For dancers, The Nutcracker isn't all winter wonderlands and charming sweets. To bring this ballet to life, we have to spar with swords (often while wearing a clunky head), pirouette in animal suits, and perform day after day with a host of other potentially hazardous costumes and props. Despite the dangers, Nutcracker's eccentric roles can be the most fun to perform. As five dancers describe, Nutcracker's whimsical, albeit taxing, accoutrements have their own kind of magic.
Haley Schwan's artistic journey toward becoming a Boston Ballet company artist has been anything but ordinary. From the Vaganova Ballet Academy and Staatsballett Berlin to immersive theater in New York City and choreographing for the MTV Video Music Awards, Schwan has had some unusual detours. But the 26-year-old with a warm demeanor and quick smile seems to be enjoying the ride.
As a child, Schwan studied gymnastics, jazz, tap and contemporary dance in her native Michigan, before turning her focus to ballet. After a summer intensive at the Kirov Academy of Ballet at age 12, Schwan began studying there full-time until age 16, when she was invited to the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia.
"Keep the rhythm going," calls Robert Garland, Dance Theatre of Harlem's resident choreographer, from the front of the studio. Five company women pulse through a series of syncopated pony steps, upright arabesque sissonnes and funky, Motown-inspired dance moves. It's an open rehearsal in early September, and the company is giving curious audience members a sneak peek at Garland's upcoming world premiere—one of several new works this season as DTH celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Founded in 1969 by former New York City Ballet principal Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, DTH was groundbreaking in its makeup of mostly African-American dancers, and its insistence that they could excel in ballet. "We were a bunch of dancers who had been told no, we couldn't do this, and Mr. Mitchell was giving us a chance to show that we could," says artistic director Virginia Johnson, a founding company member and former principal. "He was a very demanding taskmaster—he knew there was something very important to prove and that it was on us to prove it."
It's Monday, June 25. Armed with neck pillows, compression socks and loads of coffee, we are ready for our flight to Paris! Les Étés de la Danse, a French festival held at the beautiful La Seine Musicale theater, invited Pacific Northwest Ballet for its 2018 season. Half of the company will arrive the first week to participate in its Hommage à Jerome Robbins celebration with a handful of other companies. The rest will join the second week for a PNB-only residency.
I was applying to audition for this ballet company, and the form asked if I had a history of mental issues (i.e., eating disorders, anxiety, depression) and to give a detailed description of them and steps taken for treatment. Is this something that companies normally take into account during auditions? Moreover, are they allowed to ask this? I felt so strongly about not wanting to give that information that I decided not to apply. —Melanie
Shoshana Ronsenfield's career has not followed a straight path. In a surprising move, the born-and-raised New Yorker left a burgeoning career at New York City Ballet in 2012 to study economics at Barnard College. Upon graduating, Rosenfield spent six months freelancing with companies including New Chamber Ballet and Tom Gold Dance before spending two years working in global management at Goldman Sachs (and dancing on the side).
Now Rosenfield is on to a new chapter: She's just completed a boot camp in computer coding, and is currently doing a coding teaching fellowship. But she's still dancing. This weekend, Rosenfield will appear in Tom Gold Dance's fall season at Florence Gould Hall. We caught up with Rosenfield to hear all about how she's balanced college and career and how she's learned that it is possible to do it all.
This year, Boston Ballet's annual choreographic workshop is all about empowering women. Taking place in Boston Ballet's black box theater November 1-2, BB@home: ChoreograpHER will feature six works by women of various ranks in the company.
"Given the reality that the majority of produced choreographers have been male, I am excited this BB@home program encourages our talented female dancers who have an interest in choreography by giving them a platform to gain experience as choreographers," said artistic director Mikko Nissinen in a statement.
Ready, set, it's time to jet!
Hi all! My name is Jordana Daumec. I'm a first soloist with The National Ballet of Canada. I'm currently taking a break from packing my bags for our tour to Moscow and St. Petersburg where we'll be performing at Diana Vishneva's Context Festival! We are bringing some amazing ballets to Russia: Being and Nothingness by NBoC choreographic associate Guillaume Côté, Paz de La Jolla by Justin Peck and Emergence by Crystal Pite. The company is super excited to perform in these two amazing cities that have such a deep history in ballet.
As I prepare to take my final, "official" bow as principal dancer with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre this weekend and look back on my 20-year career, my inner monologue is neither short on concepts nor on words elucidating them. Though I still plan to dance and am giddily excited for new adventures, I nevertheless feel the weighty finality of it all.
