When Patrick Miller and Patrick McNeil of the Brooklyn-based artist collaborative FAILE got a commission from the New York City Ballet to create an art installation, neither had any inkling of this time honored dance save for a run in with the Nutcracker when they were children. “It was neat to look at the history of NYC Ballet and realize it’s about being contemporary, modern, and pushing what ballet is,” said Miller. “[George] Balanchine was this amazing figure who broke out of the chains of what ballet is, which is something we like to do too.”
Now, they not only have gone through archives of programs, posters, and photographs of the NYC Ballet, but they have seen numerous performances and got to watch behind the scenes productions. With all the newfound knowledge of this dance, FAILE has created a towering masterpiece in the center of the David H. Koch Theater that pays homage to this fine art.
“We connect to them not only as artists, but athletes in their own rights,” said Miller about watching the ballerinas rehearse and perform. “We would see them practicing the same pirouette 10 to 12 times and only nail it twice, and then, seeing them when they were in the full throes of the ballet—that was interesting and inspiring.”
They call their installation Les Ballets de Faile, and it’s the inaugural work for the dance company’s New York City Ballet Art Series. The piece reaches right to the ceiling and features panels of art that look like they may have fluttered out of a graphic novel version of Swan Lake (or Black Swan). There is one image of a tattooed girl hugging the legs of a ballerina, a wolf with dancers gams, and a Betty Paige-esq woman wrangling a large orange man.
For many lucky ballet goers on February 1 and May 29, FAILE has packaged up two-by-two wooden blocks from their project, each hand painted, and each unique. “They are ‘building blocks’ of the installation in the show,” said Miller. “It’s to extend the conversation after the performance, and hopefully, it encourages more people to go out and enjoy the ballet.”