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With Grant Money, a Choreographer Restakes Her Claim

Ms. LeCrone, who has been making dances since 2006 — for companies including Oregon Ballet Theater, Colorado Ballet and her own Emery LeCrone Dance — eventually accepted the offer. On Tuesday her company opens the third edition of the Ballet Festival, which runs through July 29.

Financially, this time is different. Along with Amy Seiwert, whose San Francisco-based troupe also performed in the 2015 festival and returns this summer, Ms. LeCrone received a creative residency that includes a $25,000 commissioning grant (that’s $25,000 more than the last time), as well as 240 hours of studio space and a choreographic adviser. (The other groups in this year’s festival — Claudia Schreier & Company, Cirio Collective and Gemma Bond Dance — were offered commissioning grants of $10,000 each.)

“It’s the biggest grant I’ve ever had, ever,” Ms. LeCrone said, adding that she’s still fund-raising through private donors to cover the full cost of her three-night engagement. (Raising money beyond commissioning grants, even those provided by prestigious institutions, is, alas, not uncommon for freelance choreographers.)


From left, Tiffany Mangulabnan and Charles McCall during rehearsal with Ms. LeCrone.

Heather Sten for The New York Times

With the relative abundance of resources, Ms. LeCrone took a risk she had been avoiding: After a decade of choreographing to existing music, she collaborated with a composer on a new ballet to an original score. That work for six dancers unfolds to a pulsing score for two cellos and piano by the recent Juilliard graduate Nathan Prillaman, to be played live. In the same spirit of trying new things, Ms. LeCrone resisted her tendency to use space more horizontally than vertically.

“I thought, how can I still be true to my aesthetic — this sliding, weighted, thick space — but incorporate some jumping in a way that’s meaningful to me?” she said. Her program also features a new solo for her sister, the New York City Ballet soloist Megan LeCrone, and a new duet for the American Ballet Theater dancers Stephanie Williams and Cory Stearns.

Ms. LeCrone’s grounded, refined style has been garnering attention at least since 2009, when Claudia La Rocco, writing in The New York Times, called her work for Columbia Ballet Collaborative “a ready-for-primetime knockout.”

“More, please, Ms. LeCrone. Someone give this woman a residency,” the review concluded.

Presenters and funders seemed to take note: By 2014 Ms. LeCrone had received a New York City Center Choreography Fellowship and two commissions from the Guggenheim Museum’s Works & Process series, while continuing to create work for regional and student companies and establishing her own troupe in 2013.

But with few opportunities on the horizon after the 2015 Ballet Festival, she considered leaving dance altogether. “I didn’t know what I know now; I really learned how to produce better,” she said. “But at the time I had no idea, and was just completely overwhelmed and exhausted.”

Yet others, including Mr. Wechsler, the Joyce’s programming director, saw potential in her skills as a producer and manager.

“Part of what impressed me about Emery was that in addition to being a promising, up-and-coming choreographer creating beautiful work, she was able to successfully produce a program of her work,” he said in an interview. “That’s no small undertaking, especially at the level of the Joyce Theater.”

Mr. Wechsler said that with this year’s Ballet Festival, he hoped to support not just choreographers working outside of large, established ballet companies but female choreographers specifically, a response to the ballet field’s entrenched and much-discussed gender-inequity problem. Though there are glimmers of change, most major ballet companies continue to commission far more works by men than by women.

“We wanted to address that imbalance and bring the work of these women and one man to the public,” Mr. Wechsler said. (The man is the American Ballet Theater principal Jeffrey Cirio, who directs Cirio Collective with his sister, Lia, a principal at Boston Ballet.)

For her part, Ms. LeCrone is focusing on the challenges she set for herself. As Risa Steinberg, her choreographic adviser, said, “She really does her homework,” especially when it comes to Mr. Prillaman’s music.

“She’s invested in what the score is, and that’s not so common today,” Ms. Steinberg said. “She understands its wide architecture but also the intricacies, the screws and bolts and what makes it work.”

Asked if it’s difficult to be a female ballet choreographer, Ms. LeCrone replied, “It’s hard being a choreographer.”

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