Forty years ago, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba made its U.S. debut at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Among the performers was its iconic founder, Alicia Alonso, then in her late 50s and already nearly blind. This month the historic company will return for a tour that includes a six-day run at the Kennedy Center as well as stops in Tampa, Chicago and Saratoga Springs, New York. And if her health permits, the now-97-year-old director will also be back.
Viengsay Valdés and Ernesto Diaz (right) with the company in "Giselle." Photo by Nancy Reyes, Courtesy The Kennedy Center.
Sarasota Ballet artistic director Iain Webb approached Tony Dyson—owner of Sir Frederick Ashton’s Enigma Variations—about obtaining choreographic rights without knowing the historic 1968 ballet had only ever been performed by The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet.
Fortunately, the request occurred during the May 2014 Sir Frederick Ashton Festival in Sarasota, at which Dyson watched Webb’s dancers perform 14 Ashton works. “I think it gave him the trust to give the ballet to us,” Webb says. “He knew we’d respect it.” Webb was, in fact, a protégé of Ashton’s, and Sarasota Ballet is noted as the preeminent American expositor of the choreographer’s work.
Thus the April 8 premiere of Enigma, staged by British dance notator Patricia Tierney, was the first time an American company performed the work, set to a score by Edward Elgar.
On a flight home from a teaching stint in California last summer, Miami City Ballet corps member Rebecca King wrote a letter to her former self to post on her popular dance blog, Tendus Under a Palm Tree. Her hindsight advice to aspiring ballet students—no chit-chatting in class, implement corrections, study ballet videos—ended up going viral, eventually landing a page in Florida's World of Dance Magazine.
“Sometimes what takes off is a surprise," says King, 27, a native of Northern California who founded her blog in 2010. “It's made me realize how important social media can be for all businesses, especially in the way it can affect art."
King, who trained at Contra Costa Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet School before completing her senior year at The Rock School in Philadelphia, joined MCB as an apprentice in 2007, entering the company a year later. Tendus Under a Palm Tree began as a way to connect with audience members, “but I never thought it would turn into what it has become today," King says. She has earned a following with her thoughtful and well-researched “Musings," which range from commentary on dance in popular culture to profiles of ballets by her favorite choreographer, George Balanchine.
It was through promoting her blog via her own social media accounts—and the resulting requests from friends and acquaintances asking if she could help them do the same—that King decided to start her own company, Rebecca King Social Media Management, in 2012. Using her own self-taught successes as a guideline, she has since assisted more than half a dozen clients—including a ballet school, a choir and an accountant—in producing promotional videos and materials aimed at increasing their social media presence and traffic. In one case, she more than doubled the number of “likes" on a client's Facebook page, and tripled her Twitter followers. (As for King herself, at last count her blog had nearly 3,000 Facebook “likes" and over 3,100 Twitter followers.)
Her demanding performance schedule—and her long-distance marriage to an accountant who works a couple hours north of Miami—forced King to put the business “on a back burner" during the past year. But her blog continues to be a place to dig deeper into the ballets she performs. For example, cast as one of the three Fates in Balanchine's La Valse, she studied a poem that reportedly inspired the choreographer and wrote a post about the correlations to better understand her character.
“That got me extra interested in what I was dancing," she says. “It became a venue for me to enrich my career."
Her posts have also helped her clarify connections between Balanchine ballets, answer questions from audience members and even explore healthy recipes suitable for a dancer's busy lifestyle.
An ankle injury that cut her season short made King especially aware that, even if it's on hold for now, founding her company was “important for my future."
“As dancers, we all think about what comes next," says King, who hopes to fashion a career from teaching and writing when her stage days are done. “I felt that starting a little earlier would be a good career path."
Favorite social media platform: Twitter
Dream clients: Sara Mearns, Maria Kochetkova
Favorite ballet book: "George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker," by Robert Gottlieb
It's the day after Christmas and Miami City Ballet's dancers are taking class onstage in West Palm Beach, where, in a few hours, they will begin the last run of their Nutcracker season. Soloist Nathalia Arja throws herself into a final combination, leaping and turning with abandon in a display of strength and speed that defies the expectations set by her delicate and diminutive body. As she nears the end of the stage, she realizes she's done the wrong step. But instead of slinking off in embarrassment, she throws an arched arm up in a dramatic pose, lifts her chin and flashes a triumphant smile, as if it's what she'd intended to do all along.
That athleticism, energy and confidence have marked Arja's dancing since she came to the U.S. from her native Brazil to study at the Miami City Ballet School at age 15. But it is the honing of those natural gifts under MCB's artistic director Lourdes Lopez that has fostered a more mature poise and polish, earning her the most prominent roles of her still-blossoming career.
Arja with Renan Cardeiro in "Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux." Photo by Daniel Azoulay, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.