A selection of NYC-ARTS Greatest Hits: Paula Zahn in conversation with Jonathan Stafford and Wendy Whelan, the new artistic leadership of the New York City Ballet; followed by a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a look at Jackson Pollock’s “Autumn Rhythm” from 1950.

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♪♪

Coming up on 'NYC-Arts,' we'd like to share with you some of our favorite segments.

Is there any way to do, like, a little more with your hands?

Yeah.

Since Wendy and I both danced that role quite a bit, we feel like we can step in there and give, you know, just those little fine-tuning details to just elevate the performance that little bit.

I wanted to help them build a landscape in their mind of where to push farther, where to soften up, where to think differently throughout the way the music also has a landscape.

We're looking at Jackson Pollock's 'Autumn Rhythm' from 1950.

The painting came into this election in 1957, and it's one of the treasures of the Met's modern collection.

Funding for 'NYC-Arts' is made possible by... This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

Additional funding provided by members of Thirteen.

'NYC-Arts' is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

First Republic Bank presents 'First Things First.'

At First Republic Bank, 'first' refers to our first priority, the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step?

Recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree?

Be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

Good evening, and welcome to 'NYC-Arts.'

I'm Philippe de Montebello, at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.

It's been my pleasure, along with my colleague Paula Zahn, to bring you the very best of arts and culture in the tristate area.

Whether it's music, dance, film, theater, the visual arts, classical or contemporary, well-known or newly discovered, 'NYC-Arts' has provided unique access to the people and places that represent the richness of our arts community.

In this program, we'd like to share with you some of our favorite segments.

We hope they are some of your favorites, as well.

♪♪

Good evening, and welcome to 'NYC-Arts.'

I'm Paula Zahn at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.

Tonight on our program, we'll meet the next generation of artistic leadership at two of the world's leading institutions for dance.

New York City Ballet, which makes its home right here at Lincoln Center, is one of the foremost dance companies in the world.

It has a roster of more than 90 dancers and an unparalleled repertory of modern masterpieces.

Founded in 1948 by the legendary choreographer George Balanchine and arts patron Lincoln Kirstein, the company quickly became renowned for its distinctive style and the original ballets that forever changed the face of classical dance.

But early on, Balanchine made it clear that establishing a ballet school was a priority, a place to learn.

Inspired by the training he received at the Imperial Ballet School in Russia, so arose the School of American Ballet, widely regarded as this country's leading ballet training ground.

As the official academy of the New York City Ballet, the school prepares almost all of the company's dancers to join its ranks, as well as dancers for companies around the globe.

Last February, after an extensive search, Jonathan Stafford was named Artistic Director of New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet, and Wendy Whelan was named Associate Artistic Director of the Ballet Company.

Both are esteemed former New York City Ballet dancers and SAB alums and are universally considered to be among the brightest luminaries in the arts world today.

Next week, the company will open its fall season with a performance of Balanchine's full length 'Jewels.'

Highlights from the repertory will also include Balanchine' 'Serenade,' 'Symphony in C,' and Tchaikovsky 'Piano Concerto No. 2,' Jerome Robbins' 'Dances at a Gathering,' and 'Opus 19/The Dreamer,' as well as resident choreographer Justin Peck's 'Everywhere We Go.'

♪♪ I recently had the honor of speaking with Jonathan and Wendy about their vision for the future.

Wendy and Jonathan, it's great to have you with us.

Congratulations on your new appointments.

Thank you.

Thank you so much.

So, Jonathan, you came into the company in, what, about the third iteration of your career as one of the interim directors of the ballet probably during one of the most tumultuous times in the company's history.

And now, of course, you've landed the title of Artistic Director of the New York City Ballet.

How would you describe the climate of the company today?

One of the things that I had always really cared about in the company was direct and open communication.

And that's something that when Wendy and I first started talking to each other about taking these roles, that was, like, first and foremost on both of our lists.

And what was great about that is we're really on the same page.

And that's not just direct and open communication between us, which is really, really important, but direct and open communication between the dancers and the artistic staff and the artistic leadership.

And especially in York City Ballet, I feel like we have such incredible intellects in our dancer ranks.

And what we've started to do is have this dialogue about what their needs are.

And then that way we can hold them accountable and get what we need from them, but they can also hold us accountable and become the most fully formed artist that they possibly could.

