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Millepied Premieres L.A. Dance Project
The former NYCB principal takes his next step.

Black Swan choreographer and former New York City Ballet principal Benjamin Millepied will raise the profile of Los Angeles dance this September, when his L.A. Dance Project debuts at the city’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. The program, commissioned by L.A.’s Music Center, includes a Millepied world premiere, William Forsythe’s Quintett and Merce Cunningham’s Winterbranch.

Millepied shares directorship of LADP, which is more an international collective than a dance company, with Dutch producer Charles Fabius, American composer Nico Muhly and two fellow Frenchmen, art consultant Matthieu Humery and film producer Dmitri Chamblas. “They all bring different ideas to the table,” Millepied says. One of the ideas is to delve deeply into modern dance. “I studied Cunningham for a year; I almost left NYCB for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company at one point,” he recalls.

Millepied counts LADP’s dancers, a small group that includes Frances Chiaverini and Nathan Makolandro, among his collaborators. “When you only hire seven dancers, you need really strong individuals,” he says. “Every single one of them has to be striking and different, with really good technique and a specific quality. We will also let them choreograph within the company and develop their creative talent.”

Along with restaging major modern works, LADP will create contemporary ballets and experimental site-specific pieces—such as one in development for L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art—and tour to Paris’s Théâtre du Châtelet, Lyon’s Maison de la Danse and London’s Sadler’s Wells. They’re ambitious plans for a company that’s starting small. “This is a big experiment for all of us,” Millepied says. “But I think we’ll all enjoy doing it, and hopefully it will last.” —Claudia Bauer


ABT to Uruguay: Maria Riccetto Heads Home
American Ballet Theatre soloist Maria Riccetto will “have an adventure,” as she says, next season: Beginning in August, she’ll become a guest principal with Uruguay’s Ballet Nacional del Sodre, directed by former ABT principal Julio Bocca, for a year.

The Uruguayan dancer has done a few guest performances with the company since Bocca became its director in 2010. “I’ve been thinking for a while now about how much I enjoy working one-on-one with Julio,” she says. “Dancing principal roles with Ballet Nacional challenges me in a way that I’m not challenged right now at ABT. This year will help me grow as an artist.” She’s expecting to dance in productions of The Merry Widow, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake during her time as guest principal.

Riccetto says the decision to move was completely her own: She approached Bocca, who was enthusiastic, and ABT director Kevin McKenzie, who was “supportive and gracious enough to grant me the one-year leave of absence,” she says. “I’ve been with ABT for 14 years now, and it’s become a family for me. I’m not ready to leave that all behind just yet. So to have the safety net of being able to come back after the year is great.”

That said, Riccetto is excited to spend time with her real family in Uruguay. “My sister is pregnant, and I’m thrilled that I’ll get to be there with her for the whole experience,” she says. “I haven’t been with my family for almost half of my life, and I can’t wait to share my career with them. They’ll be able to see me in every production.” —Margaret Fuhrer


Variety at Vail

This year’s Vail International Dance Festival lineup includes a new work by Christopher Wheeldon for former Graham dancer Fang-Yi Sheu and New York City Ballet’s Wendy Whelan, Tyler Angle and Craig Hall; a “Dance TV” program featuring performers from “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” as well as NYCB’s Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild; and the ever-popular International Evenings of Dance. —MF


Valentino for NYCB
New York City Ballet continues to celebrate couture this September at its fall gala, which honors designer Valentino Garavani. The fashion icon will create costumes for three works by Peter Martins and a new pas de deux by Christopher Wheeldon. NYCB will also perform “Rubies” from Balanchine’s Jewels as a tribute to the designer’s signature “Valentino red.” —MF


New Work in Houston
Houston Ballet celebrates female choreographers this September with its Women@Art program, featuring Twyla Tharp’s The Brahms-Haydn Variations, Julia Adam’s Ketubah and a new piece by Aszure Barton.

Barton, who directs Aszure Barton & Artists, says she’s excited to work with HB’s dancers for the first time. “I love that the Houston company members are so committed to their jobs,” she says. “When I first went down to see them, everybody finished class—everybody. And they’re interested in classical and contemporary work. They have that curiosity. ”

Barton has been a favorite in Houston since her company performed there in 2010. “That was when HB director Stanton Welch first floated the idea of me making a work for them,” Barton says. “And then to be on the Women@Art program—that’s a blessing. Ballet is dominated by men’s voices. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to be heard.” —MF


Ovation TV’s “A Chance to Dance”
“So You Think You Can Dance” fans, set your DVRs: “SYTYCD” producer Nigel Lythgoe’s latest project, “A Chance to Dance,” premieres August 17 on Ovation. The reality show follows Royal Ballet alums Michael Nunn and William Trevitt—better known as The BalletBoyz—as they construct a new troupe, called theCompany. (Eight of the group’s dancers will be the opening act on the 32-city “SYTYCD” tour.) While theCompany’s members specialize in a range of styles, there will be plenty to keep ballet fans interested—including the charismatic BalletBoyz themselves. —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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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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