “The dancers are incredibly versatile.”
The two shows represent part of the company’s mission. Founded in 1978 by dancer Diana Byer — Melendez is a former company dancer and only the second director in the company’s history, two initiatives were created. The Once Upon a Ballet series is geared to young audiences to present one-hour ballets. These include not only Saturday’s performance, but also restored or revived small masterworks as well as beloved ballets like “The Nutcracker,” “Firebird,” and “Mother Goose.”
Despite the allotted time frame, nothing is stinted: Sylvia Taalsohn Nolan, the resident costume designer for the Metropolitan Opera, designs the costumes, which Melendez said are beautiful, and the sets and scrims are huge. Tchaikovsky’s music is on tape but the dancers do occasionally work to live music.
“All the dancers recognize how important it is to build audiences for the next generation of dancers,” he said.
A case in point: a college-age dancer recently auditioned for the company. She told the audition committee that the first ballet she’d ever seen was the NYTB’s “Mother Goose.” That’s what inspired her to pursue dance, Melendez said.
There will also be a short lecture/demonstration prior to the performance about the ballet, so the children and even the adults will get the full context of the dance, he said.
The enchanting tale is about Princess Aurora’s fateful birth to her triumphant wedding told with magic and poetry. There will be 12 dancers and two young children from the company’s New York City dance school. Choreography is by James Sutton.
The second series is “Legends and Visionaries” that is geared to adults and is a repertory evening set for Friday, Feb. 17.
“We do Balanchine, Limon, Cunningham, Robbins [for these performances]. It’s an evening for the novice audiences … kind of a buffet tasting,” Melendez said.
For the dancers it was more than that because it was the first time they’d ever worked with Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer. It was also the first time the duo had choreographed for NYTB or for any ballet company.
“We were interested in the freedom and swirl of movement in Henri Toulouse’s paintings as well as the darker side, which portrayed the underbelly of the cabaret culture of his time,” the duo said in an email.
“Our movement choices tend to come from the sensations of physical release and groundedness. Working with this company involved a meshing of our movement with their responses to it. The dancers were open to our way of working … we were excited by their technical range and fullness of expression.”
Besides dancing with projected video imagery, they also are working to new music composed by Martha Mooke, who’ll play an electric viola and be wearing fantastical costumes Anna-Alise Belous designed. The result is “Toulouse’s Dreams.”
“It was a joy to create,” Bridgman/Packer said.
The evening also includes NYTB in “Septet” with music by Stravinsky and choreography by Jerome Robbins; and “Mamborama” with music by Tito Puente and choreography by James Whiteside of American Ballet Theater. Bridgman/Packer will do their own “Under the Skin.” The Stravinsky work might interest his fans as it was an early experiment in serialism, premiering in 1954. This will be played in a rare two-piano version.
Both of these performances represent a lively touring schedule that has the company going to mostly “art deserts,” Melendez said. While that description hardly matches their annual visits to The Egg for close to 20 years or to Santa Fe, New Mexico, last fall, they did hit locations in North Carolina, New Hampshire and Westchester County last season.
“We’re known as the most famous chamber dance company in the country,” he said with a laugh.
New York Theatre Ballet
WHEN: 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 11; 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, with Bridgman/Packer Dance
WHERE: The Egg
HOW MUCH: $22 (2/11); $25 (2/17)
MORE INFO: www.theegg.org; 518-473-1845
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