Devin Alberda choreographs for Columbia Ballet Collaborative

Devin Alberda talks about choreographing his first dance for Columbia Ballet Collaborative

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Time Out New York: One of your focuses at Fordham was gender studies, an interest born from a perceived lack of power in the ballet world once you identified yourself as being gay. How do you think of gender and ballet now?
Devin Alberda:
Now I’m trying to cool that a little. I think one thing that really changed my mind about all of the identity politics and how we negotiate that was [Slavoj] Zizek, in one of his pieces about the Occupy movement, was saying that now is the time that we realize these struggles of the past 20 years in identity politics—feminism, race studies, gender studies—we’re finally going to realize that they’ve just been distracting us from the real problem, and that being the specter of capitalism. And then I was like, What do we do from there? Clearly, identity matters and always will matter.

Time Out New York: How does identity relate to popular culture or ballet?
Devin Alberda:
It’s fun watching SNL deal with not having women of color on the show, and thinking that City Ballet has the same problem and trying to reconcile how ABT’s new initiative looks like a ploy for press, which is fine, but it’s never going to address the underlying structural issues that keep young black girls out of ballet classes.

Time Out New York: I couldn’t agree more.
Devin Alberda:
This is where I’m nervous to enter the conversation. And I have so much work to do just figuring out how to make a dance. Oh my gosh! I am so excited, but it was so humbling. I first wanted to do the summer institute [of the New York Choreographic Institute], and Peter was like, “It’s full.” And then he invited me, without seeing any of my work, to do the spring one, which is with composers. It should be someone a little more experienced, so Justin Peck was like, “You know what? Go do Columbia Ballet Collaborative. It’ll be good.” [For the spring institute] I’m working with a friend who used to dance with the company and is a composer at Juilliard now: Aaron Severini. We’re going to have a great time, and I’m really excited about all the stuff he’s sending me.

Time Out New York: Has the prospect of choreographing changed the way you see other ballets?
Devin Alberda:
Watching every dance has taken on new meaning. It’s not about my likes and my dislikes. I watched a ballet that I hate—I hate everything about it, but it is so well made. It’s such a well-crafted piece, and it’s exactly what a lot of people in the audience would imagine ballet should look like. I’m also really scared, because clearly I’m pretty engaged, but I could be terrible at choreographing, and it’s so scary making the jump.

Time Out New York: Why did you want to choreograph?
Devin Alberda:
Because I feel like I have something specific to say, and I have a lot of ideas. And I’m really excited to try to funnel them into a classical vocabulary, because there are just so few people working in a stricter, classical tradition, and I want to be a part of it, and I want to see what it can contain and how from that rigidity we can maybe find contemporary resonances. And it’s just been really fun watching Justin’s career blossom and getting excited about how he and Alexei Ratmansky and a lot of people working right now have breathed new life into what Jennifer Homans says is this dying form.

Time Out New York: Who are the other people?
Devin Alberda:
In terms of classical ballet for me? Here’s where I’m struggling, because I think there are two ways of working that excite ballet dancers. One of them is that more like almost masturbatory movement, which is so much fun to do, but doesn’t read.

Time Out New York: It’s horrifying to watch.
Devin Alberda:
Yes! [Wayne] McGregor is smart enough and has the capacity for tethering it to the score, to bring it back from just masturbatory, flowy exploration. I love doing that stuff. I got to do the third movement of his Outlier. That stuff and [Angelin] Preljocaj is so cool to do, but it doesn’t have the payoff. So I find them to be very exciting choreographers, but really I just want to see the beauty of a stage being subjected to this kind of—Justin and Ratmansky just have this great idea of how to bring out a community of dancers, put them in gorgeous sculptural formations and make them reflect the music as they move around together. And it’s really just Chris [Wheeldon], Justin and Ratmansky who are working in that way. I wish Peter wasn’t so browbeaten these days. The more I look at his stuff too, I have such great respect—just technically, his ideas about partnering are insane and no one has ever really pushed it to those extremes. Last year, they put [The] Infernal Machine next to “Purple” [the pas de deux from Ecstatic Orange]. It was so cool. I thought it was really fantastic to see; both of them are insanely manipulative and stunningly almost violent, but the violence was covered up in “Purple” and it became almost humorous and there was a delicateness to it that I found revelatory. I wish he hadn’t been so beaten down by the critics—he’s incredibly talented if he could just look past that and let himself be inspired.


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