Six Degrees of Collaboration

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:00

Ballet Collective's present-tense dance at the Joyce

Adopting a film festival model, the Joyce recently presented a twelve-day dance festival showcasing independent artists working outside large established institutions. The festival, called "v6.0," gave New Yorkers unprecedented opportunity to enjoy six ballet-based companies, ranging from neoclassical to contemporary, from across the US. On August 14 Troy Schumacher's BalletCollective premiered their newest work, The Impulse Wants Company, side by side with a 2013 revision of Epistasis.

Like Diaghilev's Ballet Russes, BalletCollective's mission is to present ballets conceived through a collaboration between dancers, musicians, designers, poets, and choreographers. Founder Schumacher refers to this group as a collective, with each member sharing sketches, poems, movement, or measures of music depicting what he or she is doing. These individual contributions are then combined and refined in an ongoing process of teamwork.

Most of BalletCollective's dancers (including Schumacher) dance with the New York City Ballet; in addition to bringing extraordinary technique to the collective, they also bring a shared understanding to the collective process. This common understanding lends their performances a quality of familiarity, both among the dancers and between the dancers and the audience. Schumacher enhances this familiarity as he "strives to make them all look more like themselves and to give them movements that make us all understand them more."

But what particularly distinguishes the company is its musicality. Inspired by his work at NYCB, Schumacher taught himself to play piano in preparation for his role as BalletCollective's resident choreographer. This musical grounding lets him glean the most from his collaboration with composers, while his dancers appreciate his ability to help them make sense of how the choreography grows with the music.

The company's musicality was especially obvious in The Impulse Wants Company. Playful moments between a group of friends alternated with moments of lyricism and pathos, resonating deeply within the music of Ellis Ludwig-Leone. Epistasis was enjoyable but unmemorable. Seeing it after Impulse Wants Company was like watching To Catch a Thief after Rear Window; once you knew what the players were capable of, you expected something more. Two memorable moments included a solo by David Prottas, who has the rare ability to be simultaneously relaxed and laser-focused, and a juxtaposition between a male-male and female-female duet that provided a nice contrast between the physical reality of the sexes.

Many thanks to the Joyce for taking the initiative with "v6.0." And congratulations to BalletCollective for making ballet a glorious thing of the present.