Dance Festival: Program Notes

By Joseph Carmen

The Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival, under the artistic direction of New York City Ballet principal dancer Tyler Angle for the last two seasons, has continually striven to present a brilliant showcase that features rich choreography, live music and dynamic programming. This year marks the eighth annual festival, which runs from July 20-25. The festivities culminate with performances on July 24-25 of six ballets with a cast of 15 dancers from NYCB, American Ballet Theatre and Miami City Ballet; four string players; two pianists; and a countertenor.

As artistic director, Mr. Angle always looks for innovation, which he found in the choreographic work of New York City Ballet dancer Troy Schumacher. Having created the ballet Clearing Dawn for New York City Ballet in 2014, Mr. Schumacher also serves as the director and resident choreographer of his own troupe, Ballet Collective. In 2012 Mr. Schumacher choreographed an interactive duet for New York City Ballet principal dancer Jared Angle and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo set to Antonio Vivaldi’s cantata Qual per Ignoto Calle. Commissioned by Salon/Sanctuary Concerts and originally shown at The Players club in Manhattan, the ballet with the same title was accompanied by solo harpsichord and performed for the audience in the round. “When we put it on (the proscenium) stage in Nantucket, it will gain the perspective the audience needed originally, but won’t lose the intimacy of the original setting,” says Angle. “Both performers are equal players, with Anthony singing and Jared dancing.”

In this moving duet, the choreography evokes warmth and solace as Jared Angle lifts and encircles Mr. Costanzo in Pietà-like embraces. For the Nantucket performances of Qual per Ignoto Calle, an arrangement for harpsichord and cello will be used. The Italian lyrics compare the ardent lover to a pilgrim traveling an unfamiliar path at night. As his fears set in, he prays for the breaking of dawn. In the second stanza of the cantata, the delight of daylight emerges: “So, too, if the adorable eyes of my beloved turn once more to me and become less hostile and unyielding, happy, calm full of love and rejoicing, forgetting all my tears, I will bless my former suffering.”

Justin Peck, 27-year-old soloist and resident choreographer for New York City Ballet, has, with flash-flood speed, become one of the world’s top five most sought-after ballet choreographers. Mr. Peck will be represented on the Nantucket program by two pas de deux, one of which is a premiere. For New York City Ballet in 2012, Mr. Peck choreographed Year of the Rabbit, set to a classical orchestration of composer Sufjan Stevens’ 2002 electronica album Enjoy Your Rabbit, which references the Chinese zodiac. Although Mr. Peck’s ballets are known for their ingenious use of the corps de ballet as a prime player in the architecture of his pieces, one pas de deux emerges alone, set to Mr. Stevens’ The Year of Our Lord. “It is a very meditative, spiritual pas de deux,” says Angle. The duet, to be danced by Patricia Delgado and Renan Cerdeiro from Miami City Ballet, begins with the dancers moving separately, then eventually gravitating to a partnership in which the ballerina relies on her partner for support in a sort of whispered dance dialogue.

Mr. Peck will again draw on Mr. Stevens’ score–an excerpt titled Year of the Rat–for his new pas deux, also danced by Ms. Delgado and Mr. Cerdeiro. In contrast to the quiet duet, says Mr. Angle, “I expect the paradigm will shift quickly.” The intermission will be bookended by the two Peck works, with a musical excerpt from Year of the Rooster, followed by Year of Our Lord concluding the first half. The second half will begin with Year of the Rat.

Jerome Robbins was fascinated by the delicious rhythms of Giuseppi Verdi’s opera ballet music (George Balanchine once claimed that all of Verdi’s operas could be danced “from beginning to end”). In 1979, Mr. Robbins decided to devise a work from the composer’s ballet music for I Vespri Siciliani and to use the composer’s original intention for the scènes de ballet. “Verdi’s notes suggest such notions as ballerinas warming themselves in Winter by dancing, Spring bringing on warm breezes, indolent Summer ladies being surprised by an Autumnal faun, etc.,” wrote Mr. Robbins. The “Spring” section from the work, says Mr. Angle, “is a beautiful stand-alone ballet.” He also likes that the piece features a corps de ballet of four men, whose athletic moves combine artistry and whimsy. The brisk, airborne central duet of “Spring” feels like a refreshing breeze and will feature New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns, who is making her Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival debut, with Tyler Angle as her partner.

Alexei Ratmanksy, American Ballet Theatre’s artist in residence, always lends a bit of a twist to his choreographic offerings. So it’s no surprise that he turns Ravel’s Boléro inside out to emphasize the energy, rather than the mere seduction of the score. One of his earliest ballets–it was created for the International Ballet of Copenhagen in 2001–Boléro nonetheless reveals Ratmansky’s alert theatrical sensibility. The dancers display numbers, ranging from 1-6, attached to their sporty costumes. From the get-go, there is an awareness of competition as each of the three men and three women accelerate through their vibrantly individual solos. Still, the emphasis on the ensemble as a fiery, vital entity is evident as the momentum builds towards a crashing crescendo. The cast comprises what Mr. Angle calls “a young pack of wolves from ABT”: Patrick Frenette, Gabe Stone Shayer, Sterling Baca, Christine Shevchenko, Skylar Brandt and April Giangeruso.

The program will also include a familiar segment: the uber-classical “White Swan” pas de deux from Swan Lake with Ms. Mearns and Jared Angle. ”Sara’s known for this as her breakout role,” says Mr. Angle, referring to the time that Ms. Mearns debuted as the Swan Queen with New York City Ballet at age 19. This excerpt from Swan Lake, danced to Tchaikovsky’s iconic score with choreography based on Marius Petipa’s original version, details the first intimate lakeside encounter between Odette and Prince Siegfried. The two dancers performed as guest artists in Swan Lake with Teatro dell’Opera di Roma in 2008 and were coached by the legendary Italian ballerina Carla Fracci. “She worked with them extensively on the story and the characterization,” says Mr. Angle. “They spoke fondly about how it was a central learning experience to work with a ballerina like that on a role like this.”

This year, the Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival will also include screenings of two dance documentaries: Ric Burns’ American Ballet Theatre: A History and Jody Lee Lipes’ Ballet 422, which focuses on Mr. Peck’s rehearsal process in the studio.

Victoria Tennant will speak about her book that details the career of her famous mother, titled Irina Baranova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. Additionally there is a panel discussion on the creative process with artists from the festival; a lecture/demonstration with Mr. Angle; youth master classes; and a children’s program.

“I try to bring a little of the classical music world’s rigor of programming into our field,” says Mr. Angle of the Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival. “It can be done. You can have programs of substance that are put together in smaller settings.”

Joseph Carman is a contributing editor to Dance Magazine and the author of Round About the Ballet (Limelight Editions, 2004).