The American Music Festival sounded like a bad idea from the very beginning, when New York City Ballet co-ballet master in chief Peter Martins announced his plans at a press conference in May of last year. Not only did American music seem a slippery peg on which to hang a dance festival—past City Ballet festivals had been dedicated to individual composers whose music Balanchine considered intrinsically danceable—but Martins had invited a number of modern and postmodern choreographers to create works on the City Ballet dancers. Attempting to play down the significance of what was in fact a huge departure for the company, he vaguely described these choreographers as being “not automatically associated with classical ballet,” then added, “They speak a slightly different language, or perhaps dialect, from us.” But the difference between Balanchine’s language and those of the likes...


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