Call Board

Published in the December 2011/January 2012 issue.

Liam Scarlett working with Miami City Ballet. Photo by Lucrecia Diaz.

Scarlett Comes Stateside
Liam Scarlett makes his U.S. choreographic debut at Miami City Ballet.

Up-and-coming choreographer Liam Scarlett is quickly becoming a household name across the pond. The deeply musical ballets he has made for The Royal, where he’s also a member of the corps de ballet, have earned raves from the London press. Thanks to Edward Villella, Scarlett is about to get a toehold over here, too: His first ballet for an American company premieres this January at Villella’s Miami City Ballet.

“Edward happened to be over in London when Asphodel Meadows, my first mainstage piece for The Royal, premiered,” Scarlett says. “I guess he thought, ‘Oh, who’s this new guy?’ And then we bumped into each other in the elevator after the show and had a funny half-conversation about my work that ended as the doors were closing. Eventually, that led to this piece for MCB.”

Scarlett fell in love with the MCB dancers’ “athleticism and visceral drive,” as he puts it. “I chose a score by Lowell Lieberman that’s very forceful and has a bite to it, and the dancers tackled it with this hunger that was thrilling—and not something you see very often in London, where we’re all very polite,” he says, with a chuckle. He’s also found a muse in principal Jeanette Delgado. “It’s strange to come in as a guest choreographer and right away find someone who suits your work perfectly, who completely gets you,” he says. “Usually it takes years to develop that kind of partnership. Jeanette brings my work to a new place.”  —Margaret Fuhrer



The Joffrey’s Roller-Coaster Summer

The summer of 2011 was a difficult one for The Joffrey Ballet—with a hopeful outcome. On June 30, the company’s management and the American Guild of Musical Artists were still negotiating new terms for the dancers’ contracts, set to expire at midnight that night. The next day, with issues of salary and rehearsal hours still unresolved, The Joffrey’s management notified the dancers that summer performances and possibly the beginning of the 2011–2012 season would be cancelled.

A few days later, management, fearing a strike, announced a lockout. For a brief period, company dancers’ names were even removed from The Joffrey website.

“The lockout was disturbing in the sense that it was unnecessary,” says James Odom, president of AGMA. “We were never near discussing a strike.” With the company dancers on leave, it also took “a lot of fancy footwork through computer links, e-mail and teleconferencing to get to a position to make a proposal to management,” according to Barbara Hillman, the dancers’ union lawyer.

But after a tense renegotiation period, an agreement was reached shortly before summer rehearsals were scheduled to begin. And soon after the labor dispute was resolved, there was another sign of a fresh start. Eight new company dancers were selected by artistic director Ashley Wheater to replace “some former dancers retiring and some let go,” Wheater says. (The company roster remains at 42.) Notable names include Rory Hohenstein, who’s danced previously with San Francisco Ballet and Morphoses; Jeraldine Mendoza, a California-born alumna of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy; and Alberto Velazquez, a former member of ABT II.

“We’re an arts organization going through very difficult economic times,” says Wheater. “I have enormous respect for the dancers in this company. The labor dispute is behind us and we now move forward.” —Giannella Garrett


Boston Ballet’s Evolution

Boston Ballet announced a slew of roster changes for its 2011–2012 season. Some of the most notable promotions are now-soloists Whitney Jensen and Jeffrey Cirio, and the 10 new company members include second soloist Ashley Ellis, formerly a member of Corella Ballet and American Ballet Theatre.
With the retirement of longtime prima Larissa Ponomarenko at the end of last season and fresh faces rising through the ranks, it may seem like a season of transition at BB. But artistic director Mikko Nissinen doesn’t feel that way. “We’ve been through times when there were many more changes,” he says. And he didn’t want to cherry-pick big names from other ballet companies to shore up his young troupe. “I have very little interest in stars who just want to come in and do their own thing,” he says. “We have more of a team mentality.” Nissinen also notes a continuity in Ponomarenko’s new position as ballet master. “It’s been wonderful to watch her come through the company and progress,” he says. “A company has a natural evolution.”
With 47 currently in the main company and 9 in the second company, BB’s roster is only slightly larger than it was in 2008, when budget constraints forced dancer cuts. Yet growth is in the works: By the 2013–2014 season, which will mark the company’s 50th anniversary, Nissinen expects to have 56 company dancers and 11 in BBII. —Nancy Wozny


A New Nut In Cincinnati

It’s not Nutcracker as usual this year for Cincinnati Ballet: The company will mount a brand-new production of the holiday standard, with choreography by artistic director Victoria Morgan, in December. And Morgan is sprinkling the classic confection with little surprises.

