Reid Anderson teaching class at Stuttgart Ballet. Photo by Roman Novitsky, courtesy Stuttgart Ballet.

"It's a Dream to Work Here": After 22 Years, Reid Anderson Steps Down from Stuttgart Ballet

Stuttgart Ballet artistic director Reid Anderson will be the first to admit that his company loves a good party. "We celebrate quite a lot here," he says. Indeed, there's much to celebrate this week in the industrial German city famous for Porsche and Mercedes Benz: after 39 years at Stuttgart Ballet—17 as a dancer and 22 as artistic director—Anderson is retiring. And the company is giving him a grand, 10-day send-off. A Reid Anderson Celebration starts Friday, July 13 and continues through July 22, with a different event almost every night. The festival includes the film premiere of John Cranko's Romeo and Juliet, full-length performances of Christian Spuck's Lulu. A Monstre Tragedy and Cranko's Onegin, three mixed-repertory evenings, a one-man show starring Anderson himself, and a star-studded farewell gala.

Hired into Stuttgart Ballet by legendary choreographer John Cranko at 19, the Canadian-born Anderson rose to become a principal dancer. He then directed Ballet British Columbia and the National Ballet of Canada before returning to take the helm of Stuttgart Ballet in 1996. He is leaving behind an impressive legacy: a diverse repertoire that includes 112 world premieres, internationally acclaimed dancers (Alicia Amatriain, Friedemann Vogel and Jason Reilly to name a few), a new building for the John Cranko School, a diaspora of alumni now choreographing or leading companies, and a 94 percent audience attendance rate. I spoke with Anderson over the phone last month to reflect on his career and to see what's next for him.


Why He's Leaving Now

A model of the new John Cranko School. Photo by Ralf Grolms, courtesy Stuttgart Ballet.

Anderson started planning his retirement three years ago. "I'm getting on to 70 now and I'd like to have more time for myself and my partner," he says. "My whole life has been woven into the fabric of Stuttgart Ballet, ever since I joined as a dancer. Also, I felt I had done everything that I could do."

One major goal has been to build a new state-of-the-art home for the John Cranko School, which has produced over 60 percent of the company's dancers. "It took me 20 years," he says, but construction on the new facility began in 2015. It will officially open in 2019.

Stuttgart Ballet associate artistic director Tamas Detrich, a former principal with the company, will succeed Anderson as director this September. But while Anderson is looking forward to some R and R, "I have a lot to do, because of the Cranko work," he says. "I'll still be teaching and going around the world, but now I don't have to fit it into a crevice. I can do what I want to do, not just what I have to do."

On His Mentor, John Cranko

Alicia Amatriain in John Cranko's "Onegin." Photo courtesy Stuttgart Ballet.

Cranko hired Anderson in 1969, right before the fledgling Stuttgart Ballet's first tour to New York City brought it international acclaim. His leadership style has influenced Anderson "in every possible way," he says. "The moment I met John, I had that feeling of the hairs standing up on my neck. A lot of people see him as a great choreographer, but he was also a great director. He was very easy to talk to and open; he really knew what he wanted in his dancers. Also, my partner Dieter Graefe was John's secretary and then became general manager. He was living with John at that time, so I was party to everything and soaked it all up: How do you handle dancers, how do you handle situations? He was a great mentor for me, even though I didn't know it at the time."

Staging Cranko's ballets both at home and for companies abroad has been a mission for Anderson. "My job has been to be an eternal lamplight, to keep his work alive."

On His Dancers

Anderson with principal dancer Friedemann Vogel. Photo by Bernd Weissbrod, courtesy Stuttgart Ballet.

Anderson says he's never been interested in buying talent from the outside. "Most of my principals have come right through the company. The fun for me is bringing people up through the ranks—I've known many of them since they were teenagers, 10 years old even."

He's also encouraged his dancers to guest internationally. "I almost do back-flips and fire batons and certainly cartwheels to make it work. I'll even change casting here if necessary. Because their career is really short and they're in Stuttgart—not everybody comes here unless you're picking up a car. Everywhere they go, they take Stuttgart Ballet with them, like a postcard."

Why So Many Choreographers and Directors Come Out of Stuttgart

Since 1961 the company has closely collaborated with The Noverre Society, an independent organization based in Stuttgart that nurtures young choreographers and presents their work. (John Neumeier, William Forsythe and Jiří Kylián, all former Stuttgart Ballet dancers, got their start there.) Under Anderson's watch, choreographers like Marco Goecke, Christian Spuck and Demis Volpi have benefitted from this unique collaboration.

"When I became director I really wanted to make the school a part of Stuttgart Ballet," says Anderson. "When people came up through the school who had choreographic interest, I would encourage them to do Noverre. And if they had talent I might take a small piece—a pas de deux, a trio—into the company. The beauty of Stuttgart is that we have three theaters: a chamber theater, a playhouse and an opera house. So they could start with a small commission in the chamber theater and then do something bigger with composed music, each time a bit more, until they found their legs to do something in the opera house."

