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HomeDanceShifting course however staying on mission: Diana Byer of New York Theatre Ballet

Shifting course however staying on mission: Diana Byer of New York Theatre Ballet

“It’s not about patting your self on the again as a do-gooder; it’s about sharing one thing,” says Diana Byer, inventive director of New York Theatre Ballet (NYTB). That ethos appears to information the corporate’s work, from forward-thinking methods of making and curating firm programming to its LIFT Program – which offers dance training to deprived youth. For them, it’s not about accolades or notoriety, however about doing the work and impacting lives: nevertheless many attainable. 

Diana Byer. Photo by Betti Francheschi.
Diana Byer. Picture by Betti Francheschi.

Dance Informa speaks with Byer, who – after 44 years – might be stepping away from firm management. She’ll keep on the helm of instructional programming (which incorporates the LIFT Program and New York Theatre Ballet College), nevertheless. In a real full-circle second, her former pupil Steven Melendez will step into the performing firm inventive director function. There is perhaps small shifts in course, however they’ll keep headed towards the mission. 

The corporate: Inclusive earlier than it was ‘cool

NYTB was established in 1978. Byer names just a few key choreographers whose work the corporate has featured since then: Antony Tudor, Frederick Ashton, Agnes de Mille, Jerome Robbins. The corporate has been thinking about a variety of labor, inside and out of doors of classical ballet, Byer affirms – why she calls it a “dance firm” reasonably than a “ballet firm.” What’s vital is sustaining a selected high quality of dance (not essentially athletic, Byer notes), and preserving the aesthetic of explicit kinds and the works of the historic canon after they are carried out, she underscores.

Diana Byer teaching New York Theatre Ballet dancers at Jacob's Pillow. Photo by Hayim Heron, courtesy of Jacob's Pillow Dance.
Diana Byer educating New York Theatre Ballet dancers at Jacob’s Pillow. Picture by Hayim Heron, courtesy of Jacob’s Pillow Dance.

Over that tenure, the corporate has additionally been groundbreaking of their inventive selections and approaches, which embody supporting feminine choreographers and fascinating artists of colour earlier than such measures have been extra commonplace. 

Additionally forward-thinking has been how the corporate has supported rising, younger choreographers by means of the sources of full manufacturing values. “We have been doing that earlier than it was a factor,” Byer says with a bit of snicker. These then-emerging choreographers embody now-heavy hitters Nicolo Fonte, Pam Tanowitz, Gemma Bond and Matthew Neenan. It’s been nice to “see how they develop” after working with them, Byer shares. 

There’s additionally the actual fact of getting a feminine director in 1978 – nothing just like the norm on the time, she emphasizes. None of that has been to be within the highlight, and even essentially for the sake of pushing towards radical change; it’s been about making and sharing good artwork. “You simply did your job,” states Byer matter-of-factly. 

Additionally a key a part of the corporate’s mission and work has been about broadening entry to high-quality live performance dance, to all types of cities and cities – giant and small. “The corporate has at all times been a touring firm. We’ve at all times, for the reason that starting, gone to cities that aren’t on the map – bringing one thing stay to individuals who wouldn’t in any other case get it,” Byer explains. The corporate has toured to each state however Alaska and Hawaii, in addition to areas in Europe, she provides. 

Byer hopes to see the corporate develop additional, and develop the viewers base, beneath Melendez’s new management. It hasn’t precisely been straightforward for her to step away from performing firm management, however it’s been “the proper time to make the change,” she shares. 

LIFTing dance college students, one by one 

The seed of NYTB’s LIFT Program got here in 1989, when Byer “wished to do one thing social” – with social affect. Schuylar Chapin, former New York Metropolis Commissioner of Cultural Affairs for New York Metropolis, organized an occasion whereby college students have been bussed into the NYTB studios for lessons. After that, Byer realized that she wished it to be greater than a one-off occasion. She wished NYTB to supply extra lasting measures for college kids like these, equivalent to tuition scholarships for lessons on the firm’s faculty. As soon as that got here collectively, LIFT was born. 

Byer is evident about this system’s most important focus and objectives. “It’s not a lot about making dancers, though it does create some dancers, they usually do want some pure means [to participate in the program]. It’s actually about breaking the cycle, [building] work ethic and setting children up for fulfillment.” 

LIFT’s strategy to that finish is lots supplied and lots anticipated. The coaching is rigorous, technical and classical (within the Cecchetti methodology). College students are liable for sustaining their dance apparel and displaying as much as class appropriately dressed – and should observe correct class etiquette total.

There’s direct proof that this strategy is fruitful: numerous choreographers and firms will forged LIFT college students as a result of they’re identified for his or her professionalism, means to select up choreography shortly and precisely, and commendable artistry. Different proof within the pudding, because the saying goes, is the careers of LIFT alumni out and in of the humanities. Alumnus Victor Abreu is now dancing within the corps of New York Metropolis Ballet. One other carried out in Billy Elliot on Broadway, forged at 9 years outdated, and yet one more carried out on the Manhattan Theater Membership. 

Such successes of LIFT alumni attain past dance as properly. One alumna, regardless of a notably deprived background, simply joined the Secret Service. One other was dwelling in a battered girls’s shelter at one level however now has a commendable profession in finance. That reinforces Byer’s assertion that LIFT cultivates strengths far past dance: work ethic, private company and imaginative and prescient for one thing larger than what they at present know. 

That’s to not say that the varsity cultivates a aggressive, unforgiving ambiance. On the contrary, LIFT additionally works by a mindset of inclusivity towards all types of scholars. “It’s not the survival of the fittest; typically the kid with out the ‘greatest’ physique will grow to be an important artist. [We teach by] addressing ‘flaws’ and giving particular person corrections,” Byer notes. 

Actually, Byer describes LIFT coaching as extremely “individualized” total. She believes that’s a minimum of partly attainable due to the varsity’s comparatively small dimension. “Small can imply various things to totally different folks,” she affirms. To some, it may be constructive as a result of it could facilitate that extra personalised instruction.

Total, as she continues her work directing NYTB’s instructional programming, she’s hoping that it “will proceed with its severe coaching and producing work for NYTB and different corporations.” If it’s working, why change it, one may argue! “There’s been a ton of successes, and failures; it’s each,” Byer does additionally be aware. Each group can refine their work and serve in a stronger, extra helpful approach, given time and expertise – and all indicators level to that NYTB is not any totally different. 

The corporate is shifting course in management, but there’s no signal of that sustained dedication to the mission stopping – which incorporates being forward-thinking and refining what they do as they be taught and develop. The results of that’s all of the better potential for extra individuals who in any other case wouldn’t have skilled the magic of dance – each normal viewers members and youngsters – having their lives impacted for the higher. 

For extra info on New York Theatre Ballet’s LIFT Program, go to

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.



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