Ballet Stars

What's It Like Dancing in Spain? Kayoko Everhart Dishes.

Kayoko Everhart in Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. Photo by Jesús Vallinas, Courtesy CND.

Kayoko Everhart's life and career have been marked by two spectacular journeys. The first is one of geographic movement: Born in Tokyo, Japan, to a Japanese mother and an African-American father, she moved to Tacoma, Washington, at the age of 7. Then as a teenager she went to California to study with the San Francisco Ballet School, later heading to Oklahoma to join the corps at Tulsa Ballet. She ultimately settled in Madrid, Spain, where she is currently a principal dancer at the Compañía Nacional de Danza. Her second journey began once in Spain, where she decided to take off her pointe shoes to dance contemporary ballet under previous CND artistic director Nacho Duato. But the 2010 arrival of current director José Carlos Martínez gave her the opportunity to get back on pointe. We spoke with Everhart about her career in Spain, dancing for different directors and more.

How did you first find out about CND?

It's lucky that I was hired by the Tulsa Ballet because that is where I tried a Nacho Duato piece for the first time, and I fell in love. Then I found out that he had a company in Madrid, and I thought, I would love to do his style, all day every day. So after two seasons at Tulsa Ballet—and even though I was offered a promotion to demi-soloist—I came to Madrid to audition. I got the contract in Nacho's junior company, CND2, which is about half the size of the main company. We were 14 or 15 dancers. We traveled like crazy, one month tours in the U.S., up and down Europe, just nonstop. It was an exciting time.

Everhart as Carmen, with Toby William Mallitt. Photo by Jesús Vallinas, Courtesy CND.

How did you transition to the main company?

I was in CND2 for two and a half years when a couple of CND dancers decided to leave midseason. When I first joined the main company, Nacho had his group of principal dancers who were often first cast. I was often second cast for really nice roles, but I was first cast for his very last creation, Jardin Infinito. It wasn't a long part, but I was in a featured role, so I felt very taken care of by him. He always treated me well.

You witnessed a major transition in the company's history when Duato's contract was not renewed after a 20-year tenure and José Carlos Martínez replaced him. What was that like?

The first year after Nacho left was very difficult. After having him as director for so long, it felt like a ship without a captain. Nothing can last forever, but I was so happy during my time with him that I would have stayed here with Nacho until the end of my career. When José Carlos was chosen the first thing we heard was that he was a star at the Paris Opéra. Even before that, we knew that the Ministry of Culture was looking for a director that would bring classical back into the company rep. I wasn't ready to leave without giving him a chance, so I decided to stick around and try to keep an open mind. When he arrived, he gave all the girls a choice whether to put the pointe shoes back on or not.

Everhart as Carmen. Photo by Jesús Vallinas, Courtesy CND.

What did you decide?

The first pointe piece we were doing, if I remember correctly, was William Fosythe's Artifact II. It just involves two couples, and the rest of the company doing arm movements along the side, so for one cast, he only needed two girls on pointe. I had a look at the piece, and I was interested. It seemed like a fun way to get back into it. After being off pointe for six or seven years, it was really hard, but they were very patient with us. From the beginning of the season, we immediately started wearing pointe shoes in class and doing anything possible to get back in shape, but it was a difficult process.

So how has the experience of dancing in José Carlos Martínez's CND been?

Because I told him early on that I wasn't interested in tutus and tights and pure classical, I've basically been doing one Forsythe piece a year. So contemporary all year, and then I try to get in shape and do that one piece on pointe. I think that's made things harder for me physically, but I also enjoy it a lot.

What advice do you have for dancers interested in CND or other European companies?

When I was in ballet school in the U.S., it never even occurred to me to look at companies in Europe. It was just so far away that I didn't even try or look them up. But there is so much going on here that young dancers should look into everything. There are probably more opportunities out there then they realize, and they'll have a bigger chance of finding a company that's perfect for whatever interests them. In this company, we do many different styles, and the good thing is that José Carlos will often take dancers who are stronger in classical and put them in the classical pieces, but then he will also take very contemporary dancers. We have a very diverse company.

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Richmond Ballet dancers in "An Open Later..." by Matthew Frain. Photo by Sarah Ferguson, Courtesy Richmond Ballet.

What's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.

The Bolshoi Premiere of John Neumeier's Anna Karenina

Last July Hamburg Ballet presented the world premiere of John Neumeier's Anna Karenina, a modern adaptation on Leo Tolstoy's famous novel. Hamburg Ballet coproduced the full-length ballet with the National Ballet of Canada and the Bolshoi, the latter of which will premiere the work March 23 (NBoC will have its premiere in November). The production will feature Bolshoi star Svetlana Zakharova in the title role. This is especially fitting as Neumeier's initial inspiration for the ballet came from Zakharova while they were working together on his Lady of the Camellias. The following video delves into what makes this production stand out.

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Beijing Dance Academy students Pei Yu Meng and Wang Yuzhiwan in rehearsal. Photo Courtesy BDA.

In one of 60 spacious dance studios at the Beijing Dance Academy, Pei Yu Meng practices a tricky step from Jorma Elo's Over Glow. She's standing among other students, but they all work alone, with the help of teachers calling out corrections from the front of the room. On top of her strong classical foundation and clean balletic lines, Pei Yu's slithery coordination and laser-sharp focus give her dancing a polished gleam. Once she's mastered the pirouette she's been struggling with, she repeats the step over and over until the clock reaches 12 pm for lunch. Here, every moment is a chance to approach perfection.

