This past weekend, the only student-run ballet companies in the Ivy League —Princeton University Ballet, Harvard Ballet Company and Columbia Ballet Collaborative —joined forces to produce performances that both showcased and celebrated the strengths of the dance groups.
The Ivy Ballet Exchange was founded two years ago by the leaders of the ballet companies at Princeton, Harvard and Columbia with the intention of recognizing the works of student-run dance companies and emphasizing the fact that these diligent dancers could pursue their academic studies while remaining committed to ballet.
“It was started as an idea for these really great ballet companies to come together and share what they had been working on, artistically,” Princeton University Ballet president Emily Avery ’17 said.
The leaders of the dance companies began planning for this event over a year ago because the exchange required a lot of foresight and logistical planning.
“Getting the logistics worked out was definitely a challenge. We had to make sure that all of our company dancers could travel to New York and arrive on time for their early morning classes,” Avery said. “We had to make sure we could get food throughout the day and organize this with the other company leaders as well.”
PUB’s former president, Marisa Remez ’16, agreed that there were challenges in planningthe collaboration between the three dance groups. The leaders stayed in touch via email and video chats throughout the year it took to plan the event.
The companies were able to perform a total of seven pieces. Columbia Ballet Collaborative performed two pieces, Harvard Ballet Company performed one piece and PUB performed four pieces. Three of PUB’s pieces were choreographed by company dancers Paige Shaw ’17, Marisa Remez ’16 and Julia Jansen ’19, and were originally performed in PUB’s most recent show, "Nutz." Because PUB's pieces were shorter, they performed more pieces than the Harvard and Columbia groups.
The fourth piece that the company performed, “Spindle of Gestures,” was choreographed by Norbert de la Cruz III, a guest choreographer for PUB. Avery explained that the four pieces PUB took to the Ivy Ballet Exchange covered a range of styles as half of the pieces were en pointe, and the other half were more contemporary.
“The pieces that we decided to choose were mostly just what we thought were the best representation of our best works," Avery said. "They weren’t necessarily connected by a theme, but they were works that we were pretty proud of and wanted to show to other companies.”
PUB took about 20 dancers to the daylong event at Columbia, joining the Columbia and Harvard companies for a total 60 dancers performing in one of the university dance studios. Dancing in an unfamiliar space was not so challenging for PUB dancers because the company rehearses and performs on different stages with varying dimensions on campus. As a result, the company has learned to adjust to different spaces.
The second Ivy Ballet Exchange encouraged mingling between the companies by allowing the dancers to participate in workshops and masterclasses led by professionals, including former New York City Ballet dancer Kaitlyn Gilliland and former American Ballet Theatre principal dancer, Ashley Tuttle. This opportunity to mingle between the three companies was difficult to incorporate in the first ballet exchange, as that was comprised only of the performances by the individual companies.
“This year we decided it would work better as more of a collaborative event. So this Ivy Ballet Exchange was a day of workshops and masterclasses together. We all took a ballet class together,” Avery said. “Last time it was like Princeton did a piece, Harvard did a piece, then Columbia did a piece. But, we didn’t get to have masterclasses together. So this was a really nice way to get to actually meet the company members this year.”
The implementation of workshops and masterclasses is a testament to how the Ivy Ballet Exchange is growing to better connect the dancers from the different companies. PUB sees this evolving nature to be one that works to meet the overall mission of the event.
“I definitely think that the format of IBE is something that is evolving, but I think it is really a great opportunity for the three ballet companies to interact,” Remez said, in an email statement.
PUB hopes the IBE can happen at Princeton at some point and involve a piece that has dancers from all three companies, even though this will be difficult to coordinate.
There are a lot of benefits in celebrating and getting to interact with the other companies because the dancers all have different academic and professional backgrounds, so they can learn from each other. PUB found it rewarding that their efforts at collaborating with the Columbia Ballet Collaborative and the Harvard Ballet Company were successful. The weekend’s performances were memorable because they showed and celebrated the purpose of the Ivy Ballet Exchange.
“I think that [the] Ivy Ballet Exchange is a testament to the fact that you can still dance at a very high level in college. Usually, for ballet dancers in high school, the decision to go to college means that your dance career has ended,” Remez said. “Ivy Ballet Exchange shows that this is not the case, that it's possible to attend a school where you can grow both academically and as a dancer"