2017 Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival: Program Notes


by Joseph Carman


A decade ago, the first Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival was born.

In the ensuing years, the festival has grown; this season it offers free events over a five day period, beginning on July 24 and culminating in a repertory program of stellar ballets on July 28 and 29. This year’s roster of dancers includes ballerinas and male stars from New York City Ballet, Boston Ballet and Miami City Ballet.

Part of what makes the Nantucket festival so unique is its emphasis on spotlighting original and commissioned choreography. New York City Ballet principal dancer Tyler Angle, now in his 5th year of the festival’s artistic directorship (in 2013 he served as associate artistic director to director Benjamin Millepied), says, “We’ve really been focused on new choreography. I think the audience in Nantucket always gives really great feedback on the pieces that the festival has commissioned and enjoys seeing the artists work during the course of the week.”

Justin Peck is emblematic of the artists Angle has engaged for the festival. Currently New York City Ballet’s Resident Choreographer, Peck has proven his skills as one of a handful of elite dancemakers in the ballet world. His dazzling rise is all the more remarkable in that he only began choreographing eight years ago, at age 21. As an homage to the past premieres of the Nantucket Festival, Angle has again included Peck’s Osso Duet, set to American singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens’ electronica album Enjoy Your Rabbit, which references the Chinese zodiac.

In 2012, Peck premiered a ballet for New York City Ballet titled Year of the Rabbit that reflects the pulsating rhythms of Stevens’ score. Within the ballet is a pas de deux, choreographed to Stevens’ Year of the Lord, which was excerpted as Osso Duet. In 2015, Peck premiered the companion piece, a second Osso Duet, set to Year of the Rat, which will be performed again this summer for the Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival.

The 10th anniversary festival also takes us full circle via Peck’s career by showcasing his first work for New York City Ballet. Set to Philip Glass’s Four Movements for Two Pianos, In Creases demonstrates how the velocity of the composer’s score is amplified via the eight dancers and two pianists. The work highlights Peck’s ingenious way of creating geometric shapes and patterns, punctuated with solos and images that emerge from and disappear into the waves of choreography.

In curating this festival, Angle wanted to include choreographers and ballets that the festival audience hadn’t seen. Bach’s Cello Suites, set to Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, is part of a larger ballet that the Finnish contemporary choreographer Jorma Elo edited to make a suite of dances for Boston Ballet dancers Misa Kuranaga and Patrick Yocum. When Angle told Elo he wanted a ballet of his for the festival, Jorma suggested this duet, a study in lyrical fluidity, rich emotionality and striking intimacy. “I thought it would be a good foil for some other pieces which are more indie and dark,” says Angle. “I wanted to have something very bright and structured and I thought this would be great.”

Inhabiting a different end of the spectrum are excerpts from master choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s Five Movements, Three Repeats, performed to Max Richter’s composition, The Twins. (This iteration for the festival includes all the movements but none of the repeats). In Wheeldon’s ballet, a quartet of dancers explores time and space through the idiomatic languages of ballet and contemporary dance. “This is an excellent piece of choreography,” says Angle, about the ballet that even New York audiences have had few opportunities to see. One of the duets in the piece was originally made for former Martha Graham Dance Company star Fang-Yi Sheu and Craig Hall of New York City Ballet. “It is the coming together of two very distinct worlds: his classical background and her extremely modern background,” says Angle. “They mesh in such a wonderful way.” (NYCB soloist Georgina Pazcoguin will dance Sheu’s role at the festival.)

Through a violinist friend, Angle was introduced to the work of the composer Rachel Grimes. WIRE magazine hailed Grimes as “one of American independent music’s few truly inspired technicians.” Angle describes her as a “pioneer of this kind of indie-neoclassic sound in a chamber group” and was so impressed by her work that he suggested to Fang-Yi Sheu that she create a piece to one of Grimes’ compositions, Music for Egon Schiele. The music references the artist Schiele, a renowned 20th century Austrian figurative painter and protégé of Gustav Klimt. She happily agreed to create a dance for four dancers.

In an interesting twist, Sheu, because of her commitments at home, choreographed her piece in her native Taiwan. “We’re rehearsing it though internet exchanges, which is sort of a fascinating postmodern way to work at all,” says Angle. The Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival will present the premiere of this work, also titled Music for Egon Schiele, on this summer’s program.

The choreographer William Forsythe has indisputably been heralded as one of the ballet world’s most influential choreographers in the last two decades of the 20th century and well into the current millennium. If imitation is indeed the most sincere form of flattery, then all the choreographers who have copied and mimicked Forsythe’s style have shown their unabashed admiration.

Angle had wanted Forsythe to create a ballet especially for the festival—and that may still happen in the future—but, due to time constraints, five dancers from Boston Ballet will perform one of Forsythe’s grandest, most exciting works, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. Set to the final movement of Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C Major, the ballet, which premiered at Ballett Frankfurt in 1996, elicits whirlwind ribbons of pyrotechnical dancing at breakneck speed, challenging even to the most virtuoso dancers. Renowned for its flying saucer-style tutus for the ballerinas, the ballet showcases five dancers as they move in Forsythe’s characteristically wondrous hyperphysical, hypermobile style.

As in past festivals, Angle has insisted upon sophisticated music choices and the use of live music whenever possible. The only exceptions this season are a track from Five Movements, Three Repeats and the Schubert symphony, whose orchestral reduction, minus the woodwinds and the tympani, Angle felt wouldn’t retain the intended power.

“You can have such intellectual rigor and so many things can go into a chamber music concert that I feel are seldom put into a dance concert,” says Angle.  “People think they have to see 32 fouettes for the audience to leave sated. I really don’t think that’s the case when you have excellent pieces of art done by incredible artists.” When the audience leaves the theater, he says, “We want to remind people of the excellent work the Nantucket Atheneum Library has helped to put forth in the world and to focus on continuing that tradition.”


Joseph Carman has been a contributing editor at Dance magazine for over 20 years. He has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Playbill, the Advocate and the Village Voice, among other publications.