NYCB: PIROUETTING TO THE OLDIES
Byline: Eric Wilson
NEW YORK — Video fitness has gone from “go for the burn” to “go for the barre.”
Aerobics enthusiasts have upgraded in recent years from eight-minute workouts and Jane Fonda productions to pilates and power yoga. One of the latest workout programs to become popular at fitness centers around the country is based on the techniques of classical ballet. The movement is even spawning a complete product line, including a video fitness program and a line of dance wear inspired by the New York City Ballet.
“The basic rudiments of ballet class follow terrific principles of fitness,” said Christopher Ramsey, director of external affairs for the company and an executive producer of the “New York City Ballet Workout” video, planned for a March 27 release.
“Plus, people happen to be very interested in the ballet type of body right now — a strong body with elongated muscles, beautiful strength and great posture,” Ramsey said.
Three years ago, NYCB produced a book with William Morrow & Co. that described the training techniques of its dancers. Now in its seventh printing — and counting — it has sold over 65,000 copies. It has also spawned classes at gyms around the country like New York Sports Club and Canyon Ranch and is offered for physical fitness credits at public high schools throughout the city.
“We wanted to find a way to take some of the great benefits of the ballet and make them available to a much broader group of people, because ballet tends to reach a very slim sliver of the population,” said Ramsey.
The producers of the routine selected elements of the demanding physical regimens of ballet dancers that could be safely translated for mortal consumption. Extreme turnouts were turned out, and pointe work is certainly not the point, here.
Of course, the routine was a breeze for the four members of NYCB’s cast who traveled to Wilmington, N.C., to film the exercises, considering the extent of their training and ability.
While the release of the video and an expanded DVD format may not inspire the next prima ballerina, to the professionals, the experience was fulfilling in that it will likely bring elements of the ballet to a broader audience, particularly to those who may have practiced dance at a young age. Plus, they got to meet the cast of “Dawson’s Creek,” filming on the next sound stage.
“It was a really pleasant experience,” said Helene Alexopoulos, a 23-year veteran of NYCB and a principal dancer since 1989. She appears with fellow principal dancer Albert Evans, soloist Edwaard Liang and corps de ballet member Deanna McBrearty in the production.
“It’s a low impact, non-stressful way to exercise,” Alexopoulos said. “It’s a way for for women, especially those who wanted to become ballerinas, to bring ballet back into their lives in a pleasant way, to reconnect with some nice exercises and hopefully get their posture back.”
It also beats the heck out of sitting on a stationary bike, feeling pudgy and grumpy about having to work off five more pounds, and it targets the entire body, as opposed to a particular muscle group.
“Coming from a ballet point of view, you don’t just dance with one part of your body,” Alexopoulos said.
The release of the companion DVD version of the workout also offers a broader array of possibilities than traditional exercise videos, such as the option to change the soundtrack from classical to modern music, to rearrange the order of exercises or to mute the voice of narrator Peter Martins, NYCB’s ballet master in chief.
The program was also produced with higher-than-usual aesthetics; it features sharp black-and-white imagery inspired by the three-year-old book. It was produced with Palm Pictures, the audiovisual entertainment company created by hotelier Chris Blackwell.
“A video is a big investment,” Ramsey said. “The truth of the matter is this did take some time to refine the classes to the degree where we were ready and to find the right partner to do this with.”
Profits from the program will likely be used to continue arts education programs such as NYCB’s work with public schools to offer ballet as an alternative to traditional gym courses, he said.
The not-for-profit dance company also recently licensed its name to Capezio, which is producing a line of dance wear with the ballet company’s logo, its first new branded product line in years, said Gayle Miller, corporate director of external affairs for Capezio. The first group of dance and sportswear styles, which average at wholesale for $20, will be in its stores and specialty retail accounts in May, she said, and will also be available at NYCB’s Web site at nycballet.com.
“Giving credit where credit is due, when the New York City Ballet came to us with this idea, we jumped at the chance,” Miller said. “Actually, we jeted.”
Executives at NYCB expect plenty of customers to follow suit and perhaps discover a newfound appreciation for classical dance in the process.
“I don’t think there’s any other workout anywhere that’s as good for the legs and the buttocks as this, or that offers as much flexibility,” Ramsey said. “There are whole groups from the sports club classes who come to performances now. This has raised the profile of our company among a different, younger demographic.”
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