Surprisingly, I also feel effervescently light. Perhaps because, right now, it's about my love for the art form as opposed to maximizing my efforts toward success in it. It truly does feel like a metamorphosis—an exhilarating shift that makes me realize how much I love dance, how important change is and how much we can all learn from one another.
Anonymity has its benefits, says Fort Wayne Ballet executive and artistic director Karen Gibbons-Brown: "We are tucked in the Midwest and one of the beauties is you get to fly under the radar and experiment in a way that you don't get to in a larger place." While that may have been true in the past, Indiana's Fort Wayne Ballet is now making moves toward greater visibility.
As an organization, FWB is entering its 62nd year, but it has only existed as a professional dance company with full-time, contracted dancers since the 2010–11 season. Prior to that, the organization's on-again, off-again performance company hit its heights under Michael Tevlin's tenure as artistic director (1981–94).
When Gibbons-Brown arrived in 1998, the organization and its affiliated school, the Auer Academy of Fort Wayne Ballet, were in distress. But the former dancer with South Carolina Chamber Dance Ensemble, Bristol Ballet and Theatre Ballet of San Francisco says part of why she came to Fort Wayne was that "it is a community rich in the arts and there was a lot of opportunity."
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You've watched First Position, the 2011 documentary about dancers at Youth America Grand Prix. You've studied videos of past ballet competition winners online. Now, you're interested in joining those elite ranks by entering a competition yourself. But what if your school doesn't have a program set up to guide you through the process? Pointe asked four experts to break down what ballet competition newbies need to know.
Between long rehearsal days, performances and hectic touring schedules, it can be hard for professional dancers to plan for their post-performance careers while they're still onstage. This fall, that changes for five American Ballet Theatre principals. Stella Abrera, Isabella Boylston, Cory Stearns, James Whiteside and Gillian Murphy have been chosen as the first dancers to participate in Crossover Into Business at Harvard Business School, a semester-long program designed for professional athletes.
Last year, Crossover Into Business program director and HBS professor Anita Elberse was developing a case study on ABT, and reached out to the company executive director Kara Medoff Barnett, an alumna of HBS. "Anita mentioned the Crossover Program as an experience that has been transformative for professional athletes," says Barnett. "We looked at each other and had the same idea: How about inviting the ABT dancers to sit next to the NBA players?"
Joy Womack is no stranger to the road less traveled. As the first American graduate of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and first American woman to join the Bolshoi Ballet, the California native is accustomed to going out on a limb. Now at 24, after spending last season as a principal dancer with the Universal Ballet in Seoul, South Korea, she is taking a leave of absence and is back in Moscow with a revamped perspective and an impressive bucket list. We caught up with Womack over the phone to hear about her move from Russia to Korea and back again, and how life has changed since venturing on her own.
Here at Pointe, every day feels like World Ballet Day, though the official 2018 event took place on Tuesday. While WBD is a thrill for any bunhead, it can also be overwhelming. How are you supposed to sit in front of your computer all day when you have class and rehearsal and work and a life? We get it, and we're here to help.
To give you a chance to catch up, we've rounded up WBD videos from 26 companies. So grab some popcorn, a backlog of pointe shoes to sew, and settle in. If you start watching now, you might just be done in time for WBD 2019.
Last November, New York City Ballet resident choreographer Justin Peck and former Miami City Ballet principal Patricia Delgado masterfully took classical ballet to an entirely new medium in a haunting music video for The National's song "Dark Side of the Gym."
In just five minutes, Peck (acting as both the video's choreographer and director) and Delgado—who are a couple in real life—told the story of a love that's not meant to last. (Ezra Hurwitz, a former MCB dancer, served as the film's producer and editor.) Using tight shots, the audience got to experience ballet through the smallest shift in facial expression, and it was magical—so magical that Peck has been nominated for a 2018 World Choreography Award. He and Delgado performed the piece on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" last Monday, and tonight they're expanding on the video for a world premiere at New York City Center's Fall for Dance Festival.
