The American Ballet Theatre has long been regarded as one of the best ballet companies in the world. At home in New York City, during their annual season at the Metropolitan Opera, the company often plays to full houses. In this town, ABT is the company to see for pure, classical ballet. Year after year, the company’s bread and butter consists of the handful of full-length story ballets that rotate weekly. A couple of mixed bill programs are performed as well, but the great ballets such as Les Corsaire, Romeo and Juliet, and Swan Lake, are at the forefront of their marketing campaign. ABT also has a long history of being a company of ballet superstars. As a result, many go to see a particular ballet, not on the merit of the piece itself, but to see “The Great So-and-So” headlining the production. Everyone has his or her favorite dancers and these great artists worked hard to be where they are. But, isn’t it about time dance be more about the art, and less about stars? This isn’t the seventies and eighties anymore—we are in a new century! A sea change may be needed to reinvigorate and challenge the audience to get back to the roots of the art itself. As the diehard classical ballet fans begin to, well, get old and die out, isn’t it worth wondering who will take the helm to ensure that younger audiences don’t grow weary of this type of classical programming?
There are great new up-and-coming choreographers taking steps to make their mark, but fewer and fewer are working within the classical ballet idiom. Enter ABT soloist, Craig Salstein and his Intermezzo Dance Company: a new company with the vision to push for the continued expansion of classicism in the 21st century.
Salstein is currently enjoying a successful career and is “honored to be a soloist in ABT.” His time with the company has allowed him to dance many signature roles, and he humbly acknowledges the gifts that ABT has given to him. However, he is troubled by what he sees happening to the art form. With Intermezzo, he aims to tackle head-on the issues such as the star system and refreshing the classics for a new generation. Through new, and innovative works rooted in classical ballet, he plans to guide the eye so that one sees the beauty of the dance being made by the dancer for who they are as an artist-not just who they are as a big name. He is also concerned by the premature retirement of many dancers after a career in the corps de ballet spent standing in formation and doing character work. Salstein laments, “this is not what they trained for. They have so much knowledge and talent.” He admits that going to college is perfectly honorable, but exclaims, “I can’t help but think that kids are throwing in the towel too soon.”
Salstein wants to battle the notion that ballet can’t exist without stars. “Our minds are conditioned by an anointing of the press which tells us which dancers are worth watching.” In a world where artistic content is driven by ratings, Salstein sees hope that the stuffy stereotype of ballet can be changed. “We have to stop the inflation of what ballet is. This isn’t the Bravo television network where if a dancer isn’t a superstar, they are a failure. I want dancers to be fulfilled by their dancing.” (Once upon a time, another man set out to fight the “Star System.” He went by the name George Balanchine.) Often, when current dancers form companies such as Salstein is doing, they pull primarily from their current colleagues. Salstein has assembled an eclectic group of dancers from the NYC dance community. This won’t be just a “come and see the people you’ve been watching all season at ABT kind of show.” Audiences will have some faces both familiar and new to bring the works to life.
For the debut of his company, he has gone back to his love of opera. In celebration of the bicentennial of Giuseppe Verdi, he has commissioned new works set to the composer’s String Quartet in E Minor, and Un Ballo In Maschera, (A Masked Ball.) He is excited to present five choreographers, Marcelo Gomes, Adam Hendrickson, Gemma Bond, Lisa de Ribere, and Raymond Lukens. With Intermezzo, his goal is to “continually have a repertoire of new works.” As a director, Salstein insists that he is not “a king awaiting a court. This isn’t about me. It’s about the art of ballet. I want to showcase new choreographers and dancers and give them a chance to expose the audience to new possibilities.”
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