New USA IBC Prizes
This year, dancers will vie for six one-year company contracts.
The stakes will be higher than ever at the USA International Ballet Competition this June. While entrants in the prestigious contest, held every four years in Jackson, MS, have traditionally competed for medals, cash awards and scholarships, this year they could also walk away with a one-year contract at Ballet San Jose, Columbia City Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Nashville Ballet or The Washington Ballet.
“For many of these young dancers, a company contract is the best prize of all—it’s the start of a career,” says Sue Lobrano, executive director of USA IBC. Two or three companies offered contract prizes at the 2002 and 2006 competitions, Lobrano says, but this is the first time such a large number have signed on. “The six companies cover a huge range, geographically and stylistically,” Lobrano says. “That’s wonderful, because it means they’ll all be looking for different types of dancers.”
Perhaps thanks to the new prizes, the USA IBC has seen a remarkable jump in applications. “It almost scared us!” Lobrano says. “Normally we get between 250 and 290 applications for about 100 spots; this year we had 357. But that just means that the quality of the competitors will be very high.” —Margaret Fuhrer
Competitors to Watch
Keep an eye on ABT apprentice Meaghan Hinkis, who impressed the judges at the 2009 Helsinki International Ballet Competition—where she took home the bronze—with her luxurious extensions and clean, easy pirouettes. San Francisco Ballet corps member Madison Keesler looks at home in classical and contemporary work, and with two years of professional experience under her belt (the first at Hamburg Ballet), she’s no stranger to the pressures of the stage. And Orlando Ballet II dancer Simon Wexler, competing in the junior division, is already a gallant, assured partner with a graceful, unaffected classical line. —MF
Wheeldon Out at Morphoses
Last February, Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company jolted the dance world when choreographer Christopher Wheeldon resigned from his role with the company just three years after it was founded.
The blizzard of conflicting press releases and interviews took a week or so to subside. Morphoses Executive Director Lourdes Lopez said Wheeldon’s inability to work the company into his increasingly busy schedule had created difficulties in hiring dancers, rehearsing ballets and booking venues. In all of 2010, Lopez said Wheeldon could devote only 10 weeks to such matters.
Wheeldon, who said he had set aside 17 weeks for Morphoses this year, insisted that what led to his departure was the continuing problem of assembling a genuine company: several full-time dancers whose bodies and technique he knew so well he could begin mentally “choreographing” on them weeks in advance. Instead, he needed to recruit new dancers for each appearance to supplement a small cadre of colleagues who were between seasons at The Royal Ballet and New York City Ballet. Although this stopgap arrangement put NYCB superballerinas Wendy Whelan and Maria Kowroski and freelancer Edwaard Liang at his disposal, it was unsatisfactory for a long haul. Wheeldon says, “I was planning to step down at the end of the year anyway; the collapse of an engagement in Paris during time I’d set aside for the company precipitated my immediate departure.”
Lopez insists that Morphoses has the wherewithal to continue performing without Wheeldon’s participation. It ended 2009 with $1.3 million in the bank and a net profit of $545,000, can offer salaries and benefits to 8 to 10 dancers and has a repertoire of ballets on tap. Lopez says the current plan is to continue under a series of “curators” from various artistic disciplines—music, visual art, even film—with each artist serving as resident expert for a season.
Wheeldon’s schedule remains full. After attending San Francisco Ballet’s premiere of his Ghosts in February, he began preliminary work for The Royal Ballet’s two-act Alice in Wonderland, scheduled for 2011, and started choreographing his latest premiere for NYCB, set to Alberto Ginastera’s Estancia. —Harris Green
Ballet Arizona at Ballet Across America
For Ballet Arizona Artistic Director Ib Andersen, the second of the Kennedy Center’s biennial Ballet Across America festivals is a milestone in his 26-year-old troupe’s history. As one of nine invited companies, Ballet Arizona will make its Washington, D.C. debut when they perform Andersen’s newest work, Diversions, three times during the June festival.
