May 26, 2019

The Choreographer Kyle Abraham Mixes Things Up at City Ballet

The Choreographer Kyle Abraham Mixes Things Up at City Ballet

Taylor Stanley, 27, a City Ballet principal, said that rehearsing with Mr. Abraham had been eye-opening. “It’s nice to get to move differently,” he said, “and to take what we know in our ballet technique and apply it to something so relevant and current.”

Mr. Stanley, who is biracial, has never before worked with a nonwhite choreographer at City Ballet. Being in the studio with Mr. Abraham and his assistants, he said, “makes me feel like there’s a place for everyone.”

Those are heartening words during what has been a turbulent year for the company. In January, its longtime leader, Peter Martins, retired amid allegations of sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse. (The company said that an investigation did not corroborate the claims, which Mr. Martins denied.) A recent lawsuit filed by the former School of American Ballet student Alexandra Waterbury, against the principal dancer Chase Finlay (who resigned last month) and the company, has raised further questions about the institution’s culture — and has led to the firing of two other male principals.

Yet rehearsals carry on. “The energy that I’m given in the room — you would never even know that stuff was happening on the outside,” Mr. Abraham said.

For some, his presence at City Ballet inspires cautious optimism. “It’s great if this is the first step,” said the writer and dance educator Theresa Ruth Howard, who founded, a digital collection of the stories of black ballet dancers. Regardless of his work’s reception, she added, “we should be seeing diversity in the choreographers that present at New York City Ballet as a norm.”

Is the company moving in that direction? “Absolutely,” Mr. Stafford said. “That’s become a fundamental part of all of our decision-making here at New York City Ballet, with casting and hiring, with commissioning. It’s part of the thought process now, whereas it maybe wasn’t always before.”

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