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Director's Notes: Orlando Ballet's Robert Hill

Photo by Michael Cairns, courtesy Orlando Ballet.

As the dancers processed through downtown Orlando—smiling, laughing, heads held high—Orlando Ballet artistic director Robert Hill allowed himself to relax and take in the moment. It was 2013 and the company was headed toward its future.

Rising from the rubble of a construction site was the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. The dancers were about to see their new performance space. “It was a game changer," Hill recalls. “I couldn't stop watching their faces."

The ballet had nowhere to go but up: A mold infestation, not uncommon in Florida's humid heat, had driven the troupe from its longtime rehearsal home. And every day seemed to bring new challenges, like instability in the company's business management and a cash flow that had slowed to a trickle.

Hill's mantra to his dancers stayed positive: “Let's hang on, everybody. We're going to get through this."


Three years later, the ballet rehearses in a lakefront building in one of Orlando's most prominent parks. But administrative and financial challenges remain. Hill has high hopes, though, that the company will grow stronger under new executive director Caroline Miller, who arrived in the fall.

She was hired through efforts by Michael Kaiser, a former president of the Kennedy Center who has helped arts groups, like London's Royal Opera House and American Ballet Theatre, overcome financial struggles. Miller's priorities include the construction of a bigger complex for rehearsals, offices and the Orlando Ballet School, as well as shoring up the financial picture.

Her dance background bodes well for the company, which has had numerous executive directors in recent years. “It's the first time for me to have someone in that position who not only knows the business side but understands the art form," says Hill.

Photo by Michelle Revels, courtesy Orlando Ballet.

His own resumé includes stints as a principal dancer with ABT, The Royal Ballet and New York City Ballet before he became artistic director of Mexico's Ballet de Monterrey. His 2009 arrival in Orlando came at a tumultuous time for the troupe, founded in 1974. Previous artistic director Bruce Marks had resigned abruptly after two years, and the company was still mourning the sudden death of Marks' much-loved predecessor, Fernando Bujones.

Now, with Miller on board, Hill can focus more on artistic goals, like bringing in work by outside choreographers. Michael Pink's Dracula and Val Caniparoli's A Cinderella Story are on this season's schedule. Hill also hopes to add more performance opportunities. The troupe will dance in Winter Garden, a nearby city, and will continue a series of informal, intimate shows at a downtown Orlando nightclub.

In the studio, Hill has high expectations and insists everyone take company class. “I've seen places where dancers go through that lackadaisically," he says. “Not here." Right after class, he likes to work on demanding roles. “For stamina's sake, it's good to push through duets, variations and solos."

“He definitely likes people who are dedicated, who go the extra mile," says Kate-Lynn Robichaux, who joined the company in 2011. What he doesn't like are attention-seekers or those unwilling to collaborate. “I need dancers with good technique, dancers who are developing their artistry," he says. “But I need them to be good people—no mean-spiritedness, no egos. Life's too short."

Last season, Hill coached company member Arcadian Broad as he choreographed and composed the music for a full-length adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. It was an unusual amount of responsibility and freedom for a company member, especially one who had just turned 20, but Hill believes talent should be nurtured.

In fact, he prides himself on individually tailoring training, trying different methods with different dancers. “It's a good sort of pressure," Robichaux says. “Because he has performed so many roles, he can give you his experience. He tells you about his interpretation, but then he lets you interpret in your own way."

Despite its relatively rocky past, the organization has had one constant: Orlando Ballet School. Known for training artistically and technically impressive young dancers, its students are frequent award-winners at competitions like Youth America Grand Prix. In 2014, it won the YAGP Outstanding School Award. This year, the American Dance Competition named it Outstanding School of the Decade.

Hill thinks the pieces are finally in place for the company to match the school's strength. “Things have continued to be challenging," he admits. “But the potential for the organization to blossom is powerful."


At a Glance

Orlando Ballet

Number of dancers: 23, including 4 apprentices

Length of contract: 32 weeks

Starting salary: $325 per week for appren-tices; $400 for full company members

Performances per year: 30–35

Website: orlandoballet.org


Audition Advice

The company holds auditions each February in New York City. Afterward, additional auditions take place in Orlando. Prospective dancers are also welcome to send video submissions throughout the year. Hill's primary focuses are solid technique and artistic versatility. “They have to be classically strong, but they have to be able to boogie," he says.

Elizabeth Abbick as the Snow Queen in Butler Ballet's "Nutcracker." Photo by Brent Smith, Courtesy Abbick.

Pointe caught up with three college dancers last spring to see what it's like juggling ballet, academics and a social life on campus. First up is Elizabeth Abbick, a student at Jordan College of the Arts, Butler University getting her BFA in dance performance and her BA in mathematics.

Abbick studying in the library. Photo by Jimmy Lafakis for Pointe.

Leawood, Kansas, native Elizabeth Abbick faced some tough choices her senior year of high school. Equally talented in math and ballet, she wanted a professional dance career but also desired to plan her post-performance life. "Butler University had always been on my radar because I knew the faculty was stellar and the students are the best of the best. I realized it could offer me both worlds," she says. Now a senior majoring in dance performance and mathematics, she hopes to work on the business side of the ballet world after her stage career.

