During her 19 years as a member of New York City Ballet, Principal Dancer Jenifer Ringer has appeared in countless ballets, danced on pointe and in high heels, and performed in tutus, ball gowns and leotards. She's even sung in the Company's production of West Side Story Suite. But nothing on her resume is quite like her latest role as leader of this year's Dancers' Choice program, taking place on Sunday, June 14, at 7:30 p.m.
The event, a one-night-only gala-style performance, is produced by the Company's dancers with the guidance of Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins, and benefits the NYCB Dancers Emergency Fund, a financial safety net available to dancers when an unexpected problem occurs, such as medical costs or a personal loss.
As the program's coordinator, Ringer has managed every detail of the two-hour event, from choosing and casting the ballets, to working with the Orchestra, costume crew and stage hands. She met with the Gift Shop team to discuss items to display and sell, including photos and paintings created by Company members. And like a seasoned executive, she delegated tasks, appointing Corps de Ballet member Gwyneth Muller, a skilled photographer, as the event's photojournalist, and tapping fellow Principal Dancer Janie Taylor, a talented cartoonist, to create a logo for the event in cooperation with the Company's Marketing department. In addition, Ringer has worked with long-time patron and friend of the Company Arlene Cooper, who is again spearheading the efforts to raise funds to underwrite the evening. In short, she's had a crash course in Dance Company Management 101.
"I never realized how much coordination it takes to pull together a performance," she said during a chat before dashing off to meet with the Marketing team. "It's a juggling act."
Ringer's turn in the director's chair began in January when Martins approached her with the job. "It was one of those things where I instantly wanted to say 'Yes,' but Peter said 'No, you have to think about it. It's a lot of work,'" she recalls.
The opportunity to try something new and see fresh facets of the Company was irresistible, but so was the cause. Founded in 1980 by Jerome Robbins, the Dancers Emergency Fund has quietly helped Company dancers when unforeseen problems occur. "It's really special because it's just for the dancers in their personal lives, it's not about talent or how many pirouettes you can do," Ringer says.
Last year, Martins initiated the first Dancers' Choice perfor- mance with Principal Dancer Jonathan Stafford at the helm and created the template for an annual event. The rules are simple: the dancers rehearse on their own time, and they get a taste of what it takes to make the Company tick. "Peter's idea was to give dancers a chance to do something that they've never done before and be on the other side of things, so we get to do it all," Ringer says. "It's a bit like those old movies where someone says, 'Let's put on a show!'"
The deal is equally sweet for audiences. Tickets are afford- ably priced: $45 for seats in the Orchestra, First Ring and Second Ring, and $25 for seats throughout the rest of the house. And the audience will also get a chance to see familiar dancers in unfamiliar roles. "You'll see people in the spotlight in roles they haven't danced before," says Ringer, who made a point of casting members of the corps de ballet in featured parts.
The event is also an opportunity for dancers to display hidden talents. Among the highlights of the performance will be a new ballet choreographed by Principal Dancer Ashley Bouder, with costumes designed by Janie Taylor. The Gift Shop will feature artwork by Soloists Adrian Danchig-Waring and Arch Higgins. Principal Dancer Jared Angle and Corps de Ballet member Faye Arthurs are also putting in time as advisors to Ringer.
Ringer's talents for organization, multitasking and attention to detail are also on display. She kept a notebook at the project's start but quickly replaced it with a large white board in her living room, with categories for Programming, Casting, Music, Marketing, and People to Talk To, among others.
One of her most enjoyable tasks was choosing the ballets. With the full NYCB repertory at her command, she looked for fresh pieces not danced this season, including her personal favorites, audience favorites and ballets the dancers would enjoy performing. "It's a fun night, and I don't want anyone to be worried about falling out of a pirouette," she said. The orchestra was a consideration, too, she discovered. "If there are several piano pieces in a row, that's a long time for the orchestra to sit without getting the chance to play," she said.
Another consideration was pieces that would allow a large number of dancers to perform. Ringer, however, will not be among them. She'd rather watch and take it all in, though she plans to speak briefly to the audience. "I promise to keep the knock-knock jokes to a minimum," she says, flashing a smile. "Then the orchestra can play a tune, and I'll waltz off."
For tickets and information, visit New York City Ballet.
Terry Trucco writes frequently about the arts and travel