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5/19/11
Surprising Collaborations: Whitney + Met and Ailey + Taylor
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The Whitney

Image of the proposed Whitney near the Highline, courtesy Renzo Piano Building Workshop in collaboration with Cooper, Robertson & Partners.

Two news items were announced last week that seemed to signal a fresh want and need for collaboration between major cultural institutions. In 2015, the Met Museum will take over for eight years the Whitney‘s home on Madison Avenue, designed by Marcel Breuer. Many battles have been fought over expanding that handsome granite monolith, but now that the Whitney  plans for a May 24th groundbreaking in the meatpacking district near the Highline, it can devote its energy to moving into a much larger headquarters, leaving (at least temporarily) the Breuer building and the numerous landmark squabbles.

A collaboration like this among museums is very unusual, but this deal’s fate may be traced in some karmic way back to Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who considered donating her American collection to the Met, but instead founded the Whitney. The institution long ago outgrew the Breuer building, which will be used by the Met for exhibitions and support programs.

Another exchange of a different sort took place on West 55th Street, at the Ailey building, where incoming Artistic Director Robert Battle announced his first season lineup (he takes over from Judith Jamison this July; the company’s NYC season is basically December at City Center). So far, so good, with a commission about AIDS going to Rennie Harris, and company premieres by Ohad Naharin (Minus 16) and Battle (Takademe), plus new productions of Joyce Trisler’s Journey and Ailey’s Streams, plus repertory works.

But the most surprising repertory addition is Paul Taylor’s Arden Court, marking—at 81—Taylor’s company debut. In a way, it’s bittersweet, since Taylor was born a year earlier than Ailey, who passed away in 1989. Taylor continues to expand his life’s work by reliably choreographing two works a year, whereas Ailey’s static oeuvre must continually be combed through to choose hardy revival material, and outside choreographers selected to complement Ailey’s legacy while challenging its superb dancers.

Perhaps this could’ve been seen in the proverbial crystal ball, since Battle can roughly trace his choreographic heritage to Taylor. Taylor hired David Parsons as a dancer, who founded a company and hired Robert Battle, who danced, began choreographing, and ran his own successful troupe for a number of years before AAADT hired him. He choreographs with his own unique voice, but there are still movement roots and impetus’ that share some DNA with Taylor. Another fascinating chapter in the evolution of modern dance in NYC.

  • ELF

    It will be interesting to see where all 4 institutions go over the next decade. How to preserve and grow at the same time.

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.