One of the most important elements of ballet technique is proper lines. This means any dancer needs to view their entire body as one solid line. If one has bent arms or legs, or if something is not tucked in, this line is distorted. When a dancer moves, their line moves, so their shoes, flat or pointe, become an extension of their body, meaning one’s toes need to be pointed and one needs to have proper turnout. Overall, proper lines create beautiful fluidity as one dances, something that is necessary for a great performance. This idea is not just present in dance. It is often found in architecture, as distorted lines do not make for great buildings. The David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is a prime example of a building where lines seem to extend from the stage to the street. Approaching the very geometric building, lines and angles seem to be present everywhere one looks. This creates an interesting interplay between the actual performances themselves and the building in which they are housed. This relationship between the building and the ballet itself helps to create a nice package for balletgoers, as the technique they see on stage comes to life in the architecture outside.
For the various performances this theater houses, so many different types of people come through the doors of the David H. Koch Theater. Whether it is a current or ex-dancer, a performing arts enthused tourist, or someone from New York doing something they have never done before, the ballet has so much in store. The lights tend to burn a little brighter and the crystals adorning the costumes tend to sparkle more for someone attending the ballet as opposed to watching it on a screen. It does not matter what kind of knowledge of dance one has, or whether one is sophisticated or not, we all take something from the ballet.
The idea for the New York City Ballet (NYCB) itself was the brainchild of Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine. Their plans were deterred by World War II, but upon the end of the war the duo went full steam ahead with their plans with help from financial backer Morton Baum. They hired now noted choreographer Jerome Robbins as Assistant Artistic Director, and the company took off. The David H. Koch theater, originally named the New York State Theater, was designed by Philip Johnson and was opened on April 24, 1964. From there, the company’s prominence rose as they performed in various locations throughout the states and the world. The company’s strong reputation is still present today; they are extremely notable as they are one of the largest companies in the world with 90 members and an active repertoire of 150 works (Our History). Not only has the NYCB taken up prominence in the dance world, they have also forged a relationship with the fashion world; in recent years, their Fall Fashion Gala has opened up doors for collaboration between choreographers and famous designers. This year’s gala paired the ballet’s choreographers with the likes of Jonathan Saunders, the now ex-creative director of Diane Von Furstenberg, Tsumori Chisato, and Off-White’s Virgil Abloh. (New York City Ballet Unveils Designers). This was a huge event, raising 2.6 million dollars for the ballet, further showing how the ballet has grown in the years it has been around (New York City Ballet Fall Fashion Gala).
Along with the change in costumes that comes with the Fall Fashion Gala, the ballet has experienced a change in choreographers. Young choreographers have created new, inspiring pieces for the NYCB’s repertoire. One of these choreographers, Justin Peck, has danced for the New York City Ballet himself, so he knows the environment of the theater well. Peck’s rise to choreographic stardom was very fast, as he started as an apprentice with the company in 2006 and slowly moved up the ranks becoming a soloist in 2013. Starting in 2012, Peck choreographed six works in two years, being named Resident Choreographer in 2014. From there he proceeded to create even more works for the New York City Ballet and different companies all around the world (Justin Peck). In Peck’s work Year of the Rabbit, he chose to choreograph to music by indie artist Sufjan Stevens. This is interesting as Stevens is a very popular artist amongst music audiences, especially younger music aficionados. According to critic Jay Rogoff, “[t]he dancing body, to Peck, is a human ideal, not a prop for baggage handlers” (“The Avant-Garde as Tradition at New York City Ballet”). This poses an interesting contrast between ballet of old to ballet now. These new pieces created by Peck are inspiring for anyone, young or old, as you can’t help but feel revived by watching them performed live. These new choreographic techniques presented by Peck are also reminiscent of the architectural design of the David H. Koch theater, which upon its creation was also ahead of its time.
