Over the past year there's been a lot written about Columbia Ballet Collaborative, a classical ballet company based at Columbia University which produces performances featuring students as well as guest artists from around New York City. Not only does this give those who have grown up as performers a chance to continue their craft while they get a degree, but it allows a prime spot for up-and-coming choreographers to develop their talents.
I photographed the dress rehearsal of this year's performance (which took place this past weekend) and was thrilled to see my former NCSA classmate Emery LeCrone's fantastic piece, as well as choreography by New York City Ballet's Justin Peck (who performed with Tess Reichlen) and my former ABT coworker Monique Meunier (who showcased the incredible talents of City Ballet's Craig Hall). Here are a few photos!
I was 99% positive that my date was Glinda. With words like “big,” “pink,” and “train” being thrown around on the phone to describe an outfit, my mind came to the conclusion that it was either the good witch or some demonic Elle Woods. So you can imagine my surprise when I showed up at the State Theater for the New York City Ballet Gala to find my date, principal dancer Sterling Hyltin, not floating down from the heavens in a bubble, but standing, looking beautiful, in a simple pink chiffon Chanel dress.
By the time I arrived (shortly before the 7 o’ clock curtain) the blustery day had relieved us of its rain, but gusts of wind were still blasting in an effort to destroy the glamorous outfits of the night. Chiffon and wind don’t mix well, so we opted for a low-key entrance through the stage door instead of walking the red carpet with celebrities like Ethan Hawke, Bernadette Peters, and Lauren Bacall.
As we made our way up to the promenade, which had been decorated in the colors of a bumblebee, with large firework piñatas sculptures dangling above our heads, we began the true craft of the night: social interaction. Ballet events always end up being a real life six-degrees of separation game, and chances were that if I turned my head and didn’t know someone, Sterling did. Old classmates from NCSA, SAB or my college program (LEAP) wandered over to say hello and before we knew it, it was time for the Jerome Robbins Celebration to begin.
(Hanging out on the promenade with the bees.)
One of the best parts about watching a gala from the front of the house is that all of the dancers who aren’t performing are seated together. Bundled in the back of the orchestra behind the donors and celebrities, is where you’ll find the real critics/cheering squad. I was happy to be part of the crowd last night, sandwiched between Sterling and Gonzola Garcia, with my friends Erin Baiano, Julio Bragado-Young and David surrounding me. It was great to have so much love and support around me, because ballet only becomes harder for me to watch as the months progress.
Even though I’m taking barre again, it’s a long way from the peak shape I was in a year ago. Watching all of my childhood friends up on stage last night was difficult, but I was proud of them nonetheless. Each section of The Four Seasons (which would be a great addition to the ABT rep) brought a new friendly face, and I am always amazed to see how much they have grown since our days at SAB.
Sara Mearns phrased her “Spring” solo exquisitely, finding ways to stretch out the music that made it seem as pliable as her body. The word “luscious” has been used to describe her too many times to count, but there’s a reason…it’s true. In addition to Mearns, Ashley Bouder, Adrian Danchig-Warig, and Tyler Angle (in a debut as “Summer”) danced with confidence and technical prowess that was just developing when we were students together.
Closing the program was Robbins’ famous “West Side Story Suite,” which I had never seen before. The cast all danced beautifully (and I was especially proud of Robbie Fairchild and Gina Pazcoguin in their roles as Tony and Anita, respectively) but I wasn’t as crazy about the ballet as I expected to be. There’s no denying that Robbins’ way of blending the street movement of the gangs with classical technique is genius, and his musicality always manages to have a hint of surprise. But as a condensed ballet I found that the story didn’t make much of an impact. There’s little development of the relationship between Tony and Maria (who hardly appears in the ballet at all) so the emotional pull of a song like “Somewhere” is lessened. As the curtain came down it made me eager to see the full-scale Broadway revival next year.
(Erin and I (with firework growing out of my hair) glam in front of the lens for a change.)
Dancers began to filter out of the theater and I took a deep breath to prepare for the gala dinner that was only minutes away. It had been a while since I sat at a table full of donors, so when Sterling and I arrived at ours to see that we were separated, I felt my Epstein brain give a desperate gasp; I wouldn’t be able to sit back and let Sterling be the center of attention at the table, I’d have to hold my own. What followed was a pleasant dinner highlighted by a lively debate (translated by Sterling) between an older man and himself about why ABT “has been so bad in the past two years.”
Once I had devoured enough cherry pie to keep my mouth shut during his "debate," I excused myself and proceeded to say hello to all of my friends who were scattered about the promenade. Everyone seemed both excited and terrified at the demanding schedule the Robbins Celebration entails, and it wasn’t long before most of the dancers started to excuse themselves from the festivities in order to get some much needed sleep. I made my way out the stage door, gift bag in hand, and hailed a cab to whisk me away from the “dance belt” and back downtown. Emotions swelled through me as the night ended, but I took comfort in knowing that I had the most beautiful date of the evening… who only resembled Glinda in spirit.
(Two lovely ladies: Gina and Erin.)
(Showing off the new outfits.)
(She had to get photographed by the press since we missed the red carpet.)