Alexei Ratmansky rehearses The Fairy's Kiss with Miami City Ballet dancers. (Photo by Daniel Azoulay, courtesy Miami City Ballet)

Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky will have world premieres on two coasts this winter. On February 10, Miami City Ballet will debut his new one-act version of The Fairy's Kiss to Stravinsky's celebrated score, a homage to Tchaikovsky. The following month, on March 15, at California's Segerstrom Center for the Arts, American Ballet Theatre will premiere his Whipped Cream, a new full-length story ballet to a Richard Strauss libretto and score.

Ratmansky has often looked to ballet history for inspiration. Fairy's Kiss, known as Le Baiser de la Fée when it was originally choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska in 1928, has been staged by Sir Frederick Ashton and Sir Kenneth MacMillan, and several times by Balanchine. Its story comes from The Ice-Maiden, a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, and Ratmansky has kept the narrative. A young man, about to be married, is bewitched by a fairy's kiss and stolen away from the mortal world. “I asked Alexei for a narrative work, possibly one with a Russian flavor to it," says MCB artistic director Lourdes Lopez. “Our dancers have a very strong dramatic quality and short narrative works are not a large part of our repertoire." Ratmansky had created an earlier version during his tenure at the Bolshoi Ballet; this is a new production with new choreography.

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From left: Ashley Wheater, Anastacia Holden, Christopher Wheeldon and Joan Sebastián Zamora rehearse The Nutcracker (photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy Joffrey Ballet)

It's a truth universally acknowledged that any ballet company worth its sugar plums must have a production of Nutcracker as part of its holiday season repertoire. And for nearly three decades, through its final performance at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre in December 2015, the Joffrey Ballet was well served by its uniquely Victorian-American setting of the classic. It was choreographed by founding artistic director Robert Joffrey shortly before his death, and featured major contributions from Gerald Arpino.

Now the Joffrey is about to get a brand-new $4 million version of the ballet, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. He has assembled a stellar team of collaborators, including set and costume designer Julian Crouch, author and illustrator Brian Selznick, puppeteer Basil Twist, lighting designer Natasha Katz and projection designer Benjamin Pearcy. And while the production will retain the Tchaikovsky score, and many of the ballet's classic elements, the story will be reimagined with a distinctly Chicago backdrop.

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Woetzel coaches Misty Copeland and Joseph Gordon. Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy M. Craig and Associates.

This summer, former New York City Ballet principal Damian Woetzel celebrates 10 years as the artistic director of the Vail International Dance Festival. “Everything I do is about the cumulative process," he says. “When I look back, it's to see how we got here. Yes, it's been 10 years, but I'm thinking: What are we doing this year?"

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Joffrey Ballet's Amanda Assucena and Fabrice Calmels in Maninyas. Photo by Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.

The Chicago Dancing Festival will bring world-class dance to the city's indoor and outdoor stages August 25–29. This year, the ballet lineup features hometown company Joffrey Ballet in Maninyas, by Stanton Welch, and In Creases, by Justin Peck, and a selection of solo performances by artists from American Ballet Theatre.

Three top companies will also make their festival debuts this year. The performances include Miami City Ballet in Allegro Brillante, by George Balanchine; Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in Mark Morris' Sandpaper Ballet; and New York City–based Ballet Hispanico in local favorite Gustavo Ramírez Sansano's El Beso.

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Benjamin Millepied (right) watches Léonore Baulac in rehearsal. Photo by Agathe Poupeney, Courtesy POB.

Less than a year after taking over the Paris Opéra Ballet, Benjamin Millepied is already making his mark on the venerable company. From the schedule to dancers' health, the young director has left no stone unturned. As the curtain prepares to rise on his first opening gala in September, the ensemble looks newly energized and ready for the challenge.

The upcoming season, the first that Millepied has programmed, speaks to his own history as a New York City Ballet dancer, with a distinctly American flavor. In addition to company premieres by Balanchine and Robbins, Justin Peck will create a new work (his first European commission) and restage his 2012 In Creases. Giselle, Nureyev's Romeo and Juliet and La Bayadère are back, but the POB gets a new Nutcracker, divided among five choreographers.

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Carla Körbes and New York City Ballet's Zachary Catazaro rehearse at Vail in 2014. Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy Vail Dance Festival.

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Carla Körbes announced in September of last year that she would retire at the end of the 2014–15 season—her last performance with the company will be on June 7. Fortunately for her fans, Körbes isn't quite finished dancing: She'll serve as an artist in residence at the 2015 Vail International Dance Festival in Vail, Colorado.

