What began as a one-off evening of dance quickly became the multi-day event brimming with world-class talent known as the Nantucket Atheneum Dance Festival. In 2008, the Atheneum sponsored a performance from Stiefel and Stars, an intensive summer program that was run on Martha’s Vineyard by Ethan Stiefel, a principal dance for the American Ballet Theatre (ABT). “We looked at the landscape here,” says Atheneum Head Adult Program Coordinator Amy Jenness, “and saw that there wasn’t a whole lot of dance.” The event, sponsored to gauge community interest, sold out. The success of the event propelled the Atheneum to invest more energy into the dance world. The result was the Dance Festival, which over the years has turned into a multi-day event featuring classes, discussions, and performances, all from the best talent in dance.
This year, the Festival culminates in two performances (Friday and Saturday, July 25 and 26 at 6pm) with dancers from the New York City Ballet (NYCB) and ABT. Curated by Tyler Angle, the works presented range from classic ballet to new work by modern talent. Angle takes over the role of Artistic Director from Benjamin Millepied, who joins the Paris Opera this September as Director of Dance. Angle has been a principal dancer for NYCB since 2009 and has performed in works from George Balanchine’s Swan Lake to premiere pieces by Mauro Bigonzetti. “My role as Artistic Director first and foremost is to choose the repertory and dancers for the festival,” says Angle. “The real challenge in Nantucket is to appeal to the very educated dance enthusiast crowd and at the same time be accessible, interesting, and enjoyable to the people who may only see this one dance program every year.”
Angle, blending an array of sounds and styles, successfully pulls off this feat in the performances, which are distinctive not only for their arrangements but also their mix of dancers from the two companies. “What makes our festival unique is that you would never see the pairings done here,” says Jenness. Angle describes the performances, saying, “The audience will see classical choreography from 1850 or so, and then follow that line up to much more contemporary choreography. Needless to say,” he explains, “the way in which we dance ballet has changed a great deal since the 1800s. I’m trying to show the breadth of work that any one of these dancers can come across in their careers, or just even one week of their careers!” Both performances are held in the Nantucket High School Auditorium, affording all audience members an opportunity to see the dancers’ talents up-close.
The first act leans towards traditional and opens with Bach’s Partita #2 and Emery LeCrone’s 2014 classically informed choreography. As the second piece, Angle chose the Brahm-Schoenburg Quartet, which is Brahm’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor as orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg. The abstract dance is by renowned choreographer and NYCB founder George Balanchine. Finishing the first act is Flower Festival in Genzano Pas de Deux, a touching love duet from August Bournonville with music by Eduard Helssted. Dancing the piece are Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside, who will later premiere an excerpt of Lidberg’s new piece. Angle, illustrating the range of the performance pieces, points out that “[v]astly different skill sets are employed to dance these works.”
For the second act, Angle emphasizes modern talent. His first pick is Neverwhere, a 2013 work by Millepied featuring Nico Muhly’s Drones and Viola. Dramatizing the piece are intricate plastic costumes, as well as lighting by Mark Stankley, the perfomances’ Lighting Director. Following the 2013 work is the premiere preview of Lidberg’s new duet, which Boylston, its soloist and ABT principal, commissioned with her Annenberg Foundation grant. The final feature of the night, Furiant, is a fast-paced duet set to Antonín Dvorák’s Piano Quintet in A major. Justin Peck, the 26-year-old newly appointed resident choreographer at NYCB, premiered the piece last year at the Young American Grand Prix Gala.
A big believer in live music, Angle has opted for all pieces but Bournonville’s and Lidberg’s to be accompanied by five Juilliard-trained musicians on piano, violin, viola, and cello. “I am very excited that we are having so much live music this year,” says Angle. “First of all because it sounds better in the space and secondly because I am a complete classical music geek.” He explains how the musicians bolster the performances, saying, “[N]othing could be more immediate than watching the musicians’ physical response to their own sounds, which adds another interesting facet to the program.”
The night before the performances, Angle leads a conversation on the performances where company dancers not only demonstrate but also discuss their work. “The lecture/demonstration is a behind-the-scenes look at the dances that are going to be performed the following two nights,” says Jenness. “The Festival really gives attendees a chance to understand what it is that they are looking at.”
“I think we’re so used to looking at things on the screen,” she says. “In a dark room, with other people all experiencing the same thing together—there’s a magic that happens there.” With its intimate settings and discussions, the Nantucket Dance Festival undoubtedly augments the enchanting sensation of live performance. To purchase tickets ($45-85) or to learn more about the Festival’s accomplished artists and program, visit www.nantucketatheneum.org.
by Julianne Adams