Martins on NYCB's "Architectural" Season
New York City Ballet’s spring season, which begins April 29, is chock-full of “new”: seven premieres, four commissioned scores, five sets by architect Santiago Calatrava. And yet, says Artistic Director Peter Martins, it’s all part of an old tradition. “I wish I could take credit for it,” Martins says, “but I was around when George Balanchine was inviting other artists to make work for the company, and I’m just following in his footsteps.”
Martins says that the collaboration with Calatrava—which will mark the architect’s first foray into theatrical design, and which inspired the season’s “Architecture of Dance” moniker—is also in line with Balanchine tradition. “In 1981, Balanchine asked the architect Philip Johnson to create a set for the Tchaikovsky festival,” Martins says. “I thought it would be fantastic to take that idea and bring it into our time.”
The season’s premières are by a high-profile group of choreographers: Melissa Barak, Mauro Bigonzetti, Wayne McGregor, Benjamin Millepied, Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon and Martins himself. “As a dancer, there’s nothing like being a canvas,” Martins says. “Some believe that people join this company to dance Balanchine, and that’s partially true, but everyone wants to be part of a creative process. McGregor’s piece, his first for an American company, will be especially exciting for our dancers.”
In the midst of all that’s new, NYCB will also be bidding farewell to four of its longtime principals: Yvonne Borree, Albert Evans, Philip Neal and Martins’ wife, Darci Kistler. “It’s a bittersweet time for the company,” Martins says. “These dancers will be sorely missed. But there is also a whole group of younger dancers here who have their work cut out for them, and I’m excited to see where they’ll go.” —Margaret Fuhrer
U.S. Students Graduate from Bolshoi Academy
It’s been a whirlwind year for California natives Emma Powers, 19, and Jeraldine Mendoza, 18. Just last January they were in San Francisco studying with Galina Alexandrova, an alumna of Bolshoi Ballet’s Moscow State Academy of Choreography. This April they will become the first American females to graduate with the Academy’s top class.
The girls’ surprising journey began in February 2009, when Alexandrova brought 12 of her students to Russia to perform at the Academy. The school was so impressed that it invited several of them to stay, and Powers and Mendoza accepted the offer.
“I thought attending the Bolshoi would put me on the ballet map,” Powers says. “The environment has a different level of intensity.”
Aside from the technical rigor, the biggest challenge was adjusting to a foreign way of life. “The food is richer, the weather is really cold and the language barrier is challenging,” Mendoza says.
But both girls feel that the Academy has enriched their stage presence and acting abilities. And they’re excited about their future. “European company directors will be at our exams in April,” Mendoza says. “I’d love to dance in Europe.” —Jen Peters
Balanchine’s Coppélia Comes to Boston
Boston Ballet continues its long association with George Balanchine this April when it performs his production of Delibes’ Coppélia, which Balanchine co-choreographed with the great ballerina Alexandra Danilova in 1974. Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen considers the occasion historic: “We will be the first North American company besides New York City Ballet to perform this lavish production of one of Balanchine’s few evening-length narrative ballets. Casting hasn’t been set but I can tell you we will have five Swanildas and five Franzes.”
Coppélia always tests a company’s range, from classical technique to comic mime. Act III, which Balanchine completely rechoreographed, also offers a unique opportunity for students: Twenty-four beaming little girls in pink tutus stream in for the “Waltz” section, and remain onstage performing choreography scaled for them throughout “Dawn,” “Prayer” and “Spinner.” They scamper off when a spear-carrying corps charges on representing “War and Discord” (a rarely done ensemble piece that Balanchine restored), and return for the grand finale after an extraordinarily demanding pas de deux for Swanilda and Franz.
Boston Ballet will meet these challenges in the proper style. Its corps is filled with School of American Ballet graduates. Nissinen’s assistant Russell Kaiser was a ballet master at NYCB, and Kaiser’s wife, Margaret Tracey, a former City Ballet principal, heads its school.
“The first two acts of Coppélia possess invaluable historic interest,” says Nissinen. “As students, Balanchine and Danilova absorbed the living St. Petersburg traditions set by Petipa, Ivanov and Cecchetti. No other Coppélia offers this continuity. My philosophy in programming is always, ‘Take the best and leave the rest.’ ”
Neumeier’s Lady of the Camellias Comes to ABT
Milwaukee native John Neumeier has spent the past 37 years in Germany directing The Hamburg Ballet—so much time that he now speaks English with a German accent. But coming to New York City to set his Lady of the Camellias on American Ballet Theatre reminded him that he is, at heart, an American choreographer.
“There is a wordless communication that happens with these ABT dancers which helps me remember that my aesthetic is essentially American,” Neumeier says. “Physically, they understand me better than most European dancers. The mentality that comes from working in this country is compatible with my style.”
The ballet is based on Alexandre Dumas’ 1848 novel, but it is not a period piece. Neumeier has adapted Camellias in small ways for ABT, which will perform the ballet in May at the Metropolitan Opera House. “I believe that dance must be alive, which means it’s constantly changing,” Neumeier says. “The changes to Camellias are probably too small for most people to notice, but they bring the
ballet into the present tense.” —MF
Georgina Parkinson, 1938–2009
Georgina Parkinson, former Royal Ballet principal and longtime ballet mistress at American Ballet Theatre, died in December from cancer-related complications. ABT dedicated its January performances to Parkinson, who from 1978 on guided the company’s ballerinas through a variety of roles. She was particularly well-known for her sensitive, intelligent coaching of Kenneth MacMillan’s ballets. “Georgina nurtured the individuality and artistry of each person she worked with,” says ABT principal Gillian Murphy. “She encouraged me to trust my intuition so that every moment could be as expansive and expressive as possible. Her vibrant spirit and sense of humor will be sorely missed.” —MF
Ballet All Over: Big Names in Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky’s upcoming feature film Black Swan has some serious ballet muscle behind it. Not only is New York City Ballet principal Benjamin Millepied choreographing and performing in the movie’s dance sequences, but American Ballet Theatre soloists Sarah Lane (pictured) and Maria Riccetto are also “dance doubles” for stars Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, respectively.
Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes Black Swan news in the fall! —MF
Pointe Style Watch: Springtime Brights
Ward off the early spring chill with these playful warmers from Discount Dance Supply. The soft knits in bold, Dr. Seuss stripes do double duty: At 16” long, they work well on legs (try them scrunched up as ankle warmers!) and arms. They’ll keep you cozy—and trendy—through class and rehearsal. —MF
Pointe Shoe Profile
Pennsylvania Ballet Principal
Brand: Freed of London
Years wearing this shoe: 15!
Padding: A Bunheads Ouch Pouch that she’s washed many times, so that most of the padding is worn away. It protects her toes while allowing her to feel the floor.
Break-in process: Not much! She softens the boxes with her hands or steps on them, and then bangs them on the floor to make sure they aren’t too noisy onstage.
Number of pairs she uses: Varies depending on the ballets she’s dancing, but at least one pair each performance.