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Olga Smirnova’s first three seasons at the Bolshoi Ballet were a whirlwind of debuts and creations, but it all came to a halt in 2014, when a foot injury took the Vaganova-trained prodigy out of action for nearly a year. During her break, Smirnova adopted a new approach to taking care of her body throughout the day, using Pilates and various floor exercises. When she returned to the stage last summer, in Yuri Possokhov’s new full-length ballet A Hero of Our Time, it was with a newfound maturity. “Maybe I needed this break to reflect after such an intense period,” she says. “I think I grew up more than in the previous three years.”

A Hero of Our Time puts a modern twist on a popular 19th-century Russian novel by Mikhail Lermontov and its hero, Pechorin, who encounters a series of women. Pointe went backstage with Smirnova as she worked with Possokhov and theater director Kirill Serebrennikov on the role of Bela. With the help of her coach, Marina Kondratieva, she used her expressive lines and port de bras to lend depth to the character, a proud Circassian princess.

And the creations keep coming: This winter, she spent a month in Monaco, where Jean-Christophe Maillot devised a new part for her in Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s Nutcracker Company. “I feel like Maillot and Possokhov are ‘my’ choreographers,” she explains. “I feel so comfortable in their work that I would never miss an opportunity to go further with them.”

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News

Artists of the Bolshoi Ballet (Courtesy HBO)

From its eerie opening scene to its dramatic closing interview, Bolshoi Babylon—a documentary filmed in the aftermath of the 2013 acid attack on Bolshoi Ballet director Sergei Filin—creates a distinct sense of tension regarding the iconic company’s future.

The dance footage and backstage access featured in the documentary are unprecedented—especially considering the public scrutiny the Bolshoi was experiencing at the time. The filmmakers catch the dancers in the wings, onstage and in the studio, giving viewers a perspective that’s rarely, if ever, seen.

Curious why Filin’s contract, which expires in March 2016, wasn’t renewed? Bolshoi Babylon pulls back the curtain on the subtle, and not so subtle, power shifts within a company where it seems that everyone is on edge and anyone is expendable. The documentary airs on December 21 (tomorrow night!) on HBO.

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

Artists of the Bolshoi Ballet (Courtesy HBO)

New Documentary on HBO Takes On the Bolshoi Ballet 

From its eerie opening scene to its dramatic closing interview, Bolshoi Babylon—a documentary filmed in the aftermath of the 2013 acid attack on Bolshoi Ballet director Sergei Filin—creates a distinct sense of tension regarding the iconic company’s future.

The dance footage and backstage access featured in the documentary are unprecedented—especially considering the public scrutiny the Bolshoi was experiencing at the time. The filmmakers catch the dancers in the wings, onstage and in the studio, giving viewers a perspective that’s rarely, if ever, seen.

Curious why Filin’s contract, which expires in March 2016, wasn’t renewed? Bolshoi Babylon pulls back the curtain on the subtle, and not so subtle, power shifts within a company where it seems that everyone is on edge and anyone is expendable. The documentary airs December 21 on HBO. —Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone

Trey McIntyre (photo courtesy BalletX)

Choreographic Fellowship at BalletX

BalletX’s new fellowship initiative has chosen its first recipient: New York–based choreographer Yin Yue.

Yue was born and raised in Shanghai, China, and has an MFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. The joint fellowship panel—including BalletX artistic staff, Wendy Whelan, choreographer Trey McIntyre and others—chose her from 50 international applicants. She’s choreographed on companies like Northwest Dance Project and shown work at such venues as Jacob’s Pillow. Yue will have January and February to create a new piece on BalletX and be mentored by McIntyre, who will create a separate piece during the same period.

“I think that the two of us creating at the same time will help my own process,” says McIntyre. “When you’re mentoring someone and articulating what you see, you’re giving voice to new parts of yourself, too.”

With his extensive experience coaching, teaching and guiding students, McIntyre is an advocate for fellowships like this one. “Choreographers don’t spend a lot of time receiving feedback—what we do is very solitary. I longed for this early in my own career,” he says.

BalletX will provide Yue’s choreographer’s fee, costume design budget and travel expenses. McIntyre is open to his mentorship extending into the logistical side of creating a new ballet, but he doesn’t intend to set parameters on the relationship. “I don’t want to impose my worldview. What I have to offer is about opening up what is authentic within our own selves.” —NLG

Italian Renaissance

In rehearsal for Duse with Hamburg Ballet principal Alexandr Trusch (photo by Holger Badekow, courtesy Hamburg Ballet)

Alessandra Ferri, the iconic dance actress, has emerged, at age 52, from a six-year retirement into an astonishing post-career. After successes with projects like Martha Clarke’s Chéri and the critically praised Woolf Works at The Royal Ballet, Ferri has been tapped by Hamburg Ballet’s John Neumeier as the muse for his Duse—Myth and Mysticism of the Italian Actress Eleonora Duse. As an actress at the turn of the 20th century, Duse’s performances were both highly popular and critically acclaimed, and she was lauded by writers like Anton Chekhov and George Bernard Shaw. The ballet, set to music by Benjamin Britten and Arvo Pärt, will premiere on December 6.

