In 1943, a neo-Moorish meeting hall for Shriners was saved from the wrecking-ball and repurposed as a performing arts center: New York City Center, the so-called people’s theater. It became a multidisciplinary space for artists in theater, dance and music, like Orson Welles, George Balanchine and Beverly Sills.
To celebrate its 75th anniversary, City Center is planning a busy 2018-19 season that pays homage to its history. An ambitious lineup of world premieres is also in the works — an attempt to pass the baton to future history makers, said Arlene Shuler, the center’s president.
Among the grandest events is “Balanchine: The City Center Years” (Oct. 31 through Nov. 4), a look at the early days of New York City Ballet, which, as Ballet Society, presented its first season at City Center in 1948, where it was housed until the mid-60s. The programs, Ms. Shuler said, will focus on works by George Balanchine works that were made for and performed on the City Center stage.
It will be a rare convocation of some of the world’s best companies: City Ballet, the Royal Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, American Ballet Theater, the Mariinsky, Miami City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet, which was in residence at City Center for about 30 years.
City Center also plans to commission new works from some of the most celebrated dance-makers today. In addition to its annual Fall for Dance festival, which will include six world premieres, the season will feature a new work by Alexei Ratmansky for the star ballet dancers Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg (April 3-7). Michelle Dorrance’s company, Dorrance Dance, will have an engagement too, with premieres by Ms. Dorrance and Bill Irwin (March 28-30).
The annual gala musical, which in recent years has included star-studded and critically lauded productions like “Sunday in the Park With George,” will be “A Chorus Line” (Nov. 14-18), led by Bob Avian, the co-choreographer with Michael Bennett, and Baayork Lee, Connie in the musical’s original 1975 cast.
Other musicals — in City Center’s beloved Encores! series — include Rodgers and Hart’s 1938 comedy “I Married an Angel” (March 20-24), which featured choreography by Balanchine for his then-wife, Vera Zorina, in the title role. This staging will star the City Ballet principal Sara Mearns, with choreography by Joshua Bergasse, her husband-to-be.
Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin’s pathbreaking 1941 musical “Lady in the Dark,” which was presented in the inaugural Encores! season in 1994, will return April 25 and 26 in a production by MasterVoices starring Victoria Clark — a Tony Award-winner for “Light in the Piazza” — and with performances by Doug Varone and Dancers.
Two archival exhibitions will also be on view: “The People’s Theater: Celebrating 75 Years of New York City Center,” at the New York Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center (Oct. 23 through March 2), and another, rotating one that visitors can take in at City Center before performances.