Photo by Vutti Photography

You could say that Victoria Hulland is Sarasota Ballet's resident corn pad dealer. The principal dancer keeps her bag stocked with special, extra-thick pads, which she uses between her toes. “A lot of the girls come to me if they have really bad corns," she says. “You can't buy these from CVS." Since she gets them from a podiatrist back home in New York, she either stocks up when visiting or employs her father to pick up multiple packs and send them down to Florida.

Hulland has turned to her colleagues for specialty items, too. Her gray warm-ups are actually a production sample from a knitwear machine company, where a co-worker's girlfriend works. And artistic director Iain Webb brings the dancers one of her favorite candies, Percy Pig gummies, back from his trips home to the UK. Resourcefully, Hulland has found another use for the candy's cute packaging: The pig-shaped tin makes a perfect hairpin holder.

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Iain Webb rehearses Victoria Hulland in Sir Fredrick Ashton's The Two Pigeons (photo courtesy Sarasota Ballet)

Sarasota Ballet artistic director Iain Webb approached Tony Dyson—owner of Sir Frederick Ashton’s Enigma Variations—about obtaining choreographic rights without knowing the historic 1968 ballet had only ever been performed by The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Fortunately, the request occurred during the May 2014 Sir Frederick Ashton Festival in Sarasota, at which Dyson watched Webb’s dancers perform 14 Ashton works. “I think it gave him the trust to give the ballet to us,” Webb says. “He knew we’d respect it.” Webb was, in fact, a protégé of Ashton’s, and Sarasota Ballet is noted as the preeminent American expositor of the choreographer’s work.

Thus the April 8 premiere of Enigma, staged by British dance notator Patricia Tierney, was the first time an American company performed the work, set to a score by Edward Elgar.

ABT Celebrates Ratmansky

Alexei Ratmansky works through Firebird with ABT dancers (photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy ABT)

American Ballet Theatre’s Ratmansky Festival is the centerpiece of the company’s spring season at Lincoln Center’s Metropolitan Opera House. Since festivals and celebrations usually come later in a choreographer’s career, it provides an unusual opportunity to see how ABT has adapted to and absorbed Alexei Ratmansky’s approach since he became artist in residence seven years ago. “The last seven years of Alexei’s creative process with us was an exploration of the company’s depth,” says ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie. “I think it’s always good to take another look at what is, in fact, still new to us.”

The festival kicks off with two mixed bills: the three-part Shostakovich Trilogy, and a program featuring a world premiere to Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade (After Plato’s Symposium)” as well as Seven Sonatas and Firebird. Later will come the American premiere of The Golden Cockerel, a two-act ballet that Ratmansky made for the Royal Danish Ballet in 2012. ABT will also bring back Ratmansky’s staging of The Sleeping Beauty, which the company unveiled last year.

McKenzie notes that Golden Cockerel shows a different facet of Ratmansky’s work. “It taps the humorous side of Alexei’s vision while adhering to his interest in historic works,” he says. Originally staged by Michel Fokine to a score by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, the ballet takes its inspiration from a folktale by Pushkin. In it, the tsar of a distant land is given a magical golden cockerel that warns him when his kingdom is in danger.

“I can’t wait to embody my character and experiment with it,” says soloist Skylar Brandt, who dances the title role on opening night, and has watched videos and read the story to prepare for the role. Brandt looks forward to working again with Ratmansky in the studio. “I have observed that dancers who trust Alexei excel in his movement,” she says. “When he says, ‘Good,’ it’s a big compliment.” —Hanna Rubin

An American First

Sarasota Ballet artistic director Iain Webb approached Tony Dyson—owner of Sir Frederick Ashton’s Enigma Variations—about obtaining choreographic rights without knowing the historic 1968 ballet had only ever been performed by The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Fortunately, the request occurred during the May 2014 Sir Frederick Ashton Festival in Sarasota, at which Dyson watched Webb’s dancers perform 14 Ashton works. “I think it gave him the trust to give the ballet to us,” Webb says. “He knew we’d respect it.” Webb was, in fact, a protégé of Ashton’s, and Sarasota Ballet is noted as the preeminent American expositor of the choreographer’s work.

