Giselle is a dream role for most any dancer, and now, Alberto Pretto can count himself as one of the few men to perform it. This month, he made his debut in Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo's Giselle (Act II). Pointe spoke with Pretto (aka Nina Immobilashvili) about the all-male company's comic twist on the classic.
Legendary Russian dancer and stager Elena Kunikova coached you in the role. What was that like?
More than just the steps, we worked on the character and telling the story through dance. She focused a lot on the way I carry my upper body. I have quite a long neck, so she told me to pull it forward in this very demure and sad position. We also worked on the moments we could make Giselle funny. If I take myself very, very seriously, I can make a joke out of it.
When Giselle comes out the grave. Our staging has a coffin that opens, and she comes out apologetically, like, Should I come out? Should I not come out?
What else gives this Giselle the Trockadero stamp?
It's all built on the relationships between the characters. Our Myrta is very strong and butch, and the Wilis aren't regular Wilis. They're almost like mummies. Their hair is all messed up, their faces are scary, they're pale.
How did you prepare?
Svetlana Zakarhova and Carla Fracci are my favorite Giselles, and I did a lot of video research. Carla is dramatic in everything, so by watching all those little moments, you can get the nuance and push it a bit further so that it becomes funny.
What's most difficult about the role of Giselle?
Carrying the upper body in a different way since it's not a ballet from the 20th century. Really understanding the épaulement, how she’s bending forward. Nowadays, we dance big, but this isn't about how high the leg is. And achieving the lightness was really hard, especially for a guy—we approach jumps with a lot of energy. For me, I had to work on getting the arms to be really, really light.
Earlier in your career, you danced with other companies like the English National Ballet. What was the road to the Trocks like?
I was in so-called "regular" companies for some time, but at a certain point, I didn’t feel very challenged or motivated. Most of the time I was partnering the girl, and I just wanted to dance more. And also, I always had this love for pointe shoes—which were forbidden for men but such a fascination for me. Finally, I was like, You know what? It’s the moment for me to embrace that and see if maybe this is something I would like to do. When I auditioned for the Trocks, I discovered this whole world and that it was okay for a man to dance on pointe and make a career out of it. That’s just beautiful.
Did you start pointework before you joined the company?
Yes. I would put them on in the corner when no one could see me after class. But I actually started training on pointe a couple months before auditioning for the Trocks. I joined a beginner ballet class for girls on pointe and started from scratch all over again. It was a humbling moment, for sure, but I felt like it was necessary for me to go through that to achieve the strength needed to go up on pointe properly. I needed that to get stronger technically.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo performs two mixed bills at The Joyce, in New York City, through Dec. 31.
Do you have any tips for dealing with a stubborn partner? We both want to succeed, but we can't seem to communicate. —Jesse
We've all dreamt of it: dancing a romantic pas de deux with your real-life love interest. Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg have done it countless times as one of ballet's most beloved on- and offstage couples. In this immaculate 2003 performance with The Royal Ballet, where they were then principals, their chemistry brings magic to their roles in Sir Frederick Ashton's Cinderella.
As the title character, Cojocaru, who is now a lead principal at English National Ballet, dances with gorgeous generosity–as well as flexibility and turnout. Her lines are long and expansive, and her 6 o'clock penchés inspire awe. True to the Ashton style, the pas is full of unexpected partnering feats, like the lift at 2:52, where Cojocaru balances almost completely upside down on Kobborg's shoulder, and the stunning choreographic motif in which Kobborg supports Cojocaru as she appears to leap in slow motion as across the stage. Their trust in one another truly brings the fairytale to life. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!
Each year, the Princess Grace Foundation honors an extraordinary group of artists. This year, ballet got a major nod. Six of the eight winners in the dance performance and choreography category are ballet-related. (The other two are Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Jacquelin Harris and downtown dance-theater choreographer Raja Feather Kelly.) While you already know some of these names, we're excited to follow the careers of newcomers, like current Juilliard dance major Mikaela Kelly. Past Princess Grace Award winners include the likes of Carlos Acosta, Gillian Murphy and Tiler Peck, so they're in exceptional company.
What do you enjoy more: performing or being in the studio?
Performing, of course. It's like waiting and getting ready for your birthday party. The rehearsals are a hard process: It's a long wait for enjoyment.
What qualities do you admire most in other dancers?
A brain. Some say that a ballerina only needs good footwork, physical abilities, but I realized gradually that it's very important to have a good head on your shoulders. You go further if you think deeply about your roles.
