Ballet fans have been looking forward to ABC Family's "Bunheads" for weeks now, since it advertises—from the title down—that it's all about ballet. But the first episode, at least, had a lot of plot exposition to get out of the way before digging into anything truly "bunhead"-y. A very quick summary: Onetime ballet dancer but current Las Vegas showgirl Michelle (Broadway star Sutton Foster, who is fantastic) is tired of performing in a feathered bikini but unable to get a "real" Broadway job. She impulsively marries a devoted, if dopey, fan ("He wears gym socks with a suit," she laments) and moves to his tiny coastal town in California. Little does she know that he lives with his mother, Fanny (Kelly Bishop, who you'll probably recognize from "Gilmore Girls," which was also produced by "Bunheads" executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino). Fanny, Michelle discovers, runs a ballet studio. And that's where we begin to get into the ballet side of the story.
Fanny and the young would-be ballerinas studying at the studio are great TV characters. Are they ballet stereotypes? Well, in a way. Fanny danced with the Ballets Russes but gave it up when she got pregnant (even the show admits that's "very Turning Point"). Boo (Kaitlyn Jenkins) is dying to dance but frustrated by her technical limitations. Ginny (Bailey Buntain, who is going to be a Megan Hilty lookalike when she grows up) is equal parts fascinated and horrified by her ever-growing chest. Sasha (the gifted Julia Goldani Telles, channeling Eva from Center Stage) is talented but has a bad attitude. They're all at risk of becoming a little two-dimensional, but the dialogue is funny and clever and does a good job avoiding over-the-top clichés.
They girls are all preparing for the big Joffrey Ballet School summer program audition the following week (so real!), which leads to the scene that feels the most off, dancewise. Foster is a Broadway baby all the way in real life, so maybe it's not a surprise that when she finds the girls in the studio, worrying about the audition, she leads them through a verrrry Broadway-like version of what they might have to look forward to. (It involves a mean casting agent and many, many pony steps.) The script does hint at the fact that that might be a little off-base. Snotty Sasha notes at the end that "Next week's ballet, with toe shoes," and when Michelle explains to a skeptical Fanny that she was "teaching [the girls] about auditioning," Fanny asks, "For what?" But wouldn't a dancer who—as Michelle's bio supposedly reads—was once a member of American Ballet Theatre know how to prepare these students for a real ballet audition?
In the end, though, I think this kind of nitpicky study of the dance aspect of this show is besides the point(e). "Bunheads" is not going to tell you anything you don't already know about ballet, and that's fine. It's pretty charming regardless. And if the ballet world ends up a fruitful setting for what seems like it might be a franker-than-usual family drama, all the better. I'm guessing realistic discussions about body issues and ambition are on the way, and that's something to look forward to.
I think "Emeralds" is more of an acquired taste than "Rubies" or "Diamonds." There aren't really any difficult steps, but it's extremely hard to pull off because of its simplicity. You can't just "sell it." But the musicality and simplicity come together so perfectly to make it dramatic and sweeping, and just so much fun to dance.
Former New York City Ballet principal Suzanne Farrell is famous as George Balanchine's muse, yet Balanchine wasn't the only choreographer whom she inspired. In 1984 her then-husband, Paul Mejia, also a former NYCB dancer, created a piece for her called Eight by Adler, a jazzy ballet set to the music of Richard Adler. Beginning at 0:45 after a short intro, Farrell performs the first movement in this clip from the ballet's premiere with the Chicago City Ballet.The slender, long-limbed Farrell saunters across the stage, at moments giving the audience playful smiles and sideways glances. The choreography feels improvisational, befitting Farrell's proclivity for off-balance, suspended movement. With a full jazz band onstage, the music is equally the star in this solo. Even though the slow and sultry piece is a far cry from Balanchine's fast footwork, Farrell's mesmerizing performance in Eight by Adler is a stunning example of Mr. B's famous slogan: "See the music, hear the dance." Happy #ThrowbackThursday!
"I'm kind of a collector of clothes," says Natalie Varnum. The Houston Ballet corps member turned a spare room in her home into a walk-in closet and fills it with eccentric pieces. "I love big, clear oversized sunglasses; or a high-waisted pant, socks and loafers; or a newsboy hat," she says. Varnum is inspired by icons from the '60s and '70s—Jimi Hendrix, Jane Birkin, Elton John—and she finds endless ideas on social media. She'll search Pinterest for photos, follow up-and-coming stylists on Instagram or update her own blog with "outfit of the day" posts. It was through Instagram that she recently met South Korea–based designer Sandra Meynier Kang, who reached out in hopes of collaborating and sent her a sample from her new leotard line. "It's the best way to make faraway friends now," Varnum says.
