The Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University was founded in 2014 by Jennifer Homans, leading historian and author of bestseller Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet. We are an international research institute for artists and scholars of ballet and its related arts and sciences. We exist to inspire new ideas and new dances, expanding our understanding of the art form’s history, practice, and performance.
Why Ballet? Ballet is the longest lasting and most developed dance tradition the West has offered to itself and to the world. With a history stretching back 400 years, it has always been a reflection of society, with deep ties to religious, political, and social traditions. It is also a radical art that has changed dramatically in the course of its history, incorporating the evolving complexities of the societies in which it is practiced and performed.
In our theaters and performing arts institutions, ballet has too often been highly specialized and deeply conservative. It is still widely seen as an “elite” and narrow art form resistant to change and new ideas. But, the history of ballet is itself a revolutionary document: at critical moments ballet has reinvented itself by drawing on popular culture, black culture, musical theater, pantomime, and commedia dell’arte. At its strongest points, it has been intellectually expansive. Its connections to philosophy and mathematics, to manners and religion, to the practices of war and to the ambitions of sport, to painting and fashion, have been profound. The fact that this dynamic history has not persisted is not only a failure of institutions, but also of imagination.
In our universities, the academic study of ballet – and of dance and the embodied arts more generally – has historically been similarly limited. Subjects like history, philosophy, and music, for example, are considered mainstream majors with robust curricula. Ballet, by contrast, is offered in technical programs or as extracurricular activity. It is not systematically included in courses on the history of culture, philosophy, religion, the sciences. There are few ‘core’ courses on the nature and history of this important art. This is a significant gap in the history of culture.
CBA aims to open the world of the university and the world of ballet to each other. The idea is simple: they both have much to learn. The university “gets” the deep physical and artistic knowledge of ballet and a new field of study that is naturally interdisciplinary. Ballet “gets” new (and old, but forgotten) ideas and new collaborators. New York University, with its urban perspective and broad intellectual resources, is a natural setting for this kind of encounter.
In pursuit of this mission, we offer two things:
Our fellowship program facilitates the creation of new scholarly and artistic work in ballet, dance, and its related arts. We provide our fellows with the time, space, and support needed to develop new work. Our fellows, selected competitively from around the world, come with wide-ranging areas of expertise. At CBA, they meet and are influenced by other artists and scholars they would not otherwise encounter; many form working relationships that last far beyond the fellowship.
We also are out in the world. Our widely attended public events typically feature both artists and scholars in conversation, mixing live performance and scholarly knowledge. CBA is a forum for open discussion and debate about dance and the arts, with an ever-growing place in the cultural life of NYU, New York City, and beyond.
While ballet remains at the core of our mission, CBA’s inherently multidisciplinary nature has led us to grow up around and beyond it: we have become an international research institute for the performing arts organized around dance. This organic evolution serves to bring ballet and its related arts into an ever wider cultural community within the life of the University. It is this breadth and expansion that we shall embrace in the years to come.