Anais Bueno and Yoshihisa Arai in rehearsal for Arai's Boléro

Matt de la Peña, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Six Virtual Performance Events to Keep on Your Radar This Month

Updated on 2/6/2021

The ballet world has seen its share of ups and downs in the past year, but that hasn't stopped dancers, choreographers and directors around the globe from creating inspiring new material. From new video projects to world premieres and reimagined seasons, we've got our eyes on plenty of newsworthy events this year. Check out some of the exciting projects coming up this February.



Collage Dance Collective's RISE

Memphis-based Collage Dance Collective celebrates Black History Month with RISE, a virtual program honoring the memory and contributions of Black history and civil rights activists. The triple bill features CDC artistic director Kevin Thomas' Rise, a commemoration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Also included in the program are Kevin Iega Jeff's Trilogy, which reflects on the harrowing struggle for civil rights from 1863 to the present day, and Monologue, a striking solo piece by Princess Grace Award recipient Joshua Manculich.

Subscribers gain virtual access to the program throughout February. For nonmembers, a 30-minute abbreviated version will air for international public viewing at 6:30 pm CT on February 1 via the local broadcasting channel, website and Facebook page of Memphis' WREG-TV. collagedance.org

Films.Dance

Los Angeles–based Jacob Jonas The Company has launched a new online platform, Films.Dance, which brings together dancers and choreographers around the globe in a new, 15-part series of short dance videos. Filmed across 52 cities in 25 countries, the project engages over 150 dance artists from New York City Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company, the Paris Opéra Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, National Ballet of Canada, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theatre and many more. Films.Dance kicked off its first release, Kaduna, on January 25 and airs one new film per week each Monday at 9 am PT. Viewers can access released films for free and learn more about the project on the Films.Dance website and social media. films.dance/

Myles Thatcher World Premiere at San Francisco Ballet

Within a forest, a group of dancers stand casually behind a large, rectangular-shaped metal frame. A woman with dark brown hair, yellow skirt and off-white long-sleeved top stands in front of them and looks straight ahead.

Dancers from San Francisco Ballet in Myles Thatcher's new work

Courtesy San Francisco Ballet

San Francisco Ballet soloist Myles Thatcher premieres a new work this month for SFB's 2021 digital season. Filmed around various city landmarks, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Golden Gate Park and onstage at the War Memorial Opera House, the ballet is set to Steve Reich's Variations for Vibes, Pianos, and Strings, with film direction by Ezra Hurwitz. Thatcher's piece, titled COLORFORMS, premieres alongside Dwight Rhoden's LET'S BEGIN AT THE END and Mark Morris' Sandpaper Ballet as part of SFB's Digital Program 02, running February 11–March 3. (Viewers can purchase single-stream access or a digital package via the SFB website.) A short film documenting Thatcher's Zoom-infused creation process is available on SFB's social media channels. sfballet.org

Joffrey Ballet's New "Boléro"

Anais Bueno\u2014wearing a red leotard, black tights, tan slippers and a black face mask\u2014performs a fourth arabesque on her right leg. She dances in a bright studio surrounded by large windows.

Joffrey Ballet artist Anais Bueno will star in Yoshihisa Arai's Boléro

Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Joffrey Ballet presents the world premiere of Boléro, choreographed by company artist Yoshihisa Arai. Filmed at Joffrey's Gerald Arpino Black Box Theatre, this virtual premiere marks the first time the company has performed since February of 2020 due to pandemic-related closures. The ballet, set to Maurice Ravel's famous orchestral composition, features eight men and seven women, with artist Anais Bueno as a spotlighted performer. The piece also includes costuming by Joffrey dancer Temur Shuluashvili, who incorporated protective face masks into the design. Originally intended for the Joffrey Studio Company, Arai's work has been expanded for the full company and adapted for virtual audiences. Boléro will stream for free on February 26 at 7 pm CT via Joffrey's YouTube channel. joffrey.org

Heaven on Earth Festival: Velaa Ballet Week

San Francisco Ballet principal Julian MacKay and Mariinsky Ballet principal Xander Parish lead a series of curated performances, master classes and interviews for the exclusive Heaven on Earth Festival: Velaa Ballet Week from February 8–14. Held on the private Velaa Island in the Maldives, the event is open to guests who reserve the weeklong stay on the island's resort—but dance fans will also be able to tune in virtually. Designed as an international gala, the festival features two performances starring MacKay and Parish, as well as American Ballet Theatre principal Christine Shevchenko, Bolshoi Ballet first soloist Alena Kovaleva, English National Ballet first soloist Katja Khaniukova, and Boris Zhurilov, a first soloist with Stanislavsky Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre. The dancers will perform a classical program on February 10 and a second performance featuring contemporary works on February 12.


Thankfully, the performances and Q&A sessions will be streamed at a later date (stay tuned for updates) via the MacKay Productions YouTube channel. Dancers are also invited to tune in to a master class on February 12, streamed through the Julian MacKay's Instagram account (a recording of which will be available for 24 hours). velaaprivateisland.com

NYCB's Taylor Stanley at Jacob's PIllow

A group of of four dancers sit on the ground, with two other dancers standing behind them to the right. They are in a large dance studio with wood-planked walls, and the woman sitting in the middle of the group has a silver laptop.

