Sir Paul at the Ballet
Meeting Paul McCartney—that’s a tale worth telling. But meeting the Beatles star while half-dressed in an unfinished ballet costume by McCartney’s designer daughter, Stella? That’s a tale only New York City Ballet principal Robert Fairchild can tell.
Fairchild is one of the stars of Ocean’s Kingdom, a new ballet premiering at NYCB in September, with music and original story by Sir Paul and choreography by Peter Martins. “It was totally surreal, to put it mildly,” says Fairchild of his impromptu first meeting with McCartney. “I was standing there basically naked in the costume shop with Stella, and in walks Paul, and Peter says to him, ‘Hey, here’s your prince!’”
In the ballet, Fairchild’s character, the brother of an earthly king, falls in love with a princess from an undersea kingdom (played by Sara Mearns). “The two worlds aren’t exactly friendly with each other,” Fairchild explains. “It’s very Romeo and Juliet. Nobody wants us to be together—but it’s true love.”
To convey the dramatic plotline, McCartney has composed a score that Fairchild describes as varied and theatrical. “It’s big and changeable and grand. You can imagine it as a soundtrack for a movie,” he says. But it won’t make Beatles fans feel like fish out of water (pun very much intended). “There are a few hints in the score that let you know it’s by Paul McCartney,” Fairchild says. “In the part we rehearsed today, I kept hearing the beat of ‘Eleanor Rigby.’” —Margaret Fuhrer
Bringing Paris to the Pillow
The Paris Opéra Ballet hasn’t performed in the U.S. for more than a decade. But while fans will have to wait until the troupe’s North American tour next summer to see the full company, Jacob’s Pillow is offering a sneak peek at some of its most talented dancers this August. 3e Étage, a seven-year-old ensemble made up of top POB dancers, will present an intimate program at the Pillow, with repertoire ranging from William Forsythe’s Limb’s Theorem to the offbeat me2, choreographed by 3e Étage’s artistic director, Samuel Murez.
The group is named after the third floor of the Palais Garnier, where all of the dancers began their training at the Paris Opéra Ballet School, and its philosophy reflects that feeling of freshness. “We started this company to show a different side of us,” says Ludmila Pagliero, a POB première danseuse who will dance with 3e Étage at the Pillow. “Even when we perform outside of the Opéra, we’re always asked to bring classical pas de deux, the standards. The idea with 3e Étage is to reimagine that gala model.”
It’s fun for the dancers to break out of the big-company box. “We love the history and the tradition at POB,” Pagliero says, “but sometimes we have less-conventional thoughts in our heads, too.” —MF
Kudelka’s Man In Black at Cincinnati Ballet
Cincinnati Ballet’s New Works program is usually a place for on-the-rise choreographers to test their wings. But this fall there’s a well-established name in the lineup: James Kudelka, whose Man In Black will make its Cincinnati premiere.
Kudelka choreographed Man, set to the music of Johnny Cash, for BalletMet Columbus’ American Legends program last year. (It was there that CB artistic director Victoria Morgan saw—and admired—the ballet.)
“Last year, having recently seen the film Walk the Line, I was very open to
listening to Cash, and eventually I felt I had a deep understanding of him,” Kudelka says. You won’t hear any familiar prison tunes in Man, however. Instead, Kudelka found a personal connection to Cash’s later covers. “Two of the songs I use were written by Canadian performers I know from my youth, Gordon Lightfoot and Ian Tyson,” Kudelka says. “I find Cash’s gravelly performances of these pieces moving and elegiac.” The resulting ballet—like Cash’s music—is quiet and poetic, with a country twang. Kudelka is “delighted to see the work live on” at CB. —MF
Black and White Swans at Carolina Ballet
Robert Weiss, artistic director of Carolina Ballet, is no fan of the film Black Swan. “I think it’s a disservice to ballet,” he says. “Every bad cliché is exaggerated.”
So why does CB’s 2011–12 season open this fall with “Black and White Swan,” featuring both of Petipa’s iconic pas de deux, with a promotional blurb that explicitly references the film? “The plus side of the movie is that it has a lot of new people thinking about ballet,” he says. “And my dancers have never done the Petipa pas. So I thought, Let’s give them a shot and get these new ballet fans into the theater. Let’s take advantage of the publicity we get when we get it.”
