BAANDing Together in Dance: A Very New York Story

The festival unites five of the city’s major dance companies across five programs to create an absolutely stunning lineup of talent and technique.

“There’s a moment when I’m not sure where my body is,” Alexa Maxwell tells Antonio Cangiano. They are in a studio at the Rose Building, working on a complicated death spiral-ish move. Cangiano tries the spin again, pausing for a beat longer before helping Maxwell rise from the ground. She nods. “Yeah, that’s better.”

Partnering is an intimate act, and the two dancers don’t know each other very well. Maxwell is a soloist with the New York City Ballet, and Cangiano dances with Ballet Hispánico. They are rehearsing a new piece that premiered on July 25 at the third annual BAAND Together Dance Festival as part of Summer for the City at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Ballet Hispánico’s Amanda del Valle and NYCB’s Andres Zuniga watch from the back corner, marking the movements and listening to the rehearsal director’s notes. “It’s the little things,” she’s telling them. “Don’t rush the transitions.”

When del Valle and Zuniga step into the center and attempt another complicated lift, Maxwell offers del Valle a tip: “Just wait a moment.” I’m not sure exactly what this means, but del Valle seems to, and when they try again, she hovers upside down on Zuniga’s shoulder in a glorious arabesque. Maxwell claps, “That’s it!”

The four dancers have only had about two weeks to learn the new duet commissioned by Lincoln Center for the festival and choreographed by former Ballet Hispánico dancer Pedro Ruiz, and the excitement is palpable. This is collaboration at its best—no egos, only genuine admiration and the desire to learn from each other. This is what BAAND Together is all about.

Two dancers rehearse in a studio
A look inside the Pas de O’Farill rehearsals. Photo by Richard Termine

How BAAND Together began

The festival started in 2021 when Lincoln Center approached the NYCB to see if they’d be interested in performing outdoors. NYCB’s Artistic Director Jonathan Stafford and Associate Artistic Director Wendy Whelan answered with an enthusiastic yes, but. They said that the artistic directors of five major dance companies in the city (Ballet Hispánico, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem) had been meeting since March 2020 as a way to support each other, and suggested that they all put on a dance festival together. Jon Nakagawa, Director of Contemporary Programming at Lincoln Center, told me, “I thought it was the best idea I’d ever heard of.”

According to Eduardo Vilaro, Ballet Hispánico’s Artistic Director & CEO, the gathering of the Artistic Directors during the COVID pandemic became a lifeline. “We had come together in solidarity to support our companies and artists during a traumatic time for the arts… As artistic directors, we are so mired with work and creative tasks that we can feel siloed. Having a deeper connection amongst us strengthened our own personal commitment to our art and our artists in a new way. The BAAND Together Dance Festival is the outcome of that camaraderie.”

While the artistic directors no longer need to meet regularly to figure out how to stay afloat, the festival has reinforced the bonds between them. They have begun co-commissioning works together and inviting dancers from each other’s companies to perform as guest artists. The dancers love the new connections as well. “They too revel in community,” Vilaro said. “We don’t get to play together often.”

Luckily they will get to play together for five nights during this terpsichorean Midsummer Classic, my ideal All-Star Game, as five of the world’s best dance companies share the stage at Damrosch Park.

Dancers on a raised outdoor stage before an audience
The July 25 performance of the festival. Photo by RICHARD TERMINE

What you’ll see

The program, curated collaboratively by the artistic directors of the companies, begins with Ballet Hispánico’s Línea Recta (2016) by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. This sultry flamenco-inspired dance was a favorite of mine from the Company’s New York Season at New York City Center. I can’t wait to see del Valle bite down on her rose-red ruffled train again and spin circles around her men.

A trio of dancers perform on stage with a folding fan
Ballet Hispánico dancers Omar Rivéra, Antonio Cangiano and Gabrielle Sprauve. Photo by RICHARD TERMINE

Next is American Ballet Theatre’s Other Dances (1976) by Jerome Robbins. The series of short dances set to Chopin (originally made for Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov) show off the Company’s superb classical ballet technique. For the festival, it will be performed by principal dancers Gillian Murphy with Aran Bell and Isabella Boylston with Joo Wan Ahn.

ABT’s Principal Dancers Gillian Murphy and Aran Bell. Photo by RICHARD TERMINE

Following that is Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Nyman String Quartet No. 2 (2019) by the Company’s Artistic Director Robert Garland. The six-section piece has a joyful party vibe. It is a great introduction to DTH’s unique jazzy-cool neoclassical ballet style and will no doubt earn them new fans.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will perform an excerpt of Dancing Spirit (2009) by Ronald K. Brown, which was a standout in their recent run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The piece for nine dancers, a tribute to the great Judith Jamison, is a mix of styles from Cuba, Brazil and the United States and is a showcase of the Company’s extraordinary range.

On 7/27, instead of performing Dancing Spirit, AAADT will perform the quartet For Four (2021) and the solo Takademe (1999) featuring Kanji Segawa, both signature works by Company Artistic Director Robert Battle.

Closing out the program is New York City Ballet’s The Times Are Racing (2017) by Resident Choreographer and Artistic Advisor Justin Peck, the beloved “sneaker ballet” for 20 dancers set to Dan Deacon’s innovative electronic music. It’s the perfect way to end the evening.

Antonio Cangiano and Alexa Maxwell in the world premier of ‘Pas de O’Farrill’ by Pedro Ruiz. Photo by RICHARD TERMINE

But right in the middle of this amazing lineup is the real highlight: the world premiere of Pas de O’Farill, the collaboration between Ballet Hispánico and New York City Ballet choreographed by Ruiz. The duet (representing the merging of not only two people but two companies) is a tribute to the music of Latin Jazz musician Arturo O’Farill, whose style embodies the blending of cultures and techniques at the heart of the dance.

Ruiz was eager to take on the commission and explore how to use the structure of the classical ballet pas de deux and “make it Latinx”.  The creation process was fast and thrilling. All he knew before going into the studio for the first rehearsal a few weeks ago was the opening image: two people meet on the street, start having a conversation and see where that conversation leads. “It’s a very New York story,” he said. It is. All of this is.

The free BAAND Together festival, made possible by CHANEL, starts at 7: 30 p.m. at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park and runs through July 29.

BAANDing Together in Dance: A Very New York Story