At McCarter Theatre last fall, a group of principal dancers from the New York City Ballet took part in a lecture demonstration about the works of choreographer George Balanchine. Presented in conjunction with a course being taught at Princeton University by former City Ballet member Heather Watts, the program was a revelation to audience members. The celebrated dancers — among the finest on stages today — wore practice clothes to perform excerpts from several ballets, giving audience members a rare, behind-the-scenes glimpse into their world.
Many of those same dancers will return to McCarter on Tuesday, April 24, when New York City Ballet MOVES, a kind of farm team for the company, brings a program of works by Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Christopher Wheeldon, and Peter Martins to the Matthews Theatre stage. Tiler Peck, Daniel Ulbricht, Wendy Whelan, and brother-and-sister Megan and Robert Fairchild, all of whom performed in the lecture demonstration, are among this stellar group. They are joined by Tyler Angle, Andrew Veyette, Sara Mearns, Amar Ramasar, Jonathan Stafford, and other well-known members of the company.
Peter Martins, who has led City Ballet since Balanchine died in 1983, came up with the idea for MOVES a few years ago. “It was a vision of Peter’s,” says Jean-Pierre Frohlich, MOVES’ Artistic Administrator/Director and a former principal dancer with City Ballet. “He always wanted to have a small group to be able to tour to venues that normally the company as a whole does not visit. I think it was also a way to get our name out there, giving people a professional company with wonderful ballets. Basically, it’s to get people to get to know New York City Ballet.”
MOVES’ first tour was to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “It was a very big success,” recounts Mr. Frohlich. “The following year we went to the Vail Dance Festival in Colorado, and then back to Jackson Hole, where quite a few people from other institutions came to see us, liked us, and asked us to come to them.”
What followed were engagements in Detroit, Minneapolis, St. Louis, California, and elsewhere, in addition to Princeton. The company will return to Vail this summer, and some European theaters are interested in presenting them.
City Ballet MOVES dances mostly small-scale ballets that require little scenery, but almost always to live music. “Due to our orchestra union contract, we have to perform to live music and cannot use tapes unless the ballet being presented was premiered without live music,” Mr. Frohlich says. “So some of the ballets will have a piano accompanist, or a pianist and violinist, or more. Most of the dancers are principals with the main company, though this time we’re bringing some members of the corps de ballet as well.”
On Tuesday’s program are Balanchine’s Duo Concertant, which debuted at the 1972 Stravinsky Festival; Robbins’ In the Night, danced to piano music by Chopin; Wheeldon’s Polyphonia,” to Ligeti; and Martins’ A Fool for You, to songs by Ray Charles and others (taped). Mr. Frohlich says a new piece is being created for the company by City Ballet dancer Justin Peck. It will premier in Vail this summer.
City Ballet’s regular schedule includes long engagements at Lincoln Center each winter and spring, followed by summer seasons in Saratoga Springs and touring to various parts of the globe. Adding extra work with MOVES might be considered a burden, but Mr. Frohlich says it is quite the opposite.
“The dancers love it,” he says. “A lot of the dancers who haven’t gotten to participate yet are envious of those who have. We try to rotate the group, because this is extra work for them, beyond the guaranteed work week. But they are happy to participate, because it’s more relaxed. They get to experience each other more, and become very good friends. And for the younger dancers in the corps, its especially exciting, because they might get an opportunity to do a role they wouldn’t get the chance to do otherwise.”