Thus the April 8 premiere of Enigma, staged by British dance notator Patricia Tierney, will be the first time an American company performs the work, set to a score by Edward Elgar. —Carrie Seidman

Liam Scarlett Faces Frankenstein

Yuan Yuan Tan, Liam Scarlett and Carlo Di Lanno rehearse Scarlett's Fearful Symmetries
(photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy SFB)

Royal Ballet artist in residence Liam Scarlett is noted for the psychological themes of his one-act ballets, like 2014’s The Age of Anxiety. On May 4, he’ll push those themes further with the premiere of Frankenstein—his first full-length work for The Royal Ballet’s main stage. Frankenstein marks a first-time collaboration between Scarlett and composer Lowell Liebermann, and is co-produced with San Francisco Ballet, which will give the U.S. premiere in 2017. Pointe spoke with the choreographer about his process and why he thinks Mary Shelley’s novel is “perfection in literature.”

Why were you drawn to Frankenstein?

I first read Frankenstein as a child. Now, it’s less a tale of gothic horror and more a story of love: innocent love, the lack of love for oneself, betrayed and jealous love, and the desperate need to be loved by another. Every great story ballet has love at its center.

How do you work in the studio?

I don’t like to impose preconceived ideas on the talent in front of me. I prefer to mold the dancers and listen to what they have to say. I’m very fortunate to have both The Royal Ballet and SFB on board.

Can you talk about the characters?

Victor (Frankenstein) and Elizabeth (Victor’s betrothed) provide a pivotal central couple. The Creature adds a third role into the love triangle, as he struggles to gain acceptance from Victor and eventually takes revenge on him. The story has sympathy for all three characters—incredible actors are key for this ballet.

Will the ballet hew closely to the format of the book?

Shelley wrote in a three-person narrative form and created a pyramid structure that sets up tension and suspense perfectly. There’s been some editing to make it suitable for performance, but I’ve tried to stay true to the relationships between characters. —Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone

 

Carolina Ballet Tackles Macbeth

To commemorate 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, Carolina Ballet will perform three ballets dedicated to the Bard, crowned by the April 14 premiere of artistic director Robert Weiss’ Macbeth. The ballet will have costumes by David Heuvel and scenery designs by Jeff A.R. Jones, while J. Mark Scearce will compose the commissioned score.

Despite Macbeth’s rarity in the classical canon, Weiss believes the story lends itself well to dance. “It’s about the psychological interdependence between a husband and wife,” he says, “which makes for great pas de deux and the heart of the ballet. And, of course, the witches are a great excuse for dancing.” —NLG

Atlanta Ballet’s Uncharted Territory

Atlanta Ballet has a diverse repertoire, but the company’s May 20 premiere by choreographer Andrea Miller—founder of Brooklyn-based Gallim Dance—marks a signifcant departure. Miller is a graduate of The Juilliard School and a former member of Batsheva’s Young Ensemble, which works in Gaga, Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin’s unpredictable movement language.

Miller’s choreography is rife with physicality so extreme it looks reckless. It’s hard to imagine her work transitioning into a ballet studio. Artistic director John McFall contacted Miller about creating a new work after seeing Gallim perform in Atlanta.

Miller has never choreographed on a classical ballet company and acknowledges her different approach. “I see dancers as individuals. We work together by talking and using imagery,” she says. She’s excited about dancers with such a different, and specific, background performing her work. “Figuring out how to communicate my values is the beauty of the process.” —NLG

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Sarasota Ballet in John Ringling's Circus Nutcracker. Photo by Frank Atura, courtesy Sarasota Ballet.

What do the Nutcracker and the circus have in common? A whole lot if you're a dancer at Sarasota Ballet, where Matthew Hart has reimagined the holiday classic as John Ringling's Circus Nutcracker. The whimsical production, which honors Sarasota as the longtime winter home of the circus, is complete with acrobats, clowns and a tightrope and runs Dec. 18-19. For Pointe's biweekly newsletter, we spoke with corps member Jessica Cohen, who plays Clara.

What makes this Nutcracker unique?

Nutcracker is mainly seen with the Land of Sweets, but because we're in Sarasota and the circus has such a big history here, the story is based around Clara's dream of running away to the circus. All the diverts are related to that.

How so?

Spanish is an equestrian act with three zebras, and Arabian has an enormous elephant that about eight dancers move. Sugar Plum and the Prince are actually world-renowned trapeze artists. Before their pas de deux, they come down on a trapeze.

