In three brief years, Houston Ballet’s Joseph Walsh has become a dancer to watch in works as different as William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude and Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon. (His recent debut as Des Grieux earned raves.) Houston Chronicle critic Molly Glentzer describes him as “elegant and light on his feet, with a princely but not arrogant lift of his chin that also gives him a slight air of mystery.” After winning a 2009 Princess Grace Award, Walsh was promoted to soloist—though he only joined the second company in 2006, and the main company the following year. This month, Walsh turns his talents to Mark Morris’ Sandpaper Ballet. —Nancy Wozny
Joseph Walsh: I’ve tried to emulate ballet dancers that I’ve seen do Morris’ work, like Ethan Stiefel;
that floating, airy quality really fits my body. Morris choreographs in sentences and paragraphs rather than words, so the steps flow well. The looseness is another story, especially in the men’s dance. Morris suggests whistling while we dance, because male dancers can be too stiff. That’s where the sandpaper part comes in—it’s like we do a soft shoe. We are all supposed to be buddies and super-relaxed, but the patterns are actually very complicated, so I am still thinking a lot. It’s not second nature yet, but I’m getting there.
I have the trumpeter solo, which morphs into a pas de deux with Emily Bowen. The phrasing stops and starts with the breath of the trumpeter and it’s complex in its coordination and timing. It’s also very theatrical. Emily is a great partner—when I look into her eyes, she’s always emotionally connected. After doing so much solo and duet work this season, it’s really fun to be in such a huge group ballet. That feeling of being absolutely together, when we all know where we are onstage without looking around, is so satisfying. Of course, the challenge is getting to that place.
Sir Frederick Ashton first choreographed the Voices of Spring pas de deux on Royal Ballet stars Merle Park and Wayne Eagling in 1977 for a ball scene in Johann Strauss II's operetta Die Fledermaus. The lively duet is a favorite in galas and mixed bills these days, but Park and Eagling's version from this 1983 video is a spectacular, must-see combination of cheek and elegance.
We all know that seeing world class dance is expensive. But for two weeks a year New York City Center offers $15 tickets to their Fall for Dance Festival. This magical unicorn of an experience features five unique programs and will run from October 2-14.
The program includes five world premieres commissioned specifically for the Festival, three of which feature some of our favorite ballet superstars.
Program One (Oct. 2-3) will showcase a new work by choreographer and New York City Ballet soloist Troy Schumacher on 14 dancers from Miami City Ballet. While rehearsals are still in progress, we do know that the piece will be a meditation on childhood set to Francis Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos in D Minor.
Troy Schumacher in rehearsalPhoto by Kyle Froman for Pointe
Hollywood portrayals of the dance world tend to be either campy love stories or dark, twisted melodramas. But a new French drama coming soon to American cinemas offers a more introspective (and authentic) perspective of one dancer's search for artistic fulfillment. Polina, co-directed by French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj and his wife Valerie Müller, tells the story of a talented Russian ballet student who turns down a contract with the Bolshoi Ballet to pursue a contemporary dance career. Starring Anastasia Shevtsova (a Vaganova Academy graduate who has performed with the Mariinsky Ballet), former Paris Opéra Ballet étoile Jérémie Bélengard and Academy Award-winning actress Juliette Binoche (a beautiful mover in her own right), the almost two-hour film has no shortage of dancing.
The movie, based on a graphic novel by Bastien Vivés, follows Polina's rigorous Russian training, which her working-class parents struggle to pay for. Her future at the the Bolshoi seems set, but when a French contemporary company comes to town, she's so inspired by the performance that she follows her boyfriend to France to audition for its choreographer/director (played by Binoche). She works obsessively to change her technique, but ultimately ends up in Antwerp, auditioning endlessly and tending bar. It takes a chance meeting with Karl, a choreographer and improvisation instructor, to help open her eyes to new possibilities.
Preljocaj and Müller direct Polina with a dancer's sensitivity. Many of the rehearsals were shot at his company's studio in Aix en Provence, and scenes from his ballet Snow White are featured throughout. Yes, there are subtitles, but don't let that deter you—Polina is relatable to any artist who's ever struggled to find his or her place in the dance world. The film opens August 25 in New York and September 1 in L.A., followed by a national roll-out. To find it at a theater near you, click here.
With most of American Ballet Theatre's classical repertoire under her belt, principal Isabella Boylston is ready for a new challenge, specifically, launching Ballet Sun Valley, a dance festival with educational outreach in her hometown of Sun Valley, Idaho. "I'm in a place in my career where I can expend a little more creative energy on outside projects," she says. This year, her long-held dream will become reality, with performances on August 22 and 24, and free dance classes on August 23. "Sun Valley has a successful symphony, and a lot of people are interested in the arts," Boylston says. "When I was there three years ago, I realized the Sun Valley Pavilion would be the perfect venue for dance." Hilarie Neely, Boylston's first ballet teacher, put her in touch with a team of executive producers who have assisted with fundraising and technical logistics.
Once Boylston knew the festival was happening, she was faced with the task of creating dynamic programming. "All the dancers I'm inviting are close friends who I've danced with before, and choreographers I have relationships with," she says. Audiences can expect classical repertoire, plus ballets by Justin Peck, Alexei Ratmansky and Pontus Lidberg.
A dancer's dressing room is often her "home away from home." In our August/September issue, we went backstage with three ballerinas, including San Francisco Ballet principal Frances Chung. Below, she shows us how she personalizes her space and walks us through her pre-performance routineThe setup: Chung basically moves in to her theater's dressing room once the season starts. She shares her space with three other dancers, and notes that the vintage metal vanities come down a little too low. "We hit our knees on them all the time—it's the most painful thing!"
Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.
Boston Ballet might be the new United Nations. The company's 2017-2018 roster was announced this morning, and the 65 dancers are representative of 15 different nationalities. Which countries are present at this ballet roundtable? Albania, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Finland, France, Georgia, Italy, Japan, Paraguay, South Korea, Spain and the U.S.
The company boasts the addition of thirteen new dancers and nine promotions.
Our October/November 2016 cover star, Derek Dunn, is leaving Houston Ballet to join BB as a soloist.
Chrystyn FentroyRachel Neville Photography