Picture this: It’s the 1940s, and Mary Sharp Cronson stands daydreaming at the School of American Ballet when she spots Vera Zorina out the window. Entranced by the glitz and glamour of George Balanchine’s second wife—who doubles as a ballerina and Hollywood starlet—an adolescent Cronson falls in love with the beauty and sensationalized identity of Balanchine’s New York City Ballet.
By the ’70s, all of Cronson’s friends were mesmerized by City Ballet and its prima ballerinas, and though she had hung up her own ballet flats, she was still fascinated by dance as a venue for artistic expression. One day in the early ’80s, she approached the Guggenheim Museum about hosting a show at its facilities.
Now, 30 years after its first iteration, “Works & Process” has become an integral component of the Guggenheim, defining the museum as one of the first to host live performances for visitors.
“Works & Process” productions take place in the Peter B. Lewis Theater, which the museum’s architect, Frank Lloyd Wright designed with intimacy and closeness in mind. With only 285 seats, the involved space is meant to invite audience members into the creation and development of art. Over an hour and 20 minutes, choreographers, playwrights, composers, fashion designers, and directors share and discuss their works, allowing their fans an inside look into what goes on in the studio.
“Everyone now wants to go behind the scenes, and that’s what we provide,” Duke Dang, General Manager of “Works & Process,” said.
To celebrate its 30th anniversary, “Works & Process” organizers have pulled together a spring season with everything from Marius Petipa and his ballet classics to Justin Peck, New York City Ballet’s young blood who’s bringing novelty and innovation to the company through his choreography.
“We have not ruled anything out except axe-murderers,” Cronson said, smiling coyly.
The bill begins on Jan. 27 with a presentation on nonprofit 2wice’s new iPad app, “Dot Dot Dot,” which allows users to manipulate dancer and choreographer Tom Gold as he interacts with dots and columns around him.
According to Gold, the app is a means “to make people not scared of classical dance.”
“As a choreographer, it’s my job to not alienate the audience, but to embrace them,” Gold said.
Though Gold’s movement is orchestrated to music, he performed in silence on set. “2wice: Dancing from Page to Stage to Screen” will be the first time he meets the composer of “Dot Dot Dot,” Charles Yang. In addition to discussing the production of the app, Yang and Gold will take part in an improvisation, where both dancer and musician will be motivated by each other’s actions to form a reaction.
“In a situation like this, you just have to throw it up and go with it,” Gold said cheerfully.
While “2wice: Dancing from Page to Stage to Screen” concentrates on dance’s role in the technological age, Emery LeCrone’s event on March 23 and 24, “Bach Interpreted,” will invoke the Baroque Period to explore J.S. Bach’s “Partita No. 2 in C Minor” with two different takes on the music. LeCrone, who was classically trained at the School of American Ballet and the North Carolina School of the Arts, also understands contemporary line and has choreographed pieces for contemporary ballet companies—including Columbia Ballet Collaborative, where she was the resident choreographer for five years. Therefore, she has the background to realize a project that implements both techniques, and to pull out different moods and tones within Bach’s score.
LeCrone is “very young and very ... representative of a new generation of younger dance-makers that’s coming up,” dancer Kaitlyn Gilliland, GS ’15, said. “She’s really stretching herself to try to find her voice.”
For the more traditional, balletic rendition, LeCrone is working with New York City Ballet’s Tyler Angle and Teresa Reichlen—who performed the first of six movements of “Partita No. 2 in C Minor” at a dance competition gala last spring—and American Ballet Theatre’s Stella Abrera and Alexandre Hammoudi. However, LeCrone chose to work with her own veterans for her contemporary version, including Columbia students Gilliland, Richard Isaac, GS ’14, SIPA ’15, and Kimi Nikaidoh, GS ’16.
“I’m really making works for dancers who are very different,” LeCrone said.
“You get to be a part of putting someone else’s movement as entirely as you can on and in your own body, but you also get to be a part of steering movement,” Nikaidoh, a neuroscience major who freelances in her spare time, said.
Unlike most of the other programs on the “Works & Process” bill, LeCrone’s work is designed specifically for the Guggenheim and will be performed in its completed, polished state. Also distinct to LeCrone’s situation is the time Cronson and her associates have afforded her.
“It’s just an educational opportunity that you don’t usually get,” LeCrone said. “I’ve been working on this project for a year and a half, almost.”
Yigal Azrouël specifically designed black and white costumes for “Bach Interpreted” that are based on his Fall 2013 collection. The costumes evoke the Guggenheim’s modern architecture and compliment the aesthetic of each of LeCrone’s interpretations.
