American Ballet Theatre’s Fresh Princess
ABT will premiere Alexei Ratmansky’s The Sleeping Beauty on March 3 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA. The ballet features scene and costume design by Tony Award winner Richard Hudson, based on the historic Ballets Russes production from 1921. —Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone

 

Going Deeper
Atlanta Ballet’s resident choreographer Helen Pickett has embarked on a new challenge: choreographing her first full-length ballet, Camino Real, inspired by the 1953 Tennessee Williams play and set to premiere in March at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

“The play is about intrusion on personal freedom,” says Pickett. It’s set in a town called Camino Real—a dusty dead end surrounded by desert and populated by figures from Western culture, including Don Quixote and Lord Byron. “You’re not sure where or when the story occurs,” Pickett says. “Williams created this surreal place where there’s room to find yourself within the play. For me, that’s the crux of interesting storytelling.”

After years of making more abstract work, like her widely performed ballet Petal, Pickett has lately been drawn to the narrative support that text offers. “I needed a new direction,” she says, “and I realized that the anchor of words is a wonderful choreographic boon.”

Camino Real will feature theatrical elements traditionally absent from ballet: Five dancers will speak throughout the piece and certain moments will take place in the theater’s house, breaking the fourth wall between audience and dancers. “I feel like Camino Real was made for dance,” she says. “Tennessee Williams’ stage direction is just unreal—I can apply what he wrote directly to my ballet.” Pickett also plans to feature performers in character, in the lobby before the show begins. “I’ve built a trusting relationship with Atlanta Ballet dancers, and I can deepen where I want to go with movement,” she says.
In her third and final season with the company, Pickett is looking ahead to a 2016 premiere at Smuin Ballet and a new project with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. —NLG

 

What’s in a Name? Houston Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet.
In celebration of Shakespeare’s 450th anniversary, Houston Ballet is premiering Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Stanton Welch. The company’s 2014–15 season is devoted to the Bard, and includes John Neumeier’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and John Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew. February, the love month, will feature Welch’s reimagining of Shakespeare’s most famous romance, to be performed February 26–March 8. It’s been nearly three decades since the company presented a new production of the ballet.

Traditional versions of Romeo and Juliet take many liberties with the story. Not so in Welch’s rendition. “I tried to return to the play, so you will see scenes that haven’t been represented before,” says Welch. “Today’s audiences are quite capable of absorbing the whole story.” In Welch’s version, Mercutio’s character, which is often vague in the ballet, will be clarified to show that he is neither Montague nor Capulet, but rather part of the Escalus family.
Romeo and Juliet is a triple threat,” says Welch. “Terrific acting, dancing and music.” —Nancy Wozny 

 

New Territory
Contemporary choreographer Hofesh Shechter’s boisterous work is often reminiscent of rock concerts, yet it crosses over to the ballet stage in March. The Royal Ballet has commissioned the Jerusalem-born choreographer and Batsheva Dance Company alum to create his first work for a classical company. Shechter spoke with Pointe ahead of the world premiere.
What prompted you to work with a full ballet company?
The idea came from Kevin O’Hare, when he became artistic director at The Royal Ballet. I told him I would only do an ensemble piece: I’m not interested in creating for two or three people, and you don’t get a lot of opportunities to work with 35 people at that level. It’s a new challenge.

What do you find inspiring about classical ballet dancers?
They are like super-dancers: They can do anything technically. A lot of my work happens in the upper body, but they can do so much with their legs. I’ll see if it inspires me to use the lower body in a more elaborate way. In terms of energy, there is something very neat, very open about them, whereas my work tends to be internal. I hope something fresh can come out of these conflicts.

Are you creating the music for this work?
Yes. I’m very humble with it. I make music for my works, but I don’t see myself as a composer. The Royal Ballet welcomed it, however, and suggested I use their orchestra, so I’m writing a score for a string and percussion ensemble, along with an electronic track.

What inspires you at the moment, choreographically?
Complexity. A lot of my movement is very quick, but I want to find complexity inside that. Thirty-five dancers allow for an amazing mix of energy and rhythm, of order and disorder. I don’t usually start with a clear structure in mind, but this time I did.

What do you use to help dancers in the studio?
I use very simple images and actions to simplify the movement, make it feel authentic. There are a lot of mannerisms in ballet, but the RB dancers are chameleons, and I want to tap into their human qualities.  —Laura Cappelle

 

Justin Peck’s Big Screen Debut
Justin Peck is everywhere these days, and now his choreography is coming to a theater near you. Ballet 422, directed by Jody Lee Lipes, follows Peck throughout the creation process of Paz de la Jolla—New York City Ballet’s 422nd world premiere. The film plays nationwide in February and March. For dates and showtimes check magpictures.com/ballet422/. —NLG

 

Preserving the Past
Mia: A Dancer’s Journey
documents the tumultuous life of ballerina Mia Slavenska. As the first prominent Croatian ballerina, she rose to international fame with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She escaped Europe and World War II by touring with the company in the United States. Slavenska continued to be a ballet pioneer throughout her career: She choreographed, formed her own ballet company and was a founding dance department faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts. Check your local PBS listings in March for showtimes. —NLG

Ballet Stars

What do Diana Vishneva, Olga Smirnova, Kristina Shapran and Maria Khoreva all have in common? These women, among the most impressive talents to graduate from the Vaganova Ballet Academy in recent years, all studied under legendary professor Lyudmila Kovaleva. Kovaleva, a former dancer with the Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky), is beloved by her students and admired throughout the ballet world for her ability to pull individuality and artistry out of the dancers she trains. Like any great teacher, Kovaleva is remarkably generous with her wealth of knowledge; it seems perfect, then, that she appears as the Fairy of Generosity in this clip from a 1964 film of the Kirov's The Sleeping Beauty.

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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:

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Ballet Careers
Ali Cameron, Courtesy Queensland Ballet

An artistic director's position was far from Li Cunxin's mind when the Brisbane-based Queensland Ballet came calling in 2012. Since his retirement from the stage in 1999, the Chinese-Australian dancer had embarked on a highly successful career at the helm of a stockbroking firm. His wife, former dancer and current Queensland ballet mistress Mary McKendry Li, changed his mind, Li remembers. "She said, 'Wouldn't it be nice to give something back to the art form that we both have benefited so much from?' "

Seven years later, Li's contribution has been dramatic. Queensland Ballet, once a struggling choreographer-led company, has become one of Australia's most exciting repertoire ensembles, with Liam Scarlett on board as artistic associate. The budget has more than quadrupled, to over $20 million USD, and Li has launched not one but three major construction projects, with world-class headquarters, a theater and a new academy all in progress.

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News
Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've rounded up some highlights.

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