Ballet Stars
Leanne Cope with Robert Fairchild in An American in Paris. Photo Courtesy Trafalger Releasing.

Former Royal Ballet first artist Leanne Cope made the ultimate ballet to Broadway crossover. In 2014 she was asked by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon to originate the role of Lise Dassin, a hopeful young ballerina, in his new stage production of An American in Paris. Alongside former New York City Ballet principal Robert Fairchild, Cope starred in critically acclaimed runs of the show on both Broadway and London's West End. Though the production closed in London last January, audiences will have the chance to see Cope and Fairchild in their original roles in a filmed version of the West End production in movie theaters around the US and Canada September 20 and 23. Pointe caught up with Cope to find out what it's like seeing herself on the big screen, her advice for ballet dancers interested in musical theater, and how she managed dancing the same steps eight shows a week... for nearly four years. To see if An American in Paris is coming to a movie theater near you, click here.


What was the best part of doing An American in Paris?

One of the most exciting parts was opening on Broadway and opening on the West End. They were two very different evenings, but by the time we got to London I knew the show much better, so it was nice to know that I felt comfortable in the role. Getting to perform at the White House for Michelle Obama was also amazing—there were so many things, it's hard to pick just a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Photo by Christopher Duggan, Courtesy James Whiteside Presents.

On Wednesday, June 19, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival welcomes James Whiteside Presents to the outdoor Inside/Out stage. This will be the American Ballet Theatre principal's fourth time at the Pillow. He first came to the Massachusetts–based Dance Festival as a corps de ballet member of Boston Ballet in 2004. ("I was struck by the beauty of the place," he recalls.) Whiteside returned in 2010 with Avi Scher & Dancers and most recently with Daniil Simkin's Intensio in 2015.

Now, Whiteside is bringing a program of his own work, performed alongside muse and fellow ABT soloist Cassandra Trenary and actor/show maker Jack Ferver.

Keep reading... Show less
Audition Advice
Georgina Pazcoguin as Victoria in the Broadway revival of CATS (photo by Matthew Murphy, courtesy CATS)

A debilitating illness forced Katelyn Prominski to retire early from Pennsylvania Ballet. However, once she recovered, she felt ready to tackle a new stage: Broadway. But before she began booking musicals like Flashdance and Dirty Dancing, she had to reckon with a new and humbling audition process. “When you go into a Broadway audition, you learn a dance combo first and then by the time they ask you to sing, your heart rate is going," says Prominski. “I remember one audition where I forgot the words and la-di-da'd my way through instead of singing the lyrics."

More and more ballet dancers are taking a chance on Broadway musicals. New York City Ballet principal Megan Fairchild recently starred in On the Town, while ballet-centric shows such as Christopher Wheeldon's An American in Paris have provided starring and ensemble opportunities for dancers from NYCB, The Royal Ballet Miami City Ballet and more. Many cite the artistic benefits of exploring an entirely new side of performance and the challenge of dancing, acting and singing. With eight shows a week, you get to practically live onstage and dive deep into a role. The pay is usually better, too. But in order to make this new world your own, you must be ready to rethink your audition approach and be open to a different set of professional expectations.

Keep reading... Show less
News

Christopher Wheeldon rehearsing Leanne Cope in An American in Paris. Photo by Matt Trent via the Wall Street Journal.

If you had plans for Sunday night, you may want to cancel. This week on CBS’ "60 Minutes," host Lesley Stahl will interview Christopher Wheeldon. This master choreographer’s career—which has given us stunning story ballets and hauntingly beautiful pas de deux—provides a lot of material for 60 minutes worth of intimate conversation. But one hot topic Stahl focuses on is how Wheeldon has made ballet mainstream with Broadway show An American in Paris, which he directed and choreographed (and won a Tony Award for).

The interview promises some personal moments: “I certainly felt like a door was flung open,” Wheeldon says of American in Paris.  “It is possible for ballet to be young, sexy, dynamic, exciting… to tell complex stories, not just stories about sleeping princesses but to take audiences on breathtaking journeys.” And the preview claims that Wheeldon is transforming ballet into something that’s “fun to watch.” Of course, we’d argue that it was already, but we won’t miss a chance get inside Wheeldon’s head.

Tune in to CBS on Sunday, April 3 at 7pm ET/PT.

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

The Royal Ballet in Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale. Photo by Tristram Kenton via the Guardian.

News

American Ballet Theatre just wrapped up its 2015 spring season, but that doesn’t mean newly promoted principal Misty Copeland is slowing down any. Yesterday, The New York Times announced that from August 25–September 5, Copeland will be dancing—and singing—as Ivy Smith in the Broadway musical On the Town. (New York City Ballet principal Megan Fairchild currently portrays the role.) According to Broadwayworld.com, Copeland will perform during the Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evening shows and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees (but not the Saturday and Sunday evening performances). Luckily, her run on the Great White Way coincides with ABT’s summer layoff, so she should be back on the ballet stage in time for the company’s fall season. How on earth does she do it all? I’m not sure, but ballet hasn’t gotten this much popular attention in a long time. Keep it coming, Misty!

