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The Joyce's summer season gives women their due
Just when the ballet season has entered its one extended lull of the year, the Joyce Theater is coming to the rescue. Through August 16, its Ballet Festival will offer six varied and adventurous companies, giving each of them two evenings to showcase their repertories and dancers.
For dance fans, the lineup provides a chance to discover some of the fresher, younger choreographic voices working in the classical ballet idiom. And while there's no stated agenda, the slate refreshingly includes two full programs of choreography by women (Emery LeCrone Dance and Amy Seiwert's Imagery), plus additional works by women on the programs of the Ashley Bouder Project and Chamber Dance Project.
LeCrone is just 28 but has already been choreographing for nearly a decade, carving out what could be seen as the quintessential freelance career. Her sophisticated works have often been seen in New York at venues ranging from the Guggenheim's Works & Process series (where she's been presented twice) to the major annual performances by the Juilliard, Barnard, and Marymount dance programs. She's also been commissioned by ballet troupes in Colorado, Oregon, North Carolina, and St. Louis, and she has participated in the New York Choreographic Institute, an ongoing program (affiliated with New York City Ballet) that nurtures new choreography.
LeCrone, whose "day job" is dancing in Metropolitan Opera productions, began to choreograph when, as a member of North Carolina Dance Theatre's second company, she found herself with time on her hands in the studio. As the tallest woman, she sometimes did not get to dance the corps roles with the main company.
"So to keep myself busy, I started making solos," she says. Her artistic director soon noticed and included one of her solos on a touring gig. Then she was commissioned to create a ballet for three couples that became a mainstay of the rep. "We toured it to elementary schools across North Carolina. I think we performed it 107 times!"
LeCrone made the move to New York in 2007, mainly focused on her performing career. However, a couple of fledgling ensembles with which she danced – New Chamber Ballet and Columbia Ballet Collaborative – soon provided opportunities to choreograph as well; each made her its resident choreographer.
"I think I instantly knew, when I started choreographing, that it involves a different mental approach than dancing," LeCrone says. "For me, dancing was always about turning the brain off, in a sense – not thinking, just doing. Choreography is architectural, mathematical, and sculptural; it's very crafted and very specific – to me at least – in the way you direct. You're directing, as opposed to reacting. I find it's much more engaging and fulfilling, over time.
LeCrone often works in a purely classical vein, but she has also made dances with a more contemporary approach. (For Barnard, she made a charming, resonant work set to 1950s popular songs.) As she observes, "I've done a lot of more classical pieces when I've traveled to other companies. But here in New York during the past two years, I've done more contemporary work."
Her Joyce program, which runs August 13 and 14, features a premiere for six dancers to a compilation of contemporary scores. "I think the aesthetic of this new ballet is closest to how I would like to be working," she says. These six dancers, plus Kimi Nikaidoh, who performs a new solo Lasciatemi Qui Solo, form the nucleus of what she hopes will be a regular company. Also on her program is a new duet for music by Ludovico Einuadi and the substantial and formal quartet to Bach created for the Guggenheim, danced by American Ballet Theatre's Stella Abrera and Alexandre Hammoudi alongside NYCB's Sara Mearns and Russell Janzen. Music will be live for all but the premiere.
As a busy female choreographer in the ballet world, LeCrone says, "I'm aware that there haven't been quite as many opportunities. I don't really focus on that in my work, or let that come into the studio."
Ashley Bouder, the dynamic New York City Ballet principal, launched the Ashley Bouder Project in 2013 to commission new works in which she can perform and to bring ballet to smaller communities. She has a particular interest in presenting works by female choreographers.
"Women have dominated ballet on stage for generations, but it seems to be the men who have all the control off stage," she says. "I think as a woman in ballet, we are taught to be silent, whereas the men are pushed to the front of the room and celebrated because they are so rare. Men are encouraged to be individuals; women are encouraged to fall in line. How are you going to develop as a choreographer if you are told that your artistry must be identical to the girl in front of you?"
She discovered choreographer Adriana Pierce, who dances with Miami City Ballet, at a New York Choreographic Institute showing. "The way she described her piece and what I saw on stage made sense and was sublime, and after the showing I immediately went up to her and told her that I wanted a ballet from her." The result is Unsaid, a duet set to a Grieg string quartet that Bouder performs with NYCB dancer Preston Chamblee.
Bouder's program, running August 8 and 9, also includes a multimedia work by Andrea Schermoly called In Passing; and Joshua Beamish's Rouge et Noir, which pays homage to the Ballets Russes.
This will be the first time New Yorkers will encounter the Project, to which Bouder is clearly devoting the same all-out energy with which she performs. "I'd like to focus more on producing as well," she says. "I would say that creating collaborative opportunities for emerging artists around dance and then taking that work everywhere we can is our main mission."
Susan Reiter writes regularly about dance for TDF Stages
Top photo – featuring dancers from the Ashley Bouder Project – by Alexis Ziemsk. Photo of Emery LeCrone's dancers by Rosalie O'Connor.