When you graduate from student to professional dancer, you still need to take daily class. But while the structure of class is the same, I've found the mindset to be drastically different. My first job post-graduation was with the Sarasota Ballet, and the last thing I wanted to do was look like a student. I knew wearing a black leotard and pink tights without warm-ups could be a dead giveaway, but all another new company member had to say was "Why are you wearing your tights under your leotard? You look like a kid," and I hurried to the dressing room to change! Beyond the way I dress as a professional, my class philosophy also changed. Here are four things I've noticed:
Whether it's a wardrobe malfunction or a spectacular, opera-house–sized fail, onstage mistakes happen to everybody. See how these four professionals survived their worst mishaps—and what they took away from them.
Baca in Ben Stevenson's Cinderella. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet.
"There I was on my very first day at the Metropolitan Opera House: on my hands and knees, center stage," recounts Pennsylvania Ballet principal Sterling Baca. He had joined American Ballet Theatre from the ABT Studio Company two weeks prior and didn't see a crucial casting sheet for the Don Quixote dress-tech rehearsal until minutes before it started.
In a domino-like sequence of unfortunate events, Baca had managed to get only half-dressed, and he missed his entrance and his character's dance with Kitri. Then he remembered too late that he was also supposed to catch Basilio's guitar. He turned around from setting down a tambourine to see the guitar already soaring through the air. He dove for it, but it grazed his fingertips, hit the floor and broke.
Baca had some literal and metaphorical pieces to pick up and apologies to make to the wardrobe and props departments, artistic staff and his fellow dancers. Luckily, everyone understood that he was new and "showed mercy," he says.
The Lesson: Although Baca can laugh about the incident now, he warns that "it only turns into a joke when you don't do it again." His advice? Double- and triple-check every single piece of paper on the call board.
Earlier this summer, we followed master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop as she made her on a pointe shoe fitting tour around the West Coast and California. Now she's back, this time on a 45-day tour from California to Chicago, educating students on all things pointe shoes and helping them to find their perfect fit. Lee's making stops at top ballet companies and academies across the country, interviewing school directors and chatting with professional ballerinas to find out how they customize and break in their pointe shoes. Below, check out Lee's first stop: Nevada Ballet Theatre. She touches base with company dancer Caroline MacDonald, and academy director Anna Lantz. Stay tuned for more!
Tricia Albertson, as told to Gavin Larsen.
I like to make people laugh, so I was excited to be cast as the Mad Ballerina in Jerome Robbins' The Concert. But the character herself didn't feel like me. She's so bubbly and excited, and I'm a bit more pensive (when it comes to ballet, at least). I didn't want her to come across as stupid—she's still thoughtful. I guess you could say she's flighty, but it's just that she's so excited about the music at the concert that everything else is a blur to her.
With a large exhale, Katherine Williams steps into a series of arabesque chugs, as if the force of her breath is propelling her forward. "Big step out, big," coaxes ballet mistress Irina Kolpakova, watching from the front of a small studio at American Ballet Theatre in May. It's a big step indeed for Williams—after 10 years in the corps de ballet, the 29-year-old is preparing for her debut as Myrtha in ABT's production of Giselle, her very first principal role. One month after the premiere, Williams was promoted to soloist.
"Myrtha is the hardest thing I've ever done," Williams admits. "By the end you feel like you're going to throw up. I was using my breath as much as I could to help me get through it."
While Williams is tall and a natural jumper, she was surprised when artistic director Kevin McKenzie cast her in such a fierce and powerful role. "Generally they give me the happy peasant girl, something softer," she says. "I think it was a leap of faith for Kevin to allow me to embrace a totally different side of myself."
Ballet schools are back in session and dancers are preparing to be back in class with all of its exhilaration, magic, and, of course, struggle.
Today, four dancers reveal what they found challenging as ballet students and how they now look at their technique as professionals.
Diana Vishneva has had a very big year. In 2017, she retired from American Ballet Theatre, performing Onegin with the company one last time, accompanied by her longtime partner Marcelo Gomes. Then, in September, she opened a ballet studio in her home city of St. Petersburg called CONTEXT Pro. Soon after, she marked the fifth edition of her festival of contemporary dance, CONTEXT, with two weeks of performances, workshops and talks in Moscow and St. Petersburg. But the biggest event came several months later, with the birth of her first child. (As she points out with some satisfaction, the timing was perfect—she didn't have to cancel a single engagement.)
The pregnancy allowed Vishneva to step back from an international career that has kept her constantly on the move for the better part of the last two decades. The ballet world receded from her consciousness, but not for long. We spoke in New York, where she resides part of the year, just as she was gearing up for the first of a series of performances and projects. The day after our chat, her son would turn 100 days old.
