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Despite the snow and sleet that have invaded New York, thirty students will be heading to the Big Apple this weekend — in pointe shoes, nonetheless. For the first time, Princeton, Harvard and Columbia’s ballet companies will come together to perform. The three groups are the only student-run ballet troupes in the Ivy League. This collaboration has been long in the making, and what began as Columbia graduate student Elysia Dawn’s initial vision has grown into a full-fledged production.
“She [Elysia Dawn] had for a very long time wanted to do this collaboration between Ivy League schools that do have ballet companies,” Princeton University Ballet president Caroline Hearst ’14 said. “That process began probably in fall of 2012 when I first heard from her so it’s been a really long time coming … since we’ve been able to put foundations under her vision.”
These foundations have set the stage for the Columbia Ballet Collaborative, Harvard Ballet Company and PUB to each perform four pieces at the Miller Theatre at Columbia this weekend. The three companies have spent the past two years planning the event and delegating the responsibilities involved in producing the inaugural performance.
Naturally, bringing together three groups to develop a performance brings together an abundance of creativity and talent. Dancers within each company had individual visions of what the collaboration would look like and reached a consensus on the specifics of their performances largely through communication by Skype, emails and conference calls.
“I can quickly text, call or meet in-person with PUB officers to organize our shows on campus,” PUB artistic director Chloe Cheney-Rice ’15 explained. “The distance between Princeton, Harvard and Columbia make this planning process unlike anything PUB has experienced before, which makes it all the more exciting.”
Logistically, the planning was especially difficult for the Harvard Ballet Company and Princeton University Ballet because both groups will perform in an unfamiliar space — the Miller Theatre. Hearst mentioned that in planning the performance, Columbia was often “the rock” that communicated what was actually feasible for the stage.
In preparation for the performance, the groups divided responsibilities. Princeton received the task of developing a visual identity for the collaboration.
“It was really fun to work with everyone but also really difficult because there are so many brilliant and different ideas about what the show should look like on paper,” Hearst said. “We have an emblem we think will last for many years. It has interchangeable stars at the top that we can add and remove as companies join, and the performance evolves over the years.”
Beyond their collective efforts, each company also had to prepare pieces to feature in the performance. Initially, the groups hoped they might be able to perform together and intersperse their separate pieces with a goal of blending the different schools and highlighting ballet as a link and the focus of the collaboration.
Although the logistics of the long-distance partnership prevented that vision, the heart of the collaboration remains to be the desire to bring together a group of people who, despite being in different schools, share a passion for ballet. Through that commitment and the amount of time the dancers have dedicated to perfecting art, the participants have found many shared experiences between the companies and dance itself.
“I met with the Elysia over the summer, and it was so cool how much we could relate on even though we went to different schools and had different experiences,” Hearst said. “We are different ages, but there was just so much we had in common having gone through all that ballet training together.”
PUB will take four pieces to the Ivy Ballet Exchange. Three were choreographed previously by Colby Hyland ’16, Maria Katarina Rafael ’15 and PUB vice president Jiae Azad ’15, and have been performed in past shows. The company believes these pieces represent the group’s best work and will transition well to the Miller Theatre.
The fourth piece is a longer one, which was created specifically for the Ivy Ballet Exchange. Choreographed by PUB artistic directors Cheney-Rice and Sarah Howells ’16, the piece includes themes of friendship and love and incorporate a range of musical styles, including jazz.
The Ivy Ballet Exchange will be the first time PUB has performed off-campus. PUB is taking 30 dancers who will join another 55 from Harvard and Columbia in this inaugural collaboration.
“It’s still hard for me to believe that I get to participate in such an exciting event my freshman year here at Princeton,” PUB member Ellen Roop ’17 said.
While the companies hope for a large audience, ultimately, collaboration and friendship lie at the heart of the Ivy Ballet Exchange.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is for us to interpersonally connect and meet each other,” Hearst said. “We hope too that peoples’ impressions of ballet and what they think it is about or looks like will be changed by the show. We can share what we do on our own campus to take ballet to new places and bring that back.”