What happens with Clara?

Clara is usually a bit of a bystander when it comes to the second act. But in this, she's really exploring the circus and is involved with all of the diverts. For example, the Chinese dance has acrobats, and at the end she's in a pyramid standing on their shoulders. I'm constantly a part of the action--or orchestrating it--and that's really fun.

Is it funny?

Definitely. The battle scene is very comedic. Instead of soldiers, we have clowns, and all of the rats are doing a take on the "Thriller" dance.

Jessica Cohen as Clara. Photo by Frank Atura, courtesy Sarasota Ballet.

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

Olga Smirnova

Expectations can be a heavy burden to bear for a young dancer on the fast track to stardom. Few have justified the hype like the Bolshoi Ballet’s 21-year-old Olga Smirnova. The Vaganova-trained first soloist had an international coming out party to remember in London this summer. Her performances in La Bayadère and Swan Lake were the talk of critics and audiences alike, and stepping out on the Covent Garden stage in Balanchine’s "Diamonds," Smirnova announced herself as a ballerina of rare natural talent. Tall and expansive, she exudes the old-fashioned, slightly reticent glamour of a balletic Greta Garbo. She made the role her own, combining an aura of regal mystery with instinctive musicality and épaulement. Partnered by the seemingly awed Semyon Chudin, she danced the pas de deux and the faster third and fourth movements with a purity beyond her years. Russian ballet has found itself a new queen. —?Laura Cappelle


Karina González
Karina González has always been a powerhouse in contemporary work. But in Houston Ballet’s La Bayadère last season, she proved her mettle in ballet blanc. Her performance brought home why we go to these vintage ballets over and over: to see what a particular dancer can do with a classic role. As Nikiya, González exemplified all that is light and fragile, with a port de bras that was at once fluid and precise. The delicacy of her dancing served as a counterpoint to La Bayadère’s excesses. It pulled this old warhorse out of the past, making the ballet’s storytelling feel fresh once again. Artistic director Stanton Welch must have thought so too, because he promoted her to principal on opening night. —Nancy Wozny


James Whiteside
It took a while for New York to get to know James Whiteside. The American Ballet Theatre principal, who joined the company as a soloist in September 2012, spent much of last season giving polished but cautiously polite performances.

Then he was cast as Don Quixote matador Espada during ABT’s Metropolitan Opera House season.

Maybe Whiteside was finally able to shrug off his Met stage nerves. Maybe he had just settled into his ABT groove. Whatever the reason, Espada marked the first time Whiteside registered on the New York ballet world?’s Richter scale. Though choreographically slight, the part has the potential to be deliciously hammy, and Whiteside made the most of every hair-tossing, cape-twirling moment, finishing each assemblé with an imperious thrust of his chin. Forget polite: Gleefully, unabashedly flamboyant, Whiteside transformed what is sometimes a ho-hum secondary role into a work of high camp. (Fans of his pop-music alter ego, JbDubs, might not have been surprised.) —?Margaret Fuhrer


Jon Bond

Jon Bond first made waves at Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in 2007 with a muscular, undulating street-based style. His roots in competition dance and work in music videos gave his movements a pop-culture sheen. Yet after six years working with Cedar Lake’s rotating roster of world-class choreographers, Bond has matured beautifully. An underlying grace now weaves itself into his physical ferocity. When he took the stage at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival this summer in the opening beats of Crystal Pite’s Grace Engine, his clipped shuffle felt watchful, weighted—above all, controlled. At times, his solos seemed modest and tense; elsewhere, his reactions were explosive. Yet his movement was specific throughout: He’s become lighter on his feet, and utterly mesmerizing. —Rachel F. Elson


The Cast of Soirée Musicale
New York City Ballet is known for giving even its greenest talents big opportunities—and for a young NYCB dancer, getting a featured role in a gala performance is equivalent to being anointed a future star. This year, the company’s spring gala marked the arrival of the whole cast of Christopher Wheeldon’s Soirée Musicale. Nearly all of the work’s 10 featured dancers were either new to the company (Indiana Woodward, Peter Walker, Harrison Ball) or newly promoted (Lauren Lovette, Chase Finlay, Taylor Stanley, Brittany Pollack); all of them were very young. But they gave the kinds of full, well-considered performances usually associated with seasoned veterans. Leading the remarkable ensemble were Lovette and Finlay, who closed the ballet with a new pas de deux, tailored to them by Wheeldon. It was a grown-up duet—glamorous, poignant, achingly romantic—and we watched the two of them become adults onstage. —Margaret Fuhrer


