Dancers at the New York City Ballet took to a new stage this week: the roof of the Empire Hotel. With COVID-19 cases rising across the city and social distancing guidelines in place, the ballet company has been unable to perform at its usual Lincoln Center home since March. The Empire, however, is just across the street.
On the hotel’s roof, masked performers danced above Lincoln Center for an intimate audience. Less than 30 people were in attendance, sitting at wiry black tables or on cushy couches pushed to the perimeters of the rooftop as the dancers took center stage on marley floor mats. Mirrors hung on the rooftop’s walls let audience members see dancers from different angles.
The performance included six pieces, including three premieres, choreographed by current and former New York City Ballet company members Preston Chamblee, Lauren Lovette, Benjamin Millepied, Justin Peck, Janie Taylor and Christopher Wheeldon. The event doubled as a benefit for Dancers of NYCB, a new fund to support the New York City Ballet’s dancers during the pandemic.
“I thought it would be very clever to ballet above Lincoln Center—this is [the dancer’s] home, so to see them dance again, and for dance to come to life in person is just thrilling,” event producer Melissa Gerstain said. City Ballet dancers Daniel Applebaum and Lauren King also produced.
Critic Gia Kourlas noted that at some point in each piece dancers fell to the floor as if overwhelmed by emotion. The performances seemed to harness the collective feelings of living in the city amidst the pandemic. Lauren Lovette, a current principal dancer, even choreographed a beautiful piece where two dancers appeared trapped together in a small room.
The Empire performance is one of many company efforts to engage with audiences during the pandemic. NYCB’s Digital Fall Season is available on Youtube, Facebook, and the company’s website. Each performance doubles as an open fundraiser for the company, where viewers can donate if they feel inclined. The group will also be sharing a special children’s matinée on October 24, with excerpts from Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine ballets. Film buffs may notice that one piece, “Fanfare,” is set to music used in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.
For the final week of the digital season next week, the company will premiere five new pieces. Like the Empire show, dancers were filmed outside of their usual Lincoln Center stage, instead bringing their pointe shoes to different locations around the performing arts venue.