In making his new ballet, unveiled during Ballet Arizona’s late March season, Andersen had Washington very much in mind. “Why perform something that people already know?” says Andersen, now in his tenth season in Phoenix. “This is a creative company.” Set to an eminently danceable piece by British composer Benjamin Britten, Diversions is a non-narrative work for 10 men and 10 women. “It will definitely show off the company,” promises Andersen.
Like many regional troupes, Ballet Arizona has few touring opportunities. Ballet Across America is thus a rare chance to be seen, as Andersen says, “by different eyes.” The lack of touring also means companies pursue their work in relative isolation. Andersen says the festival is a chance for companies to measure themselves against other troupes and gain perspective.
Andersen thinks festival attendees will be impressed by the high level of dancing among all participants. “When I came to America,” says Andersen, “the dancing outside the big companies was not very good. Nowadays the difference is not so large.”
Ballet Memphis, North Carolina Dance Theatre and Tulsa Ballet will also make their D.C. debuts at Ballet Across America; Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Houston Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and The Suzanne Farrell Ballet will perform as well. —Michael Crabb
ABT Honors a Ballet Legend
American Ballet Theatre will pay tribute to Alicia Alonso, who turns 90 this year, during its spring season at Lincoln Center’s Metropolitan Opera House. The company will celebrate her legacy at a special performance of Don Quixote on June 3, with a different pair of principal dancers performing in each of its three acts.
The Cuban-born Alonso had a long association with ABT. A high point of her ABT career came in 1947, when George Balanchine made his classic Theme and Variations on her and her frequent partner Igor Youskevitch. Alonso also created major roles in the company’s premieres of Antony Tudor’s Undertow (1945) and Agnes de Mille’s Fall River Legend (1948).
ABT principal Paloma Herrera, who was 8 years old when she saw Alonso’s company perform in Buenos Aires, was later coached by her when Herrera filmed Theme for The George Balanchine Trust. “Alicia was such an inspiration,” she says. “By working directly with the ballerina who created the part, you learn so much that you can’t get from notation.”
Cubans’ voracious appetite for ballet is credited to Alonso. The National Ballet of Cuba, which she directs, grew out of the companies and schools she founded there. “When I danced in Havana with Jose Manuel Carreño, the enthusiasm of the audience was incredible!” Herrera recalls. “You are inspired by such a house.”
The multicast Don Quixote will be a historic tribute and a once-in-a-lifetime performance. Herrera will perform Act I with Marcelo Gomes, Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo will dance Act II and Natalia Osipova and Carreño will conclude the evening in Act III. —Harris Green
Pointe Style Watch: Functional Sophistication
It’s balmy outside, but dance studios are often over air-conditioned. Fight the chill with Harmonie’s elegant warm-ups. The dolman-sleeve shrug and drawstring pants are light enough for summer, but cozy enough to keep you limber. And they’re made of 100 percent organic cotton—so they’re good for the environment and your muscles. We're giving them away at pointemagazine.com! —MF
Ballet All Over: Emily Blunt in Ballerina Mode
Emily Blunt (of The Devil Wears Prada and Sunshine Cleaning) is the latest Hollywood starlet to don pointe shoes onscreen. In the upcoming thriller The Adjustment Bureau, tentatively scheduled for a July 30 release, Blunt plays a dancer with Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. Since she has no ballet training, Blunt worked with Cedar Lake for months to prepare for the movie, which also stars Matt Damon. Several scenes were shot at the dance company’s studios in New York City—and several real-life Cedar Lake dancers make cameo appearances onscreen! Look for The Adjustment Bureau in theaters soon. — MF
Check for updates about The Adjustment Bureau at pointemagazine.com and on Twitter (@Pointe_Magazine)!
Pointe Shoe Profile
San Francisco Ballet’s Yuan Yuan Tan
Brand: Freed of London
Size: 5 1⁄2
Maker: Maltese Cross (and others, sometimes)
Years wearing this shoe: 14
Padding: Lambswool and paper towels
Break-in process: She sews on ribbons, cuts the shank at her arch and uses alcohol or water to soften the shank and box.
Number of pairs she uses: During performance weeks, she usually goes through about four pairs. But if she’s dancing a full-length like Swan Lake, it can be many more!