What do you do to remain injury-free?
I always warm up properly, and I also have massages and water treatments to relax and soothe my body. Sometimes I go to the banya, a typical Russian sauna.
You created the lead role in Jean-Christophe Maillot's The Taming of the Shrew. What place does it have in your repertoire?
A very significant one. It's so precious when a ballet is made on you. So many dancers wait for that, try to find choreographers. If you are the very first person to do a role, it stays with you—and you stay in it, in a way.
It may be the middle of summer, but San Francisco Ballet is already rehearsing for its spring season. There's a lot to prepare for—the company's Unbound: A Festival of New Works, which runs April 20–May 6, 2018, will feature 12 new ballets by 12 choreographers. And it's an impressive group of dancemakers: David Dawson, Alonzo King, Edwaard Liang, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Cathy Marston, Trey McIntyre, Justin Peck, Arthur Pita, Dwight Rhoden, Myles Thatcher, Stanton Welch and Christopher Wheeldon. That's a lot of choreography to pack in!
Stanton Welch in rehearsal with San Francisco Ballet. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.
Luckily, we don't have to wait until spring to get a sneak peek of some of these new works. SFB is kicking off Unbound: LIVE, a series of live-stream events that will take us inside rehearsals. The first one is Wednesday, July 26, at 5:30 pm Pacific Standard Time (8:30 EST). It will highlight rehearsals with Arthur Pita, Edwaard Liang and Stanton Welch. You can expect to see the dancers perform excerpts of their works in progress, as well as interviews with each choreographer.
Artur Pita in rehearsal. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.
Visit SFB's website or its Facebook page tomorrow night to watch. And if you miss it, no worries—it'll be accessible on the company's site and YouTube channel for 60 days. The other live-stream events have yet to be announced, but we'll be sure to keep you posted!
When the Bolshoi Ballet visited New York in 2014, Soviet-era productions like Yuri Grigorovich's Swan Lake and Spartacus were on the menu. This summer, the company is taking a different approach under ballet director Makhar Vaziev, bringing fresh collaborations to the Lincoln Center Festival.
Ekaterina Krysanova and Vladimir Lantratov in "Shrew"Photo by Jack Devant, Courtesy of Lincoln Center
First the Bolshoi participated in the 50th anniversary celebration of Balanchine's Jewels last weekend alongside stars from New York City Ballet and the Paris Opéra Ballet. From July 26-30 Jean-Christophe Maillot's The Taming of the Shrew, created in Moscow in 2014, will have its American premiere. With 10 soloist roles, the witty, fast-paced version of Shakespeare's play is tailor-made for a brilliant new generation of Bolshoi stars, like Ekaterina Krysanova, Vladislav Lantratov and Olga Smirnova.The ballet was Maillot's first creation in two decades for a company other than his Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. "It has become emblematic of a form of renewal for the Bolshoi," says Maillot. "It's a showcase for these dancers."
Get a sneak peak of the premiere with these two beautiful trailers.
On the morning of June 25, Festival Ballet Providence dancer Jordan Nelson was biking to meet a friend in Rhode Island when he was hit by a box truck. The driver drove off, leaving Nelson injured on the ground. The accident left Nelson with a fractured skull, serious concussion, broken clavicle, and abrasions down the right side of his body. He was unconscious for five days and suffered short term memory loss. Though doctors feared he might never be able to regain the memory and mobility to dance again, less than three weeks later Nelson is back in the studio. We checked in with him to hear about his inspirational recovery process and how his passion for dance motivated him.
When you woke up in the hospital were you immediately worried about dancing?
Definitely, because this upcoming season is very important to me, because we're doing Christopher Wheeldon's The American, which I believe is the first Wheeldon ballet the company has done. So for the whole month of June I was working hard on really pushing myself to get in shape and be as ready as possible for the start of the season. And the doctors originally told me I wouldn't be able to get back until January, if at all.
You've said that the hardest part of being in the hospital was not being able to move. What did you do to keep your spirits and your body active?
From the outside, one might assume that the stars onstage are leaders offstage, too. It might be so, but life in a company is usually more complex. Opportunities to volunteer, teach or represent fellow colleagues allow dancers at any rank to develop important skills and make their voices heard. Others take the lead simply by lifting company morale or setting a good example in the studio. In fact, leadership takes many forms—and you don't have to be a principal ballerina to be an influential company member whom others look up to. For these three dancers, stepping into leadership roles has given greater meaning and fulfillment to their careers.