Stars of the American Ballet

Stars of the American Ballet

A NYCB pick-up company hits the road during their summer break.

This was the year of “Me-Too” in the dance world as well as the film industry. Peter Martins stepped down after 30 years as Ballet Master in Chief of the New York City Ballet on January 1. Five dancers, male as well as female, came forward to make accusations about sexual harassment as well as physical and verbal abuse which they said went on for years. After a two-month investigation, there was no corroboration of any allegations, but Martins did not return to the company, and NYCB’s company and school announced new policies to assure that dancers “feel safe, respected and able to voice their opinions and concerns freely.”

Once a star dancer in the company himself, Martins had been hand-picked by George Balanchine, the founder and legendary choreographer of New York City Ballet, to succeed him before he died in 1983. He had been on the job ever since. While some long-time dancers came to Martins’ defense, others spoke up to agree with the initial accusations made, to describe the absolute power the director held over the careers of the dancers, and the ways he abused that power.

After Martin’s departure, four dancers were chosen to serve as interim directors. All four have travelled to Santa Fe in the past to perform with “Stars of the American Ballet,” the pick-up group directed by Daniel Ulbricht, another dancer in the company. “Stars” will return to the Lensic on August 3,4. The interim directors include Justin Peck (the corps dancer-turned-star choreographer), Craig Hall, Rebecca Krohn and John Stafford. Whoever Martins’ ultimate replacement is, Ulbricht says the most important requirement is, “to be a servant to the legacy. The new director has to have the kind of passion that people can get behind.”

Daniel Ulbricht had nothing unkind to say about Martins, his boss for his entire career at NYCB. “Peter was a visionary,” he said. What started as a repository for the ballets of Balanchine and his co-artistic director Jerome Robbins, has evolved during Martins’ directorship to include important new voices in dance. “He opened the doors at City Ballet to some of the leading choreographers of our time,” he said. “He brought in Christopher Wheeldon, Alexander Ratmansky, he nurtured Justin Peck. And he was a phenomenal fund raiser. Peter loved the company more than anyone.”

This was also the year of the Jerome Robbins centennial. The choreographer of “West Side Story” not only worked extensively on Broadway, he became Associate Artistic Director of the New York City Ballet in 1949, and created over 50 ballets, including such classic works as “Fancy Free,” “Dances at a Gathering,” “The Goldberg Variations,” and “Glass Pieces.” NYCB held a Robbins Festival this winter, offering over 20 works by Robbins, and a chance to reappraise his career alongside Balanchine’s. Ulbricht danced a little-known solo, “A Suite of Dances,” which was choreographed in 1994 for Mikhail Baryshnikov, set to four movements from Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello. He’ll bring the dance to Santa Fe, on the second of two evenings which will each feature different ballets.

“Baryshnikov was 42 when he asked Robbins to choreograph something for him. Robbins was in a bit of a slump, and this piece helped re-engage him to make work. I joined the company two years after Robbins passed away (in 1998). I’m 34 now, and I don’t think I would have had the maturity, the artistry to dance this piece until now. It’s a journey piece, not a ‘wow’ piece. It’s internal. That’s a trademark of many Robbins pieces. Mischa helped coach me and Joaquin da Luz, (who alternated in the role during the Festival). “His generosity was amazing. It’s an endurance contest—15 minutes of artistry and athleticism. Dancing to both Robbins and Bach is very special.”

This year, Ulbricht is bringing 14 dancers, a pianist and a cellist out with him from New York. In addition to the Robbins solo, the “Stars” will also present, “In the Night,” a 1970 Robbins ballet set to nocturnes of Frédéric Chopin. Dancing at the Lensic will be NYCB members Teresa Reichlen, Ask La Cour, Sterling Hyltin, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Indiana Woodward, Abi Stafford, Tyler Angle, and Alex Knight. Skylar Brandt, from American Ballet Theater, Joseph Gatti, a ballet competition Gold Medalist, Danielle Diniz, a musical theater performer, and two ballroom dance pros, Antonina Skobina and Denys Drozdyuk, will also perform during the engagement. As usual, the program is a bit of a hodgepodge, featuring everything from a virtuosic duet from “Le Corsaire,” to a collaboration between Ulbricht, Gatti and Drozdyuk called, “Tres Hombres,” set to music by Astor Piazzolla.

“My goal every year is to bring Santa Fe the best of the best,” Ulbricht said. “We come to entertain and to educate.” After their performance in Santa Fe, “Stars” (with different casting and programs) will be heading to Porto Portugal, the mainstage at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Western Massachusetts, and then to Havana, Cuba. “That’s what dancers do on their summer vacations,” he said. “Dance.”

Mr. Simpson has a BA in Journalism from the University of Southern California and worked as an advertising writer in Los Angeles before moving to New York to pursue a different passion: dance. He danced professionally in New York and Boston before founding a community-based modern dance company, Small City Dance Project, in Newburyport, MA. His fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He was a teaching fellow at Smith College, where he received his MFA in choreography. While living in the Bay Area for 15 years, he wrote about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle and other periodicals. In 2005, he was a NEA Fellow at the Dance Critics Institute, American Dance Festival. For culturevulture.net, he reviews dance, theatre and film. He moved to Santa Fe in October, 2008. He writes for "Pasatiempo," the Arts magazine of the "Santa Fe New Mexican."