Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky will have world premieres on two coasts this winter. On February 10, Miami City Ballet debuted his new one-act version of The Fairy’s Kiss to Stravinsky’s celebrated score, a homage to Tchaikovsky. The following month, on March 15, at California’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts, American Ballet Theatre will premiere his Whipped Cream, a new full-length story ballet to a Richard Strauss libretto and score.
Ratmansky has often looked to ballet history for inspiration. Fairy’s Kiss, known as Le Baiser de la Fée when it was originally choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska in 1928, has been staged by Sir Frederick Ashton and Sir Kenneth MacMillan, and several times by Balanchine. Its story comes from The Ice-Maiden, a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, and Ratmansky has kept the narrative. A young man, about to be married, is bewitched by a fairy’s kiss and stolen away from the mortal world. “I asked Alexei for a narrative work, possibly one with a Russian flavor to it,” says MCB artistic director Lourdes Lopez. “Our dancers have a very strong dramatic quality and short narrative works are not a large part of our repertoire.” Ratmansky had created an earlier version during his tenure at the Bolshoi Ballet; this is a new production with new choreography.
Whipped Cream has not been staged since its Vienna premiere in 1924. In Strauss’ libretto, set in an ornate pastry shop,a young boy overindulges, and hallucinates that the sweets in the shop have come to life. “Whipped Cream has a fantastical quality,” says ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie, comparing it to The Nutcracker and Léonide Massine’s La Boutique fantasque. “I think it will resonate with a non-balletomane the way Nutcracker does.”
When it debuted, critics derided Whipped Cream as superficial and expensive, and the full score wasn’t even recorded until the 1990s. “The score has overwhelming harmonies and texture—it’s very symphonic,” Ratmansky says. He made a short piece using a section of the music when he was a dancer at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. “I waited 23 years to complete it.” Ratmansky requested that Mark Ryden, an artist known for his surreal fantasy images, design the production. It includes 200 costumes, a curlicued, ornate set design evoking a 1920s Viennese milieu, and a slide for the corps de ballet. “His work is creepy,” says Ratmansky. “You see the sinister under the saccharine.” —Hanna Rubin
Ballet is a global art form, with top dancers hailing from around the world. Wherever you go, a plié is a plié, regardless of the language spoken. Still, it's not everyday that you hear about a classical ballet dancer from India.
Amir Shah, a 15 year old from a low-income neighborhood in Mumbai, hopes to change that. According to a GoFundMe page created by the teen's teacher, he's only been studying ballet for two years. Still, the ambitious dancer has been granted something countless students could only dream of: admittance into American Ballet Theatre's prestigious Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.
When we chose Houston Ballet soloist Derek Dunn as our October/November cover star last year, we knew he could do just about everything. But what we didn't know is that he—along with his fellow HB chums Hayden Stark and Daniel Durrett—can also kill it in pointe shoes! Apparently while the company was preparing for La Bayadère earlier this month, Dunn, Durrett and Stark got inspired to tackle the three Shades' variations from Act III. And they do not disappoint. From Stark's rock-solid relevés in arabesque to Dunn's near-silent footwork to Durrett's super-controlled ballonnés, these three pretty much nail their variations with both grace and aplomb. And, you know, with some double cabrioles and saut de basques thrown in.
This isn't the first time "sur les pointes" for Dunn (who announced on Instagram that he's leaving Houston Ballet for a yet-undisclosed company) or for Stark. Both were required to wear pointe shoes as the evil stepsisters in Stanton Welch's Cinderella in March. Still, knowing how many years it took me to perfect my pointework, I can't help but feel a little jealous of these guys.
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.
I got my corps contract on my 18th birthday. It was such a relief. I had convinced myself that I would be okay not dancing, but inside I just wanted to get a contract with Miami City Ballet.
I'd trained at Milwaukee Ballet School pretty much my whole life, and in 2014 I went to the MCB summer program and loved it. They invited me to stay for the year, and right when I got there, they offered me an apprenticeship. I spent the next two years as an apprentice. My second year I got to tour with the company and did Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Bourrée Fantasque.
Once I was told that I had a contract, it felt like so much weight was lifted off my shoulders. Every single person came up and individually congratulated me. They were so kind, and ever since then they've been like a big family.
It's such a jump from being in a school setting to being in the company. I'm lucky that I was able to experience so much firsthand as an apprentice, but there were still some things that I couldn't get used to. As an apprentice, I would spend half my day rehearsing and taking class at the school, and the other half rehearsing with MCB. Once I got into the company, there was so much less work. It was hard to stay in shape and make sure that I was on top of my dancing. The ballet masters don't give you as many corrections, and I didn't have anybody there to discipline me. It was all self-motivation.
Master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee is back, this time sharing her tried-and-true advice from the streets of New York City. While conducting a pointe shoe seminar at the Joffrey Ballet School's NYC Ballet Intensive, Lee put together a list of five things to keep in mind when choosing a summer program. Whether you're about to embark on this summer's intensive or are already thinking ahead for next year, these are good tips to keep in mind. And what better way to receive advice than while viewing a stroll through some of our favorite ballet-happy spots in NYC?
American Ballet Theatre's Cassandra Trenary seems to have it all—not only is our June/July 2016 cover star a dazzling soloist at ABT, she has a sunny, down-to-earth personality and a life-saving hero for a husband. But her first year in the company had its fair share of disappointments—in fact, she almost left dance altogether to pursue acting.
In May, the National YoungArts Foundation, an organization that provides scholarships and mentorship to aspiring performing artists, brought Trenary (herself a 2011 YoungArts winner) and ABT artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky together for a salon-style discussion. Together they talked about critical turning points in their careers, as well as the challenges of navigating the dance world as a young professional. Below are exclusive excerpts of their interview—we hope their words inspire you as much as they inspire us!
There's still time to enter YoungArts's national arts competition for a chance at scholarships, workshops and more. Click here for information on how to apply.
As a teenager, Adrian Durham studied at his local ballet school in Lake Charles, Louisiana. "I was one of three or four guys training there, and there were no male teachers," says Durham. "Most of my partnering experience came from rehearsals for performances." But after he began training with the male scholarship program at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in 2014, he experienced a sea change. "It challenged me mentally, physically and emotionally, because it's such an intense program," he says. Now 20, he is preparing for a professional career with an integrated set of tools: ballet technique, physical strength and partnering skills.
Men's ballet technique classes have been available for decades, especially at summer intensives and urban ballet schools. Yet programs designed specifically for male dancers, often offering full scholarships, have been rarer—until now, that is. Training that allows boys to separately explore their skills, above and beyond a supplement of double tours en l'air and pirouettes à la seconde at the conclusion of a mixed class, can literally give young men a leg up as they aspire towards a dance career.
To watch Irina Kolpakova coach Swan Lake is to witness a true artist at work. Although long retired from the stage, the American Ballet Theatre ballet mistress still possesses a commanding presence and an instinctive artistic spirit.
"Don't think about your shape when you first see Siegfried," she tells principal Isabella Boylston during rehearsal for Odette's Act II entrance. "This is not 'port de bras.' This is 'Don't touch me!' " Kolpakova demonstrates, transforming instantly into the Swan Queen. Her eyes sparkling and alive, every inch of her diminutive stature swells with a palpable energy capable of reaching the highest ring of the balcony.
Call it stage presence, call it the "it" factor, some dancers just have a natural ability to draw people in and change the atmosphere around them. Stage presence can carry a dancer to a higher artistic realm. It's the final piece of the puzzle, the emotional heart of a performance that can bring an audience to tears. Without it, even the best choreography risks falling flat.