Six Bolshoi Ballerinas Take California

 

Six Bolshoi-trained primas perform new works by Mauro Bigonzetti and six other choreographers in “Reflections” at OCPAC.

 

Picture this: You’re standing in a studio with world-famous ballerinas Maria Kochetkova, Yekaterina Krysanova, Natalia Osipova, Polina Semionova and Yekaterina Shipulina, and they’re all waiting for you to make a dance for them.

 

Are you dreaming? No: You’re Mauro Bigonzetti, rehearsing CINQUE for January’s “Reflections” spectacular at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. A partnership with the Bolshoi Ballet, the glittery “Reflections” features six exceptional women alumnae of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy (Olga Malinovskaya is the last) in new works by Karole Armitage, Aszure Barton, Bigonzetti, Jirí Bubenicek, Lucinda Childs, Jorma Elo and Wayne McGregor, as well as repertoire by George Balanchine and Nacho Duato. The ballerinas are occasionally partnered by the Bolshoi’s Vyacheslav Lopatin, Denis Savin, Alexander Volchkov and Ivan Vasiliev. It’s A-list all the way.

 

Bigonzetti found his embarrassment-of-riches cast for CINQUE a bit daunting. “It’s been a great privilege to work with these prima ballerinas, but it’s difficult to put together five stars and do something that suits all of them together,” he says. “The most important thing in a dance like this is to capture the character of the dancers.”

 

His solution is a two-part work playing on the idea of the five senses, set to various pieces by Vivaldi, which allows each of the ballerinas to be herself. “It’s almost a little joke, the two sections,” he says. “The first part is five sad and boring women, simply dressed. The idea is that they’ve lost one of their senses. In the second part they’ve rediscovered that sense and are completely transformed into glamorous ballerinas in tutus.”

 

 

New Times: Boston Ballet

Just two years ago, a financially unsteady Boston Ballet was forced to reduce its size by nine dancers. Now the company is on the rebound: This season it welcomed 19 new members—adding five dancer positions—and promoted a crop of talent from within.

 

The revamped troupe has dancers from all over the world, including new members from The State Ballet of Georgia, Corella Ballet and Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet. “I had auditions in Amsterdam, Rome, Monte Carlo, New York and Boston,” says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. “I saw about 1,300 dancers! Augmenting our home-grown talent with dancers from all over is one of the ways I keep our standards up.” One notable new addition is 21-year-old corps member Keenan Kampa, who is the first American to graduate from St. Petersburg’s Vaganova Academy. “An American from Russia—imagine that,” Nissinen says. Boston Ballet’s nine promoted dancers include brother and sister pair Lia (now a principal) and Jeffrey (now second soloist) Cirio.

 

Companies across the country have made similarly sweeping changes to their rosters for the 2010–11 season. Houston Ballet welcomed nine new dancers, including former Boston Ballet principal Melissa Hough; San Francisco Ballet has 12 new faces, including former Bolshoi Ballet member Artem Yachmennikov; and six dancers were promoted at Pacific Northwest Ballet.


 

Douglas Martin’s New-Old Nutcracker at ARB
Douglas Martin’s first task as the new company director of New Jersey’s American Repertory Ballet was to revamp the company’s annual Nutcracker, and he wanted to include a bit of the old along with the new. “I’m re-choreographing the snow scene and Act II, but I’m reviving the party and battle scenes from the Nutcracker that the company’s founders, Audree and Bud Estey, did nearly 50 years ago,” he says. Martin has also hired eight new dancers, several of them New Jersey natives. 

 


 

A New Studio for Calegari and Cook
Husband and wife team Bart Cook and Maria Calegari, former principals with New York City Ballet, have spent years traveling the world setting ballets for The George Balanchine Trust—and now they’re bringing that expertise to their own backyard. This September the couple opened CaleCo Ballet Studio in North Salem, NY. “We bring the energy and experience we gain on our trips back to our young dancers,” Calegari says.

 

Though the school accepts children as young as 3, it also offers pre-professional training in Balanchine technique. “We have several talented students who are in that in-between place, where their parents don’t want to send them to the big city yet,” Calegari says. “Our classes are small and personalized, so we can give them what they need,” Cook adds. “We can prime them for auditions at institutions like the School of American Ballet, if that’s the path they choose.”

