City Ballet’s New Team Gets a Crash Course in Season Planning

City Ballet’s New Team Gets a Crash Course in Season Planning

Mr. Martins had commissioned four new works: one by Matthew Neenan, the choreographer in residence at Pennsylvania Ballet and the co-founder of BalletX in Philadelphia; one by Gianna Reisen, a young dancer and choreographer who won praise for her first work for the company in September; and two by Mr. Peck. One of Mr. Peck’s new works will be set to a newly commissioned score by Sufjan Stevens, his frequent collaborator, with orchestrations by the composer Timo Andres.


Justin Peck, New York City Ballet’s choreographer in residence, will have two premieres next season, including one with a commissioned score by Sufjan Stevens.

Victoria Stevens for The New York Times

The new team commissioned two more. To choose them, Mr. Stafford said he turned for advice to Mr. Peck, who follows new developments in dance closely. They settled on two choreographers who have yet to create dances for major ballet companies.

To make a work for the fall gala, the company picked Mr. Abraham — the founder of the modern dance company Abraham.In.Motion, now called A.I.M., and a MacArthur fellowship winner — who has made dances for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the dancer Wendy Whelan. And the company asked Ms. Portner, whose work includes viral social media posts, a Justin Bieber video seen more than 50 million times and the West End production of “Bat Out of Hell — The Musical,” to create a new work for the company to dance in January.

Mr. Peck said in an email that he had had his eye on both of them for some time. He said he was “looking for talented voices in dance,” but also “considering which voices might spark a unique and exciting chemistry with our dancers.”

Mr. Stafford said putting together a season, even one that had been mostly mapped out, had been an education. There were practical concerns that the team had never thought of: Mr. Peck had been surprised to learn that two of his ballets could not be performed back to back with only a brief pause because the orchestra pit needed to be reconfigured to play the very different types of music. The costume shop needs time between premieres and costume-heavy story ballets. On nights when the women in the company must dance both in point shoes and in sneakers, many prefer to have the point shoe ballet programmed first, so they will have more time to warm up and break in their shoes.

And Mr. Stafford said it had been eye-opening to work with the company’s computer model, which helps predict potential audiences. “Artistic decisions drive the programing,” he said, “but it’s really important for us to know that information.”

Katherine E. Brown, City Ballet’s executive director, said the model analyzes ticket sales since 2005 to predict how ballets will sell — which is not easy, given that the company often performs several ballets a night, making it complicated to isolate how individual works do, especially with other variables including who is dancing, the day of the week and the time of the year. But she said the model’s projections had been quite accurate in recent years.

“If you have a ballet that you now know is less appealing to the audience, but really important artistically, you understand that needs to be balanced with something else that can pull it up,” she said.

Mr. Stafford said City Ballet has danced more than 400 works over the years. “We have this incredible repertoire,” he said. “It’s almost an embarrassment of riches to program.”

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