For American Ballet Theater, the path back to New York City stretches 3,100 miles and winds through 14 states. The company announced on Monday it will embark on a tour of the United States this summer that will culminate in a performance in Manhattan on July 21.
“We missed out on celebrating our 80th anniversary, but we’re going to end this tour at Rockefeller Center, where we performed our inaugural performance on January 11, 1940,” Kevin McKenzie, Ballet Theater’s artistic director, said in an interview. “It feels like a little bit of poetic justice that’s going to be a nice prelude to a very new and different future for us.”
The company’s journey will begin at Pioneers Park in Lincoln, Neb., on July 1. From there, the troupe will travel — in six sleeper buses and three production trucks — to Iowa City; Chicago; Minneapolis; St. Louis; Charleston, S.C.; and Middleburg, Va. The final show in New York will be the first time that Ballet Theater has mounted a stage in the city since Oct. 27, 2019, the end of its fall season at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center.
The idea for the tour originated with David Lansky, the company’s general manager, when it became clear to Ballet Theater’s leaders that the pandemic was not going to be resolved quickly. It was inspired, McKenzie said, by the group’s early history. Throughout the ’40s and ’50s, Ballet Theater often crisscrossed the country in a bus. But it was only after the company determined it could keep its dancers, staff and crew safe with sequestered residency “bubbles” in the second half of 2020 that traveling and performing again became a real possibility.
Performances during the tour will take place outdoors on a custom-built stage designed to unfold from an 18-wheeler truck. At each stop, 20 members of the company will perform a 50-minute show comprising four pieces: Lauren Lovette’s “La Follia Variations,” Jessica Lang’s “Let Me Sing Forevermore,” Darrell Grand Moultrie’s “Indestructible Light” and a classical pas de deux. McKenzie said the programming has been “thought through to touch on a very wide spectrum of interests.”
During the pandemic, the Ballet Theater has had to cancel four tours that would have taken its dancers to Abu Dhabi, Detroit, Chicago and Duke University in Durham, N.C.
The touring engagement this summer will not be the company’s first live performances since the pandemic began. Ballet Theater performed indoors at the Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa, Calif., last week; and small groups of the company’s dancers are scheduled to dance outdoors at Kaatsbaan Cultural Park in Tivoli, N.Y., in May and in Los Angeles and Green Mountain, Colo., in June.