Taylor Stanley (far left), Jacquelin Harris, Jodi Melnick, Lloyd Knight, Ned Sturgis and Allysen Hooks in rehearsal at Jacob's Pillow.

Courtesy Jacob's Pillow

This month, New York City Ballet principal dancer Taylor Stanley joins a diverse group of performers and choreographers for Pillow Lab, the annual residency program at Jacob's Pillow. Stanley will work on two Pillow-commissioned works created by postmodern choreographer Jodi Melnick and 2020 Guggenheim fellow Shamel Pitts. Melnick's ensemble piece will feature Stanley alongside Lloyd Knight, of the Martha Graham Dance Company; Jacquelin Harris, of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; Gallim Dance's Allysen Hooks; and Ned Sturgis, of Dušan Týnek Dance Theater. Meanwhile, Pitts will choreograph a solo work for the NYCB principal. A short film following the residency will be available February 18 at 7 pm ET via the Jacob's Pillow YouTube channel (viewers must RSVP here). jacobspillow.org

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Chisako Oga photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton

Chisako Oga Is Soaring to New Heights at Boston Ballet

Chisako Oga is a dancer on the move—in more ways than one. From childhood training in Texas, California and Japan to a San Francisco Ballet apprenticeship to her first professional post with Cincinnati Ballet, where she quickly rose to principal dancer, she has rarely stood still for long.

But now the 24-year-old ballerina is right where she wants to be, as one of the most promising soloists at Boston Ballet. In 2019, Oga left her principal contract to join the company as a second soloist, rising to soloist the following year. "I knew I would have to take a step down to join a company of a different caliber, and Boston Ballet is one of the best companies in the country," she says. "The repertoire—Kylián, Forysthe, all the full-length ballets—is so appealing to me."

And the company has offered her major opportunities from the start. She danced the title role in Giselle in her very first performances with Boston Ballet, transforming a playful innocent into a woman haunted by betrayal with dramatic conviction and technical aplomb. But she also is making her mark in contemporary work. The last ballet she performed onstage before the pandemic hit was William Forsythe's demanding In the middle, somewhat elevated, which she says was a dream to perform. "The style really clicked, felt really comfortable. Bill drew something new out of me every rehearsal. As hard as it was, it was so much fun."

"Chisako is a very natural mover, pliable and strong," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. "Dancing seems to come very easy for her. Not many have that quality. She's like a diamond—I'm curious to see how much we can polish that talent."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, does a pench\u00e9 on pointe towards the camera with her arms held out to the side and her long hair flying. Smiling confidently, she wears a blue leotard and a black and white ombr\u00e9 tutu.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

A Life-Changing Opportunity

Oga began dancing at the age of 3. Born in Dallas, she and her family moved around to follow her father's job in IT. Before settling in Carlsbad, California, they landed in Japan for several years, where Oga began to take ballet very seriously. "I like the simplicity of ballet, the structure and the clear vocabulary," she says. "Dances that portray a story or have a message really drew me in. One of my favorite parts of a story ballet is diving into the role and becoming the character, putting it in my perspective."

In California, Oga studied with Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky and Maxim Tchernychev. Her teachers encouraged her to enter competitions, which she says broadened her outlook and fed her love of performing in front of an audience. Though highly motivated, she says she came to realize that winning medals wasn't everything. "Honestly, I feel like the times I got close and didn't place gave me perspective, made me realize being a dancer doesn't define you and helped me become the person and the dancer I am today."

At 15, Oga was a semifinalist at the Prix de Lausanne, resulting in a "life-changing" scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School. There she trained with two of her most influential teachers, Tina LeBlanc and Patrick Armand. "She came in straightaway with strong basics," Armand recalls, "and working with her for two years, I realized how clever she is. She's super-smart, thoughtful, driven, always working."

She became a company apprentice in 2016. Then came the disappointing news—she was let go a few months later. Pushing 5' 2", she was simply too short for the company's needs, she was told. "It was really, really hard," says Oga. "I felt like I was on a good track, so to be let go was very shocking, especially since my height was not something I could improve or change."

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

Moving On and Up

Ironically, Oga's height proved an advantage in auditioning for Cincinnati Ballet, which was looking for a talented partner for some of their shorter men. She joined the company in 2016, was quickly promoted to soloist, and became a principal dancer for the 2017–18 season, garnering major roles like Swanilda and Juliet during her three years with the company. "There were times I felt insignificant and insecure, like I don't deserve this," Oga says about these early opportunities. "But I was mostly thrilled to be put in those shoes."

