NEW YORK — This weekend, the New York City Ballet launched its new Art Series with “Les Ballets de Faile,” a performance and art exhibition in collaboration with the Brooklyn-based street art collective FAILE. The company has a long history of taking risks with more abstract dances and pieces of music, and prides itself on having collaborated with a list of boundary-pushing visual artists, including Isamu Noguchi, Julian Schnabel, Francesco Clemente, Helen Frankenthaler, Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring, Santiago Calatrava, and Per Kirkeby. Now, in an initiative to rejuvenate its program and draw in a younger generation of viewers, it will commission contemporary artists to create site-specific works inspired by a dance performance and, for just $30 a ticket, allow visitors to see both.
February 1 saw the inauguration of the event, which is planned for a repeat on May 29. On early arrival to David H. Koch Theater, ticketholders were able to spend time viewing the massive, tower-shaped installation created by FAILE in the building’s lobby, scrutinizing it from different angles and perspectives within the rotundas. Next, visitors sat down for a four-piece abstract dance performed by the NYCB’s principle dancers. As an added perk, all audience members were able to take home a limited-edition piece of the street-art duo’s work.
Created out of blocks featuring the duo’s signature graphics and appropriated images, the structure resembles a jenga tower, stretching nearly the height of the four-story lobby. Though consistent in style, the subject matter varies between each of the component blocks — some feature wolves or wolf-man hybrids, while other offer classic cars, pin-up girls, vintage advertisements, women thrusting guns in the air or lounging on rockets, and Warhol-inspired imagery of Mao Zedong.
In keeping with the collaboration, the tower also includes painted pieces of ballet ephemera, which were inspired through FAILE’s exploration of the NYCB archives. In some blocks, a dancer is being whisked away by a giant octopus. In others, we see more traditional vintage ballet advertisements, with old style typography that contributes to the installation’s overall graphic-novel feeling and appearance.
“Going into their archives was really great, not only after doing research about the New York City Ballet, but also seeing the other ephemera on the side, the ads and the bits from the playbills and the old posters, and understanding how the ballet presented itself visually and graphically,” said Patrick Miller, adding that he, along with FAILE partner Patrick McNeil, saw the archive as a dreamland of images to draw on for inspiration.
The installation also served as an appropriate intro to the later ballet performance, which explored a range of emotions and situations, from desire to fear to playful humor. “Polyphonia,” the first, consisted of eight dancers moving in perfect sync to 10 discordant piano pieces by György Ligeti, combining the traditional ballet motions with abrupt, staccato finishing touches. “Herman Sherman Pas De Deux” had five performers doing joyous pirouettes to ’80s-style electronic music. The most alluringly odd of the dancers, “Variations Pour Une Porte et Un Soupir,” featured a male dancer dressed in a green leotard with a green-painted face, extending his limbs in long leaps to repetitive, high-pitched sounds that — according to the programme, these represented the “male sigh” — while a female dancer slithered out from a long black silk skirt, making angular movements to the sound of a rather loud, unsettling creaking door.
Even when paired with experimental, modern dance, introducing street art to an institution as classic as the NYCB may have seemed like a risky move. “I think it’s more that the old guard might look at this and find it more challenging than it is for our generation,” said Miller. “[The installation] relates to the way we grew up with advertising, [in] the quick pace of the [images in the] work.” But, he adds, “I think working together is a great opportunity because it brings a new audience to both them and us. That’s the great part about collaboration.”
To see ARTINFO's video profile of “Les Ballets de Faile,” click on the video below:
The exhibition will be on display in the David H. Koch Theater through February 24th. The theater will have open hours to view the installation for one week beginning February 10th.