Columbia’s Arts Initiative Partners with American Ballet Theatre

Eve Glasberg
November 23, 2014

Columbia’s Arts Initiative and American Ballet Theatre formed a new partnership to offer students a distinctive immersion into the process of creating a ballet. The partnership complements the dance company’s Innovation Initiative, a two-week choreographic workshop spearheaded by its artistic director Kevin McKenzie and principal dancer David Hallberg.

The partnership culminated in a performance at Miller Theatre on November 16 of five works-in-process choreographed by ABT members and outside creators, and performed by the company’s dancers. The pieces featured original choreography developed over the course of the program. “Many arts organizations struggle with the question of how to cultivate the next generation of audiences,” said Melissa Smey, executive director of the Arts Initiative and Miller Theatre. “We believe that by providing students from a variety of academic backgrounds with access to the creative process through a sustained, multifaceted partnership like this, we can help instill a lifelong love of the arts.”

In the weeks preceding the Miller performance, students had several opportunities to observe the evolution of the five dance pieces and get a behind-the-scenes look at how a major ballet company operates. They attended an early rehearsal of the new works at ABT’s midtown studios, a performance at Lincoln Center, and participated in an ABT-led master class in Morningside Heights. Student participants included members of co-curricular dance groups such as Orchesis and Columbia Ballet Collaborative, as well as dancers studying in Barnard’s dance department.

“Performing new work and understanding the creative process are key elements of our teaching in the dance department,” said Professor Lynn Garafola, co-chair of Barnard’s dance department. “The chance of seeing work in progress and hearing from its dancers and choreographers how it was generated is a gift to everyone who loves dance.”

Hallberg is especially pleased to be partnering with Columbia, noting that the process of exploration, challenge and questioning that is central to choreography mirrors what happens in an academic environment. “One really positive thing about pairing up with Columbia to give us some sustainability and support is that it really goes well with the process of Columbia as an institution questioning and theorizing and experimenting.”