Adding a Personal Touch

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. Read Leah's first entries here, here and here, and stay tuned for more!

 

Dancing and writing share many parallels. That thought came to me as Helen Pickett taught us the different parts of Forsythe improvisation technique today. The ideas of pausing and hovering are very prominent in both art forms. Contemporary and classical dance contain significant pauses—punctuation—that are equivalent to semicolons, dashes, even exclamation points.

But choreography doesn't have to obey set grammar rules. A dancer or choreographer's response to music can be more interpretive. It is not a dancer’s ability to simply regurgitate choreography, but her ability to add to it elements in tune with her own physical structure that makes contemporary dance unique. No piece is ever danced just one way. As Boston Ballet soloist Jeffrey Cirio (who visited us yesterday) pointed out, his choreography is constantly changing to fit a specific dancer at a specific moment. Catching a director's eye is not solely based on technical ability, but also on movement quality, emotion, and imagination.

Today, we had the privilege of taking technique class with Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen. He not only urged us to dance with an expansive quality, but also to toy with the musicality of each combination. Our goal, he said, should be to create a sense of excitement for the audience. He brought the ideas of musicality and movement highlighted in our contemporary classes into a classical ballet setting. At the halfway point of this intensive, I've realized the many connections and parallels between classical and contemporary dance. Both feed off of one another.

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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