Why did you return to performing?

I realized a part of me was switched off. I love creating and dancing and performing with other artists. I feel very much alive when I do that. The first thing I did—The Piano Upstairs—was a fascinating collaboration with John Weidman. Then Martha Clarke came along (with Chéri). It all happened without me looking for it. Now I’m more conscious of my desire for doing it. At the moment I feel free and much more appreciative of the talent I was given.

What does John Neumeier wish to explore with you in Duse?

I think John has always been very passionate about theater and acting. Eleonora Duse was the first modern actor. She completely changed the art form. She was a very complex, strong and vulnerable woman and very devoted to her art. It’s funny—when I’m talking about her, I’m saying the same things about myself. She felt alive when she was onstage.

What is it like to portray a real-life character?

It’s so hard in dance to just be biographical because dance is the language of emotion. Duse starts out at the end of her life. John is interested in exploring the different woman she was with all these men in her life, like the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio. She really wanted to help and console people. She suffered a lot in her life and was very sensitive to suffering.

Did you make any special preparations for the role?

I visited two museums—one in Venice and one in Asola—which house some of Duse’s original letters and clothes. I also read the book Il Fuoco by D’Annunzio, which describes her life.

Joseph Carman

Kansas City Ballet’s New Nut

This season, Kansas City Ballet will unveil its all-new Nutcracker, choreographed by artistic director Devon Carney.

Carney has assembled an impressive team, including set designer Alain Vaës, costume designer Holly Hynes (who was the director of costumes at New York City Ballet for 21 years) and lighting designer Trad A Burns. The show will run December 5–24 at the Kauffman Center. —NLG

Noelani Pantastico Returns to PNB

Former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Noelani Pantastico has returned to the company after a seven-year stint with Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. She made her first appearance in November, in PNB’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. —NLG

 

News

The National Ballet of Canada in rehearsal (photo by Karolina Kuras)

 

World Ballet Day will happen once again on October 1. The Bolshoi Ballet, The Australian Ballet, The Royal Ballet, The National Ballet of Canada and San Francisco Ballet will join forces for 18 hours of non-stop behind-the-scenes footage from around the world. 

It's no surprise that the event is back, considering its smashing success last year—it was trending on Twitter all day, and thousands of people watched the stream on YouTube.

This year, the event will include even more companies: Bangarra Dance Theatre, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Boston Ballet, English National Ballet, Hamburg Ballet, Houston Ballet, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, National Ballet of China, Nederlands Dans Theater, Northern Ballet, Pacific Northwestern Ballet, Royal New Zealand Ballet and Scottish Ballet will all participate. Those companies will show pre-recorded footage rather than a live stream.

The Australian Ballet will show class and rehearsals for The Sleeping Beauty, among others. The Bolshoi will show class and rehearsals for its 240th season. I'm especially excited to see The Royal Ballet's rehearsals of Romeo and Juliet and the National Ballet of Canada's rehearsals of The Winter's Tale. Both companies will also show morning class. San Francisco Ballet will show class and rehearsals and will feature an interview with choreographer William Forsythe.

For those of us in the United States, the time zones are a bit confusing. The stream starts with The Australian Ballet in Melbourne at 19:00 PDT (that's Pacific Day Time) on September 30. Use this handy time zone converter to determine when you should start watching the live stream.

Click here for more information about programming as it's released!

Ballet’s spectacle does not always rest in high extensions and multiple pirouettes. In fact, sometimes precision gets lost in a catacomb of tricks. But moments such as the Dance of the Cygnets from Act II of Swan Lake recapture ballet's purity with meticulous footwork and teamwork. Its cohesiveness reveals how simplicity can enrapture an audience. With hands interlaced, these four Bolshoi ballerinas coordinate their épaulement and piqués as if they are perfect replicas of one another. Enjoy this quick moment of intricacy. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Ballet documentaries, why are you so few and far between? We have to wait until next summer for the documentary Black Ballerina, which promises a candid discussion of racial disparities in the ballet world. And the latest buzz— Another Adventure, featuring Joy Womack—is still making the indie festival rounds, without a release date in sight.

Womack was the first American to graduate from the Bolshoi Ballet's academy and the first American woman to dance with the company. She left the Bolshoi in November, 2013, accusing the company of demanding that she pay a monetary bribe to dance soloist roles. She is now a principal dancer at the Kremlin Ballet Theater in Moscow, Russia.

The film features Womack's personal relationship with fellow dancer Nikita Ivanov-Goncharov, and promises to take viewers inside the world of Russian ballet.

Given Womack's unique story, the controversy surrounding the Bolshoi, and the fact that she has forged her own path as an artist, it seems likely that American ballet audiences will be interested in seeing this film. Let's hope it gets broad distribution soon!

 

Check out the trailers here:

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