A New Choreographer's Leap of Faith

This week, Boston Ballet hosts its first-ever Choreographic Intensive in Marblehead, MA. Student Leah Hirsch will be blogging daily from the Intensive for Pointe. Stay tuned for more entries!

 

As I drove out of Boston yesterday, past the prim and proper Newbury Street and into the convoluted paths of Marblehead, a thought suddenly took hold: what a perfect place to hold Boston Ballet's first Choreographic Intensive! The circular movements of the upper body found in contemporary dance parallel the physical location of the program. Each plays with the idea of transformation, movement, and interest.

I also realized that although the Marblehead lighthouse, fishing boats, and beaches aren't beautiful in the traditional sense, the amalgamation of these items in one location is beautiful. This is evident in contemporary choreography as well. Not everyone sees the movements of contemporary dance as aesthetically pleasing, but each position, each shift from one pose to the next, communicates something important, something significant to the choreographer, dancer, and—hopefully—the audience.

My name is Leah Hirsch, and I have been a student of Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet for the past five years. (This coming year I will be taking classes at the Pennsylvania Ballet while also attending University of Pennsylvania part-time.) When the opportunity arose to attend Boston Ballet's Choreographic Intensive, I was thrilled at the prospect of delving into contemporary work—and also, honestly, frightened. I have attended thousands of classical ballet classes at CPYB but have never truly experienced a contemporary class. Sitting here on Sunday, the day before the program officially begins, my mind is swirling with thoughts of uncertainty. However, I enjoy the fact that I am taking a leap of faith and stepping out of my comfort zone. I can't wait to work with such esteemed choreographers as Helen Pickett and Thaddeus Davis; to immerse myself in Forsythe technique; and to develop my choreographic skills. I believe that by both creating and dancing, I will walk away from this program with a greater contemporary knowledge learned through a complete mind/body connection. Sometimes non-traditional beauty is the most stunning of all.

Ballet Careers
Sisters Isabella Shaker and Alexandra Pullen. Photo Courtesy Alexandra Pullen.

This is the second in a series of articles this month about ballet siblings.

My mom was in the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. A generation later, so was I. As if that's not enough for one family, my younger sister Isabella Shaker dreams of following in our dancing footsteps. Her endeavor, and her status as somewhat of a child prodigy, stirs feelings of pride and apprehension within me, since I have lived through the ups and downs of this intense yet rewarding career.

Ballet will always be my first love and the thing that brings me the most joy, and my dance career has opened endless opportunities for me. However, it's a difficult career path that requires a lifelong dedication. It's super competitive and can lead to body image issues, physical injury and stress. Most dancers will face some of these problems; I definitely dealt with all three.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Jayme Thornton

It's National Bullying Prevention Month—and Houston Ballet breakout star Harper Watters is exactly the advocate young dancers facing bullying need. Watters is no novice when it comes to slaying on social media, but his Bullying Prevention Month collaboration with Teen Vogue and Instagram is him at his most raw, speaking about his own experiences with bullies, and how his love of dance helped him to overcome adversity. Watters even penned an incredible op-ed for Teen Vogue's website, where he talks candidly about growing up queer. Catch his amazing anti-bullying video here—and, as Watters says, "Stay fabulous, stay flawless, stay flexible, but most importantly, stay fearless."

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News
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

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