Ballet Stars
Pam Tanowitz in the studio at New York City Ballet. Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB.

Pam Tanowitz is on a roll. Though the choreographer long ago made a name for herself in the modern dance world, ballet companies are finally starting to take notice of her work. Earlier this month, Tanowitz created her first of two ballets for New York City Ballet; in June she'll debut her first outdoor site-specific piece, conceived of with NYCB principal Sara Mearns; and tonight marks the premiere of Gustave Le Grey No. 1 at the Kennedy Center's Ballet Across America festival, featuring dancers from Miami City Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem.

We caught up with Tanowitz just before she jetted off to London for a tour with her own company, Pam Tanowitz Dance, to hear about her relationship to ballet technique, her upcoming premiere and her advice for young dancers.

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Cylla von Tiedemann, Courtesy NBoC

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've rounded up some highlights.

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Ballet Stars
Choong Hoon Lee, Stephanie Rae Williams, Dustin James and Daphne Lee in Claudia Schreier's Passages. Brian Callan, Courtesy DTH.

The Kennedy Center's Ballet Across America festival (May 28–June 2) is celebrating women leadership and creativity this year, kicking off with three evenings of performances by Dance Theatre of Harlem. (Miami City Ballet joins them in a shared program on May 31, followed by their own performances.) Led by artistic director Virginia Johnson and executive director Anna Glass, DTH is a natural programming choice; so is bringing choreographer Claudia Schreier's new ballet for the company, Passage, which has an all-female creative team. The work premiered earlier this month in Norfolk, Virginia, and was originally commissioned by the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution and the Virginia Arts Festival, which honored the 400th anniversary of the first Africans to English North America. The overarching theme of the ballet celebrates the fortitude of the human spirit and the enduring will to prevail, which is apropos given that this is the 50th anniversary of a company that has seen much tribulation and triumph.

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Jeremy McQueen's The Black Iris Project in "Madiba" Photo by Matthew Murphy

Misty Copeland's dancing and Justin Peck's choreography have graced stages around the world. Now, these two stars will test themselves as curators. This year, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington, DC, features their respective visions as part of the Ballet Across America program, April 17–23.

During the first half of the run, Copeland's picks take the stage, including Nashville Ballet, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Jeremy McQueen's Black Iris Project. “I chose these companies because it's a chance to give them a level of exposure on the Kennedy Center stage that's typically reserved for larger companies," Copeland says. “They all perform at a high level of excellence and represent a diverse, inclusive cast of dancers." Peck's curation includes Joffrey Ballet, L.A. Dance Project and Abraham.In.Motion—a departure from typical ballet programming. “I tried to emphasize musical choreography," says Peck. Ballet Across America also includes talk-backs with the curators and artistic directors, and two world premiere Kennedy Center commissions: a piece by McQueen choreographed on American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School students and a film by former Miami City Ballet dancer Ezra Hurwitz.

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The Kennedy Center will be overrun with ballet dancers this week. The third Ballet Across America festival starts today, and it’s a truly national celebration: The three programs feature Richmond Ballet, Oregon Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Sarasota Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre, The Washington Ballet, Ballet Austin and Pennsylvania Ballet. Amy Aldridge, a PAB principal who performed in the festival’s first incarnation, is back to do Choleric in The Four Temperaments.

 

What does it feel like to dance on the stage of the Kennedy Center?

The Kennedy Center stage is like home for me. When I was growing up, my family and I saw many dance companies perform in that theater. At the time, I never imagined I would get to dance on such a beautiful stage, but here I am! It's funny—my first year in Pennsylvania Ballet we toured to the Kennedy Center, and I'm pretty sure this will be my fifth time performing here. There's a sense of peace and freedom I find on that huge open stage. I feel like I can spread my wings and soar. 

 

What’s most challenging about dancing Choleric in The Four Temperaments?

Choleric is the very last to go on in the ballet, and you feel shot out of a canon. Sometimes I get so much adrenaline pumping, I actually knock myself over from too much force. I have to try to maintain a certain balance so I can ride the adrenaline but still be in control.

 

What do you most enjoy about taking part in this festival?

What better way to represent ballet than to have all these companies to perform as one?

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