She was also thriving in contemporary work, like choreographer-in-residence Jennifer Archibald's MYOHO. Archibald cites her warmth, playfulness and sensitivity, adding, "There's also a powerful presence about her, and I was amazed at how fast she was at picking up choreography, able to find the transitions quickly. She's definitely a special talent. Boston Ballet will give her more exposure on a national level."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, poses in attitude derriere crois\u00e9 on her right leg, with her right arm out to the side and her left hand grazing her left shoulder. She smiles happily towards the camera, her black hair blowing in the breeze, and wears a blue leotard, black-and-white ombre tutu, and skin-colored pointe shoes.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

That was Oga's plan. She knew going in that Cincinnati was more stepping-stone than final destination. She had her sights on a bigger company with a broader repertoire, and Boston Ballet seemed ideal.

As she continues to spread her wings at the company, Oga has developed a seemingly effortless artistic partnership with one of Boston Ballet's most dynamic male principals, Derek Dunn, who Oga calls "a kind-hearted, open person, so supportive when I've been hard on myself. He's taught me to believe in myself and trust that I'm capable of doing whatever the choreography needs." The two have developed an easy bond in the studio she likens to "a good conversation, back and forth."

Dunn agrees. "I knew the first time we danced together we had a special connection," he says. "She really takes on the artistic side of a role, which makes the connection really strong when we're dancing onstage. It's like being in a different world."

He adds, "She came into the company and a lot was thrown at her, which could have been daunting. She handled it with such grace and confidence."

Derek Dunn, shirtless and in blue tights, lunges slightly on his right leg and holds Chisako Oga's hand as she balances on her left leg on pointe with her right leg flicking behind her. She wears a yellow halter-top leotard and they dance onstage in front of a bright orange backdrop.

Oga with Derek Dunn in Helen Pickett's Petal

Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Perspective in a Pandemic

The pair were heading into Boston Ballet's busy spring season when the pandemic hit. "It was really a bummer," Oga says. "I was really looking forward to Swan Lake, Bella Figura, some new world premieres. When we found out the whole season was canceled, it was hard news to take in."

But she quickly determined to make the most of her time out of the studio and physically rest her body. "All the performances take a toll. Of course, I did stretches and exercised, but we never give ourselves enough time to rest as dancers."

She also resumed college courses toward a second career. Oga is one of many Boston Ballet dancers taking advantage of a special partnership with Northeastern University to help them earn bachelor's degrees. Focusing on finance and accounting, Oga upped her classes in economics, algebra, business and marketing. She also joined Boston Ballet's Color Our Future Mentoring Program to raise awareness and support diversity, equity and inclusion. "I am trying to have my voice inspire the next generation," she says.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

One pandemic silver lining has been spending more time with her husband, Grand Rapids Ballet dancer James Cunningham. The two met at Cincinnati Ballet, dancing together in Adam Hougland's Cut to the Chase just after Oga's arrival, and got married shortly before her move to Boston. Cunningham took a position in Grand Rapids, so they've been navigating a long-distance marriage ever since. They spend a lot of time texting and on FaceTime, connecting in person during layoffs. "It's really hard," Oga admits, but adds, "We are both very passionate about the art form, so it's easy to support each other's goals."

Oga's best advice for young dancers? "Don't take any moment for granted," she says without hesitation. "It doesn't matter what rank you are, just do everything to the fullest—people will see the hard work you put in. Don't settle for anything less. Knowing [yourself] is also very important, not holding yourself to another's standards. No two paths are going to be the same."

And for the foreseeable future, Oga's path is to live life to the fullest, inside and outside ballet. "The pandemic put things in perspective. Dancing is my passion. I want to do it as long as I can, but it's only one portion of my life. I truly believe a healthy balance between social and work life is good for your mental health and helps me be a better dancer."

Students of Canada's National Ballet School. Bruce Zinger, Courtesy Ballet Unleashed.

Ballet Unleashed Aims to Connect Emerging Dancers From 11 Academies With Freelance Opportunities

To any pre-professional dancer vying for a company position, auditions are a familiar and often dreaded scene: Hundreds of hopeful young graduates flock to an audition site, pin a paper number to their dance clothes and try their luck. But only a few will receive full-time contracts with companies—the rest will go home disappointed, potentially facing a gap year as they try to figure out next steps.

Mavis Staines, artistic director and CEO of Canada's National Ballet School, became frustrated with this flawed system years ago. Why were so many talented dancers not being rewarded with work opportunities? And why was the only acceptable form of work a full-season contract, when in the music and theater industries, project-based employment was a legitimized way to build careers?

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Birmingham Royal Ballet in Cinderella. Roy Smiljanic, Courtesy British Ballet Charity Gala

Darcey Bussell Is Putting on a Benefit Gala Starring 8 UK Dance Companies—and You Can Stream It From Home

Planning a major gala during a global pandemic is no easy feat—but don't say that to Dame Darcey Bussell. In an amazingly short time, the former Royal Ballet principal and "Strictly Come Dancing" judge has curated a historic evening to support the dance industry in her home country. The British Ballet Charity Gala will bring eight major UK dance companies together for a live performance at London's Royal Albert Hall on June 3, before it is streams internationally on June 18.

The event, hosted by Bussell and actor Ore Oduba, a "Strictly Come Dancing" winner, will feature performances by Ballet Black, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, New Adventures, Northern Ballet, Rambert, Scottish Ballet and The Royal Ballet—marking the first time all of them have performed together on the same program.

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