Though both pieces are staged to the same music, LeCrone mentioned that she intends for the pianist, Vassily Primikov, to alter his accompaniment depending on the delivery. As the theater sold out in eight hours, the Guggenheim will be live-streaming the production on its website.
Though “Works & Process” does commission at least one new work per season, most of its calendar is comprised of less complete presentations that either preview an upcoming show at one of the city’s major theaters or shed light on the performing arts as a subject of study. On Feb. 23 and 24, the Pacific Northwest Ballet will accomplish the latter when it visits New York from Seattle to present excerpts from Petipa’s “La Bayadère,” “Le Roi Candaule,” and “Le Corsaire” based on the choreographer’s notations. Though the repertoire dates to the 19th century, Doug Fullington is giving it new legs by re-examining Petipa’s intentions after centuries of performances “based on” the original.
The story ballets will be danced to live violin music, since two violinists accompanied rehearsals—instead of a pianist or a recording—during Petipa’s lifetime. According to the “Works & Process” press release, as a dance historian, Fullington is bent on giving the “Works & Process” audience a taste of classical ballet at its roots and respecting Petipa’s wishes for his choreography that has been reworked for centuries by companies around the world. Because tickets are nearly sold out for both shows, Cronson and her assistants have decided to also live-stream them online so that more arts enthusiasts can have access to the material.
The rest of the season is devoted to illuminating the artistic process in its many stages. On March 9 and 10, the Martha Graham Dance Company is bringing choreographer Nacho Duato’s newest piece to the Guggenheim. Though Duato is primarily known for his contemporary ballets, according to the Martha Graham Dance Company’s Principal Tadej Brdnik, the Spaniard enjoys tapping into another part of his imagination to stage works with the modern dance troupe, which is named after one of his choreographic inspirations. Last year, he worked with the ensemble for the first time to set “Rust,” which featured five men, including Brdnik.
“What is so different about our company [is that it] really taps into emotional content that people sometimes want to forget,” Brdnik said. Duato “is also attracted to the beautiful things that we deem not negative, but sad.”
Brdnik reported that the new repertoire will be divided into two movements and, unlike “Rust,” will include women as well as men—which Brdnik noted has piqued the female dancers’ excitement.
Though the Martha Graham Dance Company will premiere Duato’s choreography in its 2014 stint at City Center in late March, Duato will still be making finishing touches when excerpts are revealed during “Works & Process.”
The audience is “let in at a time when creative juices are still going,” Brdnik said. “Nothing’s settled yet.”
On March 12, Wayne McGregor and his dancers will give aficionados a glimpse of “Atomos” before its American premiere. Then, after LeCrone’s event, Cronson’s beloved New York City Ballet will grace the Peter B. Lewis Theater on April 13 and 14 to share excerpts of Peck’s new collaboration with composer Sufjan Stevens.
Peck staged his choreographic debut, “A Teacup Plunge,” with Columbia Ballet Collaborative in 2009. Though his artistic tendencies derive from his Balanchine training and familiarity with the New York City Ballet repertoire, his motion is most inspired by Stevens’ rhythms. For Peck, choreographing “is an excuse to listen to and decipher music.”
In 2014, “Works & Process” is dance-heavy, but other performing arts genres will also make an appearance. Two new operas, Huang Ruo’s “Dr. Sun Yat-Sen” and Tobias Picker’s “An American Tragedy,” will whet the appetites of lovers of libretto. And in May, Playwrights Horizons will wrap up the “Works & Process” spring season with “Fly By Night,” a musical by writers Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick, and Kimberly Rosenstock that is premiering in New York City after runs in Palo Alto and Dallas.
“Fly By Night” is the story of two Midwestern sisters who move to New York and fall into a love triangle with a sandwich maker whose true passion is indie rock. Set in 1965, the romance culminates in the NYC blackout.
“The piece itself is a beautifully written, funny, well-observed slice of life that has a little bit of magical realism to it,” Eric Winick, Playwrights Horizons’ director of marketing for “Fly By Night,” said.
Thanks to its progressivism and diversity, “Works & Process” is bringing the performing arts into the 21st century while still honoring the masters of performance. When asked why she founded “Works & Process,” Cronson exclaimed, “Oh, I’m a child of the New York streets!” Now, 30 years later, she’s still giving audiences a bite of her Big Apple—a city filled with brilliance if you take the time to find it.
“Works & Process” runs through May 2 with various performances beginning Jan. 27. Information and tickets can be found on the Guggenheim website.