Ballet Stars
Photo by Kyle Froman

Ever wonder what life is like as a ballerina on Broadway? Just peek inside Leanne Cope's dance bag. Cope, who stars as Lise in Christopher Wheeldon's production of An American in Paris, carries not only pointe shoes in her Parisian canvas tote but also a well-worn pair of LaDuca heels. “My dresser, Midge, carries this bag around with her during the show, just in case of emergencies," says the Royal Ballet first artist, who's on sabbatical from the company through the end of the show's run. “She basically shadows me, because I have a lot of quick changes."

Cope always has her script nearby, as well. “Not only is every word of the show written in here, but all my stage directions. It's nice to go back to it every once in a while. When you reread it, almost as a novel, it gives you another spin on things." Her other Broadway must-have? Lip balm. “With all the singing and talking, my lips tend to get dry," she says. It also serves as a better alternative to lipstick during kissing scenes with her co-star, New York City Ballet principal Robert Fairchild. “We don't do lipstick—it would end up all over his face!"

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Tiler Peck photographed by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

This is Pointe's August/September 2014 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here.

A few months ago, Tiler Peck turned 25. It's an age when most ballet dancers are earning their first breakout roles, gradually discovering who they are onstage.

Not Peck. She followed an uncommonly accelerated path to the spotlight, joining New York City Ballet as an apprentice in 2004 at age 15 and becoming a principal in 2009. An enormously versatile dancer with prodigious technical gifts, she already has an enviable ballet resumé. She knows exactly who she is on NYCB's stage.

Yet Peck has an appetite for challenges that has led her outside the ballet world. Her growing list of musical theater credits isn't a surprise to longtime fans: Peck started out in jazz and commercial work, earning a role in director/choreographer Susan Stroman's production of The Music Man on Broadway when she was just 11. She and her husband, fellow NYCB principal Robert Fairchild, had a well-received turn in the New York Philharmonic's production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel last year, which was later broadcast on PBS.

In October, Peck will take on her biggest theatrical challenge to date: She's set to dance (and sing and act) the title role in the new musical Little Dancer at the Kennedy Center. The project reunites her with Stroman, who custom-tailored Little Dancer—the story of the student who inspired Edgar Degas' iconic sculpture—to Peck. “I was envisioning Tiler even as we were writing it," Stroman says. “From the earliest stages, it was always her in my mind."

Keep reading... Show less

When Tony nominations are announced on May 5, it’s not a stretch to guess that Broadway super-hit Billy Elliot: The Musical will receive at least a few nods. Elton John’s score and Peter Darling’s choreography have both made a splash. But the scene-stealers are the young boys who alternate in the title role.

 

All three have impressive dance resumés, but the buzz in the ballet world is David Alvarez, a 14-year-old scholarship student at American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. The Montréal native began turning heads in New York City four years ago when he auditioned for JKO. Instead of attending a typical cattle call audition, Alvarez was thrown into ABT company class. Undeterred, he performed with enough confidence and épaulement to rival some of the company’s principals.

 

Since then, Alvarez has been focused intently on his dream of joining ABT. Initially, he didn’t even want to audition for Billy Elliot. “I’d seen the movie and liked it, but I’m not a huge Broadway fan,” he says. He decided to try out after the casting director called JKO looking for talented male students and his teacher recommended him.

 

Alvarez had to train for six months in acting, singing and tap dancing before the producers told him he was cast as Billy. “It was really frustrating not knowing if I’d gotten the part. It was such hard work—I didn’t want to be doing it all for nothing,” he says. Nonetheless, he kept at it. “It was a great opportunity to play a principal role. And I felt like a lot of things might happen because of it.”

 

Alvarez says the most difficult skill to master was speaking with a British Midlands dialect, since English is his third language, after Spanish and French. Nailing Billy’s tap numbers was also a challenge. “But,” he notes, “in the future it will definitely help me as a dancer to know other styles than just ballet.”

 

On top of training, rehearsals and three performances a week, Alvarez still takes three to four technique classes at JKO. He believes his ballet background has given him the stamina to make it through the grueling schedule without getting injured.

 

Alvarez plans to return to training full-time at JKO as soon as he finishes with Billy. But he hopes to bring with him the more relaxed attitude he’s learned from Broadway: “In ballet class, I often stress myself out and go crazy if anything’s not right. But in the Broad­way world, people just have fun with it. I like that. Being in Billy has taught me to enjoy performing more—even when it’s not perfect.”

