Ballet Stars
From left: Jennifer Stahl, Lonnie Weeks and Sasha De Sola in rehearsal for Trey McIntyre's new work. Photo by Christian Peacock for Pointe.

Photography by Christian Peacock

Summer is always a lively time at San Francisco Ballet, as the dancers return from vacation and launch into rehearsals for the upcoming season. But last July through September felt absolutely electric with creativity as the company created 12 world premieres for Unbound: A Festival of New Works, a cutting-edge program that will run April 20–May 6 at the War Memorial Opera House.

Artistic director Helgi Tomasson invited a wish list of international choreographers to participate: David Dawson, Alonzo King, Edwaard Liang, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Cathy Marston, Trey McIntyre, Justin Peck, Arthur Pita, Dwight Rhoden, Myles Thatcher, Stanton Welch and Christopher Wheeldon. Each got about 12 dancers, three weeks' studio time and, aside from a few general guidelines, total artistic freedom.

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Smuin Ballet dancers Erica Felsch, Rex Wheeler, Mengjun Chen and Tessa Barbour in "White Christmas," choreographed by dancers Ben Needham-Wood and Michael Smuin. Photo by Keith Sutter, Courtesy Smuin Ballet.

Nutcracker-ed out? Or just can't get enough holiday ballets? These unique Nutcracker interpretations and non-Nutcracker productions will make your season bright.


The Hip Hop Nutcracker

Through December 30

Tchaikovsky's masterful Nutcracker score isn't just for classical ballet…

Hip Hop + a live DJ + an electric violinist unite in The Hip Hop Nutcracker, currently touring the U.S.

Familiar characters such Drosselmeyer, the Nutcracker, Mouse King and Marie (here called Maria-Clara) dance through an updated New York City storyline with choreography by Jennifer Weber, artistic director of the Brooklyn-based theatrical hip hop company Decadancetheatre.

Premiered in 2014, The Hip Hop Nutcracker is produced by New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

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Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

It may be the middle of summer, but San Francisco Ballet is already rehearsing for its spring season. There's a lot to prepare for—the company's Unbound: A Festival of New Works, which runs April 20–May 6, 2018, will feature 12 new ballets by 12 choreographers. And it's an impressive group of dancemakers: David Dawson, Alonzo King, Edwaard Liang, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Cathy Marston, Trey McIntyre, Justin Peck, Arthur Pita, Dwight Rhoden, Myles Thatcher, Stanton Welch and Christopher Wheeldon. That's a lot of choreography to pack in!


Stanton Welch in rehearsal with San Francisco Ballet. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

Luckily, we don't have to wait until spring to get a sneak peek of some of these new works. SFB is kicking off Unbound: LIVE, a series of live-stream events that will take us inside rehearsals. The first one is Wednesday, July 26, at 5:30 pm Pacific Standard Time (8:30 EST). It will highlight rehearsals with Arthur Pita, Edwaard Liang and Stanton Welch. You can expect to see the dancers perform excerpts of their works in progress, as well as interviews with each choreographer.


Artur Pita in rehearsal. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

Visit SFB's website or its Facebook page tomorrow night to watch. And if you miss it, no worries—it'll be accessible on the company's site and YouTube channel for 60 days. The other live-stream events have yet to be announced, but we'll be sure to keep you posted!

Osipova and Sergei Polunin in Arthur Pita's Run Mary Run. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy Sadler's Wells.

Natalia Osipova, the Moscow-born principal of The Royal Ballet, has teamed up with London's Sadler's Wells Theatre to present Natalia Osipova & Artists, which will be making its U.S. premiere at New York City Center from November 10–12. (One piece on the program, Russell Maliphant's Silent Echo, debuted August 27 in Los Angeles.) This surprising triple bill has given Osipova free rein to explore her contemporary side while working with some of the world's most important choreographers (Arthur Pita, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Maliphant) as well as her romantic partner, ballet dancer Sergei Polunin.

