Pennsylvania Ballet announced next season's roster yesterday, and it includes 20—yes, 20—promotions. How, you ask? Artistic director Angel Corella has updated the ranking system, adding demi-soloist and first soloist levels to the mix. PAB now joins a handful of other U.S. companies, including Miami City Ballet, Houston Ballet, Ballet West and Tulsa Ballet, that have adopted a more European-style, multi-tiered ranking system. So while four PAB apprentices have been promoted to the corps, an abundance of corps and soloist dancers have also risen up a notch (or two).
Last week American Ballet
Theatre principal Gillian Murphy danced the iconic dual role of Odette/Odile as part of the company's spring season. In preparation for the performance she posted an adorable photo from her childhood on Instagram of her posing in costume as the Black Swan. Murphy also admits that as a young dancer she was determined to master the 32 fouettés, which Odile performs at the climax of the Black Swan pas de deux. Her performance in this clip from a 2005 performance, alongside former ABT principal Angel Corella as Siegfried, makes it obvious as to why this childhood dream role is now one of her signatures.
Today the Pennsylvania Ballet's board of trustees announced the appointment of Shelly Power as its new executive director. Having been involved in the five-month international search, company artistic director Angel Corella said in a statement released by PAB that he's "certain Shelly is the best candidate to lead the administrative team that supports the artistic vision of the company." Power's official transition will begin in February. This news comes at the end of a few years of turmoil and turnover at PAB, including the departure of former executive director David Gray in June.
You probably remember watching "Sesame Street" in your pre-ballet days, but did you know that some of your favorite ballet dancers and companies have appeared alongside your favorite PBS characters?
We've rounded up some our most beloved ballet scenes from the classic children's program below.
Count Suzanne Farrell's turns
Remember the days when you counted "1, 2, 3, 4" instead "and, 5, 6, 7, 8"? Relive that time as you—and the Count—add up the legendary Balanchine muse's turns in this 1985 episode.
In the midst of American Ballet Theatre's annual eight-week long season at the Metropolitan Opera House, so much focus is on the company's rising stars. But it's always fun to look back at some of our ABT favorites from years past.
We love this full-length film of the third movement of Clark Tippet's 1987 Bruch Violin Concerto starring Ashley Tuttle and Ethan Stiefel. In case that's not enough, Julie Kent, Robert Hill, Paloma Herrera, Keith Roberts, Yan Chen and Angel Corella join the leads on stage in a flurry of jewel-colored tutus.
For 23 seasons, Amy Aldridge has been a major force at Pennsylvania Ballet, where she’s been a principal dancer since 2001. This week, she announced she would be retiring from the company on May 14 in the pas de deux from one of her favorite ballets, Balanchine’s “Rubies.” Her next step? Lots of teaching in the Philadelphia area. Pointe spoke with Aldridge about her time at PAB, and what she’s learned along the way.
Congratulations on your long career! What made you decide to retire this year?
I’ve been thinking about it for the last two or three years, but I couldn’t really decide. Then when I saw we’d be doing a lot of Balanchine pas de deux on our last program this season, I thought, that’s it! Everyone said you’ll know when you know, and it just hit me. The physical maintenance has become harder and harder, and mentally I'm ready to move on. I asked Angel if we could squeeze in the “Rubies” pas de deux for my retirement, since it wasn’t originally on the program.
What are some of the things you learned over the course of your career?
Less is more. I always approached everything with so much energy and attack. Sometimes in rehearsals the ballet master would ask, “Amy, are you tired today?” I’d say yes, and they’d say, “Because that was much better. You’re working too hard!” You don’t have to have the same attack for everything—sometimes the easier, gentler approach yields the better result. Also, knowing when to breathe—where to pull back, finding where the rest spots are. All that came with experience.
What about in regard to the mental challenges?
Before I joined the company, I had one of the most difficult teachers, Melissa Hayden, for three years at North Carolina School of the Arts. She was so hard on me—I probably cried three times a week in class. Then when I joined Pennsylvania Ballet, I had another tough ballet mistress. Being younger, I thought they were picking on me because they didn’t like what I was doing. But I realized that they were doing it because they cared—they saw my ability and my potential. They knew I was capable of so much more.
That said, I really look forward to being on the other side and not having to be so perfect—there’s so much pressure! And I think it’s pressure we dancers put on ourselves, rather than from the outside.
You danced under Roy Kaiser for the majority of your career at PAB. Was it hard to shift gears when Angel Corella became director in 2014?
