New York City Ballet MOVES is coming to St. Louis for the first time since 1994, in conjunction with Dance St. Louis. The touring group of 20 performers will present five pieces that run the gamut, giving viewers the chance to experience the ballet’s diverse repertory without leaving home. We caught up with artistic director and ballet master Jean-Pierre Frohlich in advance of the March 9 and 10 performances at the Fox Theatre.
I understand you’ve been with the company since 1972. Is it a challenge to always keep things fresh?
I’m very fortunate because I also travel and stage productions of ballets in many other places. I also have been made part of the Jerome Robbins Trust, so I was put on an advisory committee to supervise his works and maintain them. I get to travel and work with many companies all over Europe and America. It keeps me fresh. I’ve never felt stifled or bored. Also, I’m a native New Yorker and I’m happy to stay in New York.
Tell me about working with the Jerome Robbins Trust. (Robbins joined New York City Ballet shortly after its formation and was known, in addition to his ballet choreography, for his work on Broadway shows, including West Side Story, The King and I and Fiddler on the Roof.)
I was one of his ballet master’s assistants, and I worked very closely with him; and then I became ballet master here at New York City Ballet. After he passed away, a committee was created to oversee his ballet works because he cared so much about them. You have much more control over that type of a performance than when you are part of a Broadway show. We advise the trustees on what companies should be given a license to do his ballets.
What are some of the highlights of the upcoming performance in St. Louis?
One that I’m looking forward to is Justin Peck’s piece, called In Creases, which is set to Phillip Glass music. It shows the young side of the company and has a sense of energy, and it’s lyrical at the same time. Another highlight is Duo Concertant, which was created by George Balanchine to music by Stravinsky in 1972. There’s also Polyphonia, which is Christopher Wheeldon’s first major ballet that became a hit in New York, and is done all over the world. We’ll also be performing In the Night, which was created in 1970 and is set to Chopin. It follows three couples with three very different personalities: one is a young couple; the second is an older, more aristocratic, bourgeois couple; and the third is a couple who can’t find an even keel in their relationship, so they always seem to be having a bit of a disagreement. By the end, they reconcile. There’s no story per se, but when you watch it, you feel there’s a story. Then there’s Red Angels, which is performed with electric violin. It’s fantastic and has high energy—the audience loves it.
How are the pieces chosen?
The whole performance shows what New York City Ballet is about. You get a range of moods and you’ll see different sides of the company. Even though we have four piano ballets, they all sound so different, you’ll really see the variety. We perform to live music—I think that is so important, because when you use canned music, or music out of a speaker, it loses the aesthetic of the live performance experience. There’s something about everything happening live that is very special.
I understand one of the pieces, In Creases, has just recently premiered?
It premiered last year in Saratoga Springs—we actually haven’t premiered it at Lincoln Center yet. So the St. Louis audience is getting it first before the New York audience. It’s full of imagination and energy—it can be difficult for the dancers but they love doing it.
Are there additional challenges putting together a performance like this on the road?
It’s actually easier to tour with a smaller group like this; we have about 20 dancers. It’s a lot less hectic because you only have to manage a small group and we all get along, which is great. It’s nice for the dancers to have time to spend with each other; whereas in New York, they perform and then go back to their apartments or go home. They get to create friendship on the tour. (Ballet master-in-chief) Peter Martins also goes on these tours, so they get the opportunity to really have time with him, which they don’t necessarily get in New York.
Dance St. Louis presents New York City Ballet MOVES at 8 p.m. on March 9 and 2 p.m. on March 10 at the Fox Theatre.