Yeah, it's wonderful that you look at the teamwork the way you do.

How would you describe what your duties are?

Well, Jon and I have very, very different histories with New York City Ballet.

We come from different sides of the art form in a lot of ways.

So, he was given that sort of opportunity to explore teaching and ballet mastering, and I wasn't doing any of that.

In fact, I was like, 'Ugh, that's not my thing.'

And I was finding opportunities to collaborate with choreographers and making new work and making artistic collaborations happen.

I always loved dancing, and I loved performing.

I loved the high I got from it.

But I discovered early on that the buzz I got and the adrenaline rush and everything was happening more so behind the scenes than when it was happening out on the stage.

And that was a really kind of interesting moment for me where I said, 'Huh, I really, really like teaching.

I love teaching.'

So, you've had this long and storied career with the New York City Ballet dancing for, what, more than 30 years?

I was there for 30 years.

Which is phenomenal.

Very impressive.

It really is.

♪♪ ♪♪ So, what did you do to convince Wendy to come back?

Because you were enjoying --

Jon didn't need to do, anything to convinced me to come back.

But you were enjoying your work, right?

You were were spending a lot of time with new choreographers, perhaps, whose work hadn't been discovered.

And that was an exciting time, was it not?

Yeah, and I was learning how to teach.

I was actually starting to stage things.

Now I can take all that I learned, and continue to learn, and go back and bring it into what I know.

So, how do you maintain the excellence that is in place at the School of American Ballet in terms of teaching and in terms of nurturing this young talent and making these great kids excellent?

So, at SAB, you have to have -- at any school, you have to have a really, really clear vision of how you're going to teach, you know, what's important, and you're teaching the style.

We're fortunate that George Balanchine left us with a very clear vision of how to teach students.

How would you distill that down to a sentence or two?

Fast, dynamic, precise.

Musical.

Musical.

Expressive. Not so?

Economical movement, clear clarity of position.

And it's not about acting.

It's not about becoming something other than what you are, but becoming the best of you.

And how does that help connect you to the overall mission of the ballet?

Because you really are approaching it as a teacher, as a former principal dancer, and now the guy running the place.

Well, it's unique at New York City Ballet, in that we take 95% of our dancers in the company are from the School of American Ballet.

That's unique.

And certainly this country.

Now, does that mean you're just getting the best of the best of the best?

Is that why that number is so high?

We try to cultivate an ideal about how we dance this work and how we approach our work.

It's -- There's just a whole sort of ecosystem of thought and focus and style and technique and understanding.

♪♪

So, we had the privilege of being embedded in one of your rehearsals.

It was the Tchaikovsky 'Piano Concerto No. 2.'

No. 2,' yes.

Just describe the process you were taking the dancers through.

Still even take a little more time.

At that point, the corps has been rehearsing on their own, the soloists have been rehearsing on their own, the principals have been rehearsing on their own in separate studios.

And that's -- We bring it all together to do a run-through.

And then the principal dancers in that role have danced this ballet before, so they're already at a really high level.

Wonder, is there any way to do, like, a little more with your hands?

And since Wendy and I both danced that role quite a bit, we feel like we can step in there and give, you know, just those little fine-tuning details to just elevate the performance that little bit.

And we also want to put the dancers in a position where they go onstage and they're not thinking about how they're executing.

They're just letting go, and they're just going out and dancing.

[ Piano plays ]

Working with the principals, for myself, was so fun, actually, for the first time I worked on that piece with Teresa Reichlen and Russell Janzen.

They're perfect dancers.

They're long, and they're very clean and clear.

♪♪ I wanted to try to bring up the dynamics of the music with them.

And I also liked how you were hitting -- lightly hitting... It helped them build a landscape in their mind of where to push farther, where to soften up, where to think differently throughout, the way the music also has a landscape.

So, for me, it was a total thrill to get to work with them for the first time.

So, the other ballet that was being rehearsed was the 'Mozartiana.'

What do we see unfold on the screen there?

That is a much smaller, more intimate piece, where the principal dancers spend most of the ballet onstage by themselves.

'Mozartiana' is so intimate.

But it's also epic because there are so many details.

And then maybe lay something -- just hang back a tiny bit as you got forward or something.

♪♪ It's Balanchine at his highest intellect of making ballets.

♪♪ It's a conversation between the partners, as well -- between the man and the woman in their pas de deux.

