A rehearsal viewing can be daunting for any young choreographer. But when the person watching you work is Alexei Ratmansky, one of the world’s greatest living choreographers, it could easily be overwhelming.

“We had a five-hour rehearsal, and he sat on the marley and took notes the whole time,” recalls San Francisco Ballet corps member Myles Thatcher. The 24-year-old burgeoning choreographer was creating Spectrum on SFB School students for the annual showcase last spring when Ratmansky paid a visit. Thatcher felt nervous, but he needn’t have been—Ratmansky had just chosen him for a year of one-on-one mentoring through the 2014–15 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

Founded by the Swiss watch company in 2002, the biennial Initiative brings together international emerging and established artists in seven fields, including music, theater and even architecture, for a one-year mentorship. A panel assembled by Rolex selects nominees anonymously, invites them to apply by submitting an essay and video samples, and winnows applicants down to three to four finalists. After an extensive in-person interview, the mentors choose whom they want to work with. (Past choreographic mentors include William Forsythe, Jir?í Kylián and Trisha Brown.) Mentor and protégé then set their own priorities and devise their own schedule. A generous travel budget, plus grants of approximately $25,000 to the protégé and $75,000 to the mentor, to be spent any way they choose, ensures almost total freedom to pursue their goals.

Thatcher, who studied at The Harid Conservatory and privately with Edward Ellison, began choreographing in 2008 as an SFB trainee, and has contributed a piece to the trainee program performances every year since (he joined the corps in 2010). Even his early works showed technical clarity, spare musicality and an inventive, unfussy approach to classical ballet; his 2013 school piece, Stone and Steel, was a turning point, with newly sophisticated partnering and ensemble patterns, organic transitions and asymmetries that surprised the eye.

Stone and Steel went over so well with audiences and critics that SFB artistic director Helgi Tomasson had Thatcher set it on the main company for a summer arts festival in Stern Grove Park. Afterward, he commissioned In the Passerine’s Clutch for the 2013 season gala. “Myles has a great sense of space and how to move dancers within it,” says Tomasson. “I was surprised when I first saw his work. It was not what you expect from someone young.” This year Thatcher has been preparing his first regular-season commission for the company (a piece for 12 dancers premiering in February), so the mentorship with Ratmansky couldn’t have come at a better time. “Alexei is not only a great choreographer, but he is a very nice human being,” Tomasson says. “Myles is learning from a master.”

The adventure began in January 2014, when Rolex flew the three dance finalists to Paris for interviews with Ratmansky. “That alone was an amazing experience,” says Thatcher, who got to witness the Bolshoi Ballet’s opening night performance of Ratmansky’s Lost Illusions. He and Ratmansky established a comfortable personal connection in the interview that followed. “One of the first things we talked about is that we each are our own artists. He is trying to see where I am coming from and help me clarify things through my artistic vision, not his.”

Ratmansky agrees. “I learn from him, as well,” he noted in an e-mail interview. “I don’t know the answers; I just share my observations.”

Much of Thatcher’s learning has also been by observation. Welcomed into Ratmansky’s rarefied world, Thatcher sat in on New York City Ballet’s rehearsals of the choreographer’s Pictures at an Exhibition and on preparations of By 2 With & From (co-choreographed with Christopher Wheeldon) for Wendy Whelan’s October 2014 farewell performance. “Alexei knows what he wants, but is still open to the input of the dancer,” says Thatcher. “It is really great to see that somebody is willing to take the time to do that, and respect the dancers as people and as artists.” Fairness is a defining theme for Thatcher, who adds, “If I cannot work in a respectful way, I would rather not do it.”

Last November, he shadowed Ratmansky and ballet historian Doug Fullington as they set a new reconstruction of Paquita on the Bavarian State Ballet. Thatcher admires the unique balance of classicism and contemporary innovation that makes Ratmansky so relevant. “I love how nuanced his work is,” Thatcher says. “Finding clarity in that way is almost the hardest part, but it is exactly what you need to express yourself to your dancers, and to your audiences. Hopefully, I can pick up on that.”

Ratmansky is also a role model for handling the stress of a demanding career—and not bringing it into rehearsals. “I tell him about my own difficulties, and how I manage them,” Ratmansky says matter-of-factly. “In the studio, you would not know if he is frustrated,” Thatcher says, “but he is still very clear about what he wants. That is something that I hope to be good at one day.”

As Thatcher prepares for his upcoming world premiere, titled Manifesto, he’s kept these inspiring lessons in mind. He and Ratmansky have kept in touch via e-mail and Skype during SFB’s busy performance season, but Thatcher hopes to run the piece by his mentor in February, when Ratmansky will be in California putting finishing touches on his new Sleeping Beauty for American Ballet Theatre. Thatcher can think back to their very first feedback session for guidance. “Sometimes the simplest version is the best—how to edit your own work and how to let go of things that are not right, which I am still learning about.”

