I have long been fascinated by what goes on in the mind of directors and choreographers when working with dancers. As dancers, it can be hard at times to see the big picture. I recently sat down with Medhi Bahiri and Judith Fugate, the directors of Ballet NY, to discuss the process of directing and managing their ballet company before catching a bit of a rehearsal.This was the perfect opportunity to pick the brains of the duo that has been working hard for years to provide an intimate company setting where each dancer can have a chance to shine. Ballet NY, a company that made it’s NYC debut in 1999, will be performing August 9-11 at the Ailey Citigroup Theatre. Leading up to the shows, I wanted to ask some questions about life on “the other side of the table.”
Programming for All
Bahiri and Fugate are committed to finding programming that reaches each person in the audience, making sure there is something for everyone. One of the pieces this season, Agnes DeMille’s duet from The Other, gave two of the dancers a chance to reprise a piece they had performed last season. The directors also have a passion for fostering new choreographers. John-Mark Owen who has danced with the company for several seasons, will present two duets from his ballet Triptych. In addition, there are two ballets on the bill by Bahiri, Trois Mouvements and a duet he labels “a work in progress” from In the Garden of Souls.
A few years back, Bahiri began choreographing not only as a means of expression but as a means of finding ways to work within the tight budget constraints of small dance companies. Not surprisingly, most of the challenges come from funding the company. Creating his own works for the company allows Ballet NY to be able to provide salaries for the dancers in addition to numerous other costs such as rehearsal space, theater rental, and costuming.
The Creative Process
For Bahiri, the “best part is being in the studio,” when creating a new production. In his choreographic process, the “music comes first, and then the movement.” He noted that some of the movement he has created is very difficult, “but the dancers do it!” In rehearsal, I witnessed these challenges first hand. Bahiri is also well known for the technicality of his partnering during his career as a performer and he has transferred his knowledge into his choreography. He really does throw some extremely technical partnering their way; and after the subtle corrections he gave, the dancers bodies reflected the athletic artistry of his movement. In the midst of this demanding work, dancer Nadezhda Vostrikov said, “We’re having fun!” and praised the directors for “being very efficient with their time.” Likewise, Veronika Rogoza, who is creating the costumes for the performance, told me she was “excited to costume ballet” for the first time (although she has costumed other dance styles).
Cultivating Harmony, Maintaining Humility
As I spoke with Bahiri and Fugate, I became aware of how humble the two are. Both had marvelous performing careers, but agree it is now “about the dancers, the work, the audience.” “It’s not about what we’ve done in our past,” stated Fugate who is a remarkable ballet mistress and excels in setting, coaching, and cleaning ballets. (This I know from experience.) She spoke of the joy that comes as they “carry what we have learned, and give that to the dancers who have never had the opportunity to work with Bejart or Balanchine.” As for challenges that often arise from working in such a short time with dancers from different backgrounds, she explained that there aren’t really any major problems. “They are professionals. We don’t have to babysit them.” I enjoyed watching as the dancers quickly responded to the gentle, yet matter of fact way Fugate corrected and gave pointers. Each work was rehearsed, discussed, and then they simply moved on.
The company currently has nine dancers in their upcoming season. They aim to keep as many dancers as they can from year to year, but scheduling challenges and financial concerns are the determining factors. With a company this small, each dancer gets a chance to be in at least two ballets. They are all exposed and featured, and “this is why people enjoy working with us” said Fugate, “they do things they may never get to do in their own companies.” Finding such harmony among directors, choreographers, dancers, and technical staff is not always an easy thing to accomplish.
Watching and listening to Bahiri and Fugate guide their company I was reminded of something extremely refreshing. Fugate pointed out, “dancers are hungry,” meaning that they desire to succeed and perform at their highest level. When there is heart and commitment coming from above in a ballet company, it flows down and allows all the artists involved to safely explore and work to their best ability.
Click Here for tickets to the show (August 9th-11th).