The Power of Plot

Story ballets are back. On Monday, when the Joffrey Ballet announced a $500,000 challenge grant from Chicago’s Rudolf Nureyev Dance Foundation to develop new full-length narrative works, it felt like a tipping point. A company best known in recent decades for its abstract contemporary repertoire, the Joffrey’s new grant steers it toward a different model, and signals that storytelling has returned to the creative mainstream.

Of course, ballet has been rediscovering narrative for a while. This year alone, three of the most exciting choreographers in the field—Christopher Wheeldon, Alexei Ratmansky and Wayne McGregor—have turned their talents to storytelling. Both Wheeldon and Ratmanksy have created new versions of Cinderella (Wheeldon for San Francisco Ballet, Ratmansky for The Australian Ballet) and Wayne McGregor debuted his haunting fable of metamorphosis, Raven Girl, at The Royal Ballet. Will any of them have the enduring power of a Giselle or a Swan Lake? Or will audiences tire of them, and the pendulum swing back again to a more abstract idiom? Time will tell, but meanwhile, the Joffrey grant is a potent reminder that ballet remains a great way to tell a story.