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.
Roman Mejia is only 19, and he has the energy to prove it; in the studio and onstage at New York City Ballet, this standout corps member bursts with a kind of uncontainable ebullience. Like his idol, Edward Villella, he specializes in extroverted, allegro roles: Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Candy Cane in The Nutcracker, one of the sailors in Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free.
More recently, he has caught the eye of several big-name choreographers: In the last few months he understudied William Forsythe's Hermann Schmermann, and strutted his stuff to Kanye West in Kyle Abraham's The Runaway. Alexei Ratmansky, who prepared him for his debut in Pictures at an Exhibition in the spring, is also a fan: "He's like a reincarnation of Eddie Villella," the choreographer said recently. "Great energy and attack, and fantastic technique."
This year marks Alexei Ratmansky's 10th anniversary as artist in residence of American Ballet Theatre.
In recent years, Royal Ballet principal and international touring artist Natalia Osipova has curated her own evenings of new works, collaborating with a slew of contemporary choreographers. The newest of these is Pure Dance, which premiered last September at Sadler's Wells and comes to New York City Center April 3–6. "I really like to try new things," she told the Financial Times last year. "There is something in my personality that makes me want to start new projects."
Just before retiring in 2015, Sylvie Guillem appeared on "HARDtalk with Zeinab Badawi," the BBC's hard-hitting interview program. Badawi told Guillem,
"Clement Crisp of the Financial Times, 14 years ago, described your dancing as vulgar."
"Yeah, well, he said that. But at the same time, when they asked Margot Fonteyn what she thought about lifting the leg like this she said, 'Well, if I could have done it, I would have done it.' "
They were discussing Guillem's signature stroke—her 180-degree leg extension à la seconde. Ballet legs had often flashed about in the higher zones between 135 and 160 degrees before. But it wasn't until the virtuoso French ballerina regularly
extended her leg beside her ear with immaculate poise in the 1980s that leg extensions for ballet dancers in classical roles reached their zenith. Traditionalists like Clement Crisp were not taken with it.
Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.
ABT Wraps Up Its Met Season with Whipped Cream
American Ballet Theatre's eight-week summer season at the Metropolitan Opera House, will wrap up this Saturday. From July 2-7, the company will perform Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream. This candy-coated surrealist ballet features wacky, intricate sets and costumes from Mark Ryden and tells the story of a boy in a Viennese pastry shop who overindulges and falls into a state of wild intoxication that takes him on a journey reminiscent of Act II of The Nutcracker. For a behind-the-scenes look, check out these backstage photos from the 2017 premiere. During the run, Arron Scott will make his debut as The Boy, and Gabe Stone Shayer will make his New York debut in the same role. Thomas Forster and Calvin Royal III will perform as Prince Coffee for the first time in New York.
It's been an exciting two weeks here in Jackson, Mississippi, as 119 dancers from 19 countries have competed for medals, monetary awards, scholarships and company contracts at the USA International Ballet Competition. But the IBC has offered more than prizes—dancers have also been networking and taking master classes, including a fascinating lecture demonstration series with choreographer Alexei Ratmansky that included learning Petipa's original choreography from Stepanov notations.
This week, 32 finalists performed two classical variations and one contemporary piece over the course of three nights. Meanwhile, semi-finalists worked intensely with choreographer Matthew Neenan on an original work, which they performed at last night's Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Awards Gala. Audiences also had one last chance to see select finalists perform, before the jury (led by chairman John Meehan) joined them onstage to present the medals.
So without further ado, here are the USA IBC winners!
Have you ever dreamt of the chance to choreograph for American Ballet Theatre? Thanks to ABT Incubator, the company's newly launched choreographic initiative directed by company principal (and recent author) David Hallberg, that wish could become a reality this fall. The two-week choreographic lab will run from October 31-November 10 at ABT's New York studios and will give both members of the company and freelance choreographers the chance to create new work on dancers from ABT and the ABT Studio Company. Participants will also have access to crucial dance making tools including a stipend, studio space, collaborators, feedback and mentorship from Hallberg and other artists. They'll present their creations in a private showing on November 10. "It has always been my vision to establish a process-oriented hub to explore the directions ballet can forge now and in the future," said Hallberg in a statement released today. "I am thrilled that Incubator will provide the resources for emerging and established creators to explore movement and new paths in dance."
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Two hundred is the new 30. Or at least it seems so for Marius Petipa, whose ballets are as active as ever as we celebrate his 200th birthday this year.
Nearly all major ballet companies dance Petipa's iconic ballets, which reflect his prolific creative output. And they are heavy hitters: Swan Lake, La Bayadère, Le Corsaire, Don Quixote, The Nutcracker, Paquita, The Pharaoh's Daughter, Raymonda and The Sleeping Beauty, to name just a few of the 50-plus ballets he choreographed. He also revived and reworked earlier productions of Coppélia, La Fille mal gardée and Giselle. During American Ballet Theatre's 2018 spring season, five out of its eight weeks will be attributable to Petipa, including the debut of artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky's newly reconstructed Harlequinade.
Gabe Stone Shayer and Misty Copeland in "The Sleeping Beauty." Photo by Doug Gifford, Courtesy ABT.
From June 10–23, 119 competitors from 19 countries will gather in Jackson, Mississippi, for the 11th USA International Ballet Competition. Held every four years, the USA IBC has helped launch the careers of dozens of stars, including Daniil Simkin, Misa Kuranaga and Brooklyn Mack. "The 2014 competition was good, but we're making this year better," says jury chairman John Meehan. Changes include broadened age limits for competitors and a larger sum of prize money. This summer's competition also has a special focus on Marius Petipa in honor of his 200th birthday. There will be an emphasis on Petipa repertoire, and choreographer Alexei Ratmansky will give a workshop for competitors on his reconstructions of original Petipa choreography. This edition will also honor the legacy of Robert Joffrey, who was a catalyst in launching the USA IBC with founder Thalia Mara. Dancers from The Joffrey Ballet will perform in the opening ceremony.
Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.
ABT's New Harlequinade is Finally Here
The long wait for Alexei Ratmansky's Harlequinade for American Ballet Theatre is finally over. June 4-9, catch ABT at the Metropolitan Opera House in this bold and colorful tribute to the Italian commedia dell'arte traditions, based on the archival notes of Marius Petipa. If this trailer by Ezra Hurwitz is any indication, this new story ballet is sure to delight (fingers crossed that those dogs make their way to the stage).
The wait for Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of Petipa's Harlequinade is almost over! But if you can't wait until American Ballet Theatre officially debuts the ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House on June 6, we've got you covered. ABT brought the Harlequinade characters to life (and to the Alder Mansion in Yonkers, NY) in a short film by Ezra Hurwitz, and it's a guaranteed to make you laugh.