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If you're in the NYC area and are in need of weekend plans, you might want to consider heading to the Film Society of Lincoln Center to see Jean-Stéphane Bron's documentary, The Paris Opéra. While the film was originally released in France this past spring, it just made its way to the US on October 18th, and it chronicles the 2015-2016 season at the Paris Opera.

Encompassing the entire institution (which was founded in 1669 by King Louis XIV!), dancers will particularly enjoy an inside look at the Paris Opéra Ballet—both in rehearsals and onstage. Most notably, Bron captures the then POB director Benjamin Millepied as he decides to leave his position with the company barely a year after his appointment.

Check out the full trailer below, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center's full listing of showtimes here.

Your Training
Thinkstock.

Bianca Bulle was always prone to ankle sprains. When she was 18, her recoveries became more complicated: She started experiencing Achilles tendonitis due to muscle weakness and fluid buildup in the ankle. "The last thing to get back to normal would be my Achilles, which was so incredibly tight and painful," says Bulle, now a principal at Los Angeles Ballet.

The Achilles is the body's largest tendon, attaching the bottom of the calf muscles to the back of the heel. It contracts and releases as you relevé and plié, as well as when you jump and even walk. Tendonitis, or inflammation, of the Achilles is one of the most frequently reported overuse injuries among active people, according to the American Physical Therapy Association. You'll know it by the pain or tightness at the back of the heel. If the condition gets bad enough, the tendon can rupture, which requires surgery to fix.

Achilles tendonitis is especially common among dancers on pointe, but it's not inevitable. With rest and proper conditioning, you can work to avoid it with careful technique and a commitment to cross-training.


Boston Ballet School pre-professional students. Photo by Igor Burlak Photography, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

What Causes It?

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New York City Ballet in Marc Chagall's costume designs for Balanchine's "Firebird."

I am a self-confessed costume nerd who really needs little persuasion to travel nearly 3,000 miles to see a costume exhibition—which is what I did when I set off for California for the new exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage. I knew Marc Chagall primarily for his sumptuous blue swirling paintings featuring violin-playing goats, his incredible ceiling at the Paris Opéra's Palais Garnier, and murals at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, so I was intrigued to see his work with ballet.

Marc Chagall (1887–1985), was born Moishe Zakharovich Shagal in Belarus. He later moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, to study art, apprenticing under famed Ballets Russes designer Leon Bakst. Chagall's work in ballet and opera, however, did not begin until he and his wife Bella arrived in the U.S. as World War II refugees in 1941.

Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage, adapted from an earlier exhibition at the Montreal Music of Art and curated by Yuval Sharon and Jason H. Thompson, is an exciting opportunity to see 41 costumes and nearly 100 designs. But it is the costumes that really steal the show. You won't see any tutus here, but instead amazing, almost cartoon-like realizations of Chagall's artwork. LACMA's exhibition runs through January 7, 2018. For those of you who can't make the trip like I did, here's a rundown of highlights.

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Tiler Peck in "Who Cares?". Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck and Emmy-winning actress Elisabeth Moss (of Mad Men and Handmaid's Tale fame) may seem like unlikely friends, until you dig a little deeper into their backgrounds. Both attended Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica and spent summers at the School of American Ballet in their youths. Moss and Peck's career paths diverged when the former fell in love with acting and Peck went on to study at SAB full time, eventually becoming the star we know today. Now, the pairs' artistic pursuits are uniting in an exciting new project.

According to Deadline.com, Moss will produce a documentary featuring Peck and her work curating BalletNOW, last summer's star-studded, critically acclaimed program at Los Angeles's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Peck was the first woman to lead BalletNOW's programming, and she brought together dancers from companies including The Royal Ballet, Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Paris Opéra Ballet, putting them on stage with tappers, clowns and break dancers (sometimes simultaneously).


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Your Best Body

Looking for creative and healthy ways to get your pumpkin fix this fall? First, back away from the pumpkin-spiced latte—the season's unofficial drink is often laced with sugary syrup and comes with a complimentary mid-rehearsal crash. Instead, try these simple snacks with puréed pumpkin. It's high in beta-carotene, which converts to immunity-boosting vitamin A, and is a good source of vitamin K, iron and fiber. You can buy it canned or make the purée from a "sugar" or "pie" pumpkin (they're commonly available at grocery stores or farm markets).

Fruit-and-Spice Toast

- Spread purée onto whole-grain toast.

- Top with sliced pear.

- Add a dash of cinnamon.

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Pointe Stars

When Maya Plisetskaya first toured abroad with the Bolshoi Ballet, she stunned the world. Her dramatic and technical abilities were far beyond what anyone outside the Soviet Union had seen before. She quickly became an icon, symbolizing Russian ballet.

Plisetskaya was the perfect ballerina to play the Tsar Maiden in The Little Humpbacked Horse when choreographer Alexander Radunsky and composer Rodion Shchedrin recreated the classic Russian folktale in the 1960s. This vintage clip of the ballet offers a glimpse into an era gone by. Although ballet technique has advanced since then, Plisetskaya's performance is still electrifying. She is daring and agile in her manèges and fouettés, while she shows gentle purity and authentic emotion in the pas de deux with the wide-eyed Ivan. Even half a century later, this magnificent artist continues to transfix us with her radiant presence onstage. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


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