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McGregor on Mason
As Monica Mason’s directorship of The Royal Ballet winds down, resident choreographer Wayne McGregor reflects on her achievements.
Outgoing Royal Ballet artistic director Monica Mason, who will be succeeded by Kevin O’Hare this July, had been dubbed a “safe pair of hands” for the company because of her deep classical roots. But Wayne McGregor, whom Mason appointed resident choreographer in 2006, isn’t sure that’s the best way to describe her. “While I agree that her stewardship of the classical repertoire of The Royal Ballet has been wonderful, ‘safe’ isn’t the first word that springs to my mind,” McGregor says. “Daring, spontaneous and catalytic are more apt.”

Mason’s final program for the company, “Metamorphosis: Titian 2012,” is characteristically ambitious. Premiering this July, it’s a showcase for seven choreographers—including McGregor, Christopher Wheeldon and Liam Scarlett—and three composers. They’ll create new works inspired by three Titian paintings currently on display at The National Gallery in London.

McGregor stands in awe of Mason’s accomplishments over the course of her decade-long tenure. “Flying in the face of tradition, Mason appointed me, a contemporary dancemaker, to the role of resident choreographer,” McGregor says. “She is brave and consistent, believing in the power of artists to change perceptions and understanding that legacy is the bedrock for the future. She is a wonder." —Margaret Fuhrer

Lourdes Lopez to Take Over Miami City Ballet
This spring, Miami City Ballet announced that Morphoses director and former New York City Ballet dancer Lourdes Lopez will become MCB’s artistic director on May 1, 2013, replacing company founder Edward Villella. “Edward and I come from the same seed—Mr. Balanchine—and one thing I learned from Mr. B was you leave your ego at the door,” Lopez says. “I’m here to be of service to the artform.” Click here to read more about the appointment and Lopez’s plans for the company.

Ethan Stiefel and Angel Corella Retire from ABT
Ethan Stiefel, now artistic director of Royal New Zealand Ballet, and Angel Corella, now artistic director of Barcelona Ballet, will end their careers as principals at American Ballet Theatre this summer during the company’s season at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House. Corella’s final performance will be as Siegfried in Swan Lake on June 28; Stiefel’s will be as Ali the slave in Le Corsaire on July 7.

Confusing Times and a New Director at English National

English National Ballet has been on a roller coaster ride this year. In February—weeks after managing director Craig Hassall’s resignation—the company announced that artistic director Wayne Eagling was leaving this summer. In April, it named 38-year-old Royal Ballet principal Tamara Rojo, formerly a principal with ENB, the new artistic director. Why the upheaval?

Though based in London, ENB has never enjoyed the same level of public funding as The Royal, and a 15 percent cut imposed by the current government over several years has taken its toll. Critics have complained about increasingly long runs of The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and the ballroom-meets-ballet extravaganza Strictly Gershwin. The issue isn’t new: Torn between a notoriously cautious board, the artistic ambitions of successive directors and its touring obligations, the company was on the brink of financial collapse when Eagling took over from Matz Skoog in 2005.

However, Hassall, who says he left for personal reasons, doesn’t think ENB’s current situation is as critical. He notes that good planning allowed the company to absorb recent funding cuts and that Eagling nurtured a number of promising dancers who have remained faithful to ENB, including wunderkind Vadim Muntagirov. “Morale is high,” says Hassall. “Wayne has been very clever in his approach.”

Eagling’s reason for departing remains unclear. The company allowed only a couple of weeks for applications from potential new directors. Rojo’s lack of directorial experience might prove a hurdle. But in the past few years the ballerina has often expressed her wish to run a company and has been preparing behind the scenes for such a move. —Laura Cappelle

Ballet in Your Living Room
“Bunheads” on ABC Family
ABC Family brings drama to the dance studio with the premiere of “Bunheads” on June 11. The show follows a Las Vegas showgirl (played by Broadway star Sutton Foster) who moves to her husband’s sleepy hometown to work in a ballet school.

Seventeen-year-old Julia Goldani Telles, who plays the accomplished but unmotivated ballet student Sasha, trained at the School of American Ballet and Ballet Academy East. An injury prompted her to look into acting. “One of the first things my agent sent me out for was ‘Bunheads,’ because I was still getting comfortable with acting and he thought being able to dance would help,” she says.

While Goldani Telles takes class regularly—“Bunheads” includes many dance scenes—she’s enjoying branching out. “It’s a different type of expression,” she says. “In ballet, it’s either correct or it’s incorrect. But acting isn’t black and white. I had trouble with that at the beginning—I kept asking if I was doing it right!” —MF

Ballet West’s Reality Show

British ballet fans went wild last year for the BBC-produced “Agony & Ecstasy,” a docu-series chronicling a year with English National Ballet. Now the same television producers have set their sights on U.S. audiences: “Breaking Pointe,” following Salt Lake City’s Ballet West, premieres on the CW May 31.

Agreeing to participate in a reality series was a risky move for BW artistic director Adam Sklute. But he was intrigued by the way the new show was pitched to his company—as the antidote to Black Swan. “I liked the idea of setting the record straight about the real dramas and the real joys that happen in the ballet world, without having to play into stereotypes,” he says. “Hearing the producers describe these goals was reassuring.” Sklute was also made a creative consultant for the show.

Nearly all of the BW dancers are participating in filming, which documents real-life events as well as scenes that “would have happened anyway, but need to be consciously done in front of a camera,” Sklute explains. “My concern is that the editing might create scenarios that aren’t true to life. But I’m mostly excited—about what this show could do for Ballet West and ballet in general.” —MF   


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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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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