Anderson has also made an effort to mentor potential leaders. "I find that so many dancers get directorships because of who they are, but they don't really know what you need to know to direct," says Anderson. "So when I saw dancers around me that had 'it'—the intelligence, the eye, that they could project their egos into other people—I would tell them that I believed they could be a director someday, and encouraged them to talk to me, to watch what I do." Six Stuttgart alumni—Spuck, Sue Jin Kang, Bridget Breiner, Ivan Cavallari, Filip Barankiewicz and Eric Gauthier—are currently directing companies.

About That 94% Audience Attendance Rate...

Jason Reilly and Elisa Badenes in John Cranko's "Initials R.B.M.E." Photo courtesy Stuttgart Ballet.

"Stuttgart has always been famous for a few things: Cranko, Porsche, Mercedes and the public," says Anderson. "The public adores this company. You can sell out an evening with five new ballets by five young choreographers. In North America I used to have to do 'the menu,' with a light starter piece, a challenging ballet in the middle and then a 'dessert' with costumes and sets so that the audience would stay to the end. Here I don't have to do that. We're always totally sold out because we have this extraordinary public that is so curious about what's next. They don't care what the critics write, either. It doesn't have to be a smash, but interesting would be good."

How He's Seen the Dance World Change

Anderson teaching class. Photo by Ulrich Beuttenmueller, courtesy Stuttgart Ballet.

"I've seen in my lifetime an extraordinary change in dance," says Anderson. "When I was young, there was modern dance and there was classical dance and never the twain shall meet. Nobody ever talked about movement quality. If you could do the chassé pas de bourrée double tour and you could lift the girl—well, you did! You'd smile or cry or look angry and that's pretty much it. Then people like Glenn Tetley, who I worked with a lot, started bringing classical ballet and modern together. I think ballet is now coming from a much more visceral, very inside place: opening yourself up and showing the public what's inside."

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Chisako Oga photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton

Chisako Oga Is Soaring to New Heights at Boston Ballet

Chisako Oga is a dancer on the move—in more ways than one. From childhood training in Texas, California and Japan to a San Francisco Ballet apprenticeship to her first professional post with Cincinnati Ballet, where she quickly rose to principal dancer, she has rarely stood still for long.

But now the 24-year-old ballerina is right where she wants to be, as one of the most promising soloists at Boston Ballet. In 2019, Oga left her principal contract to join the company as a second soloist, rising to soloist the following year. "I knew I would have to take a step down to join a company of a different caliber, and Boston Ballet is one of the best companies in the country," she says. "The repertoire—Kylián, Forysthe, all the full-length ballets—is so appealing to me."

And the company has offered her major opportunities from the start. She danced the title role in Giselle in her very first performances with Boston Ballet, transforming a playful innocent into a woman haunted by betrayal with dramatic conviction and technical aplomb. But she also is making her mark in contemporary work. The last ballet she performed onstage before the pandemic hit was William Forsythe's demanding In the middle, somewhat elevated, which she says was a dream to perform. "The style really clicked, felt really comfortable. Bill drew something new out of me every rehearsal. As hard as it was, it was so much fun."

"Chisako is a very natural mover, pliable and strong," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. "Dancing seems to come very easy for her. Not many have that quality. She's like a diamond—I'm curious to see how much we can polish that talent."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, does a pench\u00e9 on pointe towards the camera with her arms held out to the side and her long hair flying. Smiling confidently, she wears a blue leotard and a black and white ombr\u00e9 tutu.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

A Life-Changing Opportunity

Oga began dancing at the age of 3. Born in Dallas, she and her family moved around to follow her father's job in IT. Before settling in Carlsbad, California, they landed in Japan for several years, where Oga began to take ballet very seriously. "I like the simplicity of ballet, the structure and the clear vocabulary," she says. "Dances that portray a story or have a message really drew me in. One of my favorite parts of a story ballet is diving into the role and becoming the character, putting it in my perspective."

In California, Oga studied with Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky and Maxim Tchernychev. Her teachers encouraged her to enter competitions, which she says broadened her outlook and fed her love of performing in front of an audience. Though highly motivated, she says she came to realize that winning medals wasn't everything. "Honestly, I feel like the times I got close and didn't place gave me perspective, made me realize being a dancer doesn't define you and helped me become the person and the dancer I am today."

At 15, Oga was a semifinalist at the Prix de Lausanne, resulting in a "life-changing" scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School. There she trained with two of her most influential teachers, Tina LeBlanc and Patrick Armand. "She came in straightaway with strong basics," Armand recalls, "and working with her for two years, I realized how clever she is. She's super-smart, thoughtful, driven, always working."

She became a company apprentice in 2016. Then came the disappointing news—she was let go a few months later. Pushing 5' 2", she was simply too short for the company's needs, she was told. "It was really, really hard," says Oga. "I felt like I was on a good track, so to be let go was very shocking, especially since my height was not something I could improve or change."

