Call Board

Published in the December 2013/January 2014 issue.

Scarlett in the studio. Photo Johan Persson/ROH.

Liam Scarlett's New York Debut

The Royal Ballet's wunderkind makes his first work for NYCB.

Soon after Liam Scarlett’s Viscera premiered at Miami City Ballet in January 2012, he got a call from New York City Ballet director Peter Martins. “I think a lot of directors were looking at that MCB piece as a test,” Scarlett says, “and I guess I passed!” Now Scarlett, who participated in the NYCB-affiliated New York Choreographic Institute in 2009, is making his first work for the company, to premiere at the end of January.

As artist in residence at The Royal Ballet, where he was until recently a first artist, Scarlett is accustomed to the theatrical Royal style. But he’s looking forward to working with NYCB’s Balanchine-trained dancers. “I’m definitely not going to do a narrative work for this company,” he says. “I love how varied the dancers are, especially the principals. I want to put a bit of my own stamp on them without losing their special qualities.”

He’s particularly excited to work with principals Janie Taylor, Sara Mearns and Tiler Peck, who are scheduled to dance in the work. “It’s funny—whenever I get a new commission, the first thing I say is, ‘Oh, I’ve wanted to do something with such-and-such a dancer for so long!’” Scarlett says. “I like the work to evolve from the people I have in front of me.”



Royal New Zealand Ballet’s U.S. Tour
Former American Ballet Theatre star Ethan Stiefel is coming home. This January, the Royal New Zealand Ballet will begin its first tour of the U.S. since Stiefel became artistic director. Kicking off in Los Angeles, the tour will make stops in Santa Barbara, Minneapolis and New York. It features two programs: the company’s revamped Giselle and a mixed-repertory bill.

Up-and-coming RNZB dancer Lucy Green—a favorite of principal guest artist (and Stiefel’s fiancée) Gillian Murphy—is happy that American audiences will finally get a taste of the company. “The fact that New Zealand is so isolated makes international tours hugely exciting for us,” she says. “This tour does make us a little nervous, though, because the U.S. has so many strong ballet companies that a lot of people will have high expectations.”

Green is confident that, thanks in part to Stiefel’s work, RNZB will meet them. “To have Ethan, one of the best male dancers in the world, here in little old New Zealand directing us has built up our technique and performance skills,” she says. “He’s made us feel relevant as a company on a global scale.” As for Murphy—well, Green is still a little starstruck. “I used to watch her on YouTube all the time, and now to have her in the studio is unreal!” she says. “I’ve been lucky enough to share a few roles with her at RNZB. To be able to learn from the best, every day, is pretty amazing.”



Lourdes Lopez Looks Back (and Forward)
It’s been just over a year since Lourdes Lopez took the helm at Miami City Ballet, following founding artistic director Edward Villella’s abrupt exit. (Lopez, the director of Morphoses for several years, was originally slated to move to MCB in May of 2013.) Pointe talked with Lopez about how she’s since put her own stamp on the company, and her hopes for MCB’s future.

How were you feeling last year at this point?
It was like being thrown in a ballet you’ve just learned that afternoon: The curtain goes up, and you dance! But in a sense it was also the perfect way to come into the company. Since the season was already programmed, for the first few months I was just there to oversee and assess the company and the school.

And what was your diagnosis?
The company wasn’t interacting with the community at all. They had no outreach; they functioned in a bubble by themselves. That’s one of the reasons why, as soon as I arrived last year, I set up a dancer flash mob to promote the season. We had to get out there!

What were your goals while programming the current season?
The repertoire needed a little stirring up. Dancers today can do everything—they can do Paul Taylor, curtain down, Twyla Tharp, curtain down, Balanchine—and I wanted to showcase that. I also used to look at old playbills to see how Mr. B put programs together at New York City Ballet. He’d open with something easy, maybe the one-act Swan Lake. Then, in the middle, you’d be hit with Concerto Barocco and The Four Temperaments back to back. Did he really want to do Swan Lake? No! But he understood how to challenge an audience, to make them feel comfortable before you stretch them. I wanted to follow that model. 

What are your long-term goals for the company?

We have to tour. The financials of touring never work out, but we need to have visibility outside of Florida. I’m focusing on Latin and South America, because geographically we’re close, of course, but also two-thirds of our dancers are from those places.

Do you plan to commission works?
Commissions are going to be a big part of the future. It’s definite now that Morphoses will be coming down to Miami, probably in 2015. MCB has agreed to absorb it as an artistic arm of the company, which is something I’m very, very proud of. Morphoses will continue to invite choreographers and artists to create multidisciplinary, collaborative works that are experimental and edgy. We’ll be doing something to help the future of ballet.



Washington Ballet’s Jazz/Blues Project
When Washington Ballet director Septime Webre first approached Annabelle Lopez Ochoa about creating a piece for the company’s The Jazz/Blues Project program, which opens in January, Ochoa was enthusiastic. She’s an alum of Netherlands-based jazz company Djazzex, after all. “I said, ‘Oh, this will be perfect!’” Ochoa says. “And Septime said, ‘Well, OK, but we don’t really want jazz-hands jazz.’”

He didn’t have to worry. Ochoa’s premiere, set to jazz pianist Keith Jarrett’s famous 1975 Köln Concert improvisation, leans toward the brainy rather than the flashy. ““My inspiration was Jarrett himself,” she says. “Inspiration is a vibrating energy that surrounds us, and people like Jarrett are so sensitive that they can feel that vibration. When they let it run through them, as he did in the Köln Concert, all these colors and rhythms come to life.”

What does that look like in ballet terms? Ochoa describes it as “neoclassical with a jazzy tint.” She’s had fun getting The Washington Ballet dancers to let loose. “Even Maki Onuki, this beautiful classical ballerina—suddenly she’s grooving!”



Ballet All Over
Gems of the Bolshoi
Ballet in Cinema will take a break from its usual programming of old-world story ballets to present the Bolshoi Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s Jewels this January. The program will be broadcast live from Moscow to select theaters across the U.S. on January 19, and rebroadcast later in the winter to a larger group of cinemas. (Visit emergingpictures.com for details.) Casting has yet to be announced, but this could be American fans’ first chance to see first soloist Olga Smirnova’s acclaimed interpretation of the lead in “Diamonds”—one of Pointe’s standout performances of the year.