A gentle presence in the studio, Kevin O'Hare was widely seen as a safe pair of hands when he took over as The Royal Ballet's director upon Monica Mason's retirement in 2012. A former principal with Birmingham Royal Ballet, a sister company of The Royal, he had danced much of the British repertoire; as The Royal's administrative director, he knew the London-based institution inside out.
Yet when he was appointed, O'Hare quietly set himself a radical challenge: In 2020, for a full year, he intended to present only works created in the decade prior. "I think we can do it. We're on track," he says now with a laugh. "If we're not pushing ourselves, giving the dancers opportunities to create new roles, then there's no point in being here."
That commitment to renewed creativity, balanced with a sensible respect for the British ballet heritage, has been the hallmark of O'Hare's directorship. Since he took the helm, The Royal has produced at least one new full-length ballet nearly every season, with hits including Christopher Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale and Wayne McGregor's Woolf Works, but not at the expense of his- torical works. A new generation of British- trained dancers has also emerged, nurtured by O'Hare to take over the repertoire.
Last weekend, the Mariinsky Ballet announced on its website that one of its most revered prima ballerinas, Uliana Lopatkina, has retired from the stage. A principal dancer since 1995, Lopatkina's interpretation of Odette/Odile and "The Dying Swan", among other roles, was legendary. To honor her dance career, we're re-visiting this interview from the February/March 2013 issue.
What's the toughest part of being a dancer?
More than most professions, ballet erodes the private sphere. You don't fulfill yourself in this career: You serve it; you're a slave to it.
What ballet makes you most nervous?
Swan Lake. Even if it's not the most difficult ballet to perform, it's difficult in another way, a mystical way.
Being in the corps can be pretty unforgiving. You dance in nearly every performance, it sometimes feels like you're only onstage to add to the scenery, and you're expected to fit in—while still vying for soloist roles. It's enough to make even the most determined dancer lose steam. Pointe spoke with three corps de ballet dancers about how they use a combination of self-discipline and creativity to keep themselves motivated.
Shine in Class
After a few years, morning class can feel like a chore—especially during heavy rehearsal periods when your body just wants to rest. But rather than viewing it as a drag, try reframing class as a chance to show your best, hardest-working self. For San Francisco Ballet corps member Rebecca Rhodes, class is a time to push harder, not slack off. "It's a great time to be noticed," she says, especially for dancers hoping to be cast in featured roles. "I make sure to do every combination two or three times, and I try not to pick and choose what's comfortable," she says.
Thumb through Ingrid Silva's Instagram and you'll see plenty of beautiful professional photos of her dancing. But her profile feels much less curated than what's usually found online. She's hanging out with her brindle- coat French bulldog, Frida Kahlo. Or she's working with the outreach program Brown Girls Do Ballet. Or she's rehearsing at Dance Theatre of Harlem, where she's been dancing since 2008, leotard and tights on, Afro out. It's the perfect portrait of a modern-day ballerina.
Last September, as one of The Royal Ballet's coaches walked her through the potion scene from Romeo and Juliet, Francesca Hayward wasted no time marking the steps. Instead of lingering on individual poses, she was instantly focused on the web of emotions behind the choreography. Sitting on Juliet's bed, she seemed to contemplate the events that had just unfolded as Prokofiev's music swelled up, projecting despite her tiny stature; after pretending to drink the poison, she reached for her neck, her eyes filled with fear and disgust.
Are foot stretchers safe for dancers to use? —Marissa
I've often wondered the same thing myself. There are several versions on the market, all promising to improve flexibility by holding the top of the foot in an extreme point. Many dancers swear by them, but to be sure, I asked Boyd Bender, physical therapist for Pacific Northwest Ballet. His advice? Use cautiously, especially if you have feet with flatter arches. "A foot stretcher might create more leverage through the mid-foot and arch area, and possibly create a flatter and more unstable mid-foot," he says. In other words, too much pressure could overstretch and weaken this foot type, increasing the tendency to roll in. Also, he warns that if you have a history of foot and ankle injuries, use a foot stretcher only in the presence of a health professional to ensure that you're not causing additional damage.
.The last few years have seen notable company closures, including Silicon Valley Ballet in San Jose, California. But Los Angeles–based American Contemporary Ballet is moving in the opposite direction, extending its contract and filling out its now-year-round roster of dancers.
"We got the advice to grow slowly because it allows you to make your mistakes on a small scale," says artistic director Lincoln Jones, who founded the company to present ballet as a musical art form. To whit, the repertoire includes work by Balanchine, Fred Astaire and Jones. Performances are always accompanied by live music."
Adding another milestone to his already untouchable career, Mikhail Baryshnikov will take on the role of iconic ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky in director Robert Wilson's one-man show, Letter to a Man. The work had its premiere in Italy in 2015 and has its U.S. debut as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival, October 15–30.
Though Baryshnikov and Nijinsky were ballet titans of their respective generations, Letter to a Man is theater, not dance. And Wilson's vision won't result in a literal biography of the troubled danseur. Rather, it's an interpretation of the diaries Nijinsky kept while he suffered from schizophrenia. The play's title is from a letter written from Nijinsky to his former lover and Ballets Russes founder Sergei Diaghilev—when their relationship was such that Nijinsky wouldn't even say his name.