 

 

ABT Tackles Ratmansky’s Bright Stream

 

Fresh off its debut of Alexei Ratmansky’s new Nutcracker (see p. 64), American Ballet Theatre will present The Bright Stream this January at the Kennedy Center. The ballet first won Ratmansky acclaim here when the Bolshoi Ballet presented it on a U.S. tour in 2005. The original version of Bright Stream, performed in Leningrad in 1935 with choreography by Fyodor Lopukhov, was quickly banished by a disapproving Stalin. Ratmansky, now ABT’s resident choreographer, created his cheerfully comic take on this story of love on a Soviet farm collective for the Bolshoi in 2003. ABT will also present Bright Stream as part of its spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House.

 

 

Ballet All Over:


Watch the Bolshoi on the Big Screen
You’ve probably heard about the “Opera in Cinema” program, which broadcasts live opera performances to movie theater screens across the country. Beginning this December, you’ll be able to catch live broadcasts of the Bolshoi Ballet and the Paris Opéra Ballet at a theater near you, too. The Bolshoi’s classic Nutcracker kicks off the “Ballet in Cinema” series December 19. Visit emergingpictures.com for show times and locations.

 

 Ballet All Over:

 

NY Export: Opus Jazz on DVD
Looking for the perfect gift for a dancer or dance lover? The artfully shot NY Export: Opus Jazz is out on DVD November 23. A reimagining of Jerome Robbins’ “ballet in sneakers,” filmed on location in New York City, it offers intimate portraits of the 18 New York City Ballet dancers in its cast
and celebrates the timelessness of Robbins’ choreography. Find the DVD at factorytwentyfive.com.

 

 

Pointe Shoe Profile
Houston Ballet’s Amy Fote

 

Brand: Bloch, Inc. Heritage

 

Size: 5 no X

 

Years Wearing This Shoe: Almost two

 

Padding: “I cut off the foot section of an old pair of tights (from the ankle down) and fold it around the tops of my toes. I find this absorbs sweat, so I rarely get blisters or have to tape my feet. I also use a gummy pad on both of my big toes.”

 

Break-in Process: “I bend the heel section of the shank numerous times, until it is very pliable. I also apply rubbing alcohol to the box to soften it so it molds to my foot, and cut the satin off the toe so it’s less slippery.”

 

Number of Pairs She Uses: “Depending on what I’m dancing, I can go through a pair a show (which I then use for class or light rehearsals) or a pair a week.”

Francesca Velicu in Pina Bausch's Le Sacre du printemps by English National Ballet. Photo by Laurent Liotardo, Courtesy ENB.

There was total silence by the end of English National Ballet's first go at Pina Bausch's raw Rite of Spring, and much of the performance's success came down to a tiny dancer: Francesca Velicu. Handpicked to be The Chosen One, the Romanian corps member threw herself into the role with an innocence that made the ritual newly terrifying. "It brought me the most intense and emotional moments that I'll ever experience onstage," she says.

At just 19, Velicu is already walking in the footsteps of ballet's reigning Romanian star, her ENB colleague Alina Cojocaru. Born in Bucharest, Velicu earned top finishes at Youth America Grand Prix and completed her training at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. In 2015, she joined the Romanian National Ballet under Johan Kobborg, who fast-tracked her: In one season, she danced Kitri, Theme and Variations and numerous soloist roles, honing her effervescent technique with breezy confidence.

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Alana Griffith in "La Sylphide." Photo by Mark Frohna, Courtesy Milwaukee Ballet/

Rising lazily from an armchair, shrugging her shoulders and limply snapping her arms side to side, Alana Griffith imbued the title role in Septime Webre's ALICE (in wonderland) with the unmistakable boredom and longing of youth. Throughout the performance, her ability to bring personal depth to both the character and to Webre's challenging choreography revealed a special dancer coming into her own as an artist.


Alana Griffith in "ALICE (in wonderland)". Photo by Mark Frohna, Courtesy Milwaukee Ballet.

