Mellon grant will sustain operations of the first-ever center devoted to the study of ballet and its related disciplines until 2019
New York University announced today that it has received a $2 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the Center for Ballet and the Arts (CBA) to continue and expand its work as the world’s first research center devoted to the study and creation of ballet and its related arts and sciences. The new grant will cover CBA’s operating expenses through 2019.
The Center also announced its spring slate of Fellows, who include distinguished individuals from the fields of choreography, theater, literature, and academia.
“The Center for Ballet and the Arts is the first international institute at a major research university that focuses on the study of ballet,” said Eugene M. Tobin, senior program officer at the Mellon Foundation. “Since 2014, through its resident fellowship program, public events, and relationship with the broader arts and academic communities within the university, the Center has created a passionate community of artists and scholars committed to establishing ballet as a serious object of study. We are pleased to offer continued support as the Center for Ballet and the Arts builds upon the achievements of the first two years.”
Founded in fall 2014, the goal of CBA is threefold: to bring together the artistic and academic worlds around ballet in order to create new artistic and scholarly work; to establish ballet as a serious subject of study at a major research university; to bring ballet into the larger cultural conversation. In its two years of operation, the Center has established itself as a unique place where artists and scholars who are passionate about ballet can interact and collaborate, including the following initiatives:
• Fellowships: Since its founding, CBA has supported 50 fellows representing a variety of disciplines, from dancer Sascha Radetsky to singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega to puppeteer Basil Twist to philosopher David J. Velleman, as they engage in ballet-related projects. Fall 2014 fellow, filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, will debut a ballet conceived at CBA based on his acclaimed 1968 documentary, Titicut Follies, choreographed by James Sewell with music by Lenny Pickett at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts this spring.
• Events: CBA has sponsored dozens of events centered on the history and practice of ballet both at its NYU home and in partnership with other cultural institutions. Most recently, CBA hosted a public reading and discussion of Vaslav Nijinsky’s diaries in conjunction with performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, featuring Joan Acocella, Paul Giamatti, Jennifer Homans, Darryl Pinckney, and Larry Wolff.
• Concentrated Fellowships: CBA has also established independently funded fellowships promoting diversity in the creation of ballet and scholarship, including the Virginia B. Toulmin Fellowship for Women Choreographers to support the work of and broaden the opportunities available to women in the world of ballet and the Fellowship for the Study of Russia and Ballet, in partnership with the NYU Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia.
“The Center for Ballet and the Arts illustrates what happens when talented scholars and artists from a variety of disciplines come together with shared passion and commitment: the reinvigoration of an art form and wholly new, innovative scholarship,” said Katherine Fleming, NYU Provost. “We’re tremendously proud of the success CBA has had in two short years. Thanks to the generous support of the Mellon Foundation, we’re confident it will continue to bear fruit, benefiting the future of ballet as well as our cultural community here at NYU.”
“I’ve had the distinct privilege of watching CBA grow from a germ of an idea to a living, breathing community, and the level of support and participation we’ve enjoyed from people in various corners of New York’s cultural community I believe is confirmation that we’re addressing a critical cultural need,” said Jennifer Homans, Founder and Director of the Center for Ballet and the Arts. “I am so thankful to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for believing in our mission from the beginning and continuing to support us as we grow.”
The Bosie Dances
Seán Curran's career in dance and the performing arts spans 30 years and includes awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, the Jerome Robbins Foundation, the O’Donnell-Green Music and Dance Foundation, the New York Dance and Performance "Bessie" awards, and many others. His contemporary dance ensemble, Seán Curran Company, was founded in 1997 and has toured internationally to over 85 venues and presented New York City seasons at prestigious venues such as Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Joyce Theater, and Dance Theater Workshop. In addition to work for his own company, Curran is a sought-after choreographer and director for opera and theater and serves as the Chair of the Department of Dance at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
At CBA, Curran will work on a suite of dances inspired by the character Lord Alfred Douglas (nicknamed Bosie) from Theodore Morrison’s opera Oscar, set at the turn of the 20th century and based on the trials and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde.
Bodies of Becketts
Lisa Dwan is an Irish performer and director. Having originally trained in the UK as a ballet dancer, including dancing with Rudolf Nureyev in Coppelia in Dublin, she began acting professionally in her teens. She has worked extensively in theatre, film, and television, both internationally and in her native Ireland. She is currently staring as Anna in a new version of Leo Tolstoys Anna Karenina by Marina Carr at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Most recently Lisa completed a critically acclaimed world premiere of her one woman show of her selection of Beckett’s prose called ‘No’s Knife’ at London’s Old Vic Theatre. Earlier this year she performed opposite Matthew Broderick in Conor McPherson’s Shining City in New York and a workshop performance of Samuel Beckett's 'Text for Nothing’ at Lincoln Center's White Light festival. She has also toured all over the world to great audience and critical acclaim in her “Beckett Trilogy” of Not I/Footfalls/Rockaby. She was coached by Billie Whitelaw and has collaborated with Walter Asmus since 2012. Originating at the Royal Court Theatre in London, and immediately transferring to the West End, the “Beckett Trilogy” sold out a worldwide tour including the Barbican Centre, Southbank Centre, Brooklyn Academy of Music, NYU Skirball Center, Perth Festival, Paris, Belfast, Hong Kong, Boston, Galway, Belfast, Los Angeles, and Toronto. In addition to her film and theatre credits, Dwan writes, presents, lectures and teaches regularly on theatre, culture, and Beckett. She recently completed a documentary for the BBC on Beckett and Dante and has been commissioned to write a book on Beckett for Virago.
