The Dance Beat

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Bwog is proud to present the Dance Beat, the first in a series of weekly columns in which Siobhan Burke explores one of the city’s least discussed art forms.

On long car rides, my mom, who went to college in the sixties, likes to put the Subaru on cruise control, pop in Bridge Over Troubled Water, and take me back to ’66 (“or was it ’67?”) when she found herself, unknowingly, in the presence of two budding stars. Simon and Garfunkel were their names, and, as the story so eloquently goes, “Nobody knew who the hell they were.” In the preceding weeks, word had spread among the students of Hamilton College that some unheard-of duo called “Garfunkel” would be playing the fall concert. People showed up reluctantly, mainly to take refuge from the snow; seats were left unfilled. But as the enchanting “Sound of Silence” echoed through the campus chapel, and Smith girls (like my mom) huddled close to their Hamilton boyfriends (like my mom’s boyfriend), skepticism quickly turned to pure, effervescent, encore-pleading awe.

“There was no question when you heard them that they were special,” my mom effuses. The memory excites her. “It was an epiphany, really. Before we knew it, they were all over the place, all over the radio.” She pauses to turn down the AC, suddenly pensive. “I don’t want to get too dramatic here . . . but the texture of their music really does capture the spirit of our generation.”

Going to see “New Ballet” at Miller Theatre this weekend might not be exactly the same, but I’m expecting–somewhere down the road–the same revelatory aftermath. Don’t get me wrong–the choreographers on this program aren’t just a couple of guys rolling in with their guitars who might turn out to be good; Alison Chase, Amanda Miller, and Luca Veggetti have all established themselves as potent artistic forces in contemporary ballet. What I’m looking forward to, though–and what this concert, I swear, shares in common with Simon and Garfunkel’s Hamilton College gig forty years ago–is the uniquely gratifying experience of being the first to see, in an intimate setting, something of potential greatness, something canonical! I’m serious, sort of. With three world premieres by three cutting-edge artists, each hand-picked by the Guggenheim to make a new work, there might be a “Sound of Silence” lurking among them, some vital sprig of new life waiting to spring from the tradition-laden ground of classical ballet.

If you don’t care about the next great wave of innovation in ballet, there are still plenty of reasons to see this show. Let me give you some context. “New Ballet” is the third annual program of its kind presented by Miller Theatre, in collaboration with the Guggenheim’s Works & Process series. Its mission (and I quote the press release), “is simple: to present new ballets to new music performed live–with the immediacy afforded by the theatre’s intimate scale (a set of circumstances too rarely encountered in today’s ballet world.)”

Well-stated, writer of press release; you speak the truth. Miller Theatre offers a reach-out-and-touch-them intimacy that you don’t get at venues like the New York State Theater or the Met. If you want to see postmodern dance in New York, there are plenty of cozy studios and obscure performance spaces that will let you watch it up close. Ballet, though, tends not to inhabit converted warehouses or empty fire stations; it asks you, generally, to pay a lot of money, get dressed up, and go to the opera house. My grandmother, a New York City Ballet subscriber, says few things I agree with, on any subject. But there is one point on which we jive: seeing a ballet up close–beads of sweat flying, muscles elongating, limbs intertwining–gives you something raw and real that makes those orchestra seats worth the extra cash. At Miller, it’ll cost you just seven dollars. Seven dollars.

If you still don’t care about the next great wave of innovation in ballet, and you’re not one to relish the dull sound of toe shoes skimming the floor, and you’re not particularly strapped for cash or entertainment, I can think of one more reason to go. That’s right: amassing obscure knowledge about the arts.

Imagine this: six years from now, you’re at a dinner party. A wealthy patron of the arts, who happens to hold your professional fate in his/her hands, is waxing intellectual about Luca Veggetti’s groundbreaking new work for American Ballet Theatre. You’ve never seen ABT, barely know what the letters stand for. Fortunately, you caught Veggetti at Miller back in ’07.

WPA: “I mean, the spareness of it, the sort of, dark intelligence . . .”

You: “Remarkable, yes.” [Frantic wracking of brain, disguised as introspective silence.] “It’s a shame, really. I’m so tied up with my new site-specific performance

piece, I just haven’t made it to the Met this season. But I did see some of Veggetti’s early work up at Columbia. Absolutely gripping, and danced exquisitely to live cello . . . I don’t want to get too dramatic here,” you add, “but the texture of his work might really capture the spirit of our generation.”

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  1. where

    is that boy standing? it‘s a lovely hall.

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