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: I’m glad you’re onstage so often, but I wish you were dancing more variety.
Devin Alberda:
I need to. I really need to figure out if this is where I’m going to finish my career. It’s so hard to walk away from this institution especially as I’m so invested at this point; I can’t desert Balanchine’s company. You give everything to it. There are these girls killing themselves for this idea of a dead man, which is so humbling and amazing to watch. The work ethics these people have is staggering. And they don’t even question it. Even though there’s this decentered power. I wish it could be as transcendent for me. When you’re not onstage and inside all of those all the time—I’m onstage a lot, but it’s not the same way of those girls living in them. That rep can keep a woman satisfied forever. I want to try to figure out how to focus a poppier feel into the vocabulary and structures and then do something that doesn’t necessarily participate in a grander ballet narrative. Watching the girls kill themselves in class—I want to make use of people like that, because there just aren’t enough people finding a way to focus these fantastic energies. We need to make sure that this generation of dancers has those people like Ratmansky and Justin to express all of this work. Because ballet is so not dying. It looks like it is. I started Apollo’s Angels in the summer, and now I’m stuck on ballet in imperial Russia. I don’t know if I can do it! It’s going to be like a one-two punch and then it’s Britain isolated from Europe and World War II. I’m like, don’t know if I can do those two chapters. But it takes half the book to get to Petipa. Oh my God.

Time Out New York: The research is so satisfying in the beginning.
Devin Alberda:
It’s so good.

Time Out New York: You’ll get to the end and you’ll wilt. The logic is so terrible. It’s embarrassing.
Devin Alberda:
Okay. There’s been so much talk about it. That conclusion has been the point of contention. It’s also so good thriving in a corps too and feeling like an underdog. I have to dance the best I can all the time. Why bother? It’s a silly thing, but a jazz teacher would say, “If you’re stretching, why aren’t you stretching as hard as you can?” If you are taking a class, just do it. There’s so much fun of being a part of the corps; I think you need to sublimate yourself a little in a way that is really productive.

Time Out New York: How so? 
Devin Alberda:
It’s just this reminder that you’re a cog sometimes and that there’s that whole Fleet Foxes song [“Helplessness Blues”]; that’s why it’s fun letting yourself be inside of Balanchine, Ratmansky, Justin—you’re utilizing everything you’ve been taught and everything that you worked to do, but it’s in this grander scheme. I don’t have the best memory for dance. It’s such a talent. I take care of my work, and I’m a very fast learner, but [NYCB ballet mistress] Rosemary Dunleavy is a national treasure. The woman is a genius. It’s staggering to think that she, in her hat, has every Balanchine ballet mapped out. Every part. She knows everyone’s count.

Time Out New York: When did you come to SAB?
Devin Alberda:
That’s a fun story. I was going to go to Juilliard. I went to the Rock School for my senior year of high school, and I was set on it. I applied to Tisch, Juilliard and Columbia, and Columbia didn’t have the dance program that the other two did. I got into Tisch and Juilliard, and I was certain I’d blown the interview at Juilliard, because they asked me my astrological sign and I said, “Leo,” and he was like, “Always have to be king of the jungle.”

Time Out New York:  Oh my God. That’s so weird.
Devin Alberda:
I know! They say, “We’re not looking for necessarily the most standout dancers, we’re trying to create a cohesive class.” [The director] was Larry Rhodes when I got in. I lost my deposit there, because I then went to SAB for the summer. Jock [Soto] and Peter [Boal] offered me a spot for the year. I was like, “Sorry, guys I’m going to Juilliard.” And two weeks later, Jock or Peter was like, “You really should reconsider. I think you could have a nice part in workshop, and I think you could be happy here.” I go in to talk to the people at Juilliard, and they’re like, “Really take a look at their rep and see if that’s what you want to be dancing,” and there have been times when that has seemed somewhat a warning that should have been heeded, but the Balanchine rep is beyond reproach. And the economy collapsed the next year. I would have been $90,000 in debt and running around Europe looking for a job. So I’m so glad it happened the way it did. I came to the school in fall of 2004. I would have been a senior right as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac brought the world to its knees.

Time Out New York:  When you spoke about where to finish your career, what other options are open to you?
Devin Alberda:
Right? I have no idea! So I like to pretend if I took the time and really worked on my contemporary, I could have a shot at making my way into—it would be so hard to try to move to NDT [Nederlands Dans Theater]. That would take such work, and I don’t have the résumé yet. All I’d have on there would be Outlier. It was a lovely pas de deux with Sterling [Hyltin], and it was such a great experience and no one thought I could do it; I only did it once, and it was awesome. I wouldn’t go to Miami, Pennsylvania, Boston—I couldn’t do any of those places. I have friends at all of these places, and we all have the same gripes.

Time Out New York: It would just be more of the same, but on a smaller scale.
Devin Alberda:
It would be more of the same, and there wouldn’t even be a guarantee that I would get to shine there either. [Sighs] I don’t know. I think I’m going to be here.
Columbia Ballet Collaborative performs at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center Nov 22 and 23. 

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