For some reason in 2002, I decided to present an evening of solos, an odd decision since I was juggling two full-time jobs, one as a principal dancer with New York City Ballet and the other as a full-time faculty member at the School of American Ballet, teaching 13 classes a week. Kelly and I were raising three young children. Between diapers, instruction, and nightly performances, time was an issue. But I was also consumed by an artistic restlessness. Years of moonlighting at the Joyce Theater performing choreography by Molissa Fenley had whet my appetite for more and introduced me to the merits of an evening of extended solos.
So I called Albert Evans, Wendy Perron, and Molissa, asking them if they would consider creating solos for me in order to build an evening called Peter Boal: Solos. Albert was a fellow principal dancer at NYCB. He was a magnetic dancer with an enormous heart and a wicked and relentless sense of humor. He was loved by all. He was also the second Black principal dancer in the company’s long history, following Arthur Mitchell, and one of only a handful of Black choreographers to create on the company. Albert and I shared the stage, studio, and dressing room on many occasions. He was a dear friend. Without hesitation, he said yes.
Albert had enjoyed a recent success at City Ballet with Haiku, a work he created on six young talents to the music of John Cage. PNBers will know two of the six: Carla Körbes and Seth Orza. Completing the cast were Faye Arthurs, Aesha Ash, Stephan Hannah, and Sebastien Marcovici. Albert showed great promise as a dance maker, and I wanted not only to step into the studio with him in this new relationship, but also to offer an opportunity to show his talents to new audiences. The solo, titled One Body, like the music by composer John Kennedy, was an unabashed ode to beauty and a true pleasure to perform.
Fast forward to the summer of 2020, when COVID 19 wreaked havoc with planned programming for PNB’s season. I found myself forced back to the drawing board in search of solos and socially distanced selections to replace George Balanchine’s Jewels. I was also preoccupied with my own role as a programmer in perpetuating a system that disproportionally promotes the choreography of white males.
After mining PNB rep for solos, I wondered where else I might find works that would suit our dancers. A dusty VHS was pulled from my shelf and popped into an old VCR. Nothing. I passed it to our stage manager. Still nothing. This was my only copy of One Body and my memory was rusty. I could only recall one step! I called the Joyce to ask for an archival tape, but learned they had none. Victory Studios (on 15th) deserves a shout-out for salvaging the disintegrating reel and providing a flash drive of the entire program.
After an 18-year slumber, the solo was seen again, and Albert’s offering seemed deserving of a new audience at a time when beauty, sincerity, and reflection are more needed than ever. Knowing Albert’s life ended abruptly at age 51 makes this offering and the extension of his artistry all the more meaningful. Thank you, Albert, for this love letter and for all the joy you brought to me and to so many others. May your contribution live on.
Program note by Peter Boal.