Amy Hall Garner Makes Her Choreographic Debut at New York City Ballet

April 30, 2024

Amy Hall Garner was in Chicago choreographing the musical Dream Girls when she got a phone call from New York City Ballet associate artistic director Wendy Whelan. It was the summer of 2022, and the call came as a surprise. Whelan, Garner explains, had seen her work around New York City and was interested in commissioning a world premiere for NYCB.

Flash forward two years, and Garner is gearing up to present Underneath, There Is Light at the company’s 2024 Spring Gala at Lincoln Center. As part of a triple bill alongside George Balanchine’s “Rubies” and the world premiere of Justin Peck’s Dig the Say, the ballet is one of several major debuts Garner has made recently.

The 25-minute piece features 19 dancers, with costumes by NYCB costume director Marc Happel and scenic and lighting design by NYCB resident lighting designer Mark Stanley. It’s divided into five sections, with music by Jonathan Dove, William Grant Still, Aldemaro Romero, Michael Zev Gordon, and Ottorino Respighi.

Emma Von Enck and Chun Wai Chan dance together in the foreground of a rehearsal shot, with three other dancers mirroring their movements in the background.
Chun Wai Chan, Emma Von Enck, and members of New York City Ballet in rehearsal for Underneath, There Is Light. Photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy NYCB.

“Right now is a wonderful time to be with the company—on their 75th anniversary, and in the spring season,” Garner told Pointe in an interview. “It’s going to be beautiful. When I think of ballet, I think of the beauty, the excellence. And that’s where my head was, wanting to create this piece for such a monumental year for them and this moment for myself.”

Here’s more of what Garner had to say.

What was it like to learn you’d been commissioned by NYCB?

The day Wendy called and said this opportunity is happening, I was thrilled. It’s been a dream—I mean, New York City Ballet is one of those prominent companies, the dancers are phenomenal, it’s in New York at Lincoln Center. It has all of the things that you hope for.

How do you feel about the timing of it?

I felt very prepared coming into this, and not just as an artist. I’m in my 40s. There are things that I’ve learned, and things that used to make me nervous that I don’t even think twice about now. Sometimes we forget that you have to have a natural progression, and there are things you learn before you get to that certain point so that when you are there, it’s not wasted. No one ever talks about that. And it’s really important.

I think timing is also divine. When you’re supposed to have things, they will happen for you.

Amy Hall Garner, shown from the hips-up, demonstrates a movement as she leads rehearsal at New York City Ballet. She bends her right arm and rests the back of her right fingertips on the side of her cheek, head turned slightly to the side.
Amy Hall Garner. Photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy NYCB.

Could you describe what the piece looks like, choreographically?

It has five sections, to all classical compositions, and all from different composers. It’s abstract work. There’s no through line in it, and there are no characters. It’s just the marriage of dance and movement to music, which I love. I also want to keep it that way because we’re in the house of Balanchine. It’s very important to me to respect that.

I also like to move dancers across the stage. Some of it is very fast, and sometimes very slow. But I think the movement showcases their technique and artistry.

What was your approach behind that?

I started with what I wanted to say: I wanted to give homage to how I think about ballet and how ballet has been a foundation of my entire dance journey. So I found five different pieces of music that represented that and what I thought the dancers at City Ballet would thrive dancing to.

The dancers are very quick with movement and how they capture it. It’s really refreshing when you’re making a new work to have dancers who connect the dots right away.

In rehearsal, Emma Von Enck does an arabesque with her supporting leg bent, looking forward toward the front of the studio. Behind her, Amy Hall Garner walks and watches.
Amy Hall Garner (back) and Emma Von Enck. Photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy NYCB.

What are the sets and costumes like?

We have a lovely set piece that’s an architecture with light, and it has five different pieces. They can all come together as one or break apart and make their own individual shapes.

There are two different costumes, but for the majority of the piece they’re in black. The ladies are in dresses with an asymmetric cut and a duchess satin bodice. There’s lovely beading on the back—regal, but comfortable. The men are in classical pants and turtlenecks. There’s nothing pedestrian or minimal about them.

Are there any big takeaways you’ve gleaned from this experience so far?

Making sure that I stay true to exactly who I am and how I feel about dance, and to keep honoring that. No matter where you are—if you’re with a ballet company or a modern company or a theater in front of actors.

I’ve worked very hard to get to this position, and there’s something to be said for hard work and honing your craft. I think a lot of younger choreographers see the accolades and the commissions, but I always say that when you see my resumé, you see all the ‘yes’s. You don’t see the ‘no’s. (And there are many more ‘no’s than there are ‘yes’s!) So you have to keep doing what you love to do and hone your craft every single opportunity you can.