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Pointe work: NCOP boosts ballet making to the next level.

IF YOU'RE forever asking what's new among other things it's New Choreographers on Point (NCOP), an enterprising nonprofit organization founded in 1990 and devoted to, as its name indicates, the presentation of new works created in the classical technique--works that might otherwise never be seen by the dance-going pubic. Right now Ballet Builders is the only showcase in New York City that is open to all ballet choreographers who would like to audition their work.

Ruth Chester, the executive director, and Michael Kraus, the artistic director, met in 1989 in a grant-writing class. They became friends and colleagues, as they discovered that they were, in their respective ways, devoted to the art of dance. Chester, formerly an advertising executive in the field of market research, had retired from that profession and was interested in a new career in fired-raising for the arts. Kraus, a dancer and choreographer, was still hoping to present his own ballets. Together they formulated the idea of workshops and public presentations of new dances chosen through auditions. Excellent reviews in publications including The New York Times, The Newark Star-Ledger, Back Stage, and The Village Voice attest to the success of their venture.

On April 3 and 4, New Choreographers on Point presents its fourteenth season at Manhattan's Florence Gould Hall in its annual program, Ballet Builders (BB). The program includes Heidi Cruz's The Glistening, to Jazzanova's "Hanazono"; Salim ("Slam") Gauwloos's Spring, to Tommaso Albinoni; Deborah Lohse's Enveloped, to Radiohead; Kathryn Posin's Thou Shalt Dwell With Me, to James MacMillan; Tracy Present's They still live on, to Karl Jenkins; a work by Davis Robertson; and a solo by Robert Sher-Machherndl, to Arvo Part.

THE MAIN criterion for inclusion in a BB program is that the choreography be based primarily on a classical foundation. The use of pointe work is not required, and the fusion styles of contemporary works may be incorporated, along with other theatrical devices, as the creative impulse dictates. Music choices have ranged from none to hard rock; to popular ballads and jazz; to modern classicists such as Henryk Gorecki; and to such standard classical greats as Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. BB fills a void for choreographers not affiliated with a company and for working ballet dancers who want to experiment beyond the confines of their own companies' requirements.

Participating choreographers have found RB a steppingstone to further opportunities. Penelope Freeh's dance The Virgin in the Garden, seen on one of the programs, was later presented by James Sewell Ballet in Minneapolis; and Posin's John Adams Violin Concerto was later performed by Sacramento Ballet. Other dancemakers for BB have made names for themselves as artistic directors: Jamey Leverett, Rochester City Ballet; Septime Webre, Washington Ballet; Paul Vasterling, Nashville Ballet; and Stephen Mills, Ballet Austin. Works by BB participants Daniel Catanach, Ryan Kelly, and Cherylyn Lavagnino have been presented at Jacob's Pillow.

Images of Kathryn Posin's Thou Shalt Dwell With Me, with Christina Fagundes and Momchil Mladenev

Requests to enter works come from around the United States and Canada; NCOP does mass mailings to ballet companies and schools, and enjoys considerable word-of-mouth renown. Choreographers may submit videotapes for consideration, or they may request a live audition. A panel of judges is chosen from among choreographers, teachers, presenters, and dance writers; a day for the judging panel is set aside; and the judges view the works, both live and on video.

NCOP ALSO conducts a Preview in the fall. This is an informal studio showing of works-in-progress that permits the choreographers to engage in a question-and-answer session with the audience, which thus has an unusual opportunity to be educated about the choreographic process. The Previews programs have proved extremely popular, often drawing overflow audiences. Another area of activity, the New Choreographers Workshop, held during four weeks in August, helps choreographers hone their skills in a supportive, creative atmosphere under the guidance of seasoned professionals. So far, forty-seven choreographers have participated in eight workshops. Each workshop is followed by a public performance of the ballets created.

NCOP encourages choreography for ballet by inviting students from New York City dance schools, high schools, and college dance departments to attend the dress rehearsal of the spring production and to engage in a question-and-answer session with the choreographers. Most find it gives them an opportunity to learn as well. Presentations by NCOP have led to commissions of new works, funding, the chance to have works produced, and media attention. Choreographers have the opportunity to see their work produced under fully professional conditions with a lighting designer and technical staff. Dancers also gain exposure and employment; some have been engaged by artistic directors whom they have impressed. Many participating dancers are already experienced professionals from such companies as American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, Ballet Florida, and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. Some performers have been encouraged to choreograph and submit work for consideration.

Chester and Kraus believe that New York audiences have an opportunity to enlarge their horizons, discover new choreographers and dancers, and see choreography that expands the definition of ballet for a new era. Chester comments, "If yon had told me fifteen years ago what I'd be doing today, I'd have said it was a fantasy!"

Doris Perlman is a New York City-based editor and freelance writer, specializing in music and dance.

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Title Annotation:New Choreographers on Point; New York
Author:Perlman, Doris
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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