Pushing New York City Ballet to a New Pointe

Classic Arts   Pushing New York City Ballet to a New Pointe Swedish choreographer Paul Lidberg tackles his first-ever ballet for NYCB.
Pontus Lidberg
Pontus Lidberg

The director of Pontus Lidberg Dance, as well as the former Resident Artistic Director of Morphoses, Pontus Lidberg has been making dances for stage and film since 2000. Outside of his company, Lidberg has created works for such companies as Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, Semperoper Ballett Dresden, Royal Swedish Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, Balletboyz, and the Martha Graham Dance Company. His NYCB premiere will be performed to a score by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang, co-commissioned with a music festival and a concert hall in the Netherlands.

How did you get your start choreographing?
Pontus Lidberg: I had some idea that I wanted to create from the very beginning. At the Royal Swedish Ballet School, I took the opportunity to choreograph whenever there was an opportunity.

You danced with the Royal Swedish Ballet and other companies—how did you transition to choreography?
I was a rather impatient dancer and so I moved around—in Sweden, Geneva, Oslo, various places—and worked with different styles of choreography. I was trained as a classical dancer and that’s how I started choreographing. I moved on to dance completely contemporary work as well, but I found I was never really satisfied until I got to create my own work. So it became clear that what I was seeking was my own creative impetus.

Pontus Lidberg
Pontus Lidberg with Russell Janzen and Rebecca Krohn

You’ve worked with both classical and contemporary companies and your work can be narrative or abstract. Are you more comfortable in one style?
I don’t come from a school of choreography. Here at City Ballet the Balanchine idiom is very present. In Europe there are many other traditions, and I don’t come from any of them. Of course I am influenced by many choreographers, especially by ones I performed and grew up watching. Perhaps that is why my range is wide.

I have kind of made a full circle at this point in my career because I came from classical ballet, then ventured into contemporary dance, performance art, and film—and eventually I came back. At this point I don’t feel like I am more one than the other.

What are some of the things you considered in making this work for NYCB?
I wanted to do a piece that suits City Ballet and the heritage here while still being able to explore something new for myself. I wanted to focus on musicality and the structure of the choreography.

Regardless of the project or the style or specifics, in my art practice I often work with this tension between the concept—rationality, logic, clarity, everything that is basically Apollonian—and the content—the intuitive, emotional, chaotic, Dionysian opposite. I am interested in both and the synthesis of those two is at the core of creating. It’s especially fitting to think about this in the context of City Ballet.

What did you discuss with David Lang, who you’ve worked with for more than ten years, before he wrote the music?
I know some things about my work that are almost universally present—softness, lyrical qualities—and so I’ve had to purposefully add other things—fast, percussive, more dynamic qualities—that are not as intuitive to me but are things that I want to see in my work. I talked to David about that being important for the music, too. You might risk having too much of one color—we all have our favorite colors, but you want to put other qualities in there too. As you develop as a choreographer, you start noticing not only what you like but also what you’re not doing.

What is your rehearsal process like?
Every company has a very particular culture and to adapt to the process, to some degree, usually works best. When I started choreographing, I created every step myself and then taught them, but I grew tired of that—it’s a bit isolated and takes a lot of energy. The process of creating is what’s exciting and I want to have input from the dancers. So it’s more like I throw something out into the room and then it bounces back to me. Depending on who is in the room, it’ll be very different—I take that and I guide it further, and in the end it’s recognizably my language.

Pontus Lidberg’s new ballet premiered on the annual New Combinations Evening on January 26 along with a world premiere by Justin Peck. The program will be repeated on February 1, 2, and 4.

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