In the studio, Varnum takes a more conventional approach—sometimes. "I like a classic ballerina look, like light pink, long sleeves," she says, "or I go for something completely crazy." She commissions fun patterned leotards from her friend, former company dancer Jordan Reed, who now runs Lone Reed Designs. Her collection includes leos printed with pizza and doughnuts. Whatever she's wearing, Varnum is not afraid to stand out. "There's a time and place for a classic little black dress," she says, "but I tend to go for the more out-there pieces and colors."
Is there anything Tiler Peck can't do?
Promoted to principal at New York City Ballet by 20. Leads in everything from Balanchine's jazzy Who Cares? to classics like Sleeping Beauty to entirely new creations. A starring role in the musical Little Dancer. Check, check, check. (And that's just the beginning of the list.)
Now, her latest accomplishment is music video dancer. And we're not talking about a tiny back-up role. In Charlotte OC's new video for "Medicine Man," Peck is the sole performer of a lush contemporary ballet solo on pointe.
The past few months have brought promotions galore. We already shared Miami City Ballet's list in May as well as the major news from American Ballet Theatre last week, but we rounded up the news from nine other major companies to keep you in the loop.
The Royal Ballet
Exciting news came from London last week when Yasmine Naghdi was promoted to principal dancer after what director Kevin O'Hare called an "extraordinary year." Additional promotions include Matthew Ball and Marcelino Sambé to first soloist, and Reece Clarke, Benjamin Ella and Anna Rose O'Sullivan to soloist. Hannah Grennel, Calvin Richardson, Gina Storm-Jensen and David Yudes will take on the rank of first artists.
Yasmine Naghdi in "The Sleeping Beauty." Photo by Tristram Kenton, Courtesy of ROH.
San Francisco Ballet
With the retirement of longtime principal Lorena Feijoo and husband and wife team Davit Karapetyan and Vanessa Zahorian after the 2017 season, SFB had big (ballet) shoes to fill. In June the company announced ten promotions, including eight new members and six apprentices. Who's moving up? Jennifer Stahl (check out her crunchy kale recipe here) has been promoted to principal, and Isabella DeVivo, Jahna Frantziskonis (our February/March cover star), Esteban Hernandez and Steven Morse will be soloists. Filling those spots in the corps are SFB apprentices Alexandre Cagnat, Shené Lazarus, Davide Occhipinti, Nathaniel Remez and Isabella Walsh. Ulrik Birkkjaer and Ana Sophia Scheller are coming into the company as principals as well as a list of new corps members including English National Ballet dancer Madison Keesler. This spring will bring SFB's exciting Unbound festival of new works, and we're looking forward to seeing these dancers get their moment in the spotlight.
When Sacramento Ballet's board announced that it would not be renewing the contract of longtime co-directors Ron Cunningham and Carinne Binda after the 2017–18 season, the news upset many in both the Sacramento community and the dance world. The husband and wife duo, who have run the company for 30 years, told the Sacramento Bee that they were being let go unwillingly, while several company members publicly criticized the board's decision. In a move that would give them greater protection, the dancers voted to join the American Guild of Musical Artists in March.
Last week, Sacramento Ballet announced that choreographer Amy Seiwert, a former company member, will become the company's new artistic director in 2018. And it seems to be smart move. Seiwert, who directs the San Francisco–based contemporary ballet troupe Imagery, danced for eight seasons under Cunningham and Binda. "One of the reasons I decided to go for this was to honor the legacy of Ron and Carinne," Seiwert said in a recent phone interview. "They are in my artistic DNA. My choreography, when you look at my aesthetic choices, when you look at my approach to technique, that comes from them. It's a position I want, but not the situation I want it in, because there's a lot of heartbreak."
If you're a member of a repertory company, tight rehearsal timelines are often a fact of life. You might have only a few weeks to memorize and master a piece before you take the stage. In that time, you'll need to absorb not only the steps but also the choreographer's particular style—the qualities and quirks that set that choreographer apart. Should the movement be buoyant or grounded, fluid or staccato? Is your port de bras meant to be classical or pedestrian? How should you relate to your fellow dancers, and to the audience? Answering these questions will take your performance to the next level. After all, a ballet is so much more than the sum of its steps.
"The ballet isn't going to be the ballet without the choreographer's intention and style," says Sandra Jennings, a longtime répétiteur for The George Balanchine Trust. "Balanchine had an intent in his choreography that affects how we move, from our musicality to the way we use our feet on the floor and how the man offers his hand to the woman in partnering. Those nuances matter."
Absorbing a ballet's style should be an integral part of the rehearsal process. But it's not always easy, especially if you've trained in a style that's completely different. Here, three dancers share how they adapted to stylistic challenges in their repertoire. Follow their lead the next time you're thrust out of your comfort zone.