This new-age, revival feeling is one that people might not expect after leaving the ballet. Dancing is often explained as watching joy come to life. Even if the piece is somber, those same audience goers can still see the joy and passion for dance through the dancers’ movements on the stage. Whenever I leave a dance performance, regardless if it is ballet or not, I feel like I can find inspiration for dancing wherever I go. This feeling draws certain types of people to the ballet. There are the dancers who want to rediscover the joy they have for dancing, or those who simply want to admire someone else’s style of dance to better their own. New York’s entertainment industry attracts many young people to the city in order to pursue their dreams, and a night at the ballet is the perfect way to pick up a new technique and ideas for one’s personal style of dance.
Dancers coming to the city to pursue their dreams are similar to E.B. White’s third type of New Yorker in his essay “Here is New York,” individuals born somewhere else but came to New York to achieve something. White even mentions this third type of New Yorker as being known for its “poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts.” However, this third type of New Yorker is not the only type of New Yorker who goes to the ballet. Tourists and native New Yorkers also attend, especially around the holidays when the ballet performs “The Nutcracker.” Families, often with little dancers in tow, go to Family Saturdays, an educational dance performance where dancers and musicians perform on stage together, so children can see the music and dance together at once. But the children are not the only ones who take something from a performance. Adults of any age can also feel something from watching the NYCB perform. Sitting in the red velvet seats in the David H. Koch theater, there is a feeling of relaxation that washes over you. You can turn off your phone for a short period of time and leave the work to the dancers. When watching them perform, your problems seem to drift away and your attention stays on them. You become transfixed in the lights, music, costumes, and beautiful dancing. This incredible feeling is hard to imitate, and even though it might quickly go away at the end of a performance, many can attest to its definite presence while being in the theater. New Yorkers might be very different, but they can all find something beautiful in the ballet.
Whenever I go to Lincoln Center and have some time to spare before catching the Ram Van back to campus, I like to walk to the David H. Koch Theater and have a seat by the fountain. Looking at the building, I am always taken by the lines and square panes of glass. While one might not think that harsh geometric angles easily relate to ballet technique, for me it is in the principle of the line itself where I see the comparison. A line, as defined by mathematics, extends forever in both directions. As ballet dancers move, I like to imagine the same lines with arrows on the end that my geometry teacher drew on the board for us so many times. These lines can do anything and extend anywhere. This principle sticks with me, as ballet has the unique ability to take not only dancers, but everyday ballet goers, to an infinite number of places. For example, ballet has given me not only proper posture and dance technique, but a life of dedication and an appreciation for the arts. For a ballet goer, one trip to the ballet might not have this effect, but it can put one on their way to finding or reigniting a passion for dance or the arts, or anything they took from the show. Perhaps one might take note of the dancer’s fluidity and find ways to bring that into their life or find it in the world surrounding them. The possibilities are endless, just like lines.
Barone, Joshua. “New York City Ballet Unveils Designers for Its Fall Fashion Gala.” The New York Times, The New York Times, July 25, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/25/arts/dance/new-york-city-ballet-designers-fall-fashion-gala.html.
“Justin Peck.” New York City Ballet, New York City Ballet, April 16, 2018. https://www.nycballet.com/Dancers/Dancers-Bios/Justin-Peck.aspx.
“Our History.” New York City Ballet, New York City Ballet, April 16, 2018, https://www.nycballet.com/Discover/Our-History.aspx.
Rogoff, J. “The Avant-Garde as Tradition at New York City Ballet.” The Hopkins Review, vol. 8 no. 3, 2015, pp. 432-438. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/thr.2015.0060.
Shen Yun Performing Arts. “David H. Koch Theater.” 10 Timeless Designs by Philip Johnson, Revolution, April 16, 2018, https://revolutionprecrafted.com/blog/timeless-designs-by-philip-johnson/.
White, E.B. Here Is New York. New York, NY. Little Bookroom, 2001.
Zilkha, Bettina. “New York City Ballet 2017 Fall Fashion Gala Dazzles, Raises 2.6 Million.” Forbes, Forbes, October, 2, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/bettinazilkha/2017/10/02/new-york-city-ballet-2017-fall-fashion-gala-dazzles-raises-2-6-million/.