At CBA, Dwan will examine the role of dance in Beckett’s work and the conversations he was having with the human body to explore the expansive metaphysical world where our identities exist.
Francesca Harper is an internationally acclaimed multi-faceted artist who began her career with Dance Theater of Harlem and went on to dance as a principal in William Forsythe's Ballet Frankfurt. Her Broadway credits include Fosse, The Producers, All Shook Up, The Frogs, and the Tony Award winning treasure The Color Purple. Harper has choreographed works for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II, Tanz Graz, Hubbard Street II, Dallas Black Dance Theater, and her own company, The Francesca Harper Project. The Francesca Harper Project has become the platform for Harper’s own artistic vision: classical dance forms deconstructed and fused with cutting-edge text, music, film and video. The company has toured nationally and internationally at venues including the Holland Dance Festival, Venice Biennale, NJPAC, Impulstanz, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Joyce Theater.
At CBA, Harper will focus on an interactive work that breaks the fourth wall and invites the audience to participate in, and even shape, the piece before them.
Claudia Schreier - Virginia B. Toulmin Fellowship for Women Choreographers
Musicality, Structure, and the Classical Idiom
Choreographer Claudia Schreier has been commissioned by companies and organizations including the Vail International Dance Festival, Ballet Academy East, The Ailey School, Lake Tahoe Dance Collective, Intermezzo Dance Company, Columbia Ballet Collaborative, Harvard Ballet Company, The Harvard Club of New York Foundation and the Academy of Music Arts. She has also served as choreographic and rehearsal assistant to Damian Woetzel for the premiere of SPACES by Wynton Marsalis at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the 2016 White House Turnaround Arts Program Talent Show and Vail Dance Festival: ReMix NYC. Since 2015, Schreier has presented several full-evening performances of her work in New York and California with Claudia Schreier & Company, featuring dancers from New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and Dance Theatre of Harlem and collaborations with composers and musicians, including Emmy Award-winning composer Jeff Beal, Douwe Eisenga, and the chamber choir Tapestry. Schreier trained at the Ballet School of Stamford under the direction of Stephanie Marini and began choreographing at the age of fifteen. She received a B.A., with honors, in Sociology and a Secondary Degree in Dramatic Arts from Harvard University in 2008. Schreier is a recipient of the Suzanne Farrell Dance Prize in recognition for Outstanding Artistry in the Field of Dance, a 2015 Dance Magazine Reader's Choice Award Nominee for Best Emerging Choreographer, and winner of the 2014 Breaking Glass Project choreographic competition. Schreier is also a recently appointed member of the NYC Landmarks50+ Alliance.
At CBA, Schreier will create neoclassical and contemporary ballets rooted in the classical technique, with a focus on collaboration with composers. Her residency will culminate in a presentation of excerpts of new works that she will premiere in Summer 2017 for Claudia Schreier & Company at the Joyce Theater and the NOW: Premieres program at the Vail Dance Festival.
Anne Searcy - Fellowship for the Study of Russia and Ballet
Ballet in the Cold War: A Soviet-American Exchange
Anne Searcy is a musicologist whose work explores the intersections among music, dance, and politics, focusing primarily on Soviet and American ballet. In 2015-16, she was the recipient of an Alvin H. Johnson AMS 50 Fellowship for her dissertation, "Soviet and American Cold War Ballet Exchange, 1959-1962.” She holds a Ph.D. in historical musicology from Harvard University and a B.A. in history and music from Swarthmore College. Her article, “The Recomposition of Aram Khachaturian’s Spartacus at the Bolshoi Theater, 1958-1968,” appeared in the summer 2016 issue of The Journal of Musicology. She has presented her research at the annual meetings of the American Musicological Society, the Society of Dance History Scholars, and the Society for American Music.
During her time at CBA, Searcy will complete a book manuscript about the exchange of Soviet and American ballet troupes for cultural diplomacy during the Cold War.
Dance and the Emotions
Nancy Sherman is University Professor and Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University. She has affiliate appointments at the Center on National Security and the Law at Georgetown University Law Center and at Georgetown’s Kennedy Institute of Ethics. From 1997 to 1999, she served as inaugural holder of the Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the U.S. Naval Academy. She is the author of five books – Afterwar (2015), The Untold War (2010), Stoic Warriors (2005), Making a Necessity of Virtue (1997), and Fabric of Character (1989) – and some 70 articles. A recipient of many honors and awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship (2013-14), her work spans the area of ethics, ancient philosophy, moral psychology, psychoanalysis, military ethics, trauma, and the emotions. She is now working on dance and emotional expression, with special focus on modern dance and a critique of its view that expression should make visible what’s inner.