Harriet Clark auditioned for the U.S. production of The Phantom of the Opera on a Friday. She had one week of rehearsals and made her Broadway debut the following Tuesday. Twelve years and two children later, Clark is the dance captain of this 17-year-old musical.

Carly Sebouhian, whose background is ballet but found herself “disillusioned with the whole ballet world,” knew she wanted to attempt other forms of dance despite little experience in musical theater. She joined the cast of Phantom’s ballet chorus in 2003.

Sebouhian describes the process of learning the show as a crash course. During a new dancer’s rehearsal week, there are usually three days that the dancers rehearse from noon to 5 pm. After learning her material, the new dancer trails the person performing her future part. This means following that cast member around backstage, walking through the crossovers, costume changes, prop setting and sequencing. Next is a run with a skeleton cast, where only the new dancer is in costume. The last step is the “final dress,” which is actually the new dancer’s first performance in front of the audience.

It’s a whirlwind process that leads to eight shows a week. Only then can the new performer exhale and relax into her part. Clark says that although the preparation is done fast, the intense performance schedule allows the cast members to become comfortable in their roles very quickly. On tour the process can be even shorter. Sebouhian was recently called to join the tour cast and learned a new part in just two hours.

A ballet background makes this process easier. Clark, who danced with American Ballet Theatre and was a soloist at Pacific Northwest Ballet, says that 10 years ago, Phantom’s ballet chorus was largely made up of dancers looking for a way to transition from professional ballet careers. Now, however, more of the dancers are coming from intense ballet programs and looking to break into musicals. Either way, Clark says, “your ballet training and technique will get you the job.”

As dance captain of the show, Clark runs dance rehearsals and teaches every cast member (except the Phantom himself) his or her material. She’s also the ballet swing, which means she must be prepared to replace any of the dancers at any time.

Despite these responsibilities, Clark contends that the show is not a tremendous time commitment. Most dancers arrive at the theater about an hour before curtain and leave just after the show. “It isn’t like a ballet company where you take class and rehearse all day and then perform at night.” The cast is usually free during the day unless there’s a matinee, cast change, a new principal that needs a full-cast rehearsal or a rare visit from director Hal Prince or choreographer Gillian Lynne.

The performance schedule allows the show to remain tight and makes regular rehearsals unnecessary. “It’s quite a ship,” says Clark, referring to the amount of organization that can make the show seem easy after a while. Much of the sailing is on cruise control. But with eight shows a week, there’s still a chance that dancers can lose focus and energy. Clark believes that the cast changes help to keep the show fresh because the performers are more alert. “Thinking is a really good thing in a long-running show,” she says.

Once dancers join, the show’s flexibilty allows them to attend classes, gain experience auditioning or take a leave of absence. If the situation is right, Phantom can also provide the chance to perform different roles, which is how Sebouhian has had the opportunity to perform the part of Meg Giry.

At the audition, the supervisors notice whether someone has the right look for a part. They’re also conscious of understudy possibilities when they make their casting decisions. Clark stresses the fact that the show is set in the 1870s and requires a certain style of movement and a period look. Sebouhian’s curly hair, coloring and soft features put her in line with the look of the show. Soon after being hired, Sebouhian was told that she would eventually learn the part of Meg. She began taking voice lessons and is now the first understudy for Meg, who is a featured singer in some of the show’s songs.

Although Sebouhian has taken on the responsibility of understudying Meg, her time commitment to the show is largely the same. In addition to her usual schedule, she rehearses about once a month for the part. Clark taught her the role, and they also worked with the stage manager, musical director and musical supervisor. Meg does everything the ballet chorus does, and when she is in the chorus, Sebouhian is able to watch many of Meg’s other scenes during the show. There are some nights when she learns she’ll perform Meg an hour and a half before the 8 pm curtain. Her routine doesn’t change very much when this happens. She reviews the role mentally and does a short vocal warmup.

The primary difference is in her approach to the role. When playing Meg, Sebouhian focuses on her acting rather than her dancing. Because she had never taken an acting class before joining the show, she finds this to be one of her biggest challenges. But the guidance and performing experience she has received with the show have given her the tools she needs. The brilliance of Phantom is that it actually encourages its performers to branch out and expand their talent in other fields.


Ilona Wall dances with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and Dances Patrelle.

There have been rumblings about Christopher Wheeldon's Broadway project for a while now, but yesterday the official word went out: Wheeldon is directing and choreographing a new production of the Gershwins' An American in Paris. The show will premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in December of 2014 before coming to Broadway in the spring of 2015—Wheeldon's Broadway debut.

There are many reasons to be excited about this musical, not the least of which is that Wheeldon has been casting serious ballet dancers for its upcoming workshop. We'll let you know when we hear more details. In the meantime, we'll leave you with an excerpt from the fantastical "American in Paris Ballet" from the 1951 film An American in Paris, starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. Excited to see what Wheeldon has up his sleeve for this iconic work.

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox