News

New York City Ballet's New Leadership Reflects on the Season Ahead

NYCB Associate Artistic Director Wendy Whelan and NYCB Artistic Director Jonathan Stafford. Christopher Lane, Courtesy NYCB.

After a year and a half of tumult at New York City Ballet, the company is finally settling into a groove under new artistic director Jonathan Stafford and associate artistic director Wendy Whelan, who lead their first full season starting this fall.


Abi Stafford and members of NYCB in George Balanchine's Union Jack. Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

The company's September 17–October 13 run at Lincoln Center's Koch Theater was solidified before the new directors' appointments took effect, though Stafford had a hand in planning some of the 2019–20 line-up while heading the company's interim leadership team. (The 2020–21 season will mark his and Whelan's first time programming a season together from start to finish.)

For 2019–20, Whelan is particularly looking forward to Christopher Wheeldon's DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse, George Balanchine's Union Jack and his evening-length Jewels. "If I had to take three ballets to a desert island, I could live with those three the rest of my life," she says. These works share programs with Balanchine classics, including Valse Fantaisie, Kammermusick No. 2 and Raymonda Variations, with a healthy dose of Jerome Robbins sprinkled throughout the year.

Jenifer Ringer in Merce Cunningham's Summerspace. Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

Whelan also cites themes of unity and camaraderie running through the fall season's "big, joyous, buoyant ballets," like Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, Serenade and Symphony in C, and Justin Peck's Everywhere We Go.

Audiences will undoubtedly be keeping their ears pricked for news of camaraderie offstage, as well. Stafford and Whelan succeed longtime ballet master in chief Peter Martins, whose retirement amid sexual misconduct allegations is not the company's only recent scandal. Last fall, three principal men left the company after being accused of circulating sexually explicit photographs and videos. One of them, Amar Ramasar (who had been fired by NYCB), was reinstated by the American Guild of Musical Artists last spring, and made his return to the NYCB stage, a controversial decision that has been questioned by critics and his colleagues alike.

Andrew Veyette and Sterling Hyltin with members of the company in Justin Peck's Everywhere We Go. Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

Among returns, the company will take on Merce Cunningham's Summerspace this fall for the first time in almost two decades. "Cunningham's choreography will be an exciting challenge for our dancers," says Stafford. "I'm very pleased that NYCB will have the opportunity to pay tribute to his centennial with these performances."

NYCB principal Lauren Lovette and BalletMet artistic director Edwaard Liang, a former NYCB principal, are choreographing world premieres for the company's annual fall fashion gala on September 26. Both have made work for the company before, and they are paired with fashion designers Zac Posen and Anna Sui, respectively.

With returning dancers, returning ballets and fresh perspectives, time will tell how the old and new mix under Whelan and Stafford's leadership.

Ballet Careers
Sisters Isabella Shaker and Alexandra Pullen. Photo Courtesy Alexandra Pullen.

This is the second in a series of articles this month about ballet siblings.

My mom was in the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. A generation later, so was I. As if that's not enough for one family, my younger sister Isabella Shaker dreams of following in our dancing footsteps. Her endeavor, and her status as somewhat of a child prodigy, stirs feelings of pride and apprehension within me, since I have lived through the ups and downs of this intense yet rewarding career.

Ballet will always be my first love and the thing that brings me the most joy, and my dance career has opened endless opportunities for me. However, it's a difficult career path that requires a lifelong dedication. It's super competitive and can lead to body image issues, physical injury and stress. Most dancers will face some of these problems; I definitely dealt with all three.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Jayme Thornton

It's National Bullying Prevention Month—and Houston Ballet breakout star Harper Watters is exactly the advocate young dancers facing bullying need. Watters is no novice when it comes to slaying on social media, but his Bullying Prevention Month collaboration with Teen Vogue and Instagram is him at his most raw, speaking about his own experiences with bullies, and how his love of dance helped him to overcome adversity. Watters even penned an incredible op-ed for Teen Vogue's website, where he talks candidly about growing up queer. Catch his amazing anti-bullying video here—and, as Watters says, "Stay fabulous, stay flawless, stay flexible, but most importantly, stay fearless."

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News
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

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