Ballet Careers

From Studio to Stage: The Joffrey Ballet Puts Its Stamp on Christopher Wheeldon's "Swan Lake"

From left: Anastacia Holden, Cara Marie Gary, Amanda Assucena and Caitlin Meighan complete a perfectly synchronized Cygnet pas de quatre. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe.

The Joffrey Ballet has presented many narrative ballets during its 58-year history. But until last October, it had never waded into the waters of that quintessential test for any classical ballet company, Swan Lake.

So when artistic director Ashley Wheater decided the time was ripe to meet this challenge, he wanted something special. He felt the ideal version of the work was one he had seen a decade earlier—Christopher Wheeldon's reimagining of Swan Lake, created for the Pennsylvania Ballet in 2004.


“The choreography is fresh, and Chris did a wonderful job of telling a difficult story for what is the most challenging ballet in the classical repertoire," says Wheater. “It takes time to nurture the correct technique and style. The Joffrey dancers have been working very hard, and I felt the company was ready to tackle it."

Recalling his first conversation with Pennsylvania Ballet about doing Swan Lake, Wheeldon says, “I was keen on finding a way to remain faithful to the Ivanov-Petipa original, but at the same time resetting it—the way you might take an old family jewel and put it into a more contemporary setting. There just happened to be a wonderful exhibition of Degas' work in Philadelphia at the same time. I went to see it, and that became the source of my inspiration."

Wheeldon at the Joffrey Studios.

Photography by Quinn Wharton

Wheeldon's version unfolds in the late 19th century as the Paris Opéra Ballet is rehearsing Swan Lake. And, as in Degas' paintings, a great deal is going on backstage. The evil Von Rothbart, who holds women/swans under his spell, now arrives in the form of a wealthy patron of the ballet who has his eye on a particular dancer he intends to make his mistress. And he becomes the rival of the dancer performing Prince Siegfried for whom reality and fantasy begin to collide.

The Joffrey dancers, who also are gifted actors, seemed relaxed during Wheeldon's final visit to watch rehearsal. But by the time they were done they were drenched in sweat and exhausted. “It's a killer," confessed Dylan Gutierrez, the opening-night Siegfried. “But it's fun."

Viral Videos

Master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based ThePointeShop chats with Ballet West soloist Chelsea Keefer to hear about how she prepares her pointe shoes. Keefer offers lots of darning tips, and shares all of the unusual ways that she uses rosin.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by BLOCH
Courtesy BLOCH

Today's ballet dancer needs a lot from a pointe shoe. "What I did 20 years ago is not what these dancers are doing now," says New York City Ballet shoe manager Linnette Roe. "They are expected to go harder, longer days. They are expected to go from sneakers, to pointe shoes, to character shoes, to barefoot and back to pointe shoes all in a day."

The team at BLOCH developed their line of Stretch Pointe shoes to address dancer's most common complaints about the fit and performance of their pointe shoes. "It's a scientific take on the pointe shoe," says Roe. Dancers are taking notice and Stretch Pointe shoes are now worn by stars like American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, who stars in BLOCH's latest campaign for the shoes.

We dug into the details of Stretch Pointe's most game-changing features:

Keep reading... Show less
News
Dane Shitagi, Courtesy Chronicle Books

Earlier this year, we shared that photographer Dane Shitagi's Ballerina Project—his gorgeous, ongoing collection of dance photos that have dominated our Instagram feeds for years—would be coming to an end. But all is not lost—starting September 17, you can enjoy over 170 of these photographs in Ballerina Project, a stunning new book showcasing Shitagi's work.

Keep reading... Show less
News
From left: Kathryn Posin Dance Company members Daniel White, Claire Mazza and Momchil Mladenov in Evolution: The Letters of Charles Darwin. Nan Melville, Courtesy Posin.

Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution might not seem like a natural fit for the ballet stage. But that's exactly the topic of one of choreographer Kathryn Posin's three new ballets, scheduled to premiere at New York City's 92nd Street Y September 13-14.

Keep reading... Show less