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

Moving On and Up

Ironically, Oga's height proved an advantage in auditioning for Cincinnati Ballet, which was looking for a talented partner for some of their shorter men. She joined the company in 2016, was quickly promoted to soloist, and became a principal dancer for the 2017–18 season, garnering major roles like Swanilda and Juliet during her three years with the company. "There were times I felt insignificant and insecure, like I don't deserve this," Oga says about these early opportunities. "But I was mostly thrilled to be put in those shoes."

She was also thriving in contemporary work, like choreographer-in-residence Jennifer Archibald's MYOHO. Archibald cites her warmth, playfulness and sensitivity, adding, "There's also a powerful presence about her, and I was amazed at how fast she was at picking up choreography, able to find the transitions quickly. She's definitely a special talent. Boston Ballet will give her more exposure on a national level."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, poses in attitude derriere crois\u00e9 on her right leg, with her right arm out to the side and her left hand grazing her left shoulder. She smiles happily towards the camera, her black hair blowing in the breeze, and wears a blue leotard, black-and-white ombre tutu, and skin-colored pointe shoes.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

That was Oga's plan. She knew going in that Cincinnati was more stepping-stone than final destination. She had her sights on a bigger company with a broader repertoire, and Boston Ballet seemed ideal.

As she continues to spread her wings at the company, Oga has developed a seemingly effortless artistic partnership with one of Boston Ballet's most dynamic male principals, Derek Dunn, who Oga calls "a kind-hearted, open person, so supportive when I've been hard on myself. He's taught me to believe in myself and trust that I'm capable of doing whatever the choreography needs." The two have developed an easy bond in the studio she likens to "a good conversation, back and forth."

Dunn agrees. "I knew the first time we danced together we had a special connection," he says. "She really takes on the artistic side of a role, which makes the connection really strong when we're dancing onstage. It's like being in a different world."

He adds, "She came into the company and a lot was thrown at her, which could have been daunting. She handled it with such grace and confidence."

Derek Dunn, shirtless and in blue tights, lunges slightly on his right leg and holds Chisako Oga's hand as she balances on her left leg on pointe with her right leg flicking behind her. She wears a yellow halter-top leotard and they dance onstage in front of a bright orange backdrop.

Oga with Derek Dunn in Helen Pickett's Petal

Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Perspective in a Pandemic

The pair were heading into Boston Ballet's busy spring season when the pandemic hit. "It was really a bummer," Oga says. "I was really looking forward to Swan Lake, Bella Figura, some new world premieres. When we found out the whole season was canceled, it was hard news to take in."

But she quickly determined to make the most of her time out of the studio and physically rest her body. "All the performances take a toll. Of course, I did stretches and exercised, but we never give ourselves enough time to rest as dancers."

She also resumed college courses toward a second career. Oga is one of many Boston Ballet dancers taking advantage of a special partnership with Northeastern University to help them earn bachelor's degrees. Focusing on finance and accounting, Oga upped her classes in economics, algebra, business and marketing. She also joined Boston Ballet's Color Our Future Mentoring Program to raise awareness and support diversity, equity and inclusion. "I am trying to have my voice inspire the next generation," she says.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

One pandemic silver lining has been spending more time with her husband, Grand Rapids Ballet dancer James Cunningham. The two met at Cincinnati Ballet, dancing together in Adam Hougland's Cut to the Chase just after Oga's arrival, and got married shortly before her move to Boston. Cunningham took a position in Grand Rapids, so they've been navigating a long-distance marriage ever since. They spend a lot of time texting and on FaceTime, connecting in person during layoffs. "It's really hard," Oga admits, but adds, "We are both very passionate about the art form, so it's easy to support each other's goals."

Oga's best advice for young dancers? "Don't take any moment for granted," she says without hesitation. "It doesn't matter what rank you are, just do everything to the fullest—people will see the hard work you put in. Don't settle for anything less. Knowing [yourself] is also very important, not holding yourself to another's standards. No two paths are going to be the same."

And for the foreseeable future, Oga's path is to live life to the fullest, inside and outside ballet. "The pandemic put things in perspective. Dancing is my passion. I want to do it as long as I can, but it's only one portion of my life. I truly believe a healthy balance between social and work life is good for your mental health and helps me be a better dancer."

Michael Cairns, Courtesy Orlando Ballet

Returning to Live Audiences: How 4 Companies Have Gotten Back Onstage

Performing in front of live audiences again has been every ballet organization's goal since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than a year ago. With vaccinations on the rise and light appearing at the end of the tunnel, companies are slowly starting to come back to in-person shows.

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#TBT: Antoinette Sibley in "Cinderella" (1969)

With its fairytale magic and ludicrous stepsisters, Sir Frederick Ashton's Cinderella is full of whimsy and charm. The choreography is also playfully challenging with quirky, intricate phrasing that illuminates Prokofiev's score. Antoinette Sibley, a former principal of The Royal Ballet, revels in the challenges as the titular Cinderella. A master of speed and staccato, Sibley is a frothy delight in her Act II variation in this clip from 1969.

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