With the help of a translator, Pointe sat down with the 30-year-old Osipova and discussed ballet, contemporary dance and that moment and place where the personal and the professional meet.

What was the reason for creating a show featuring contemporary works rather than ballet?

I was always interested in contemporary dance—even in ballet school, I would follow it. Also, when one dances classical ballet all the time, you have to spice things up, so I choose to try different things. In a way, it's all part of a creative search. I wouldn't say I'm bored dancing classical pieces, I'd simply like to learn other languages of dance, as well.

How has the show been received?

As usual, there were good and bad reviews. I couldn't really single out what specifically people objected to in the bad reviews, not because I don't listen to critics—it's a very hard profession and I'm used to critics of all kinds—but I don't peruse every little detail and then try to reconcile it.

In Russell Maliphant's Silent Echo. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy Sadler's Wells.

Each piece was created especially for you. At the Edinburgh International Festival, the audience was particularly impressed with Russell Maliphant's Silent Echo. How involved were you in its creation?

Normally, I don't interfere, but I initially met with Russell and discussed it, and it was clear from the beginning that I would be dancing with Sergei. But the rest was left up to him. In this contemporary sphere, I trust the choreographer, whereas in a classical ballet, I might have discussions with the choreographer in order to introduce my own idiosyncrasies into pieces.

Is that because you're new to contemporary dance and less comfortable with it?

Classical ballet is my native language, so there is room for me to deliver something of my own within it. With contemporary dance, I simply don't feel like I am at the level where I can give input. I'm still learning that language.

How did you and Sergei Polunin meet?

We met about a year and a half ago while working on Giselle at La Scala in Milan. The partner who was scheduled to dance with me was ill, so I asked him to fill the role. There was something in the air about dancing with Sergei. My mother even mentioned that he might be an interesting dance partner. So in a way it was in the cards.

You must have heard he was being called the “bad boy of ballet" as rumors of him throwing fits and storming offstage surfaced. What did you expect working with him to be like?

I had certainly heard of Sergei's reputation before working with him, but I understand well how things are very often exaggerated. So I didn't pay much attention. In the end, I wasn't going to dance with his reputation, I was going to dance with the real person.

In Pita's Run Mary Run. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy Sadler's Wells.

What is he really like?

I met him after he gained that “bad boy" reputation, so I can only judge him as he is now. He certainly is quite outspoken. But the person that I work with and that I am together with is fairly levelheaded and very genuine. He is possibly a little more settled now. The situations that occurred previously happened for real reasons. He behaved as he did as a sincere creative person, there was no unnecessary theatricality.

It must be difficult to maintain a relationship when you work with different companies and are constantly touring. Was this production, at least in part, a way to spend more time together?

The show was already in motion at the time when we met, so it was not made specifically so that we could dance together, but it was a happy coincidence.

What are the best and worst parts of working with your significant other?

The most difficult part is that any outburst or critique during rehearsals is more open, so conflicts do arise. And as I am a young woman, it is easier for me to sometimes give way in these conflicts; and sometimes they carry on into our personal lives a little bit. The positives, however, are obvious. The feeling of being onstage together and dancing together and creating something together is incomparable.

For more news on all things ballet, don't miss a single issue.

Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in rehearsal. Joe Toreno.

When former Bolshoi stars Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev called off their engagement in 2013, fans wondered whether their spectacular onstage partnership was over as well. On their breaks from St. Petersburg's Mikhailovsky Ballet, where both are now principals, she guested with The Royal Ballet while he toured with Kings of the Dance and told the press that maybe, someday, they would dance together again.

In July 2014, they reunited in Solo for Two, a self-curated evening of contemporary choreography created for them by Ohad Naharin, Arthur Pita and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. The premiere at Orange County's Segerstrom Center for the Arts marked their return to performing together and a new stage in their artistic lives, defined by creative freedom and self-determination (performances in London and Moscow followed). “In classical dance, you follow the rules," Osipova explains. “In contemporary dance, you have no rules. I love that feeling of freedom."

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