Old-Fashioned Stage Magic
Christopher Wheeldon brings a darker Cinderella to life.

Don’t expect to see a fairy godmother or a pumpkin carriage in Christopher Wheeldon’s new Cinderella, which premieres this December at Dutch National Ballet and comes to San Francisco Ballet in May. While those signatures of Charles Perrault’s cheery version of the fairy tale have made their way into most ballet productions, Wheeldon decided to use the Brothers Grimm’s darker take on Cinderella. “Prokofiev’s score is beautiful, but it has an underlying tumultuousness that most choreographers have shied away from, focusing on the funny and the happy instead,” Wheeldon says. “I wanted to go back to the Grimm version because in a way it better fits the music.”

In keeping with the Grimm story, instead of a fairy godmother, there’s a magical tree that embodies the spirit of Cinderella’s dead mother. Puppeteer Basil Twist is bringing that tree to life—without the help of any high-tech digital effects. “What’s wonderful about Basil is that it’s all old-fashioned stage magic,” Wheeldon says. “We wanted to keep that aspect of the production relatively naïve and childlike. I gave Basil a couple of ideas and within minutes he was doing fantastical things with a couple of bits of cardboard and some silk.”

Wheeldon is also giving Cinderella herself more power. “I think little girls today are over the idea that if you’re obedient and meek, you’ll be rewarded with a prince,” Wheeldon says. “In our version, she’s more in control of her fate. We deal with her backstory—we see her losing her mother, and watch her learn the idea of keeping a stiff upper lip.” Wheeldon’s prince will be more than a cipher, too. “You’ll see him grow up,” Wheeldon says. “He won’t just appear as that handsome guy at the ball.”


Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker Makeover
Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker is getting a major facelift this season. “Our previous production was built piecemeal, bit by bit, as money became available,” says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. “It was time for something fresher and more coherent.”

Robert Perdziola’s new designs are more sophisticated than the old costumes and sets, which tended toward the pastel. “I think too often we’re seduced by that over-the-top Disney feel, and I’m beginning to get an allergic reaction to that—like there’s too much sugar in my soda,” Nissinen says. “Robert’s sets feel classical and old-world. And in the second act, yes, it’s all about sweets, but really it’s the kingdom of the Nutcracker Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy, so we’ve given it a royal feel. It’s a sort of dance heaven: There’s a fresco celebrating the history of dance that evokes the Sistine Chapel.”

Nissinen is also reworking “about 65 percent” of the choreography. Old favorites like the Arabian variation, he says, will be left untouched. But his overhaul does include a reimagined battle scene and additional dancers in the Spanish variation, creating more opportunities for the company’s dancers.
















Lopez Steps Up at MCB
Just one day after founding Miami City Ballet artistic director Edward Villella abruptly announced his early departure from the company, principal dancer Tricia Albertson had her first rehearsal with his replacement, Lourdes Lopez—for Apollo’s Polyhymnia variation, a dance she’d originally learned from Villella. But Albertson’s anxiety was short-lived. “Lourdes was sympathetic to the fact that we’d lost our ballet ‘Dad,’ ” says Albertson, who was also excited by the new director’s attention to detail.

Lopez’s authoritative but sensitive approach is setting the tone for MCB’s immediate future. While Albertson says the dancers were initially in shock over Villella’s early exit, she now recognizes that Lopez’s fresh eyes could open up possibilities for both individuals and the company as a whole. “Everybody just wants to work, wants the company to thrive, and wants to continue being a part of the magical things we’ve created here,” Albertson says.

As of this fall, the MCB administration—under the guidance of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Michael Kaiser, a frequent white knight for struggling ballet companies—had raised $3 million, almost a quarter of its annual operating budget. “I’m very optimistic,” Albertson says. “If money allows Lourdes to do what she wants, I think she’ll be a great leader.” —Carrie Seidman


New McGregor at SFB
San Francisco Ballet has already had two tastes of Wayne McGregor’s work, performing his Eden/Eden, made for the Stuttgart Ballet, and Chroma, made for The Royal Ballet. This January, the company will finally premiere a McGregor ballet all its own.

“When we heard we’d be getting a new ballet, the buzz was electric,” says SFB soloist Dana Genshaft, a veteran of both Eden/Eden and Chroma. “We just ate up those first two pieces. Every time Wayne came to town, we were all asking, ‘So when do we get our own? When will you make one for us?’”

What draws SFB dancers—and audiences—to McGregor’s boundary-stretching style? “He transforms you into a creature, not a dancer,” Genshaft says. “If he asks you to do a tendu, it’s a tendu done in a way that travels through your whole body. There’s a mesmerizing intensity to his works.”


Tschaikovsky and Mr. B
New York City Ballet kicks off its winter season with a two-week Balanchine/Tschaikovsky celebration, featuring classics like “Diamonds” from Jewels, Serenade and Mozartiana. In keeping with the Tschaikovsky theme, Peter Martins will also present a premiere set to excerpts from Eugene Onegin.


Correction
The photo of Robert Fairchild, Tiler Peck and Damian Woetzel on page 16 of the August/September 2012 issue should have been credited to Caitlin Kakigi.






















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Angela Sterling, Courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet

Clear your schedule now for Monday, January 29th, 2:45PM (EST)/ 11:45AM (PST). Pacific Northwest Ballet will be live-streaming rehearsal from Kent Stowell's Swan Lake, straight from their Seattle, WA-based studios. To psych us up for their on stage performances February 2nd - 11th, PNB is letting us in on their Act II rehearsal.

From the corps of swans to Odette and Prince Siegfried's pas de deux, and the infamous four swans, this rehearsal is not to be missed. You can sign up now for a live-stream reminder on their site. In the meantime, we'll be brushing up on our Cygnets with this PNB sneak peek.

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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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Summer Study Advice
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Videos are a great alternative when auditioning in person isn't possible. Here are some general guidelines for making a good impression.

1. Follow directions. Before filming, research what each school you're interested in requires. "It demonstrates your ability to follow instructions, and schools pay attention to that," says Kate Lydon, artistic director of American Ballet Theatre's summer intensives and the ABT Studio Company. "If the guidelines haven't been followed, your video might not be watched the whole way through." You may need to make multiple versions to accommodate different schools.

2. Videos should be no longer than 10 minutes. "Keep it short, simple and direct," advises Philip Neal, dance department chair at The Patel Conservatory and artistic director of Next Generation Ballet. "You have to be sensitive to how much time the director has to sit down and look at it." Barre can be abbreviated, showing only one side per exercise, alternating. Directors will be looking at fundamentals—placement, turnout, leg lines, stability—but don't ignore musicality or movement quality. Make sure music choices match combinations and are correctly synced in the footage.

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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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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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