Jermel Johnson

Audiences have long adored Jermel Johnson for his power and precision in Pennsylvania Ballet’s more virtuosic repertoire. But who knew that just below the surface was a sophisticated elegance waiting to come out in more subtle roles? As Phlegmatic in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments Johnson magnetized not with his terrific jumps, but with the silken unfurling of his limbs, the fleetness of his développés and the refined architectures of his full form. He commanded the stage with a quality that hovered between neutral and ravishingly sensual. Mr. B would have approved. Johnson’s swift rise at Pennsylvania Ballet from apprentice (2004) to principal (2012) has been thrilling to witness, and this new maturity has deepened his already compelling artistry. —Lisa Kraus


Evgenia Obraztsova
Bolshoi Ballet principal Evgenia Obraztsova has been a muse for French choreographer Pierre Lacotte since she created his reconstruction of Ondine at the Mariinsky Ballet in 2006. Their creative relationship reached a new milestone with his version of La Sylphide, which Obraztsova, a born Sylph, first performed with Moscow?’s Stanislavsky Ballet in 2011. Last summer, she was invited to repeat it in the mecca of French ballet: the Paris Opéra. The result was an exquisite, career-defining performance by a rare artist. Obraztsova’?s command of the intricate French style was effortless; she breezed through Lacotte?’s ornate footwork and balances with gossamer grace, and imbued this quintessentially French ballet with a distinctly Russian perfume. She was a Romantic dream with a twist: Unlike Bournonville?’s Sylphide, this creature of the woods is more femme fatale than ingénue, and like James, the Paris audience was bewitched at first sight. —?Laura Cappelle


Sarah Cecilia Griffin

Sarah Cecilia Griffin is that rarest of creatures: a true balletic chameleon. She has both impressive classical technique? and also the ability to completely let it go. In choreographer Amy Seiwert’?s SKETCH 3: Expectations showcase this July, Griffin performed pieces by Val Caniparoli, Marc Brew and Seiwert—seamlessly falling to the floor, crawling and climbing, and rising into the arms of ever-changing partners. Yet when the choreography drew from the classical canon, the 27-year-old revealed impeccably honed attitudes, grands jetés and pirouettes. On pointe or in jazz shoes, she brought emotional intensity that was true to the work, as well as a special something that drew your eye over and over, without her trying to get your attention. Her transitions from one extreme to the other appeared effortless, and the effect was simply thrilling. —Claudia Bauer


Sarasota Ballet

In the wrong hands, Sir Frederick Ashton’s Les Patineurs can easily devolve into an old-fashioned cliché. There are the matching bonnets, the postcard-pretty set, the dancers pretending to ice skate, the choreographed “falls.” But when Sarasota Ballet performed this 1930s one-act at Ballet Across America, there wasn’t a speck of dust on it. Under the direction of “Sir Fred” devotee Iain Webb, the dancers of this small Florida troupe have become exquisite interpreters of Ashton’s works. In Les Patineurs, they giddily lit up the stage, bringing distinct personalities to each scene without ever becoming saccharine. All of the choreography’s gliding, spinning and grinning felt completely natural—and as exciting as if it had been choreographed yesterday. —Jennifer Stahl


Irina Dvorovenko

Glamour and humor are an invincible combination. When American Ballet Theatre principal Irina Dvorovenko glided out of the wings as the diva ballerina Vera Baronova in the Encores! revival of On Your Toes, balletomanes in the audience did a double take. The swan queen extraordinaire had transformed into a slinky vamp with a libido to equal her ego. On Your Toes marked Balanchine?’s first full Broadway show back in the 1930s; in its famous ?”Slaughter on Tenth Avenue”? climax, the hoofer and the ballerina-turned-stripper literally dance for their lives. Dvorovenko didn’?t merely triumph in Balanchine?’s homage to burlesque; she brought a wicked sense of fun to her fishnets. And she handled the show’?s risqué dialogue with a deadpan delivery that theater veterans would envy. A Broadway star had been born. —Hanna Rubin

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