Taking on a New Role: Dancers Perform Behind the Scenes for NYCB's Dancers' Choice

Classic Arts Features   Taking on a New Role: Dancers Perform Behind the Scenes for NYCB's Dancers' Choice
 
On Sunday, June 12, at 7:30 PM, New York City Ballet's Dancers' Choice returns for a third twirl on the David H. Koch Theater stage with Soloist Adrian Danchig-Waring and Corps member Amanda Hankes at the helm.


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Besides a one-time-only program performed by NYCB dancers, the event will include raffles and special merchandise with all tickets priced at $50 and $25. Culture writer, Terry Trucco recently spoke with Jonathan Stafford and Jenifer Ringer, who led the Company's first and second Dancers' Choice evenings respectively, about their experiences producing this fan-favorite program.

When Principal Dancer Jonathan Stafford joined New York City Ballet in 1999, he never dreamed he'd one day be asked to put together an entire evening of dance, a task that entailed everything from choosing the ballets and dancers to working with the orchestra and production department.

But that is precisely what happened in 2008 when Peter Martins, NYCB Ballet Master in Chief, tapped Stafford to organize the first ever Dancers' Choice program.

The event, a one-night-only gala-style performance produced by the Company's dancers, benefits the NYCB Dancers' Emergency Fund, a fund established for NYCB to be able to assist individual dancers who have had personal emergencies or unexpected hardships.

"There was no precedent whatsoever for the show, and we had no idea if it was going to work well or how the audiences would react," says Stafford. "But there was a huge amount of excitement."

Dancers' Choice proved a hit and was back in 2009, this time led by Principal Dancer Jenifer Ringer.

Putting together a two-hour program with a 92-member Company and a full orchestra is a far cry from the old blackand- white movies where Mickey Rooney or Judy Garland says, "Let's put on a show." "It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but it was also very satisfying," says Ringer.

Martins helped ease Stafford's trailblazing task by giving him two pieces of advice _ start by devising a program and then choose excerpts rather than three complete ballets. The latter gave Stafford the opportunity to do what he wanted: present something new and bring back ballets not seen for a while to enhance the excitement.

As a centerpiece, Stafford commissioned a new ballet choreographed by NYCB Soloist Adam Hendrickson and set to music by Aaron Severini, then a member of the Corps de Ballet. "It was a dancer's evening, so I liked the idea of something choreographed and composed by dancers," he says. After that, he combed through the entire repertory, going over the ballets one by one before choosing a range of works by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Peter Martins and Christopher Wheeldon, "so it felt like a full evening," he says. While honing his selections, Stafford quickly deciphered the rules. Ulysses Dove's Red Angels wouldn't work because it required the added expense of a guest musician to play an electric violin. And piano ballets were needed in the mix. "Otherwise the orchestra would be rehearsing all day, they told me," he says.

Ringer, too, quickly absorbed the ins and outs of the task. She chose two themes, spotlighting the Corps and female dancers. She assigned leading roles to Corps members who had never danced them before. And female dancers accomplished much of the behind-the-scenes work. Principal Dancer Ashley Bouder choreographed a new ballet. Principal Dancer Janie Taylor designed new costumes as well as the performance logo. And the gift shop sold souvenir postcards featuring Corps member Gwyneth Muller's photos of the Company.

Both Stafford and Ringer performed jobs they'd never dreamed of doing, from working with publicists to managing the event's budget. Ringer set up a large white board in her living room so she could track every task. Stafford and Principal Dancer Daniel Ulbricht visited nearby businesses, handing out fliers.

The experience left both dancers with a new-found respect for what it takes to put on a performance and the people working behind the scenes. It left Stafford wanting more. "I love the artistic side, but it was also fun to lead people effectively," he says. "And I loved the rush when a donation came in."

For Ringer, the performance itself was the reward. "It was amazing. I was totally unprepared for how moved I would be," she says.

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Terry Trucco writes frequently about the arts and travel.

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