And it also has a quality of being almost improvisatory-looking.

It looks like they're in a conversation, and they're just coming up with the steps in the moment, even though they're defined.

So, to me, that's a really interesting quality of making dance, ballet especially, because people didn't make ballets like that at the time.

It was very clean, clear, direct, aligned, and Balanchine turned it all on its side and put these rhythms in.

So it's tumbling.

The steps sort of tumble out, and it's extremely exciting to do.

What are your goals when it comes to the repertoire of the ballet?

Lots. [ Chuckles ]

Yeah.

You know, obviously, first and foremost, the Balanchine and the Robbins rap is at the core of what New York City Ballet is, and always will be.

♪♪ ♪♪ So we have to maintain the integrity of that rep.

We have to maintain the excitement of that rep.

And we have to make sure that it stays fresh and alive and vibrant in all the years going forward.

Is that difficult?

Well, we're passing it on from generation to generation.

So there's new people learning it, and there's new people approaching it at different times in their lives.

So it does have that ability to remain fresh.

You've developed this interesting idea of trying to bring back some of the the muses that inspired Balanchine.

How is that working out?

We're bringing them back selfishly for us to learn from, to be our guides, to inform questions that we have always had, that we didn't fully have the answers to.

It's really like opening this treasure chest and letting the gems glisten for us and seeing.

What is so important, ballet is in art from that's passed down, really, vocally and physically by demonstrating.

And we didn't get to work directly under Balanchine.

You know, we're kind of the next generation now that didn't have that direct contact with him.

But there are all these people out there who did and that he created his masterpieces on.

And so we thought it just made perfect sense to bring them on, selfishly, for us to learn from, but they're also teaching the dancers who are then someday going to be in our positions and passing it on to the next generation.

And so it's --

It's your version of an oral history, in a way.

It really is.

And to see Eddie Villella, who Balanchine revived 'Prodigal Son,' this really -- one of the most iconic roles in the male rep, for working with Joaquin De Luz, in the last season of Joaquin's career, before he was going on.

And he's now a director.

To see the two of them onstage, having an intimate moment and just working on it, I mean, we're standing in the wings, with our mouths wide-open, just watching this incredible moment between two world-class, world-famous artists.

And how are you approaching new work?

And that's what you're tasked with, right?

That's one of my tasks, yeah.

Being on the hunt for those new great works.

Yeah, and that's something that Wendy has really kind of inspired in me, you know, to really understand that, that the new work is not just for to build a new audience, a younger audience, to excite the audience, what we're doing, but it's actually to really develop the artists and feed the artists.

So, in trying to balance the need to continue to feed your artists and to expand your repertory, how concerned do you have to be about alienating your core audience if these pieces are ultimately performed onstage?

You know, I think our audience is actually really open-minded.

Our audience is very intelligent and very sophisticated.

They know what they're seeing, and they know, at New York City Ballet, that we're always going to create new work, and they're excited by that.

That's why they come, because that's what we're about.

And that's what's so fun about New York City Ballet, is they love the Balanchine and the Robbins, but they also love the new work.

You know, we have stepped outside the box in the last year with some of our new works.

And it's been received, for the most part, really, really enthusiastically by our audience.

So that just gives us even more confidence to keep going.

And something Justin Park, who's our resident choreographer and also now artistic adviser, and he's in his early 30s, and he's so connected and tuned in to the local art scene here in New York, that he has all these ideas of artists that he can collaborate with, that he can send to the company for other choreographers to collaborate with.

Currently, he's a creative consultant and the resident choreographer for New York City Ballet.

So we are sort of a little triangle of conversation.

We talk among ourselves about where we want to go, who think is interesting.

We get approval from each other about commissions.

So it's always a conversation.

What do you hope will be on the horizon for the company and the school?

I hope that, you know, we can open up from our history.

We've had a certain identity, a lot of good ways.

But we can develop it in more broader ways, diversifying our school, diversifying our company, diversifying the artists.

We bring in our administration.

So, really thinking about ourselves as cultural leaders as well as artistic leaders, that's what we talk a lot about.

So we want to sort of lead in that way.

And sharing that passion, because it really is a passion.

You have to be passionate about it.

One of the most inspiring things is seeing that passion in someone else, too, which just keeps that passion alive deep down within you when you see it on the students' faces and you see it when our dancers, as they're working day after day, hour after hour to get to to hone their craft, because they're passionate about it.