At CBA, Sherman will focus on emotional expression conveyed by the dynamic movement of the body proper in dance. Research on nonverbal emotional expression has tended to focus on static facial gesturing (as in psychologist Paul Ekman’s work) or on music (as in the philosophical literature). Dynamic movement and gesture have been largely ignored. Although modern dance, Sherman’s special focus, often had as its banner the idea of authentically disclosing inner feelings, her intuition is that expression in dance is rarely a transparent read-out of the heart. Exploring the performative elements of dance and its connection with the expression of emotion will be key to understanding emotional expression more broadly. In a curious way, ballet’s origins in the court of Louis XIV—and the mix of courtly and military arts that gave birth to ballet—offers an important reminder that emotional expression in dance is often more a matter of posing than disclosing. And that lesson is key in understanding emotional expression more generally.
Distilling Chemistry: Getting to the Heart of Partnering
Valeria Solomonoff has founded and co-directed the first all-woman tango company, TangoMujer, which received two NEFA grants and performed internationally to rave reviews from 1996 until 2006. Since then, with her shows “Tango Intimo,” nominated for two ACE awards for best direction and best production, and “Tango por Ellos,” which received an ACE Award for best choreography, Solomonoff has continued to find ways to strip tango of its stereotypes while displaying its choreographic complexity.
She received HOLA outstanding choreography awards for “Tango Fever” and for “Doña Flor y sus Dos Maridos,” choreographed for the film “The Caller” starring Frank Langella and Elliott Gould and was twice recipient of awards as best soloist at Argentine dance festivals. As a performer, Solomonoff was chosen to dance for the president of Argentina at the Metropolitan Opera House, shared the stage with Placido Domingo and the Washington Opera and performed with some of the world’s leading tango dancers for films and on TV. Recognized by The New York Post as one of New York City’s top tango teachers, she is currently an adjunct professor in the Drama Department at NYU Tisch.
At CBA, Solomonoff will work to transplant from Argentine tango what is arguably its most valuable contribution to the dance world – its ability to connect partners in an endless loop of improvisation where the roles of leader and follower blur – into ballet and enhance the connection of what we often perceive as chemistry in a pas de deux.
The Journey Taken: The Writings of Jerome Robbins
Amanda Vaill is a biographer, journalist, and screenwriter with an interest in arts and culture. Her books include the bestselling Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy – A Lost Generation Love; Story; Somewhere: The Life of Jerome Robbins; and most recently Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War. She is the author of the Emmy-nominated screenplay for the Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning documentary, Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About. Her journalism and criticism have appeared in numerous periodicals, from The American Scholar and Architectural Digest to Travel & Leisure and The Washington Post. A finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award and a 1999 Guggenheim Fellow, she is working on a biography of the Schuyler sisters, the wife and sister-in-law of Alexander Hamilton.
During her fellowship Vaill will edit a selection of Robbins’s letters, diaries, work notebooks, memoirs, and other writings into a volume – to be completed for Robbins’s centenary in 2018, that will chronicle his life as it looked from the inside – from his childhood and his struggles as an aspiring but unrealized artist, through his glory days as a revolutionary force in American theater and dance, to his latter years, in which he strove to reconcile his conflicts and ensure his legacy.
Alexander Whitley is a London-based choreographer and artistic director of Alexander Whitley Dance Company. He has created work for several of the UK's leading companies including the Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Rambert, Balletboyz and Candoco Dance Company. Working with filmmakers, designers, digital artists and composers, Whitley creates innovative and wide-ranging work that seeks to broaden the scope of dance and elucidate movement across the many mediums it bears relevance to.
This has been recognized through nominations for the Critics’ Circle, Arts Foundation and Southbank Awards. Alexander is a New Wave Associate artist at Sadler's Wells theatre, an associate artist at DanceEast, an associate of Rambert and a member of New Movement Collective. His most recent work, Pattern Recognition, is currently touring in the UK and internationally. Whitley’s commissioned works include: Beheld (Candoco), Frames (Rambert), The Murmuring (Balletboyz) and Kin (Birmingham Royal Ballet). His collaboration with artists Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen (75 Watt) is now in the permanent collection of New York’s MOMA.
At CBA, Whitley will be researching ideas for his upcoming company production, 8 Minutes, an ambitious new work premiering at Sadler’s Wells in June 2017 that explores our relationship to the sun in partnership with STFC RAL Space, the UK’s leading space science center. Building on some preliminary work done in the UK he will be continuing to investigate how ideas from physics can be understood in movement and translated into choreographic principles. His work will also largely concern the development of a choreographic toolkit for use in the creative learning program for schools which will accompany the production.