It was. I’ve known Angel for a long time because his sister was in the company. So he was a familiar face, which made the transition easier. But I had gotten used to a certain rhythm—what combinations to expect in class, the routine—and then suddenly everything was new. The classes were very different, even the rehearsal schedule changed. But even harder was that I had developed a whole family over the years, and I watched everybody retire. Then new people came in, and I watched more people retire. It’s such a different company right now, but it’s a very nice group. With any change there’s going to be a transitional phase where everyone is a little bit uneasy, but now things have settled down. The company has developed that closeness again.
What was one of your most memorable career moments?
We were doing The Second Detail and William Forsythe came to a stage rehearsal. I had gotten thrown in at the last minute, and had to learn a lot of material. I was so terrified because I was without the mirror and there were all those counts. In some places, I completely messed up. On opening night he came up behind me and said, “Don’t let the dance rule you. You rule the dance.” Afterwards I thought, it’s true: you make it, you control it. That advice has always stuck with me, especially when I feel nervous before a performance.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
A promotion and a premiere at San Francisco Ballet, school director changes at Pennsylvania Ballet, José Mateo receives major award and more.
- San Francisco Ballet presents the North American premiere of Liam Scarlett’s Frankenstein, a co-production with The Royal Ballet, on February 17. The ballet, which had its world premiere in London last May, is Scarlett’s first full-length work. In an interview with Pointe last year, Scarlett said the production hews closely to Mary Shelley’s novel, and that he see it as “less a tale of gothic horror and more of a love story.” Watch SFB principal dancer Vitor Luiz transform into the “Creature” below.
- In other SFB news, Angelo Greco— the male winner of this year's Erik Bruhn Prize—has been promoted to principal dancer.
- More changes at Pennsylvania Ballet: The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that two more staff members have left Pennsylvania Ballet: school directors Anastasia Babayeva and Denis Gronostayskiy. The married, Bolshoi-trained couple, who also have their own school (Academy of Int'l Ballet in Media, PA), were hired on as directors in July. In a letter to parents, artistic director Angel Corella and executive director David Gray stated that running both schools simultaneously was proving unworkable.
José Mateo, founder and artistic director of José Mateo Ballet Theatre in Boston, will receive the Commonwealth Award for Achievement on February 15. The award is the highest honor for arts, humanities and sciences in the state of Massachusetts, and comes two days before the opening of his company’s spring season. “I believe that I am receiving this award," Mateo said in a statement, "on behalf of the many artists and their supporters and collaborators who work incessantly to provide artistic experiences that are out of the ordinary and somehow meaningful to all people of our diverse communities.”
- According to the The Seattle Times, Pacific Northwest Ballet has been invited to perform at the Les Étés de la Danse Festival in Paris in June 2018. The prestigious festival invites a foreign company each year to perform several programs over a two-week period. PNB, which is celebrating its 45th anniversary next season, plans to bring works by Benjamin Millepied, Crystal Pite, Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon, William Forsythe and Alejandro Cerrudo.
Get Pointe in your inbox
Bolshoi-trained dancers Anastasia Babayeva and Denis Gronostayskiy are the new co-principals of the Pennsylvania Ballet School. The former school director, beloved PAB ballerina Arantxa Ochoa, left in June to join Miami City Ballet School as director of faculty and curriculum.
Babayeva and Gronostayskiy are also the co-founders of Academy of International Ballet in Media, PA. It's not yet known whether their Bolshoi training will be brought to bear on the PAB curriculum, though in a statement artistic director Angel Corella said he was looking forward to their "fresh ideas." The pair will oversee this year's auditions for the PAB School.
It's not surprising that Ochoa would head to Miami, one of the top Balanchine companies in the nation. Casting and programming under Corella's leadership has clearly favored a more classical approach, counter to the company's legacy as a regional expositor of Balanchine. Corella is making a clear statement with the appointment of Babayeva and Gronostayskiy, and their Vaganova approach to ballet education.
Auditions for the PAB school will be held August 3 and August 20. More information can be found here.
The other shoe has dropped at Pennsylvania Ballet, a little over a year into former American Ballet Theatre star Angel Corella's new artistic directorship. Corella was appointed in July, 2014 and quickly made changes. In August, 2014, most of the senior artistic staff left the company. Now, Pointe contributor and Pennsylvania-based journalist Ellen Dunkel reports in The Inquirer that nearly 40 percent of the dancers are doing the same.