One of the CB ballerinas tackling the iconic choreography is Jan Burkhard, a newly minted principal who will dance the Black Swan pas—but hasn’t yet seen Black Swan. “It’s on my to-do list!” she says. “But I’ve been dreaming of dancing this pas de deux my whole life.” Is she nervous about living up to movie-based expectations? “I think the pressure of the choreography is scarier!” —MF
Merry Widow Comes to Tulsa
In September, Tulsa Ballet will present the Oklahoma premiere of Ronald Hynd’s The Merry Widow—a moment artistic director Marcello Angelini has long awaited. “About 10 years ago, I saw La Scala Ballet perform it in Milan,” he remembers. “I asked Ronald if we could do it, but at that point our company was too small. This year we reached the threshold number of dancers, and I immediately called Ronald and said, ‘It’s time!’”
Angelini isn’t the only one who feels this is the right moment for Merry Widow, which had recent runs at the Joffrey Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. “I think directors are looking for full-length ballets that create a unique world,” Angelini says. In Widow’s case, that world is turn-of-the-century Paris, where high-society widow Hanna Glawari is romanced by the dapper Count Danilo. It’s a funny, frothy, crowd-pleasing tale. “Some new story ballets haven’t been successful,” Angelini says. “But in Widow, everything clicks: the music, the costumes, the story.” —MF
Coming Soon to a Movie Theater Near You
Ballet in Cinema, which beams ballet performances from around the world into theaters across the U.S.—often in real time—has packed its 2011–12 schedule full of all kinds of goodies. Particularly noteworthy is its November 20 broadcast of the Bolshoi’s Sleeping Beauty, live from the grand reopening of the historic Bolshoi Theatre. You can compare the Russian and British takes on the Petipa classic when The Royal Ballet’s Beauty hits cinemas the following month (starring golden boy Sergei Polunin). For schedules and participating theaters, visit balletincinema.com. —MF
Q&A - The Bolshoi’s Sergei Filin
For all its high-wattage stars, the Bolshoi Ballet can still be laid low by internal politics. In March, a fresh scandal left it without a replacement for departing artistic director Yuri Burlaka. Former principal Sergei Filin, who had been at the helm of Moscow’s Stanislavsky Ballet, stepped in at the eleventh hour. He spoke to Pointe’s Laura Cappelle about the Bolshoi’s unique challenges at a momentous time for the company: Its historical stage, closed for restoration since 2005, is set to reopen this fall. (See live broadcast information at left.)
Pointe: What’s been most difficult about your transition from the Stanislavsky to the Bolshoi?
Sergei Filin: The feeling that I was abandoning people who had worked so hard for me. But the Bolshoi is my home.
PT: What lies ahead for you in the next few months?
SF: My first season will be tough, because no one can tell what surprises await us when we move back to the old stage. The main goal will be to transfer our large-scale ballets there quickly. But we’re lucky that, alongside the “old” stage, we’re able to keep the new, smaller stage we perform on at the moment, so from next year on I want to have workshops and new works staged there.
PT: What are your plans in terms of repertoire?
SF: I’m keen to have in-demand choreographers stage productions specifically for our young dancers. We’ve already started to work with Wayne McGregor. Another task will be to commission full-length narrative ballets. We have a lot of great literary works that haven’t been captured by contemporary choreographers.
PT: Do you want to open up the Bolshoi to new influences?
SF: I do. I’d like to develop closer ties with other ballet companies, to invite foreign teachers and choreographers to do master classes. We must be an open company.
PT: You’ve said that Bolshoi dancers are too involved in outside activities, whether it’s politics or guesting abroad. Will you exercise stricter control?
SF: My biggest goal is to bring back discipline and to foster a good working atmosphere. I'm willing to tell each dancer what his or her schedule will be for the season, for example, but I would like to get the same kind of information from them.
PT: You held public auditions for the very first time in June.
SF: Yes, I would love to have the best dancers in the world join us. They don’t need to speak Russian already, but they do need to be very well-trained and to know our repertoire.
Hot Ticket Giveaways
Pacific Northwest Ballet kicks off its 2011–12 season with an all–Christopher Wheeldon bill that includes After the Rain pas de deux and Polyphonia. We’re giving away two tickets to the Friday, September 23, performance.
Houston Ballet premieres a new staging of Giselle this fall, paired with Stanton Welch’s Indigo. We’re giving away two tickets to the matinee on Saturday, October 1. —MF