About this time every year, we start to hear from dozens of dancers about their interest in auditioning for PNB. Dozens can become hundreds. They come from good schools and established companies. Along with head shots and resumes, most send well-written messages complimenting aspects of PNB and referencing the tremendous range of our repertoire as a key factor in their decision to reach out. They cite Alejandro Cerrudo, David Dawson, Jessica Lang, Justin Peck, and Crystal Pite. Many are fledgling choreographers themselves and know about the opportunities PNB affords students and professionals. Dancers hunger for these chances to enter the studio with a dance maker and share the journey of creation. The possibilities are infinite and the combination of fresh thinking and uncharted territory is thrilling.
Certain companies are regarded as hotbeds of choreographic innovation. One of those companies is Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. A pioneering presenter of work by Jiri Kylian, Twyla Tharp, and Nacho Duato, the troupe has recently been the base for resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. Several years ago Hubbard Street artistic director Glenn Edgerton called with a recommendation, suggesting I have a look at the choreography of Robyn Mineko Williams. I looked, I liked, I looked some more, flying to Grand Rapids, Michigan, (really cold) to see works by Robyn and by fellow Hubbard Street alum Penny Saunders. Both were intriguing. I hope to present Penny’s work soon, but I chose to start with Robyn. Her work seemed more experimental, like she was finding her way. The bodies were testing music, interaction, space, and impact. I thought of how Robyn might be in the studio with our dancers and how they might aid in the process. What I pictured or hoped for was not unlike what I witnessed last August when Robyn played the alluring music of Kyle Vegter and began to sketch movement with our dancers. There was direction from Robyn, but the process felt shared, like a discovery of something previously undefined. Artists, stories, experimentation, and studio became fertile ground.
On writing these notes, I haven’t seen Matt Neenan work with our dancers. He brings more experience to the studio and stage than Robyn, with many works created for Pennsylvania Ballet, his own BalletX, and a wide variety of companies and schools, including New York City Ballet and the Juilliard School. He’s chosen the music of Oliver Davis, which is nothing less than ear candy. All three composers on this program are young, and all three have a timeless and fresh approach to composition. I encourage you to dig into the bios of all the artists involved in these works. Some are veterans, like lighting designers Rico Chiarelli and Brandon Stirling Baker and costume designers Mark Zappone and Branimira Ivanova, while others like Alicia Walter are just starting to make their contributions known.
Justin Peck has been creating ballets for 11 years, starting right after attending a PNB School Summer Course as a teenager. Now 31, he’s everywhere as resident choreographer, soloist dancer, and part of the interim team directing NYCB. He’s also choreographing West Side Story, a remake of the original film directed by Steven Spielberg. In the Countenance of Kings, set to the groundbreaking sounds of Sufjan Stevens’ score, is a fluid and joyous work. It’s also our third by the choreographer and you’d be correct in thinking there will be more. Justin, Matt, and Robyn are all in our studios for this rep, adding the insight and inspiration only a choreographer can give.
Reps like these are how we contribute to the future of ballet. Those dancers who long for a job at PNB are correct: we have the right mix of rep, with classics like The Sleeping Beauty, Agon, and The Moor’s Pavane alongside the latest from these three innovators. Help PNB play a role in the future of dance by leaning into a program like this—talk about it, learn, listen, reflect, and share. It’s all happening here. Thanks for being a part of it.