Thatcher already knows that this experience will inform the rest of his career. “A lot of it will not be apparent until later, after I am really able to observe my work.” But Tomasson has already seen the changes. “I was in a costume fitting for his new ballet, and seeing him interact with the designer, I immediately sensed a new maturity,” he observes. “Myles is growing as an artist.”

Show Comments ()
popular
via Instagram, Thaler Photography

Having danced with New York City Ballet, Béjart Ballet and the Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Aesha Ash undoubtedly inspired more than a few future ballerinas during her 13-year professional career. But now that she's retired, she's found a way to reach even more young girls, particularly those who live in inner-city neighborhoods, after founding The Swan Dreams Project.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

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.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo via @isabellaboylston on Instagram.

From baking to leotard design, we love seeing dancers' passions outside of the studio. This week, American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston revealed herself to be an avid reader. She posted a photo on Instagram from her dressing room on the company's tour stop in Lincoln, NE, posing in her black swan tutu with a book in hand and the following caption:

"Hey guys!🚨🚨 Who wants to join my book club? The first book will be THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula K Le Guin. I've always been a huge bookworm, and would love to connect with you guys over some great books! I was thinking we can do an Instagram live in a couple weeks and people can comment in to discuss.😃 📚 🐛 any suggestions on what the next book should be?"

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos
Debra Austin in "Giselle."

Whenever Debra Austin jumped, she soared—and not only onstage. Invited by George Balanchine to join New York City Ballet at age 16, she was the first African-American woman to enter the company (where she eventually rose to soloist). She later joined Zurich Ballet, returning to the U.S. to accept a principal contract with Pennsylvania Ballet in 1982—a groundbreaking milestone for a black dancer outside of Dance Theatre of Harlem at the time. In this clip from a 1987 production of Giselle, her beautifully pliant feet and effortless ballon shine through the fuzzy video quality. In her Act I variation, the classical, understated purity of her port de bras belie the sheer technical strength of her attitude pirouettes and hops on pointe. Then watch, at 4:00, how she appears to fly through the air as a spectral wili, only to rise ever so delicately for a series of fluttering ronds de jambe en l'air.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
All photos by Jayme Thornton, modeled by Kailei Sin of The School at Steps.

During class, you're tuned in to every aspect of your dancing. But when the day is over, you may be tempted to head home and skip out on a proper cooldown. Don't: Going from grand allégro to a full stop is hard on your muscles. Bené Barrera, an athletic trainer who works with Houston Ballet, says, "If you're doing an end-of-day cooldown, you're going to need at least 20 minutes. That allows the muscles to calm down." And your body should notice the difference: "You'll have less trigger-point pain later, and your soreness might reduce a bit." A proper cooldown may even help you sleep better.

But post-class stretching isn't about sitting in a straddle. "As a dancer, you're never truly isolating one area," says Barrera. Your cooldown should mimic that. "You want to cover the whole body altogether. You don't want to just stretch one muscle group."

Keep reading... Show less
News
Garrett Anderson. Photo Courtesy Ballet Idaho.

Big news in Boise: Ballet Idaho has announced that Garrett Anderson will succeed Peter Anastos as the company's next artistic director, starting in July. Anderson, who had an extensive dance career as a soloist with San Francisco Ballet and Royal Ballet of Flanders, and later danced with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, has a special connection with Ballet Idaho's home city. He performed with the Trey McIntyre Project in 2011 and later as a guest artist with Boise-based LED, a music, film and dance collaborative. Anderson has also served as the chair of the Dance Department at New Mexico School for the Arts in Santa Fe.


Members of Ballet Idaho in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Photo by Mike Reid, Courtesy ballet Idaho.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Kyle Froman

"I'm all about comfort and easy clothing because I'm always on the go," Jasmine Perry says. But that doesn't keep the Los Angeles Ballet company dancer from looking stylish. Favoring dresses and athleisure wear, Perry also prefers classic lines and neutral colors like white, black, navy and gray, which are easy to mix and match. The finishing touch: a pair of sneakers from her extensive collection. "I had ankle surgery four or five years ago, so I need a good walking shoe," she explains. "I have a ton of Nikes and running sneakers from Brooks for when I've had a long day at work and need something that feels like clouds on my feet."

But in the studio, you won't find any of the yoga pants or loose-fitting T-shirts she loves so much. "I don't actually have that much attire for layering," Perry says of her strictly leotards-and-tights class style. "It doesn't get that cold here," she explains. "I have a few legwarmers and things for when I'm rehabbing an injury, but they're not part of my daily attire."

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!