Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky will have world premieres on two coasts this winter. On February 10, Miami City Ballet will debut his new one-act version of The Fairy's Kiss to Stravinsky's celebrated score, a homage to Tchaikovsky. The following month, on March 15, at California's Segerstrom Center for the Arts, American Ballet Theatre will premiere his Whipped Cream, a new full-length story ballet to a Richard Strauss libretto and score.
Ratmansky has often looked to ballet history for inspiration. Fairy's Kiss, known as Le Baiser de la Fée when it was originally choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska in 1928, has been staged by Sir Frederick Ashton and Sir Kenneth MacMillan, and several times by Balanchine. Its story comes from The Ice-Maiden, a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, and Ratmansky has kept the narrative. A young man, about to be married, is bewitched by a fairy's kiss and stolen away from the mortal world. “I asked Alexei for a narrative work, possibly one with a Russian flavor to it," says MCB artistic director Lourdes Lopez. “Our dancers have a very strong dramatic quality and short narrative works are not a large part of our repertoire." Ratmansky had created an earlier version during his tenure at the Bolshoi Ballet; this is a new production with new choreography.
Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky will have world premieres on two coasts this winter. On February 10, Miami City Ballet debuted his new one-act version of The Fairy's Kiss to Stravinsky's celebrated score, a homage to Tchaikovsky. The following month, on March 15, at California's Segerstrom Center for the Arts, American Ballet Theatre will premiere his Whipped Cream, a new full-length story ballet to a Richard Strauss libretto and score.
American Ballet Theatre's Ratmansky Festival is the centerpiece of the company's spring season at Lincoln Center's Metropolitan Opera House. Since festivals and celebrations usually come later in a choreographer's career, it provides an unusual opportunity to see how ABT has adapted to and absorbed Alexei Ratmansky's approach since he became artist in residence seven years ago. “The last seven years of Alexei's creative process with us was an exploration of the company's depth," says ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie. “I think it's always good to take another look at what is, in fact, still new to us."
In the Prologue to Christopher Wheeldon's recent ballet The Winter's Tale, two boys, princely playmates who one day will become kings, are joined onstage by two women veiled in black. They stand, one beside each child, mysterious, disquieting. They hint at the power that women in the ballet will have over men's imaginations as objects of fierce passions or idealized love. In a brief, evocative tableau, the choreographer foreshadows the darker themes of Shakespeare's play, the ballet's source, and their joyful resolution, distilling in a brief passage the story's emotional arc.
Choreographing story ballets that will appeal to contemporary audiences presents unique challenges even for experienced dancemakers. A too-literal approach or too-traditional staging can seem quaint or flat. And what makes a suitable narrative for those coming of age in a digital era, where there are no strictures on what can be searched, seen and shared? How can a story ballet hold audiences' attention? If mere distraction becomes the goal, how can a ballet achieve the resonance that will give it continued life?
At a certain point, you need to take your training to the next level. But with so many options available, how do you know what type of pre-professional program is right for you? For instance, would you rather receive detailed, one-on-one instruction from a private coach or work at the school affiliated with your favorite ballet company? Ramping up your training often requires moving far away from family, or tough financial sacrifices from your parents. Plus, there’s that little thing called high school to worry about.
Keep in mind that each option comes with pluses and minuses. For instance, a boarding school may provide supervised housing but lack company exposure. Meanwhile, a company program may offer exciting performance opportunities, but no academic or housing component. To give you an insider’s perspective, Pointe took a look at three students enrolled in three different, but fairly typical, training programs. We then broke down their dance schedule, academic life, costs and living situation into chart form to let you see what each approach entails.
Sixteen-year-old Alonso Olvera-Gonzalez wanted an all-in-one environment. He moved away from his family in Los Angeles to train at The Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida. “The dorms and academics are all built into the dance program,” he says. “My mom felt more comfortable with that, too.”
Others want more of a company affiliation—and a chance to perform alongside their heroes. “PNB has always been my dream company,” says 19-year-old Grace Haskins, a Professional Division student at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. “It’s so fulfilling and humbling to be on the same stage as the people I’ve grown up admiring.”
Fifteen-year-old Aran Bell, who is joining American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company this fall, turned down scholarships to traditional programs to study privately with New York City–based teacher Fabrice Herrault. “In a group class, it’s hard for the teacher to focus on everybody,” says Bell, who’s worked with Herrault on and off since he was 7. “One-on-one, you can pinpoint all of your problems. You never grow into a bad habit because he’s always on you.”
Take a look at the chart to see how these three dancers’ training programs actually work.
Alonso Olvera-Gonzalez: The Harid Conservatory
Julie Doering and Alonso Olvera-Gonzalez in Harid’s production of The Nutcracker, Act II. (Photo by Alex Srb, courtesy The Harid Conservatory)
Housing: Harid provides a coed residence on campus (with separate male and female wings) that are supervised by five full-time RAs, as well as part-time help. RAs are also responsible for providing transportation (students are not allowed to drive). “There’s two of us to a room, and each room has its own bathroom,” says Olvera-Gonzalez. The residence also includes three large leisure rooms and a dining hall, and each leisure room has a TV and Blu-ray player. Dancers in Olvera-Gonzalez’s age group must be in their wing of the residence by 9:30 on school nights, and in their rooms by 10:30.
Academics: Harid is a recognized high school by the state of Florida. From 8 am to 12 pm, students go to the on-campus learning center, where they take four academic courses per semester through a virtual school program. (Their fine-arts requirements are gained through dance-related courses such as dance history, music, etc.) In addition to his online teachers, two academic mentors at the learning center supervise Olvera-Gonzalez’s work and help him with questions.
