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Friday, April 23, 2021

An Artist’s Mission in ‘Notturno’: Bringing Classical Dance to New Audiences

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Every major New York City Ballet dancer possesses a suite of strengths. Others have more charismatic roles. Some dance very few solos.

Sia Mundy, an English-Canadian dancer, in fact, has some of the most unglamorous roles. She’s an A lines dancer, one of those who does relatively little but has it done very well. And A? That is to say that it’s the role in which she is expected to look absolutely perfect.

And yet Sia has been an essential element in the development of her company. Her ballet years, she told me in an interview during the production’s last New York run at the Joyce Theater, have been her time to learn about the dancers who have gone before her, as well as with whom she has thrived, with a certain fondness. She particularly wanted to dance her favorite role in George Balanchine’s Serenade, a world ballet that can seem straightforward, when performed well, but is revealingly elusive in an artist like Sia. (To be included in this year’s rehearsals, this year’s Serenade remains a joy, and a growing company.)

Sia’s role as Netta, the independent dancer who struggles with her partner’s determination to marry her, is one of the best in that score. Netta’s a free spirit with no doubt that he’s the one for her. In this role, Sia reveals herself as a woman who always sees something magnificent and beautiful in a man, despite her own limitations, which is why she’s so not at all passive and extremely tough when she clashes with the man.

Netta, Sia tells me, gave Sia opportunities to develop. “I tried all the way through to get in her head. To be inside her like I am inside myself.” Sia, her own self-protective instincts compels her to be tough, but also to take risks, to meet the world with her own energy.

In contemporary dance she has some of the toughest parts in her company. Never in a hurry, she says it’s important to get in the performances and see what they say about what you like and what you need to learn. Sia also tells me she has a favorite choreographer whose works she performs with ballet dancers too—Kathryn Henry—who choreographs again and again with movement so powerful she uses it to teach the most classical pieces.

These issues may be beyond the sway of vocabulary. Yet Sia Mundy’s production of Balanchine’s Notturno is all about this language. And to watch it, you are dancing again and learning something new.

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