And there's nothing better than being inspired, and inspiring other people.

Nothing better than that.

And that's, I think, what keeps us excited.

Yeah, right.

Well, I hope this company becomes everything you want it to become -- a continued success to both of you.

Thank you so much.

Thank you so much.

It'll be a fun to root you on from the sidelines.

♪♪ ♪♪

Next, we visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a fresh look at the museum's collection of postwar and contemporary art.

'Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera' explores large-scale abstract painting, sculpture, and other works of art.

The exhibit seeks to broaden the narrative of abstraction, bringing together some 50 works from the Met collection.

Represented here are such iconic artists as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Isamu Noguchi, Carmen Herrera, and Mark Bradford.

Randall Griffey, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Met, looks at a single work from the exhibition.

♪♪

We're looking at Jackson Pollock's 'Autumn Rhythm' from 1950.

The painting came into the collection in 1957, and it's one of the treasures of the Met's modern collection.

Pollock is most remembered as a key figure in American art of the 20th century for these large-scale so-called drip paintings, which he started to do in the late 1940s and into the early 1950s.

These works have a great sense of immediacy for a range of reasons.

One is that they're large, which, relative to your own scale, makes you feel a little bit small by comparison.

One of the ways in which Pollock played a key role in changing the very concept of painting is that he moved the canvas from the easel to the floor.

And he also began working with common household enamel paint.

He liked this paint because it was very viscous.

And so it's a kind of paint that you can throw, and it creates these dynamic drips and dribbles and these whips of paint that seem to be captured in space on the picture plane.

In the case of 'Autumn Rhythm,' some of the paint is thin and elegant and quite graceful, whereas other passages are dense and more aggressive and thicker.

And there are passages also of impasto, where he's used parts of the enamel paint that have dried and created a kind of skin -- a three-dimensionality on the surface of the picture, even as the paint registers as flat.

When people first encounter Pollock's work, they perceive it as fully intuitive, improvisational, without any kind of plan or guiding principle.

But, in fact, as you look at multiple works by Pollock, you can see that each canvas is distinct and different from another.

If you look closely at 'Autumn Rhythm,' to the right of center and toward the bottom, as we see it on the wall, there's a little flick of red paint -- just a little drop of red paint.

Once you see it, you can't unsee it, because it seems so anomalous.

One wonderful thing about Pollock's technique is his embrace of accident and embrace of the effects of chance.

The title 'Autumn Rhythm' -- the word 'rhythm' really wonderfully ties to the sense of rhythm and cadence that's part and parcel of his gestural painting style.

And what I love about this work is that this great sense of growth and evolution, in a way, ties to the change of seasons and the ebbs and flows of nature in the course of a year.

♪♪ ♪♪

I hope you've enjoyed our program.

I'm Philippe de Montebello at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.

Good night.

And see you next time.

To enjoy more of your favorite segments on 'NYC-Arts,' visit our website at NYC-Arts.org.

♪♪

Good evening, and welcome to 'NYC-Arts.'

I'm Paula Zahn.

I'm Philippe de Montebello at the Tisch WNET Studios in Lincoln Center.

♪♪

Leonard, what a privilege to be able to sit down and talk with you.

I love being here with you too, Paula.

Where are we?

We're at a moment to take nothing for granted.

Well, it's a pleasure to be with Marci Reaven, the curator of this exhibition full of hope.

We are in the midst of some of the greatest sculptures by the iconic names.

When I listened to Yip Harburg's lyrics in that, I suddenly thought, that's what I want to do with my life.

My pictures reside in very intimate, very private moments.

My primary way of playing the piano is by improvising.

You are, in some respects, on sacred ground.

A woman came to see me perform and said, 'How would you like to play Billie Holiday?'

I think one of the essential things that we learned is that Matisse use pens to compose his work.

You always are surprised, when you're in opera and you're doing a piece that's a hundred years ago, and you think, 'Oh, my gosh, this could be now.'

The cardboard 'Guitar' is the very first of that moment of realization.

Suddenly, you come and present something, and you get applause.

Great, you know?

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

Funding for NYC Arts is made possible by... This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Additional funding provided by members of Thirteen.

'NYC-Arts' is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

First Republic Bank presents.

First things first.

At first, Republic Bank 'first' refers to our first priority, the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step?

Recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree?

Be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.