If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes before a ballet is performed on stage I would highly recommend an evening of Works & Process at the Guggenheim. Last night the New York City Ballet presented excerpts from an upcoming new ballet Everywhere We Go. It is choreographed by Justin Peck and performed to music written by Sufjan Stevens. Also on hand to discuss the complexity of the process were Michael Atkinson, the orchestra conductor, and Karl Jensen, the set designer.
Sufjan and Peck discussed the details of writing an original ballet.Twenty of the “songs” written by Sufjan were whittled down to the nine movements that make up the final piece.Sufjan said he was aiming for eroticism but, in my opinion, the result is pure unequivocal joy. He envisioned the music as a series of rotations, distinct yet cohesive. He explained that there is a narrative to his music that is unspoken and abstract. Peck translated this narrative to movement. He used the idea of rotating and created a work that incorporates a circular movement as a framework for his ballet highlighting the dancers’ classical training and athleticism.
After one of the excerpts featuring the incomparable Adrian Danchig-Waring and Amar Ramasar, Peck joined them on the stage to work on fine-tuning certain nuances of their movements. Using phrases like cobwebs being strong yet fragile and to try to move feet as if gum were stuck to the bottom of a shoe you realize how broad the language of dance can be.
Karl Jensen showed slides of the process of designing a backdrop for the dancers that wouldn’t impede their movement but would add a non-objective, visual element to the performance. We got hints of what it will look like and it looks like it will be amazing.
Michael Atkinson, who will conduct the entire New York City Balllet Orchestra was on hand to add insight into how he worked with Sufjan to turn his melodies into full orchestral works — music that must stay fluid for the dancers but incorporate enough time for the musicians to turn their pages. Who knew?
Karl Jensen summed it up for me. He said watching the piece and performance come together is nothing less than magical. LAR
Ticket prices for Works & Process $30-35
Everywhere We Go opens at the New York City Ballet 5/8