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Pointe Stars
Screenshot from CNN Style video

While ballet may feel female-dominated in that there are plenty of onstage opportunities for women, key behind-the-scenes roles like choreographer and artistic director are still largely held by men—a point that is increasingly being raised and questioned in the dance world thanks to female choreographers like Crystal Pite and Charlotte Edmonds. Also helping to break that mold is rising female choreographer Kristen McNally, who not only choreographed a recent duet for CNN Style, but also paired two women to bring it to life.

In the short film, which features McNally's choreo and is directed by Andrew Margetson, Royal Ballet first soloist Beatriz Stix-Brunell and principal Yasmine Naghdi changed the expectations on gender roles in ballet—and the end result is awesome. Nearly identical in appearance, the dancers' movements and lines also mirror each other throughout the piece, even when dancing in canon. Even more impressively, McNally told CNN Style, "The dancers and I did two rehearsals and then we shot the film."

Check out the full duet for yourself, below.


Training
Photo by Lambtron, via Wikimedia Commons

Can you superglue your vamp? I am new to pointe and don't know where to apply it. —Amanda

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The tambourine variation from La Esmeralda is a competition favorite, but the full pas de deux isn't seen as often. That's a shame, because it contains some of the most technically challenging classical choreography to be found. In this video, Yuan Yuan Tan and Felipe Diaz take on this balletic feat with amazing power and ease.

Tan, who was awarded a permanent contract with San Francisco Ballet after performing this role as a guest artist in 1995, is a youthful but commanding presence. Her extensions crawl right up to her ear, and she rises from deep lunges en pointe to arabesque without ever seeming to get tired. After an endless series of promenades (4:00), Tan again lunges low to the floor and then teasingly runs away from Diaz, inviting him to follow her. In her variation, she oozes gypsy spunk, enticing the audience with dramatic details. She takes the variation at a quick pace, blending each movement smoothly into the next.

Diaz, who was a soloist with SFB and is now a ballet master for the company, shines in his own right. The adagio reveals his partnering prowess. From 2:15—2:35, Diaz supports Tan almost continuously in a string of carries and lifts–and his variation is chock full of bravura. All the way through the coda, the technical fireworks in this pas de deux never stop coming. We can't get enough! Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

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Tanaquil Le Clercq at the 1967 book signing. Reprinted with permission from Dance Magazine.

Ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq may have been known for her long-limbed dancing and versatile grace, but it turns out that her renown didn't end there. In 1967 the former New York City Ballet star published The Ballet Cook Book, a mix of ballet history, food stories and the pièce de résistance: recipes collected from over 90 famous NYCB dancers and choreographers including George Balanchine (her then husband), Jacques d'Amboise, Melissa Hayden and Allegra Kent.

Why bring this up now? This year marks the 50th anniversary of her book's publication, and in celebration, food scholar Meryl Rosofsky is curating a program exploring the context of the book. Held on November 5 and 6 at the Guggenheim Museum, the program will include live performance excerpts with roles originated by Ballet Cook Book contributors including Balanchine's The Four Temperaments, Bugaku, Stars and Stripes and Western Symphony as well as a panel conversation with d'Amboise and Kent (both of whom were at the original book signing) as well as current NYCB principals Jared Angle and Adrian Danchig-Waring, both talented cooks.That certainly seems like plenty of excitement to us, but attendees can also stop into the Guggneheim's Wright Restaurant to taste select dishes from The Ballet Cook Book including Le Clercq's Chicken Vermouth, Balanchine's Slow Beet Borschok, Hayden's Potato Latkes and Kent's Walnut Apple Cake.

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Studio to Street

Don't expect to catch Simone Messmer wearing a leotard—at least, not for company class. “Ballet class is for me," she says. “It happens every day, so it turns into a major part of how you set yourself up for the day and how you're feeling. I think it's really important to take control of that." In class, the Miami City Ballet principal prefers comfortable separates with clean lines and long sleeves. When it's time for rehearsal, she'll bring out her leotards and tights. “And I tend to bring the skirt or tutu that's appropriate for the role. I try to start right away, to get a feeling for it," she says.

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