NYU ballet center takes main stage after receiving grant

Amanda Morris

The Center for Ballet and the Arts will officially open at NYU on Sept. 22, following a $2 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The center aims to combine ballet and scholarly research in order to generate new ideas about the medium and expand the way in which ballet is thought about.

Jennifer Homans, founder and director of the center, said she hopes the center will provide a place for artists and scholars to meet, work and produce.

“The idea was really how to bring together the world of ballet as a performing art with the world of the university as a major research institution,” Homans said. “The point of the center is to create new ballet and new scholarships — better ballet and better books.”

In her recent book “Apollo’s Angels,” Homans identifies the causes of ballet’s current state of drift. After the release of Homans’ book, Mellon Foundation vice president Philip Lewis said they wished to be a part of the solution to revive the art.

“We think that ballet as an art form stands to benefit from the kind of study the center will promote,” Lewis said. “We hope the center will spark renewed interest in ballet and generate connections between the study of dance and other programs for the study of the arts at the university.”

The center seeks to create programs that will foster public conversations between artists and intellectuals, including open ballet classes taught by master choreographers, an annual public lecture on the subject of dance and the Resident Fellows program, which brings in artists and scholars to think, collaborate, learn and create together.

One member of the program is filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, who will be collaborating with choreographer James Sewell to make a ballet out of Wiseman’s first film, “Titicut Follies.” In doing so, Wiseman hopes to make more modern ballets that could possibly attract new audiences.

“So often ballet has to do with subjects that don’t have anything to do with what’s going on in the world, it’s not often contemporary,” Wiseman said. “It doesn’t deal with what’s in the real world.”

The ballet is scheduled to be performed in spring of 2016 and Wiseman is hoping that it will tour around the country.

Lewis said the grant given to the center may be renewed once or twice, should the foundation find the center’s results promising. But, over time, NYU will be expected to assume responsibility for the financial support of the center.

In the long run, Homans hopes that the center will be able to change the perceptions of ballet that currently exist. 

“Our goal at the Center for Ballet and the Arts is twofold,” Homans said. “To break open the increasingly narrow world of ballet as a performing art and bring to it new ideas and the full resources of a major resource university, and to bring ballet into the university as a serious subject of study and research, establishing it as a field within the arts and sciences.”

A version of this appeared in the Thursday, Sept. 11 print edition. Email Amanda Morris at [email protected]

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