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.

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News
Ashley Bouder in George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova's Coppélia. Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB.

Hollywood may have the Oscars, but ballet has the Prix de Benois de la Danse. Held every spring at Moscow's Bolshoi Theater, the prestigious international awards ceremony recognizes dancers, choreographers, composers and designers for their extraordinary work on and off the stage. This year's laureates, chosen by a jury, were announced during an awards ceremony last night, followed by a star-studded gala featuring many of the nominated artists.

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Viral Videos
Still via YouTube

American Ballet Theatre principal James Whiteside is known for more than just his uber-charismatic presence on the ballet stage; He doubles as both the drag queen Ühu Betch and the pop star JbDubs. Whiteside's newest musical release, titled WTF, came out last week, and is for sure his most ballet-filled song to date. Both the lyrics and the choreography are jam-packed with bunhead references, from the Rose Adagio to Haglund's Heel to a framed portrait of George Balanchine. Not to mention the fact that he and his four backup dancers (Matthew Poppe, Douane Gosa, Maxfield Haynes and Gianni Goffredo) absolutely kill it in pointe shoes.

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Ballet Stars
Crystal Serrano and Jorge Andrés Villarini in Christopher Wheeldon's This Bitter Earth. Rachel Neville, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Crystal Serrano never envisioned someday joining Dance Theatre of Harlem, the company founded by Arthur Mitchell to show the beauty and uplift of classical ballet on dancers of all colors. Her career began with Sacramento Ballet, which she joined after one year in Pacific Northwest Ballet School's Professional Division, but her time there was cut short by illness. After recovering, she felt so worn down that she left dancing behind and enrolled at the University of Washington. But she soon realized she'd made a mistake. "I thought, what am I doing?" she recalls. "I had to dance." With a fresh perspective and renewed determination, Serrano took an apprenticeship with Oregon Ballet Theatre before landing a job with Ballet San Antonio, where she soon rose to soloist.

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News
School of American Ballet students (Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy SAB)

Do you have a "Strictly Ballet"–sized hole in your heart? Good news: There's an upcoming docuseries, "On Pointe," that just might fill it.

The School of American Ballet is teaming up with Imagine Documentaries and DCTV for the project. Though it's not yet clear where "On Pointe" will air, we do know that it'll follow talented SAB students preparing for professional ballet careers—much as Teen Vogue's popular "Strictly Ballet" web series did back in the day. But "On Pointe" marks the first time documentary filmmakers have been allowed access to the school, and it sounds like it'll paint an even more complete picture of the dancers' lives inside and outside the studio.

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