The national discussion over race has increased pressure on City Ballet to bring more diversity on and offstage. The company dance corps remains predominantly white, as do its audiences, but there have been signs of progress.
The company has hired more Black, Latino and Asian dancers in recent years and promoted them to key positions. As parts of its most recent labor contract with the union representing the dancers, the company formally adopted a policy allowing dancers to use tights and shoes that better match their skin tone, rather than standard pink attire. The company has also pledged to work to eliminate racial and ethnic stereotypes in ballet.
Programming has grown more diverse, featuring a greater array of choreographers and composers, helping draw new audiences to the ballet. In February, City Ballet presented “Fortuitous Ash” by the Thai American choreographer Keerati Jinakunwiphat, her first work for a ballet company. Last fall, City Ballet premiered “Play Time,” by the choreographer Gianna Reisen, with an original score by Solange. About 70 percent of ticket buyers for that program had never been to City Ballet before. The renowned choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, who spent the past 13 years at American Ballet Theater, recently joined City Ballet as artist in residence, a coup for the organization.
As the 75th anniversary looms, the company still faces challenges: the uncertain economy, increasing competition from streaming platforms for time and attention from audiences, and questions about its modern artistic identity as the Balanchine era grows more distant.
Peck, the choreographer, said it could become more difficult to keep staples of the repertoire “sharp and clear and potent” as the connection to Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, one of the company’s most influential choreographers, faded.
City Ballet is like a garden that “we have to continue to work on day in and day out, regardless of any success that we’ve had,” Peck said.
“Each year, it feels like we are always starting over again, as if it’s the first time,” he added. “If we don’t stay on top of it at all times, the weeds will overtake it, and it will lose its clarity and its order.”