This summer the legendary New York City Ballet dancer Edward Villella marked two full-circle moments. He returned to Miami for the first time since his controversial 2012 departure from Miami City Ballet, the company he founded, to coach members of Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami. This new troupe was founded by former MCB principals and Villella protégés Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra in 2016. Villella worked with DDTM dancers on George Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux and Tarantella, signature pieces during his performing career. While there, Villella announced that he would be coaching dancers at NYCB starting in September—his first time returning to the troupe where he defined major ballets like Prodigal Son and Rubies, which the company performs this fall.
We spoke with Villella about keeping Balanchine's legacy alive, his big news, and his post-Miami life back in New York, where he lives with his wife Linda.
How does Justin Peck do it all? The Tony-award-winning resident choreographer at New York City Ballet is still performing as a company soloist. Yet he somehow manages to have his work performed by companies all over the world.
Like most busy choreographers, he has répétiteurs who stage his work. When Peck started choreographing for NYCB, Albert Evans was the ballet master at his side, but he passed away unexpectedly in 2015. The sudden, tragic loss, combined with his rapid success, meant Peck had to quickly find a group of trustworthy stagers. He turned to dancers he'd worked with, all in their late 20s or early 30s, who had no experience staging ballets.
The opportunities Peck had to offer changed their career trajectories, and gave them a chance to be part of the legacy he's building. "I feel like, how did this happen to me?" says Patricia Delgado who stages Peck's work, and who is also his fiancé. "I grew up idolizing Balanchine and Robbins, but I knew when I passed it on, I'd have to say I learned it from so-and-so. I feel lucky now to be able to pass on work born in my generation."
We caught up with four of Peck's busiest "right hands."
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In 1996, a classified ad in Dance Magazine read: "Carolina Ballet…seeks an Artistic Director to lead the next phase of its development as a professional company." Robert Weiss, who had been a New York City Ballet principal dancer and spent seven years as Pennsylvania Ballet's artistic director, was intrigued. "It was the chance to start something from scratch, build it from the ground up, like George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein did," he recalls. "Could I make something successful for the community and for myself in an artistic way I really believed in?"
More than 20 years later, it's abundantly clear he could. Weiss' Carolina Ballet has had 122 world premieres (second in the country only to NYCB). That includes over 60 of his own creations, 16 by principal guest choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett and 20 by co-artistic director Zalman Raffael. The 38-member company presents over 80 performances a year—a staggering number for a midsized company—in North Carolina's Triangle region of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.
All week, Houston Ballet soloist Harper Watters has been giving us the inside scoop on the company's tour to Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. In this last installment, we'll see how the dancers prep for opening night (hint: it involves a good nap and plenty of coffee). Plus, we'll catch glimpses of the show.
Where in the world is Miko Fogarty? Just three years ago, she seemed unstoppable. After being featured in the 2011 ballet documentary First Position, she became a teenage social-media star, winning top prizes at competitions in Moscow and Varna and at Youth American Grand Prix, and dancing in galas around the world. Last most of us heard, it was 2015 and she had just joined the corps of Birmingham Royal Ballet. A year later, she dropped off the ballet radar.
Turns out Fogarty, now 21, was taking time off to reevaluate her life, including the role she wanted ballet to play in it. She is now starting her junior year as a biology major at University of California—Berkeley and is considering going to medical school. (Her brother and fellow First Position subject, 19-year-old Jules, is a junior in the Berkeley economics department.) On the side she teaches private ballet lessons and gives master classes, and is the part-time conservatory director at San Jose Dance International, a new school in the San Francisco Bay Area led by artistic director Yu Xin. We caught up with her by phone.
Last we heard, you were at Birmingham Royal Ballet. Where have you been over the last couple of years?
I've been kind of quiet on social media about what I'm up to. I hope in the future to be more open with my followers on my daily life. I'm kind of in the process. Right now I'm a premed student at Cal and I'm researching science, which is completely different from what I was doing a couple of years ago. I'm also teaching a lot. I love teaching ballet; it's definitely one of my passions.
Houston Ballet has been taking Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival by storm this week, and soloist Harper Watters has been filling us in on how it's going. In yesterday's vlog he took us around the historic festival's scenic grounds and barn-like theater. Today, he and principal dancer Chun Wai Chan give us the inside scoop on HB's dress rehearsal (and take us into the wings to watch some beautiful dancing). Stay tuned for more from Watters later this week!