Much has changed since Pointe launched 15 years ago—the emergence of social and digital media, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube; continuing economic uncertainty, which has forced some ballet companies to downsize; the proliferation of competitions, like Youth America Grand Prix, and the extreme technique they showcase; the globalization of dance, making borders more permeable for dancers like David Hallberg and other international stars to move from one company to another; and the genesis of a new generation of dancers, choreographers and directors in the 21st century. Pointe asked five ballet movers-and-shakers for their opinions on what ballet needs to flourish in the next 15 years. (Interviews by Joseph Carman and Laura Cappelle.)

 

 

Lourdes Lopez
Artistic director, Miami City Ballet

You have to embrace new technology. It’s a no-brainer, but you have to figure out how to use it. People think of ballet as fragile. I completely disagree. I think it’s actually very powerful in terms of a transformational art form. Look how long it’s survived with all the issues and agendas—political, scientific, social and economic. I’m a believer that you can live-stream dance into a bar or restaurant or stadium or a parking lot. It’s not going to diminish the art form.


I also think Latin America is a sleeping giant with tremendous potential. There are so many investments moving there. I feel I need to get MCB down there—the roster of our dancers is like West Side Story, half Hispanic and half American. —JC 

 


Justin Peck
Choreographer and New York City Ballet soloist

For some reason there has been a departure in choreography from focusing on the music itself. To me, what’s interesting in ballet is watching an interpretation of the music by the choreographer. I think that’s the purest form of choreography—George Balanchine was ahead of his time. We’ve had choreographers come to NYCB who’ve treated the music like an added factor or wallpaper. And there have been some very good pieces created that way, but then there’s not enough balance between music and movement.


Also, collaborations with different artistic mediums are very important. There’s a great section of Miami called Wynwood Arts District. Many street artists have painted this huge mural on a blank warehouse. That inspired me to get in touch with one of the artists and prompted collaboration on a ballet for MCB. There’s a history of dance being this meeting point of many artistic mediums, and I want to carry on that tradition in a very current, relevant way. —JC 


 

Helen Pickett
Resident choreographer, Atlanta Ballet

Ballet sometimes has the reputation of being exclusionary. We need to keep moving forward in how our ballet companies look, in their makeup. We need to make ballet more inclusionary in other ways, too, like using other traditions of dance. But we have to investigate, not merely appropriate. With today’s speed, we take a master class, and we think we have an idea of a particular technique.


Choreography composition classes in big ballet conservatories are key. They get dancers curious and involved, and make them better artists. Perhaps as part of a conservatory’s requirements, making a short piece could be mandatory? Wouldn’t that be wonderful? So many ballet kids come into my improvisation class and say, “I was at an audition, and they asked me to improv and I didn’t know what to do.” It’s showing up more in the ballet world, and these kids need to know it. —JC

 

 

Sara Mearns
Principal dancer, New York City Ballet

It’s definitely great that more women are in directorial and choreographic positions in ballet. It’s not to say men don’t do a good job, but women are taking executive positions all over, not just in ballet. I’m actively seeking to work with more women choreographers because they have a different take. Women are very strong, and I’m a very strong dancer.


I don’t agree with the extreme technique that the competitions develop these days. I think it turns dancers into robots, which is not pretty to watch. I am definitely a believer in artistry over tricks. The artistry will last longer, and you can develop it over decades. Tricks will come and go; one day you won’t be able to do them. After a while they’re kind of boring. With artistry, something new always happens. It’s creating a story and using your imagination on­stage. There is no imagination in tricks whatsoever. —JC

 

 

Benjamin Millepied
Director, LA Dance Project; director designate, Paris Opéra Ballet

One of the issues facing ballet is the relative lack of choreographers. There are some great ones, but I’d like to see more people who have the talent and the craft to create works that are complex, interesting and of our time. Part of the issue is that choreography isn’t taught; unlike music, there are no training programs. Choreography has rules, and you need a knowledge of architecture, space, music. It’s like studying mathematics. There’s also a lot to learn from the works of the past. I want to start an academy at the Paris Opéra Ballet where people will have a year to try it out and practice.


Ballet would also gain from more diversity. The idea that ballet is a white art is absurd and shocking, and it’s gone on for too long. Nothing would make me happier than having a company that reflects society, to have dancers onstage that people can relate to. —LC

Career
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I want to be a professional dancer, but my parents won't listen. They either don't think I can do it (contrary to what my teachers have said) or they won't let me take the necessary steps to become a professional. Please help. —Audrey

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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Videos

They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

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Summer Study Advice
The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

This story originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Pointe.

As a young student at a small ballet school in upstate New York, I was obsessed with getting into the School of American Ballet. From the age of 10, I entered class each day with the ultimate goal of studying at SAB dangling before me like a carrot on a stick. Every effort I made, every extra class I took was for the sole purpose of getting into what I thought was the only ballet school that really mattered.

I auditioned for SAB's summer program for the first time when I was 12. In the weeks that followed, I became a vulture hovering over my family's mail, squawking at my mother if the day's letters were not presented for my inspection when I walked through the door. The day the letter finally arrived, it was thin and limp. I cried for a week as I dealt with the crushing feeling of rejection for one of the first times in my life.

My mind filled with questions and self-doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough? I figured I must be too fat, too slow, my feet too flat. I had worked so hard. I had wished on every fallen eyelash and dead dandelion in pursuit of my single goal, just to have a three-paragraph form letter conclude that I was a failure. For a while, I let myself wallow in the comfort of my resentment, content to believe that success should have come easily, and that to fall was the same as to fail.

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Pointe Stars
Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

You made a deal with your mom to take ballet classes in exchange for a ride to tryouts for the football team. How did that work?
I thought that I would take ballet for a couple months, become a master and then leave that alone and concentrate on football. Ballet had other ideas, which perplexed me, and ultimately, I think, made me fall in love with it.

How is The Washington Ballet evolving under Julie Kent's leadership?
It's still early, but I think that the company is growing stronger classically. And we have Julie, Victor Barbee, Xiomara Reyes and Rinat Imaev—a great team of people who are giving their input and expertise, which is quite helpful.

Mack in 'Swan Lake.' Photo by Theo Kossenas

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Summer Study Advice
Summer intensive students at the School of American Ballet. Photo by Rosalie O'Conner, Courtesy SAB.

As a young student, Shea McAdoo's classes at the Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, were “strict, straightforward, very classical and purely Vaganova." She appreciated the Russian rigor and precision, but when she was accepted to the School of American Ballet's summer course at 13, she leapt at the chance to learn something new. The vastly different emphasis on Balanchine technique at SAB was illuminating: “It changed my whole way of thinking about musicality and accents. I'd never known there were so many ways to do a tendu! And the épaulement—I loved how they talked about light hitting your face, tilting your chin to show off your diamond earring."

McAdoo's experience was transformative, even when she returned home. “Of course, I lowered my arms back down in second and didn't cross my wrists," she says, “but there were stylistic choices I brought back with me." Today, as an apprentice with Oregon Ballet Theatre rehearsing Balanchine's Serenade, she credits her ease with the ballet's fluid port de bras to her summer at SAB.

Learning about ballet's various styles and techniques is an important part of a dancer's development. With summer intensive auditions approaching, it's a perfect time to consider broadening your training. While it can be initially confusing, immersing yourself in a style outside your comfort zone can be eye-opening and influential for your future training and career. And the benefits of diversifying your training can last beyond a single summer.


Shea McAdoo in OBT's production of "Paquita." Photo by James McGrew.

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