With each new installment of the New York City Ballet’s “Diamond Project”—this year marks the sixth—audiences are witnessing a legacy in the making. It’s not so much that commissioning new ballet repertory is in and of itself a revelation, or even that every premiere is a home run. But something happens when choreographers set to work in the house that Mr. Balanchine built. An undeniable mystique infuses these dances, offering the possibility of being part of a living history.
The project, funded by the philanthropist Irene Diamond, was NYCB ballet-master-in-chief Peter Martins’s idea. Since 1992, the company has premiered 51 ballets by 28 choreographers. The men in these photos, exquisite dancers all, appear in five of this season’s seven new pieces, having spent hours working intimately with choreographers to create their roles. In commissioning so many new works, NYCB is defining itself as a company willing to take expensive risks for both its own future and for the future of the form: When a new ballet succeeds, it’s likely to show up on stages around the world. The project is also a declaration that the company, so deeply identified with its founder, refuses to become a George Balanchine wax museum.
Michael Sharkey, who shot this portfolio, explains that he began with a Herb Ritts picture: Vladimir I, the 1990 photo of a performer in full stage makeup, sucking on a cigarette. “I remember it from my childhood,” he says, adding that his stylist on this series, Eddie Borgo, showed it to him before they started. “It’s a very interesting mix: of masculinity, and then expressive femininity. It was that dichotomy that was the impetus behind the entire shoot.”