An American Sampler
This June, the third Ballet Across America will bring nine regional ballet companies to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Highlights of the event’s three programs include the Kennedy Center debut of Richmond Ballet and a performance of Sir Frederick Ashton’s seldom seen Les Patineurs by Sarasota Ballet.
Ballet All Over
New Cast of “Breaking Pointe”
The popular reality series “Breaking Pointe,” which goes behind the scenes at Ballet West, returns to The CW for its second season on July 29. The cast will feature some new faces: corps member Joshua Whitehead, supplemental artist Silver Barkes and Ballet West II dancers Ian Tanzer and Zachary Prentice. They join original members Christopher Ruud, Ronnie Underwood, Allison DeBona, Rex Tilton, Christiana Bennett and Beckanne Sisk. Pointe followed Sisk during a day’s filming; click here for more.
Malakhov Out, Duato In at Staatsballett
After a decade with a Russian star at the helm, Staatsballett Berlin has looked to Russia again to find its next artistic director. The German company announced earlier this year that Vladimir Malakhov is set to leave in 2014, and will be replaced by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato, currently the artistic director of St. Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Ballet.
A former American Ballet Theatre star, Malakhov oversaw the difficult merging of Berlin’s three state ballet companies into one larger ensemble upon his arrival in 2004. He built the new company’s repertoire around a mix of full-length ballets, including reconstructions such as La Péri and La Esmeralda, and contemporary fare by Angelin Preljocaj, Boris Eifman and Mauro Bigonzetti. The failure to renew his contract follows recent negative press in Berlin and the departure of Malakhov’s top star, Polina Semionova, who joined ABT last fall.
The appointment of Duato, who leaves the Mikhailovsky after less than three years, was met with mixed reactions in Berlin. Duato is known for his contemporary choreography, and by hiring him Staatsballett signals a shift in the direction of its repertoire. Under the terms of his five-year contract, Duato will set one of his ballets each season and add work by other modern choreographers, but he has stated in the German press that he also wants to build on the classics Malakhov maintained, adding that his predecessor is leaving “very big shoes to fill.” Duato will also remain the Mikhailovsky’s resident choreographer, and plans to foster cooperation between St. Petersburg and Berlin with co-productions and joint guest appearances: “I’m not going to part with Russia or with my dancers.”
Malakhov, who didn’t give up dancing during his directorship, hasn’t yet announced his plans for the future. “It is all still very fresh to me,” he said, “but I am looking forward to my last season in Berlin.” He will bid the company farewell in June 2014 with two final performances, in Caravaggio and Tschaikowsky. —Laura Cappelle
NYCB Ballerinas Branch Out
Wendy Whelan’s “Restless Creature”
When New York City Ballet principal Wendy Whelan began work on “Restless Creature”—a program of original works created collaboratively with contemporary choreographers Brian Brooks, Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish and Alejandro Cerrudo—her goal, she says, was “to find a new side of myself that wasn’t necessarily a ballet version of me.” But even a ballerina as renowned for her curiosity as Whelan can be taken by surprise. Working in the studio with Brooks, for instance, he asked her to step out of her pointe shoes. “It was liberating,” she says. “It made a tremendous difference in how I connected with the floor.”
Whelan, honorary co-chair of Jacob’s Pillow’s opening gala on June 15, will debut her new project at the festival on August 14. In expanding her forays into the contemporary idiom, she follows the example of Mikhail Baryshnikov. He, after all, reinvented himself as a champion of modern dance after performing what seemed like every ballet role known to man. “He’s been the model for me,” Whelan says. “He opened that door and I wondered, Why aren’t more people following him through it?” But given that Whelan is the restless creature at the heart of this project, there’s little doubt the 46-year-old Kentucky native would have found this path even if Baryshnikov hadn’t paved it first. “If I stop learning, my heart sags,” she says.
Before getting into the studio, Whelan had only met two of the choreographers; she knew the others by reputation. But all of them fit with her vision for “Restless Creature” as a search for “distinctive voices.” She’s also been blogging throughout the rehearsal period (wendywhelanproject2013.blogspot.com). “As the process has gone on, it’s become a diary for me,” she says. “When I reread it, it reinforces that idea of exploration.” —Cathy Harding
Sara Mearns with the New York Philharmonic
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns, a longtime fan of the New York Philharmonic, can often be found backstage at the orchestra’s concerts. After a performance one night in 2011, she met Doug Fitch, a previous director and designer of Philharmonic presentations. “He mentioned that he needed a dancer for an upcoming production,” Mearns says. “I was like: I’m right here! Pick me!”
Before long, Mearns was signed on for the Philharmonic’s 2012–13 season finale, a reimagining of Stravinsky’s Petrushka and The Fairy’s Kiss (better known to NYCB audiences as Le Baiser de la Fée) led by Fitch, music director Alan Gilbert and choreographer Karole Armitage. The show runs June 27 to 29 at Lincoln Center.
Mearns was especially excited to work for the first time with Armitage. “Her stuff is very cool and outside of the box,” Mearns says, “but at the same time, she came out of the School of American Ballet, so she knows how we move.”
The production is elaborate, involving film and puppetry. “It’s like a huge Broadway show—dealing with all those components requires split-second timing,” Mearns says. “There’s dancing from start to finish, and a lot of work with the puppeteers, and I’m in the film footage, too.” Other performers include fellow NYCB principal Amar Ramasar and Armitage Gone! Dance’s Abbey Roesner.
“I think dance is about the music first,” Mearns says. “That’s why this feels like such a natural collaboration.” —Margaret Fuhrer
An American Sampler