Pei Yu came to the school at age 10 from Hebei, a province near Beijing. Now 20, and in her third year of BDA's professional program, she is an example of a new kind of Chinese ballet student. Founded in 1954 by the country's communist government, BDA is a fully state-funded professional training school with close to 3,000 students and 275 full-time teachers over four departments (ballet, classical Chinese dance, social dance and musical theater). It offers degrees in performance, choreography and more. BDA's ballet program has long been known for fostering pristine Russian-style talent. But since 2011, the school has made major efforts to broaden ballet students' knowledge of Chinese dance traditions and the works of Western contemporary ballet choreographers. Pointe went inside this prestigious academy to see how BDA trains its dancers.

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Ballet Stars
Tim Verhallen, via Instagram

Dutch National Ballet Soloist Michaela DePrince has been busy winning over the mainstream media. Since last spring, the First Position star not only landed a spokesmodel deal with Jockey, but she also recently teamed up on a commercial with Chase Bank and just announced that Madonna will be directing her upcoming biopic, Taking Flight (totally casual).

What could possibly be next? The cover of April's Harper's Bazaar Netherlands, it turns out. Posing in an arabesque with her hair slicked back in her usual ballet bun, DePrince traded in her leotard and tights for a stunning metallic Gucci dress (can we do that, too?).

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Ballet Stars
Leanne Benjamin and Luke Heydon in "Coppélia," via YouTube.

Dancing with The Royal Ballet from 1992 until 2013, former principal Leanne Benjamin tackled just about every role in the classical gamut, from Juliet to Nikiya to Giselle. As the young and spirited Swanilda in this clip from Coppélia, Benjamin reveals that she has equal talent for the silly as the serious. Her comedic performance in Swanilda's doll dance is this role at its best.

In an effort to trick the scheming Dr. Coppelius and save her beloved Franz, Swanilda pretends she is the doll Coppélia come to life. As she begins to dance, Benjamin is stiff and mechanical one moment and then flopped over like a rag doll the next. Dr. Coppelius, played by character artist Luke Heydon, watches her enthralled and Benjamin's gaze is fixed in a plastic stare. But when the toymaker looks away, Benjamin's Swanilda breaks doll character and frantically tries to figure out an escape. Feebly, Dr. Coppelius tries to keep up with her. Although we feel some sympathy for the delusional old toymaker, we can't help laughing at Swanilda's antics. And that slap at 1:55? Gets us every time. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

New York City Ballet's shoe room. Photo by Tess Mayer.

Deep in the basement of Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater is a small, windowless space that's home to nearly 6,000 pairs of pointe shoes, neatly stacked on shelves that reach to the ceiling. It's New York City Ballet's shoe room, and for company members, it's one of the most important places in the world. Dancers frequently stop by to search for the ideal pair for a special performance, or to tweak their custom pointe shoe orders, trying to get that elusive perfect fit. "If the shoe isn't right, the dancer can't do her job," says shoe room supervisor and former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Linnette Roe. We talked to Roe and NYCB soloist Emilie Gerrity about some of the most interesting—and surprising—secrets of the shoe room.

The NYCB dancers go through 9,000 to 11,000 pairs of shoes each year, including flat shoes, sneakers, jazz shoes, and character shoes. The company has an annual shoe budget of about $780,000.

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Younji-Grace Choi at the 2014 USA IBC. Choi is now a dancer with Cincinnati Ballet and will return to the USA IBC as a senior competitor this summer. Photo by Richard Finkelstein, Courtesy USA IBC.

Exciting news today: the USA International Ballet Competition has just announced its list of invited competitors for the summer 2018 competition. The USA IBC has invited 119 dancers from 19 countries out of over 300 applicants to compete in Jackson, MS June 10-23.

Since the last USA IBC in 2014 the competition has expanded its age limits; the junior category now allows dancers ages 14-18 and the senior category dancers ages 19-28. Of the 119 competitors this year, 53 are juniors and 66 are seniors. The United States has the highest number of competitors invited (52), followed by Japan (23) and South Korea (14). The other countries represented are Armenia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Columbia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Mexico, Mongolia, Peru, Philippines, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

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Les Grabds Ballets dancer Mai Kono in a promotional phtoo for next season's production of "Lady Chatterley's Lover." Photo by Sasha Onyschenko, Courtesy Les Grands Ballets.

The latest front in the controversy over the underrepresentation of female choreographers in ballet is at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. They're facing a petition and choreographer resignation that forced them to rebrand a season and publicly defend their programming.

On February 26, artistic director Ivan Cavallari, who started the job in the summer of 2017, announced the 2018-2019 season, which included a program titled Femmes. The program announcement said the evening would have "woman as its theme," and that Cavallari had "chosen three distinctive voices, rising stars of choreography, to undertake this great subject."

The three voices Cavallari chose to create on the theme of women, however, were all men.

"This was just too much for me, it was the last straw," says Kathleen Rea, a former member of National Ballet of Canada who now freelances, choreographs and teaches in Toronto. Rea says she's been bothered by the dearth of women choreographers throughout her career. But referring to women as "subjects" and excluding them from choreographing on a program about them compelled her to take action.

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