Festival director and former New York City Ballet principal Damian Woetzel is thrilled to have Körbes on board. “I shared the stage with Carla at New York City Ballet, and I've watched her grow up," he says. “She's ready to explore new things, and I'm happy to be able to give her that opportunity."

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American Ballet Theatre’s Fresh Princess
ABT will premiere Alexei Ratmansky’s The Sleeping Beauty on March 3 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA. The ballet features scene and costume design by Tony Award winner Richard Hudson, based on the historic Ballets Russes production from 1921. —Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone

 

Going Deeper
Atlanta Ballet’s resident choreographer Helen Pickett has embarked on a new challenge: choreographing her first full-length ballet, Camino Real, inspired by the 1953 Tennessee Williams play and set to premiere in March at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

“The play is about intrusion on personal freedom,” says Pickett. It’s set in a town called Camino Real—a dusty dead end surrounded by desert and populated by figures from Western culture, including Don Quixote and Lord Byron. “You’re not sure where or when the story occurs,” Pickett says. “Williams created this surreal place where there’s room to find yourself within the play. For me, that’s the crux of interesting storytelling.”

After years of making more abstract work, like her widely performed ballet Petal, Pickett has lately been drawn to the narrative support that text offers. “I needed a new direction,” she says, “and I realized that the anchor of words is a wonderful choreographic boon.”

Camino Real will feature theatrical elements traditionally absent from ballet: Five dancers will speak throughout the piece and certain moments will take place in the theater’s house, breaking the fourth wall between audience and dancers. “I feel like Camino Real was made for dance,” she says. “Tennessee Williams’ stage direction is just unreal—I can apply what he wrote directly to my ballet.” Pickett also plans to feature performers in character, in the lobby before the show begins. “I’ve built a trusting relationship with Atlanta Ballet dancers, and I can deepen where I want to go with movement,” she says.
In her third and final season with the company, Pickett is looking ahead to a 2016 premiere at Smuin Ballet and a new project with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. —NLG

 

What’s in a Name? Houston Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet.
In celebration of Shakespeare’s 450th anniversary, Houston Ballet is premiering Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Stanton Welch. The company’s 2014–15 season is devoted to the Bard, and includes John Neumeier’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and John Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew. February, the love month, will feature Welch’s reimagining of Shakespeare’s most famous romance, to be performed February 26–March 8. It’s been nearly three decades since the company presented a new production of the ballet.

Traditional versions of Romeo and Juliet take many liberties with the story. Not so in Welch’s rendition. “I tried to return to the play, so you will see scenes that haven’t been represented before,” says Welch. “Today’s audiences are quite capable of absorbing the whole story.” In Welch’s version, Mercutio’s character, which is often vague in the ballet, will be clarified to show that he is neither Montague nor Capulet, but rather part of the Escalus family.
Romeo and Juliet is a triple threat,” says Welch. “Terrific acting, dancing and music.” —Nancy Wozny 

 

New Territory
Contemporary choreographer Hofesh Shechter’s boisterous work is often reminiscent of rock concerts, yet it crosses over to the ballet stage in March. The Royal Ballet has commissioned the Jerusalem-born choreographer and Batsheva Dance Company alum to create his first work for a classical company. Shechter spoke with Pointe ahead of the world premiere.
What prompted you to work with a full ballet company?
The idea came from Kevin O’Hare, when he became artistic director at The Royal Ballet. I told him I would only do an ensemble piece: I’m not interested in creating for two or three people, and you don’t get a lot of opportunities to work with 35 people at that level. It’s a new challenge.

What do you find inspiring about classical ballet dancers?
They are like super-dancers: They can do anything technically. A lot of my work happens in the upper body, but they can do so much with their legs. I’ll see if it inspires me to use the lower body in a more elaborate way. In terms of energy, there is something very neat, very open about them, whereas my work tends to be internal. I hope something fresh can come out of these conflicts.

Are you creating the music for this work?
Yes. I’m very humble with it. I make music for my works, but I don’t see myself as a composer. The Royal Ballet welcomed it, however, and suggested I use their orchestra, so I’m writing a score for a string and percussion ensemble, along with an electronic track.

What inspires you at the moment, choreographically?
Complexity. A lot of my movement is very quick, but I want to find complexity inside that. Thirty-five dancers allow for an amazing mix of energy and rhythm, of order and disorder. I don’t usually start with a clear structure in mind, but this time I did.

