As a student in a pre-professional ballet school, one of the best parts of performing in company productions was getting to be in the midst of the action with the company dancers. In Nutcracker, for example—between my all-important moments of dancing glory (the two minute children's dance)—I'd eavesdrop on the party parents' conversations and (sometimes PG-13) jokes.
Even with the hazards of sweat flung from a pirouetting dancer's forehead, I often feel that audience members are missing out—watching a ballet from the front is rarely so intimate.
It seems I'm not alone in this thought. Two regional companies are looking to shake up the performance format with their immersive winter productions. With live music, cocktails, puppetry and up-close and personal party access, American Contemporary Ballet's The Nutcracker Suite and Wonderbound's Snow are sure to pique new interest.
American Contemporary Ballet's Sarah Bukowski as Marzipan. Photo by Art Lessman, Courtesy ACB.
American Contemporary Ballet's The Nutcracker Suite
American Contemporary Ballet, now in its seventh season, is premiering its unique Nutcracker production this year. Artistic director Lincoln Jones was initially reluctant to do a party scene. "For audiences today, especially audiences in Los Angeles where they don't really grow up with ballet," he says, party scene's "over-large acting" can be difficult to connect with.
New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck and Emmy-winning actress Elisabeth Moss (of Mad Men and Handmaid's Tale fame) may seem like unlikely friends, until you dig a little deeper into their backgrounds. Both attended Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica and spent summers at the School of American Ballet in their youths. Moss and Peck's career paths diverged when the former fell in love with acting and Peck went on to study at SAB full time, eventually becoming the star we know today. Now, the pairs' artistic pursuits are uniting in an exciting new project.
According to Deadline.com, Moss will produce a documentary featuring Peck and her work curating BalletNOW, last summer's star-studded, critically acclaimed program at Los Angeles's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Peck was the first woman to lead BalletNOW's programming, and she brought together dancers from companies including The Royal Ballet, Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Paris Opéra Ballet, putting them on stage with tappers, clowns and break dancers (sometimes simultaneously).
Black Swan wasn't the film industry's first ballet-themed psychological drama. In The Red Shoes (1948), theater and life conflate, with tragic results for the dancer caught in the middle. Unlike Black Swan, however, The Red Shoes starred a real life ballerina. Moira Shearer, then a leading dancer with Sadler's Wells Ballet (now The Royal Ballet) plays Victoria Page, a young prodigy who catches a Russian impresario's eye, joins his company and stars in a new ballet based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Red Shoes.
In this clip from the dance sequences, the ballet character sees the infamous shoes at a carnival booth and immediately covets them. Shearer's skill as a dancer and actress are evident. Each twirl, reach and penché evokes her desperate longing. The shoemaker, danced with incredible precision by famous choreographer Léonide Massine, taunts the girl. When she finally leaps into the red shoes (with kitschy film effects), she forgets her partner completely. She dances with bounding energy, depicted by Shearer's crisp, light petit allégro. Later, it becomes clear that the shoes have a fatal sort of magic, both onstage and off.
After Ballet West first soloist Allison DeBona appeared on The CW's "Breaking Pointe," studio directors nationwide started calling her up, inviting her to teach master classes. Soon DeBona was traveling every month out of the year, honing her passion for coaching the next generation of artists.
While jet setting may not be in your future, regular teaching gigs are a great way to boost your resumé—and your income. Whether you're looking for layoff-season work or want to branch into coaching and choreography, dipping your toe in the teaching world is a smart way to start.
Ballet West principal Rex Tilton works with students at artÉmotion. Photo by Joshua Whitehead, Courtesy Ballet West.
Few of us have a small-screen platform like DeBona, but you likely already have a network in place. Key contacts might be a teacher friend in need of a sub, the studio owner in your hometown or even your company's academy director.
Whoever it is, you won't get gigs without expressing interest. Nashville Ballet's Mollie Sansone built her studio clientele by good old-fashioned cold calling. "I looked up all the dance studios in Nashville, wrote the numbers down and called around," she says. If directors aren't looking to hire, offer to put your name on a substitutes list. This can help you play the long game for future staff openings, and you might even prefer the flexible, ad-hoc work.
As Hurricane Irma made its way through the Caribbean last week, Sarasota Ballet principal Ellen Overstreet was closely following the news. Tracking its progress, she made plans with fellow company members Asia Bui and Madysen Felber: "Wednesday was the most stressful day. We went to five different grocery stores. There was no gas; there was no water. Our plan was to stock up one of our apartments and sleep over all together."
By Friday night, however, the storm had shifted west, its radius enveloping Sarasota and prompting many company members (those who hadn't already booked flights out) to evacuate. In a last-minute decision, Overstreet, Bui and Felber packed up a car and drove to Tampa, where they spent the night safely. Yet the storm progressed, and in another night flight they headed for Orlando to stay with Overstreet's friend's family. The central Floridian city saw flooding damage, downed awnings, and power outages like much of the state, but Overstreet says that she was in "a strong house and felt secure" while hunkering down to wait out the storm.
Few things are more terrifying than the prospect of 170+ mile per hour winds literally chasing you upstate. But the anticipation for Irma intensified sharply in Hurricane Harvey's aftermath. Last week, we reported that the Houston Ballet Center for Dance and its home theater sustained serious flooding damage. The company's first program has been postponed, to be performed at a later date in a back-up venue.
We checked in with some of Florida's ballet companies to see how they weathered this most recent storm.
In 2015, Ballet West dancer Emily Adams was promoted to principal; the milestone achievement left her feeling inspired—but also a little unbalanced. "Through the daily intensity, I wasn't enjoying everything as much as I should have been," she says. To unwind, Adams turned to yoga classes, where she found a renewed sense of self-love and an unexpected business idea: an eco-friendly activewear line called State of Bodhi. At 30, Adams is now a community-minded entrepreneur as well as a principal dancer.
Sewing classes never factored into Adams' extracurricular activities while growing up. Instead, the Pennsylvania native took as many ballet classes as possible before settling into the School of American Ballet's advanced division.
via Instagram, @stateofbodhi
Most dancers might be found grabbing a bite or a nap between performances at the height of Nutcracker season. Not San Francisco Ballet's Jordan Hammond. The corps member renovates furniture in her spare time, a hobby that has morphed into a fledgling business called Rénové. At first, she rented extra storage space that doubled as a workshop. "It was on the same street as the ballet," she says. "I'd sell pieces during breaks between shows." Now married to Diablo Ballet dancer and former SFB corps member Raymond Tilton, she uses their living room for her projects.
Pennsylvania Ballet principal Lillian DiPiazza is all about efficiency: Her head-to-toe routine is chock-full of dancer-friendly hacks. For instance, she sews pointe shoes in record time with thick, pink thread. "I can put four stitches on each side and it holds," she says. Similarly, a single alligator hairclip from a boutique in Philadelphia does the job of many more hairpins.
Some of the items in DiPiazza's Marc Jacobs tote (chosen for its lightness) seem out of place in a dance bag. Rather than lambswool or toe pads, she uses Clorox Handi Wipes. "They're similar to paper towels but a little bit more substantial," she says. "You can use them for a couple days, then just toss them in the trash." And in place of a plastic water bottle, which she was prone to losing, DiPiazza hydrates from a large glass jar. Bonus: The jar is easy to clean, and she throws in mint, lemons or other fruits for flavor.