NEW YORK (AP) — The New York City Ballet is turning to a hip artistic duo known for their tapestry-like sculptures, paintings and collages to help bring in a younger audience.
The New York City Ballet Art Series is a new initiative that will feature collaborations with contemporary visual artists who will create original works for the public spaces at the company's home at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center.
The initiative is in keeping with the 65-year-old company's tradition of partnering with outside artists on new music, ballets and sets, a practice started by its legendary founder George Balanchine and continuing under Ballet Master-in-Chief Peter Martins.
Like other cultural organizations, the NYCB is seeking innovative ways to attract new audiences in a world where the Internet, on-demand movies and other distractions compete for their time.
"The idea of working with young artists came up as a great way to honor that tradition and also reach out to new people who might be connected with those artists," said NYCB Executive Director Katherine Brown.
The inaugural commission went to the Brooklyn-based urban art duo of Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller, better known as FAILE.
They have created Tower of Faile, a 40-foot sculpture made of more than 2,000 wood blocks decorated with text and images inspired by the company's dance repertoire, pieced together in a Jenga-like pillar. The tower will be on exhibit in the theater promenade, where it can be viewed from five rings of balconies, during the NYCB'S winter season from Jan. 15 through Feb. 24.
The 30-something artists spent a lot of time pouring over the company's archives and attending performances before creating the installation.
"We worked with this idea of temples, monolithic sculptures," said Miller of the tower, which is made entirely of plywood puzzle boxes with applied hand-painted panels of art.
"When you come in, it's very much this visual tapestry. In a way it's much like a New York City experience, you take in all these things," he added. "For us it's about making a narrative with images. One is of an octopus coming out of a sewer capturing this ballerina in this perfect ballet pose. There's another one of a girl holding a ballerina's legs."
Seeing the NYCB archives "allowed us to expand our visual ideas . not just being locked into this classical idea of what you might expect ballet is, because some of these dances are very abstract," McNeil said.
In addition, FAILE has produced 10 sculptural paintings, which will be on display in the theater's orchestra level.
The artists have also created limited-edition works of art — 2-inch wood blocks hand-painted on all six sides —that will be handed out to each of the 5,000 audience members who attend two special performances, on Feb. 1 and May 29, where every seat in the house will go for $29.
"The idea was to provide something you could take away from the ballet and use as a conversation piece to further push the conversation and the experience you had at the ballet," Miller said.
FAILE has exhibited at the Tate Modern in London and created public works in far-flung parts of the world, including a large sculpture of a man-wolf for a park in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, and a monumental installation of a church in ruins in Lisbon, Portugal.
Subscriptions are way down from what they were a decade ago.
"These days, people don't like to make that kind of commitment so far in advance," Brown said. "Today they're much more spontaneous because there are so many things to choose from ... that didn't previously exist."
The ballet's Lincoln Center's neighbor, the New York Metropolitan Opera, for example, has built audiences through its popular simulcasts into movie theaters and fashion events, like the spring 2011 gala that was sponsored by Yves Saint Laurent.
"We're all very focused on bringing in a new audience to replace audiences that are aging," Brown said. She said NYCB's under-45 audience grew in recent years to 29 percent, compared to 20 percent nationally. "We're pleased with that but now we really want to build on that."