New York City Ballet’s “Very Brief History of Ballet”

New York City Ballet has created a charming video trailer for their Spring HERE/NOW season, a festival of works created for the company over the past several decades. It’s a great complement to the Royal Ballet videos (check them out at the bottom of the post!) detailing how ballet has evolved over the past 200 years or so. And, as I wrote in March, ballet trailers are getting more and more beautiful.

Ballet historians might notice that the female characters from Nijinsky’s L’après midi d’un Faune are wearing pointe shoes. In the actual version, the female characters are in sandals. Also, the dancers representing the romantic, early-1800s era of ballet give themselves away with distinctive “Balanchine” hands. The trailer is more “New York City Ballet does dance history,” and less an historical reenactment.

On a slightly more sour note, I can’t help but notice that the hyper-sexualized role of the Faun is given to one of the company’s few African-American men, Christopher Grant, while the elegant Prince Siegfried is danced by a white man, principal Ask la Cour. Both are principal roles, requiring different kinds of virtuosity, and either dancer might be better suited for either role. It’s hard not to wonder whether unconscious perceptions influenced casting.

In the same vein, corps member Olivia Boisson has been getting a lot of air time lately, what with this trailer and the company’s partnership with PUMA. Yet her stage time has not appeared to keep pace, at least not in featured roles. With all the talk about racial diversity in ballet, companies might feel pressure to make cosmetic changes to their most outward-facing media outlets (like YouTube videos) and feature their dancers of color—while not featuring them onstage. Let’s hope that Boisson’s prominence and Grant’s moment in a principal role are good signs for the Spring season.

Watch the Royal Ballet videos below:

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