Your Career

Telling Stories New and Old: The Royal Ballet's Kevin O'Hare

Photo by Joe Plimmer

A gentle presence in the studio, Kevin O'Hare was widely seen as a safe pair of hands when he took over as The Royal Ballet's director upon Monica Mason's retirement in 2012. A former principal with Birmingham Royal Ballet, a sister company of The Royal, he had danced much of the British repertoire; as The Royal's administrative director, he knew the London-based institution inside out.

Yet when he was appointed, O'Hare quietly set himself a radical challenge: In 2020, for a full year, he intended to present only works created in the decade prior. "I think we can do it. We're on track," he says now with a laugh. "If we're not pushing ourselves, giving the dancers opportunities to create new roles, then there's no point in being here."

That commitment to renewed creativity, balanced with a sensible respect for the British ballet heritage, has been the hallmark of O'Hare's directorship. Since he took the helm, The Royal has produced at least one new full-length ballet nearly every season, with hits including Christopher Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale and Wayne McGregor's Woolf Works, but not at the expense of his- torical works. A new generation of British- trained dancers has also emerged, nurtured by O'Hare to take over the repertoire.


O'Hare studied at The Royal Ballet School, and towards the end of his performing career, he started arranging charity galas and choreographic workshops for BRB. "I enjoyed being in the middle of it all," he says. Upon retiring, he shifted his focus to theater management, and spent a year as a trainee with the Royal Shakespeare Company before returning to BRB as company manager. "I learned that an artistic vision has to be underpinned with reality, whether it's finance, scheduling, logistics, education," he explains.

Three years later, O'Hare was offered the same position at The Royal Ballet and was later promoted to administrative director. "Seeing Monica Mason first- hand couldn't have been a better training ground," he says of his mentor.

When he took over after her retirement, the company was "in a good state," O'Hare says, although Mason had attracted some criticism for conservative programming. Before Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 2011, it had been 17 years since The Royal had created a new full-length ballet, and no woman had choreographed for the company since Twyla Tharp in 1995.

Photo by Joe Plimmer

The challenge, O'Hare explains, is to maintain The Royal's vast repertoire while opening it up to innovative creations. Since Ninette de Valois founded its first iteration in 1931, the company has built a rich heritage that includes the works of British choreographers like Sir Frederick Ashton and Sir Kenneth MacMillan. Finding the new Manon or Romeo and Juliet was a key goal to revive the company's tradition of original narrative ballets. "I really wanted us to look to the future—I felt we'd started, but I wanted to be bolder," O'Hare says.

Most commissions have gone to The Royal's three in-house associates, McGregor, Wheeldon and Liam Scarlett, and the company has looked to co-productions with North American companies to fund three-act undertakings, such as Scarlett's Frankenstein. Crystal Pite also made a new work in March, while a Young Choreographer position has been created for Charlotte Edmonds, a talented dancemaker who trained at The Royal Ballet School. There have been hits and misses every season, but O'Hare likes to give ballets time to mature. "I'm a great believer in going back and look- ing at something again, working on it."

O'Hare has also built a close bond with the company's dancers. "Suddenly you're the one who is looking after more than 90 dancers' careers," he says. "You have to make sure you're totally focused and aware of each individual." Dancers' health has been of particular importance: In 2013, the company opened a new state-of-the- art Healthcare Suite with dedicated staff. And principal Sarah Lamb praises O'Hare's openness: "He's very approachable. He really tries to understand what the dancers need and want, while balancing an incredibly demanding schedule."

While the company recruited a number of principals from abroad under previous directors, O'Hare has encouraged British talent to prove their mettle and join the likes of Marianela Nuñez or Steven McRae at the top. Newly minted leading dancers include Francesca Hayward, who became a principal last year at 24, Yasmine Naghdi, Matthew Ball and Reece Clarke. The com- pany also launched the Aud Jebsen Young Dancers Programme. Similar to an appren- tice level, it allows up to six dancers to spend a year with the company as a transition between training and professional life.

As a result, The Royal remains the standard-bearer for the British style. "Musicality is probably the most important thing to us, along with the épaulement, and footwork that is very fast and intricate," O'Hare says. New narrative works have also helped sustain the company's acting tradition. "For us, the corps de ballet drives the narrative, too: They're integral to the performance, thinking about their character as well as being in line."

In that sense, O'Hare has proven an inspired caretaker for The Royal Ballet, incre- mentally building on strong foundations. "I don't quote Ninette de Valois all the time," he says self-deprecatingly, "but she did say this wonderful thing: 'Respect the past, herald the future, but concentrate on the present.' "


The Royal Ballet at a glance:

Number of dancers: 95 (plus 6 Aud Jebsen Young Dancers)

Length of contract: Year-round, renewable every season

Starting salary: Inquire with company

Performances per year: 150 on average

Website: roh.org.uk

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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.

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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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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.

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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!


Pointe Stars
P.O. Alienz in Lavender Leotard; Paulina Waski modelling a Kreature Kulture t-shirt. Photos Courtesy Paulina Waski.

Walk into any ballet class and you're bound to see a row of dancers clad in leotards patterned with dainty flowers and lace. But nearly three years ago, American Ballet Theatre corps dancer Paulina Waski wore a very different kind of leotard to class—and her colleagues loved it. Now an average day at ABT includes any number of dancers in leotards featuring angry aliens, detached eyeballs and grinning monsters.

"My dad, John, is an artist, and he draws all these crazy creatures," Waski explains. "One year he did what he called his paper plate project; he drew a new creature onto a paper plate every single day for 365 days. I thought, 'he should put one on a leotard!' He screen printed one onto one of my old leotards himself, and when I wore it to class everyone was wowed." And so, Kreature Kulture was born.


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