“Often ballet, even in The Nutcracker, gets pigeonholed as something very serious,” she says. “I wanted this version to have a sense of humor—to feel colorful and, in the most positive way, cartoonish.” Morgan’s lighthearted Nutcracker will include, for example, a shout-out to her French poodle, who’s become a sort of company mascot: “The Mirlitons in Act II? We’re making them Mirlipoos!”

But Morgan emphasizes that there won’t be “anything goofy technically” about her new Nut. “I’ve known many of the CB dancers for years now, and I’m really excited about challenging them and highlighting their personalities and strengths,” she says. “After you work with the same group for so long, there’s a certain comfort level that develops, which lets me push them—and them push me—to new creative heights.” —MF


An Onegin Wish, Fulfilled
Dancing Tatiana in John Cranko’s Onegin was one of Yuan Yuan Tan’s childhood dreams. “When I was a little girl at school in Shanghai, we only had a few ballet videos,” says the San Francisco Ballet principal. “One of them had clips of Marcia Haydée as Tatiana, and I was totally overwhelmed by her. Watching that video was the moment I realized, Wow, ballet is not only about getting your leg up high, it’s about telling a story, and that’s what I want to do.” Now Tan’s dream is about to come true: She’ll dance Tatiana when SFB performs Onegin for the first time this January. —MF


NYCB’s Nutcracker Broadcasts

In 1958, ballet fans were treated to a  television broadcast of New York City Ballet in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (with Mr. B as Drosselmeyer). This December, NYCB’s Nut will air live again: in movie  theaters on the 13, and on PBS on the 14. —MF


The Next Step For Two Stars

What’s next for Michele Wiles and Charles Askegard, who recently ended their respective careers with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet? Ballet Next, a small company the friends and dance partners founded this fall. “Charles and I started dancing together about a year ago at galas, and we were taking lots of David Howard’s classes together,” Wiles says. “One day in David’s class, I asked him: Would you like to start a company together? I wasn’t quite joking, but almost. He said yes! And things started to progress very quickly from there.”

Wiles and Askegard are co-directors of and principal dancers with Ballet Next, which had its first mainstage performance, a one-off at NYC’s Joyce Theater, in November. “Thanks to our careers at major companies, I think we have resources and connections that are helping us create something very special,” Wiles says. Those resources include access to some of the world’s top dancers—including Drew Jacoby, who was scheduled at press time to dance a duet with Wiles, choreographed by Mauro Bigonzetti, at the Joyce performance. That show featured live music, which Wiles says will be a key component in all Ballet Next engagements. Wiles also hopes that the troupe, which she and Askegard plan to keep relatively compact, will be able to tour in the future.

“I left ABT because it was time to start a new chapter in my life,” says Wiles, whose abrupt departure from the company last summer surprised many balletgoers. “I wanted to expand myself and explore new ways of expressing emotions and ideas. I feel blessed to be working on Ballet Next—it feels like I’m on the right path.” —MF


Ballet All Over

Hallberg on The Colbert Report   
Yes, you read that right: American Ballet Theatre principal David Hallberg, who this fall became the first American to join the Bolshoi Ballet, will appear on Stephen Colbert’s satirical late-night show on December 7. Tapper Savion Glover and the cast of Fela! have previously performed on the Report, but Hallberg is the first ballet dancer to make an appearance. Here’s hoping he’ll have a chance to banter with Colbert—or that he’ll get Colbert, who earlier this year performed in the New York Philharmonic production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, to try out a few dance steps. —MF


NYCB's Latest Wheeldon Wonder
New York City Ballet will unveil a new work by the omnipresent Christopher Wheeldon this January. The piece is set to debut on all-Wheeldon bill that also includes the NYCB premiere of DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse. —MF