Since PAB is an AGMA company, the company's union rules stipulate that new directors must spend one continuous year on the job before terminating dancers' contracts. In a rather unprecedented mass firing, twelve were let go, and five are leaving of their own volition.
Angel Corella has been shaking things up at Pennsylvania Ballet ever since he took over as artistic director in 2014. His new production of Don Quixote, which premiered last weekend and runs through Sunday, March 13, features a slew of young corps and apprentice dancers in leading roles. Perhaps most surprisingly, Corella paired first-year apprentices Kathryn Manger and Peter Weil opposite each other as Kitri and Basilio in last Saturday night's performance. Pointe spoke with Manger, 20, and Weil, 19, before their second performance tonight at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.
When did you find out you were dancing Kitri and Basilio, and how did you react?
Peter Weil: It was a Friday afternoon [laughs)]…
Kathryn Manger: Yeah, maybe a month ago. We didn't have much time to put it together. I was shocked. Angel's really good about giving opportunities, so I thought we would be doing a lot of corps work or maybe a demi-soloist role at most.
How did the other company members react to the casting? Was it awkward?
PW: A little. I'm sure it was surprising and confusing to a lot of people. But everyone has been really supportive—it's nice to go onstage and know they have my back.
What has the rehearsal process been like?
KM: Brutal. Kitri and Basilio have to support the whole three-act ballet. We're in and out of rehearsals all day, with a one-hour break.
PW: A lot of the partnering was a learning process for me—luckily I had good help and a good partner.
KM: And the stamina for Kitri and Basilio is hard. They say the first act is the killer act because it's just nonstop dancing. But that's part of the process—building up the physical stamina so you can get through the ballet. And then you have to worry about the technical aspects of it and actually looking pretty!
Did you work one on one with Angel Corella?
PW: All of the couples usually had an hour a day with either Angel or ballet masters Samantha Dunster and Charles Askegard. Those were great rehearsals—you get all the details you don't get during a full company run.
So it's not like you had to rehearse behind a bunch of more experienced couples.
PW: Sometimes it was like that, and understandably so. But the one-on-one rehearsals helped us get a lot done.
KM: With Peter and I being so new to this—being new to the company, being new to a full-length ballet—having our own rehearsals was really important for the process.
How are you handling the pressure?
PW: I've definitely worried about it.
KM: Me, too! I'm not going to lie. It's unheard of for an apprentice to get this opportunity. All eyes are on you. But you have to then take it to the next level and prove that you deserve to be doing it. So Peter and I were making sure we knew everything backwards, forwards, eyes closed, character, choreography—everything.
Directors often pair a young dancer with a more experienced partner. But both of you are so young. Does that give you an advantage or a disadvantage?
PW: It's nice to work with a newer, younger dancer…
KM: Because they know how you're feeling.
PW: We're on the same page the whole time, and we're friends, so we can talk to each other.
KM: We can be more honest like, “Oh, I need you to be more on your leg here," or “Okay, can you put me here?" Communication is important in a partnership.
Whereas with a principal dancer, you may be more deferential—the power dynamics would be totally different.
KM: Yes, I'd feel like I'd have to do everything perfectly or risk letting him down or making him angry. I still want to do really well for Peter, but we're more understanding of each other.
Did you lean on the older dancers for support?
KM: If something wasn't going right—for example, Peter and I were having trouble with a lift—they gave us pointers. Also, we learned a lot just by watching them—you don't always need to talk. Especially with how they interpret the characters—you can take what you like and make it your own. That's why it's great having so many inspirational dancers in this company.
How has this experience helped you grow?
PW: Angel told me that with great talent comes a lot of responsibility, and I've definitely noticed that in this ballet. Even when you're having an off day, you still have to be there and be present.
KM: And while nailing the technical things—the pirouettes, the fouettés—is important, communicating the story to the audience is really challenging, too. Principal dancers already have the experience and artistry, so I have to really thank Angel for trusting us with this opportunity. I feel like I've grown 10 times from this!
When Pennsylvania Ballet premieres artistic director Angel Corella's Don Quixote on March 3 at Philadelphia's Academy of Music, it will be the company's first time performing the audience favorite. With his artistic tenure well underway, and his own experiences to draw from, Corella's vision is clear.
According to Corella, PAB's production is all about authenticity—something he strived for during his own iconic interpretations of the role of Basilio. He plans to keep the classic Petipa choreography but refine the characters, including the gypsies in Act II. “I want to make people's reactions real," he says, “instead of, 'Oh, hi, let's dance together.' "