New York City Ballet’s dancers will return to the David H. Koch Theater before audiences do. The company’s coming digital season, set to begin on Feb. 22, will include performances, rehearsals and conversations filmed at the Lincoln Center theater, including new ballets by the choreographers Kyle Abraham and Justin Peck.
“It’s an enormous step for the company, in particular the dancers,” Jonathan Stafford, City Ballet’s artistic director, said in an interview. “I’ve been able to be around the theater as they’ve come back to the stage to work on some of these events, and dancers are taking pictures of the stage — these are dancers who have been on the stage thousands of times in their career.”
The return to the Koch Theater is viewed as a step toward preparing the company for the reopening of performing arts spaces to the public. City Ballet plans to stage a live season, conditions permitting, in the fall. Wendy Whelan, City Ballet’s associate artistic director, said the company has been trying to “build a momentum with the different things we’re streaming and rolling out, and sort of building more and more opportunities to slowly get dancers onstage.”
The digital season will begin with three weeklong explorations of major works by the company’s founding choreographer George Balanchine, “Prodigal Son,” “Theme and Variations” and “Stravinsky Violin Concerto.” Each week will include a performance stream, podcast episode and video conversation with dancers who have performed in the ballet. New rehearsal and coaching footage is being shot for the conversations, which will home in on a specific role in each of the pieces.
The premieres arrive in the spring. Abraham’s piece, which will be released online on April 8, will be created during a three-week residency at Kaatsbaan Cultural Park in Tivoli, N.Y., this month. He’ll be joined at Kaatsbaan by eight City Ballet dancers, including Lauren Lovette and Taylor Stanley. Ryan Marie Helfant, a cinematographer who contributed to Beyoncé’s visual album “Black Is King,” will film the performance in Manhattan at the end of February.
The ballet will be the third that Abraham has created for the company. His first, “The Runaway,” was first performed during the company’s fall fashion gala in 2018. A filmed solo choreographed by Abraham featuring Stanley, “Ces noms que nous portons,” was released in July.
The season’s second debut comes in May as a part of the company’s first online gala. Peck, City Ballet’s resident choreographer, is creating a solo for the principal dancer Anthony Huxley, set to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The annual celebration and fund-raising event will also include newly filmed performances of excerpts from City Ballet’s repertory by Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.
Stafford said he was hopeful about the progress the company will be able to make in the coming months: “We see light at the end of the tunnel.” But he also acknowledged how challenging the shutdown has been for City Ballet’s dancers, musicians, crew and staff. “No one has been untouched in terms of how difficult this time for the company has been.”