NYC Ballet and Marcel Dzama Bring Us The Most Incredible Thing
This year the New York City Ballet tapped interdisciplinary artist Marcel Dzama to head up the fourth installment of their Art Series. Dzama’s whimsical, bizarre, and dark costumes and set designs (you might recognize his work Beck’s Guerolito) feature twisted fairy tales and scores of dancers dressed in chaotic and colorful unitards, cumbersome masks, armor, wings, and other non-traditional ballet dress. The performers look as though they stepped right out of his drawings—or New York City.
“When I moved to New York, my drawings got denser and denser, and they became very claustrophobic,” the Canadian-born Dzama told Gothamist. “So to put some order to the drawings, I started putting them in dance positions. From then I slowly bought a lot of books on dance and old magazines, so I got into dance in this weird side way.”
Like Faile, JR, and Dustin Yellin before him, Dzama has a large installation open to the public in the lobby of the David H. Koch Theater. But the Brooklynite also designed the costumes and backdrops for the world premiere of the performance “The Most Incredible Thing,” choreographed by the New York City Ballet’s Choreographer-in-Residence and “boy wonder” Justin Peck, and scored by The National’s Bryce Dessner.
Based on a Hans Christian Anderson story of the same name, the storyline involves characters trying to win a princess’ hand in marriage. After a dramatic battle, “the most incredible thing” turns out to be the inability to destroy the spirit of art.
“I really liked the story of how art will overcome destruction and tyranny, and we thought this was very timely because it was when ISIS was destroying art in the Middle East,” Dzama said. “In that their destruction of art will hopefully come back to get them.”
Dzama, who is charming, polite, and has a sunny disposition, went on to say that his more macabre work might come from listening to the news while he draws late into the night.
“It’s almost like a therapy to get it out of my system. I try not to censor myself when I’m drawing, it’s not really automatic drawing but sometimes I don’t know what I’m about draw and I’ll draw it and I’m like OK, I didn’t know that was in me. Sometimes I don’t know where it’s going at all.”
One costume for the show is made up of two dancers who split apart to create a princess who is coated in an armored tutu. Other characters in the show look like players in a deck of cards, or are cloaked in winged and feathered costumes that look more like a wild turkey than a black swan.
“That was so exciting to see come to life,” the artist said of his designs. “I’ve seen [my] costumes on someone before, but to see them dancing with this amazing choreography that Justin Peck did for them was just crazy and so exciting.“
Dzama’s lobby installation incorporates dance as well, but is more inspired by the space’s opposing Elie Nadelman sculptures, and the artist’s chess motif which is inspired by his interest in Marcel Duchamp’s obsession with the game.
Nadelman’s immaculate white sculptures of women standing facing each other at opposite ends of the space, are now covered in red and blue polka dots. Behind each sculpture is a large video installation, in which Amy Sedaris plays Marcel Dzama auditioning and directing dancers for a ballet.
“In the film there are the two sides, the red and blue they’re kind of having this dance off.” Explained Dzama. “Amy is playing me and this other character is [artist] Raymond Pettibon, played by Jason Grizzle, so it was this collaborative thing like us playing chess together.”
You can catch the performances of “The Most Incredible Thing” on February 6th, 11th, and 19th. Every seat in the house is $30.
Performance shots courtesy NYC Ballet.