What do you use to help dancers in the studio?
I use very simple images and actions to simplify the movement, make it feel authentic. There are a lot of mannerisms in ballet, but the RB dancers are chameleons, and I want to tap into their human qualities.  —Laura Cappelle

 

Justin Peck’s Big Screen Debut
Justin Peck is everywhere these days, and now his choreography is coming to a theater near you. Ballet 422, directed by Jody Lee Lipes, follows Peck throughout the creation process of Paz de la Jolla—New York City Ballet’s 422nd world premiere. The film plays nationwide in February and March. For dates and showtimes check magpictures.com/ballet422/. —NLG

 

Preserving the Past
Mia: A Dancer’s Journey
documents the tumultuous life of ballerina Mia Slavenska. As the first prominent Croatian ballerina, she rose to international fame with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She escaped Europe and World War II by touring with the company in the United States. Slavenska continued to be a ballet pioneer throughout her career: She choreographed, formed her own ballet company and was a founding dance department faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts. Check your local PBS listings in March for showtimes. —NLG

ABT Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes. Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT.

American Ballet Theatre turns 75 this fall. The company's season at the David H. Koch Theater will feature a world premiere by choreographer Liam Scarlett set to music by Sergei Rachmaninoff, and a new production of Raymonda Divertissements staged by artistic director Kevin McKenzie and ballet mistress Irina Kolpakova. The company will also perform legacy works, like Twyla Tharp's Bach Partita, Alexei Ratmansky's Seven Sonatas and Léonide Massine?'s Gaîté Parisienne. “Our 75th is a milestone with which to look back at who we were and an opportunity to look forward to who we will be," says McKenzie.

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Wevers supervising a Whim W'Him rehearsal. Bamberg Fine Art Photography, Courtesy Whim W'Him

Seattle's Whim W'Him, launched in 2009, has come a long way from its project-based start. This spring, the company announced a 24-week contract for seven dancers that will round out the company's 2014–15 season. Olivier Wevers, Whim W'Him's artistic director and former principal dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet, spoke with Pointe about his plans for the company's future.

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Martins overseeing a rehearsal. The company performs the Bournonville classic next spring. Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

New York City Ballet will add Peter Martins' production of La Sylphide, the quintessential Bournonville ballet, to its repertoire next year. Martins debuted his version in 1985 at Pennsylvania Ballet. Now, 30 years later, it comes to Martins' own company.

La Sylphide has long been a staple of the Royal Danish Ballet, where Martins started his career. Bringing the work to NYCB, he says, is a very personal gesture. "This is an homage to my Danish heritage, as the ballets of Bournonville are the foundation of my own technique." Bournonville also informs the technique of many NYCB dancers. Those who attend the School of American Ballet are exposed to the style during their training. Martins' Sylphide—which will be paired with a revival of Stanley Williams' Bournonville Divertissements—will reinforce NYCB's connection to the style.

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Côté in an NBoC rehearsal with wife Heather Ogden. Bruce Zinger, Courtesy NBoC.

Next summer, National Ballet of Canada principal Guillaume Côté will add another role to his repertoire—artistic director of Quebec's Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur. A Canadian version of the Vail International Dance Festival, Saint-Sauveur, founded in 1992, presents international and local dance companies and music groups in a bucolic village near Montreal. Events occur indoors and outside. "As a dancer, I'm constantly discovering new companies and choreographers I would love to collaborate with," says Côté. "I want to bring some of them to the festival." Eventually, he hopes to present an evening of premieres each summer, and the creation of an evening-length work.

Côté feels the setting makes it a special place for dance. "In a way, it brings dance back to its basics, stripped of scenery and expensive effects," he says. "It inspires artists to show their work in the most beautiful and simple way. Quebec is an incredible place for contemporary dance and I think the festival can be an extension of that community."

Roy Kaiser directing a rehearsal of Balanchine's "Rubies," with PA Ballet's Amy Aldridge and Alexander Peters. Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy PAB.

As Pennsylvania Ballet wrapped up its 50th anniversary season this spring, changes at the top signaled the end of an era. In May, longtime artistic director Roy Kaiser announced his resignation, and two weeks later, executive director Michael Scolamiero announced his departure for Miami City Ballet.

Kaiser, a former PA Ballet dancer, had led the company since 1995, hewing closely to the company's Balanchine roots. Though PA Ballet weathered some financial hard times, the company has taken significant steps forward. It now has a new $17.5 million home, and recently reopened its school. Despite these changes, problems have lingered. “We've had a rough several years," says Scolamiero. “We're struggling with flat subscriptions, and the individual-giving base has gone up and down."

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