The candied fig and pear variation. Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

Costume Designers Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung Rethink "The Nutcracker," One Gigantic Brioche at a Time

Last May we covered the new swimwear line that costume designers Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, otherwise known as Reid & Harriet Design, created based on Justin Peck costumes. The duo, known for their work with top companies including New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Miami City Ballet, are just as skilled at creating whimsical yet streamlined costumes as they are at rethinking the role that design plays in dance. "Designers are often seen as filling a need verse creating art," says Bartelme, noting that he and Jung often feel that they're at the very bottom of the production totem pole. This fall, the twosome have taken matters into their own hands. As Resident Fellows at New York University's Center for Ballet and the Arts, Bartelme and Jung are taking a different approach to creating a ballet: starting with the designs.

Bartelme and Jung equate this to the early 20th century model used by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, where the composer, choreographer and designer had equal importance, contributing to the gesamtkunstwerk, or "total work of art." Productions by the Ballets Russes featured designs by Pablo Picasso, Coco Chanel and Henri Matisse.

Last week Bartelme and Jung presented their work in an informal seminar at CBA. They chose to work with The Nutcrackerseasonally appropriate, yes, but also the country's most-performed ballet. In addition to the role of designer and director, Jung and Bartelme acted as dramaturges for their production, delving deep into the storied ballet's history from page to stage. Rather than look at the way that companies interpret The Nutcracker today, they looked to the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann and the later interpretation by Alexandre Dumas for inspiration. The result? A Nutcracker unlike any we've ever seen.

Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

Jung and Bartelme's Nutcracker is set in the 1950s. Why? It has a clear aesthetic as well as strong conservative conventions for Marie to rebel against in the second act. First off we see Marie's family at their Christmas gathering. Smaller than the conventional Nutcracker party scene, this intimate celebration aligns more closely to Hoffmann's tale. Marie is set downstage in a simple blue dress, which the designers compare to the blue dresses worn by Alice in Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz—two other young, storybook women who feel confined by their respective societies and so escape to magical lands.

Other details to note are the gilded owl clock on the wall, a detail included in Hoffmann's story, as well as the 1950s style cherry jello mold on the center of the table which will soon open up to expose a world within, Bartelme and Jung's replacement for the classic dollhouse.


Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.


Here we get a glimpse inside the cherry palace, which the designers modeled off the palace in Disney's Cinderella (released in 1950). Drosselmeier, in his yellow suit and glass wig (details from Hoffmann), stands out among the cherry people.

The mermaid and cabbage dolls in the center were inspired by the original stage notes. Bartelme and Jung's design for the mermaid doll came from the mermaid used in1950s advertisements for Chicken of the Sea tuna fish.


Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

The detailing on Bartelme and Jung's mouse costumes are based on Queen Elizabeth's mid-century regalia; they've even named their head mice Elizabeth and Philip.


Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

The Nutcracker himself is designed after one of the most popular toys in the 1950s: Mr. Potato Head. His violet suit and green miner's cap come from Hoffmann's descriptions.


Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

Bartelme and Jung's Land of Sweets opens with a waltz of powdered sugar crystals instead of snow. Unlike traditional Nutcrackers, these costumes, like all to come in the land of sweets, are unisex. Reid and Bartelme see the magical land of the ballet's second act as a representation of freedom and creativity, where the restraints of societyincluding gender normsare done away with.



Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

This is seen most clearly with the Dragée Fairy. Rather than sugar plums, according to Bartelme and Jung, the candy that the Sugarplum Fairy is named for in the original story are dragées, a hard Jordan Almond-like delicacy. The designers took dragée to the next leveldrag. Their lead fairy can be danced on or off pointe by either a man or a woman.

Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

Bartelme and Jung's versions of the divertissements come from Hoffmann and Dumas' original descriptions. Instead of Chocolate, they'll have "basins of whipped cream." Do we sense a little competition with Ratmansky?

Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

Hoffmann's "silver swans with gold-banded necks" will replace what is usually known as Coffee or Arabian.

Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

According to Jung, in the Hoffmann story Marie is described as being served a meal on Japanese porcelain. So Jung found a porcelain pattern from the Edo period in Japan and recreated it on these costumes. "They're just tea cups, inanimate objects, instead of a caricature of a culture," she says.


Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

Unlike most of their descriptions, the replacement for Russian or Trepak comes from a line by Dumas; "gigantic brioches."


Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

Bartelme and Jung felt that the Mother Ginger figure had become stale (no pun intended), and instead chose to use a type of gingerbread cookies that Hoffmann describes called springerle. Figures dressed in medieval garb will pop out of the cookies.


Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

Here we have the finale of the Land of Sweets, which Bartelme and Jung call the Dragée Cave. Alongside Japanese Tea, Whipped Cream, Gigantic Brioches and others are Pearl Headed Emerald Pages (a replacement for Balanchine's child angels), a Candied Pear and a Poppy. Adjacent to the Dragée Fairy is Jung and Bartelme's replacement for the Dewdrop Fairythe Lily of the Valley Fairy.


Courtesy Reid and Harriet Design.

For Bartelme and Jung, the final pas de deux will become a pas de trois between Marie (we love her modern pant pajamas), the Dragée Fairy and the Nutcracker. In their version, Marie chooses to stay in the land of sweets and live an unconventional life.

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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."

Students of International City School of Ballet in Marietta, Georgia. Karl Hoffman Photography, Courtesy International City Ballet

A Ballet Student’s Guide to Researching Pre-Professional Training Programs

Many dancers have goals of taking their training to the next level by attending full-time pre-professional programs next fall. But it's hard to get to know the organizations without physically experiencing them first. Even when the world isn't practicing social distancing, visiting a school or attending its summer program isn't always possible. So, what can students and their families do to research programs and know what might work best for them? Who do you reach out to, and what are the questions you and your parents should be asking?

Here, pre-professional-program leaders share some practical advice for taking the next step in your dance training.

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American Ballet Theatre corps member Rachel Richardson. NYC Dance Project, Courtesy Rachel Richardson

ABT’s Rachel Richardson on Performing With Her Hometown Company, Eugene Ballet

When I signed my first professional contract with Eugene Ballet, one of the last things I anticipated was the opportunity to dance beside a member of American Ballet Theatre. Flash forward to the start of our spring season this year, and suddenly I'm chatting in the hallway and rehearsing the Cinderella fairy variations next to luminous ABT corps member Rachel Richardson. When ABT announced it was canceling live performances for the 2020–21 season, Richardson traveled back home to Eugene, Oregon, to be with her family—and this spring joined the company as a guest artist.

Growing up, Richardson trained locally in Eugene before moving to The Rock School for Dance Education's year-round program in Philadelphia. After securing a spot in the ABT Studio Company in 2013, she was promoted to corps de ballet in 2015. This unconventional year marks her sixth season with the main company.

After having the privilege of dancing with her this spring, I sat down with Richardson to discuss her recent guesting experience, how the pandemic has helped her grow and her advice for young dancers.

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