JR mural david koch theater new yorkCollaborations among those from widely dissimilar fields of the creative arts are nothing new, but some are more interesting than others. Perusing the arts blog at the New York Times over the weekend, I saw a piece about the French street artist named JR, whose talents are now to be tested in a quite different arena, namely as choreographer of a new production for the New York City Ballet that will debut as part of the company’s spring season beginning in April.

It’s all a result of a remarkable installation by JR that was on view at the NYCB’s home base of the David H. Koch Theater from January 26 through February 9. Shown above (as seen from an upper ring of the theater), it consisted of a 6,500-square-foot vinyl photograph of dozens of life-sized dancers that covered almost the entire marble floor of the venue’s promenade space. Before long, smartphones were ubiquitously employed by many who had their picture taken as they lay down alongside their imaginary dance partners, elevating the mural to viral status.

Amazed by the response, City Ballet artistic director Peter Martins commissioned JR for the still-unnamed “pièce d’occasion,” with the idea of drawing crossover audiences from the world of the visual arts. (Martins will also contribute to the work.)

cellist yo-yo ma with lil buck

As I got further into the story, I came across Lil Buck (real name Charles Riley), who practices what’s called “jookin” and who will be featured in the upcoming dance creation by JR. “Jookin” is a variety of technically challenging hip-hop dancing that’s led to Lil Buck being called a “Baryshnikov” of the genre by the Times.

A 2011 video of Lil Buck performing a startlingly unique interpretation of Saint-Saëns’ “The Swan,” with Yo-Yo Ma on the cello, taken in an informal setting by the director Spike Jonze on his iPhone, has since received more than two million views on YouTube. (The photo above is from a 2013 performance.) Supple and subtle, contortional yet often delicate, Lil Buck’s rendition is another example of art reshaped into something fresh and wondrously new.

Street art, ballet, jookin, classical music…and artists with names like JR, Yo-Yo, and Lil Buck. That’s some creative converging all right.

(Photos: top: Ramsay de Give / Wall Street Journal; bottom:
© Erin Baiano)