How can ballet companies stay relevant today? It’s a question that’s been on our minds here at Dance Magazine a lot lately. We’ve explored New York City Ballet’s attempts to lure in young audiences, the ballet world’s problematic reliance on an exclusive “boy’s club” of choreographers, the ways ballet dancers are getting closer to their fans and more. But above trendy advertising, big-name seat sellers and accessible stars, the simplest way companies can stay connected to their audiences is to listen to them. With the announcement of its 2016-2017 season last week, NYCB seems to have taken this idea to heart—they’ve included long-overdue commissions from women, works by three company members and evenings devoted to audience favorites like Justin Peck and Alexei Ratmansky.
Of the programs announced for next year, the one making headlines includes commissions by two women—NYCB principal dancer Lauren Lovette and prolific choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. It has been five years since the company has commissioned a woman, and in those five years few works by women have been revived. These commissions were desperately needed, especially after last fall’s season of “risk-taking” commissions by young, inexperienced white men, which angered fans on social media. Though it required a round of Internet-shaming, NYCB listened to its audience and commissioned two promising women choreographers.
The choice to include Lovette points to another theme of the new season—the fostering of in-house talent. The company will also commission a ballet by corps member Peter Walker. Both Walker and Lovette have participated in NYCB’s New York Choreographic Insititute, and will be making their first piece for a major company. Regardless of whether they will find success comparable to resident choreographer and soloist Justin Peck’s skyrocketing career, it’s nice to know that the company cares about the creative voices of its dancers—especially its women and corps de ballet members. And for audiences, there’s something thrilling about seeing the creative work of a dancer you’ve admired onstage.
As for Peck, not only will he have the opportunity to make four new ballets for the company, but he’ll have a whole program devoted to his work. Single-choreographer programs are usually reserved for Balanchine and Robbins at NYCB, so this is quite an honor for Peck, and something audiences and critics have been requesting for several seasons now. Ratmansky, another critical favorite, will also have a program all his own, as will Christopher Wheeldon.
Of course, we’ll see heavy doses of Balanchine and Robbins, as usual—some of my favorite revivals will include Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto, recently revived with exciting energy by Pacific Northwest Ballet on their New York tour, and Allegro Brillante. But what I’ll look forward to most is seeing what happens when a company takes feedback from its audience, and responds with refreshing changes.