Tuition and Fees: Tuition for the dance program is free. Fees for other expenses such as the academic program, room and board, transportation and dance supplies add up to roughly $14,500. The school offers need-based financial assistance.
Dance Schedule: After lunch, Olvera-Gonzalez has an hour-and-forty-minute technique class. He then takes either men’s class (while the women take pointe and variations) or partnering, followed by two to three hours of rehearsal. “Tuesdays and Thursdays we have another class after rehearsal,” he says, “which changes each year: either music, nutrition and kinesiology, or dance history.” On Saturday mornings he takes a non-ballet class, such as modern or character.
Performance: Harid has two major productions per year: a program with Act II of The Nutcracker in December, and a classical and contemporary performance in May. Sometimes there are additional performance opportunities in the community.
Aran Bell: Private student of Fabrice Herrault
Aran Bell in rehearsal (Photo by Belinda Carhartt)
Housing: Bell lives at home, and commutes an hour each way into New York City for lessons.
Academics: “I’ve been home-schooled since second grade,” says Bell, now a sophomore in high school. All of his coursework is through an online home-schooling service. “If I need help, I ask—you can Skype your teacher if you have a question.” Since he dances during the day, he devotes his evenings to schoolwork.
Tuition and Fees: Private coaching is typically more expensive. Herrault, who works one-on-one with several students, uses a sliding scale. “I will give students a special rate, for instance, if they study with me every day,” he says. Most of his students are younger and move on to high-level pre-professional programs after one or two years. “Aran is a special case.”
Dance Schedule: Bell commutes into the city to take Herrault’s open class at Steps on Broadway six mornings a week. They then head to Herrault’s studio, where he takes Herrault’s smaller group class (about 12 students) from 2 to 4 pm. Afterwards, they work privately on variations or class combinations. “We work on partnering, variations or technique, depending on the day.”
Performance: Since Bell is not associated with a school, he seeks out his own performance opportunities. That includes competitions like Youth America Grand Prix, where Bell won the top prize in the junior division in 2011. He’s also received invitations to perform in galas throughout the world alongside professional dancers. “Competitions can be very good stage experience,” he says, although he competes less now to focus more on his training. Last year, he danced with Intermezzo Dance Company, directed by ABT soloist Craig Salstein.
Grace Haskins: Pacific Northwest Ballet School, Professional Division
Grace Haskins (in backbend) in a PNB School performance of Balanchine's Serenade. (Photo by Rex Tranter, courtesy PNB School)
Housing: Haskins, a Seattle native, lives at home. PNB does not provide year-round housing for PD students. Denise Bolstad, the school’s administrative director, notes that most share apartments in a residential area within walking distance of the studio. Rent for a Seattle one-bedroom apartment averages $1,400 a month.
Academics: Most PD students, who range from age 16 to 19, have already graduated from high school. For those who haven’t, PNB requires them to finish through an online program or make other arrangements. As a junior, Haskins enrolled in Running Start, a two-year program through Seattle Colleges that allowed her to fulfill both high school and college requirements. “Sometimes you can do online classes, but this year I went to night school,” she says. After rehearsal on Monday nights, she often had a four-hour lab class until 10 pm; other evenings were devoted to other classes, homework and studying. She graduated in June with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in science.
Tuition and Fees: Haskins is on full scholarship at PNB (tuition is $8,100 per year), while her Running Start courses averaged $107 per quarter. The majority of PDs are on scholarship, and some receive a stipend to help with living expenses. Bolstad notes that most rely on parental support, as their schedule leaves little time for outside employment.
Dance Schedule: Haskins begins each day with technique class at 9:30. The rest of the day varies, depending on whether she’s rehearsing with the company. If she’s cast in a PNB production, she has rehearsals from 12 to 7 pm. If not, she has pointe, variations or partnering class from 11 to 12:30, followed by a second technique class later in the afternoon. She also takes technique and modern classes on Saturday.
Performance: PD students regularly perform with the company. Haskins performed in PNB’s productions of Nutcracker, Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Company members also choreograph on PD students for the annual Next Step program.
Growing up together, first as students at the School of American Ballet and then as young dancers on the rise at New York City Ballet, Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild dated off and on. With their lives on the same track for nearly a decade, it’s no wonder they felt a special bond. Their relationship became serious several years ago. “I feel so lucky to have Tiler in the same industry,” says Fairchild. “We understand the struggles and the achievements that come along with this career, and it’s so meaningful to share those moments with someone who truly gets it.” The couple, who live in a one-bedroom apartment five blocks from the theater, married in June at the end of NYCB’s spring season. A few weeks before, Pointe followed them through a typical day. All photography by Kyle Froman.
Photography by Kyle Froman
Pennsylvania Ballet holds only one audition each year. Every spring, hundreds of dancers crowd into a studio at New York’s School of American Ballet to be considered by artistic director Roy Kaiser and his team. Many come from training programs outside the city. This past March, more than 250 dancers auditioned for the company.
Kaiser looks for qualities that reflect the company’s Balanchine focus. “Above all, I want dancers who are interesting musically,” he says. “I watch how they phrase a combination.” The audition follows a standard class format. “Everyone does barre and at least one combination in the center before we start winnowing,” says Kaiser. He cautions that technique alone will not be enough to get dancers to the final round. “Dancers need to be aware of how they present themselves from the moment they show up,” he says. “There’s a brief time to get our attention. The way a dancer does pliés and tendus, her focus on the combinations, all counts. Dancers in a company have to assimilate material quickly. It’s part of the reality of being a professional.”