When the New York City Ballet decided to give the artist JR more than a standard lobby art commission, but instead, the opportunity to choreograph the stage, they were also giving him the opportunity to do something much more collaborative and impactful. Following his full-floor photo installation, woodblock photographs, and exterior pasting of the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, JR recruited his friends, the director/singer/producer Woodkid and dancer Lil Buck, to create Les Bosquets, a ballet that tells a story central to JR's beginnings as an artist.
The title Les Bosquets was inspired by the location of JR's first effort in 2004, "Portrait of a Generation," in the projects of Cité des Bosquets. He put up portraits of the youth from this suburb on neighborhood buildings and the streets of Paris, before the 2005 French riots broke out. The ballet itself mirrors JR's interpretation of the riots, where an artist and a journalist meet each other amongst the chaos and violence. In many ways, JR embodies this collision of an artist and a journalist, since much of his work tells the stories of his subjects in a reportive, global, and site-specific way.
Woodkid's score, played by 80 musicians, contains his characteristic sound of beating drums and horns. It's reminiscent of his single "Run Boy Run" and the overall sound of his debut album, The Golden Age, which itself discusses themes of youth in danger and coming of age. In an initial scene where dancers run in a woven sequence, back and forth across the stage, his drums build suspense for the arrival of a single ballerina and Lil Buck, who wears Air Jordan 1s as if they are pointe shoes, signaling the street meeting the stage.
Any moment in the ballet is ready to be frozen in a still image, which fits given JR's ability to capture people at a precise emotional extreme. Lil Buck's highly expressive jookin' style of dance meets the boldness of Woodkid's music and JR's dotted, overly gestural ballet dancers for a piece that pushes the traditional limits of these artists' mediums. JR's photography goes from the street to the stage, Woodkid's music goes from his album and performances to other performers, and Lil Buck's jookin' goes to the ballet.
When Lil Buck and the ballerina, Lauren Lovette, have their moment alone on stage, pre-recorded video projections of the two flash on stage to reveal their longing to know one another. They look at each other with curiosity, after their colleagues have been previously divided by gender. Lovette rises from a crippled state upon seeing Lil Buck, and the two express their difference through their dances. Soon, they are separated by rows of dancers who form a moving wall between them, leaving the audience to examine them individually once again.
At the end, the dancers form a set of eyes, which most directly references "Portrait of a Generation." The eyes jump out and pierce the audience, in the way that his Braquage, Ladj Ly image has continually done in the years since it was taken. Les Bosquets is a union of three distinct, artistic talents, who have gone beyond their mediums to create a new ballet for both old and new audiences.
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