Ballet Stars
Violette Verdy coaches PNB principal Elizabeth Murphy in "Emeralds." Photo by Lindsay Thomas, courtesy PNB.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of George Balanchine's Jewels, and companies around the world are paying homage. While last summer's Lincoln Center Festival collaboration with New York City Ballet, Paris Opéra Ballet and Bolshoi Ballet was all glamour and excitement, Pacific Northwest Ballet is taking a reverential look back in advance of its opening performances next week.

In 2014, PNB artistic director Peter Boal invited four stars of Balanchine's original 1967 cast—Violette Verdy, Mimi Paul, Edward Villella and Jacques d'Amboise—to coach the company in their signature roles. And, thank heavens, they captured it all on film. This 20-minute promotional documentary offers priceless footage of them in rehearsals, interviews and lecture demonstrations, offering fascinating insights into Balanchine's creative process and original intentions.

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Benjamin Millepied, who briefly helmed the Paris Opéra Ballet, finished his duties with the company on July 15. He will return to L.A. to focus his energy on his contemporary dance company, L.A. Dance Project, which has its Joyce Theater debut this month.

Millepied came on board at POB buzzing with ideas for change—we covered his first announcement of full-season programming, which included a new Forsythe ballet, his plans for a digital platform and his Americanization of the POB rep. Then, almost exactly a year later, we wrote about his resignation. It seemed that Millepied's ideas couldn't coexist with the POB hierarchy, and now iconic former étoile Aurélie Dupont leads the company.

(Photo via L.A. Dance Project)

Though Millepied has stepped out of a leadership position in the classical ballet world—for the time being—he's still very much involved. New York City Ballet resident choreographer Justin Peck has created two works for L.A. Dance Project, former Pacific Northwest Ballet star Carla Körbes is his associate artistic director, and American Ballet Theatre will perform his ballet Daphnis and Chloe as part of its Fall 2016 season.

Recently, Millepied revealed to The New York Times that Körbes and former New York City Ballet principal Janie Taylor will start dancing for the company in the fall. He also mentioned growing the company, good news for contemporary dancers with strong classical training. If Millepied's dreams for L.A. Dance Project come true, that it becomes a company performing new work and historical repertory across the classical and modern spectrum, it will offer opportunities for many dancers.

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

Mere weeks after her retirement from Pacific Northwest Ballet, former principal Carla Körbes has joined the staff of Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project as associate artistic director. Cörbes, who is serving as artist in residence at the Vail International Dance Festival July 27–August 10, has been elusive about her future plans up until now. According to the New York Times, her responsibilities will include casting dancers, overseeing rehearsals and programming, and reporting to Millepied. She will not perform with the company.

 

Körbes’ appointment is yet another get for L.A.’s booming dance scene. In addition to choreographer William Forsythe joining the faculty of University of Southern California’s Glorya Kaufmann School of Dance this fall, the Los Angeles Music Center announced last week that American Ballet Theatre executive director Rachel S. Moore has been named its new president and CEO.

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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As if Wendy Whelan’s imminent retirement wasn’t a hard enough pill to swallow, news that Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Carla Körbes will retire in June 2015 makes this an even sadder year for ballet.

Körbes started her career at New York City Ballet, before being hired as a soloist at PNB in 2005. In 2006 she was promoted to principal. Körbes has been lauded for her dancing in Balanchine ballets, and has originated roles in ballets by Peter Martins, Benjamin Millepied, Christopher Wheeldon and Twyla Tharp among others. 

She has had a long-standing professional relationship with PNB artistic director Peter Boal, who first danced with her in her home country of Brazil when Körbes was just 14 years old. He insisted that she try to study at the School of American Ballet, and the rest is history.

The New York Times reported that Körbes has had a difficult recovery from a knee injury she sustained in 2013. She told The Times that she doesn’t want to feel like she’s just “getting through” the season any more. Even though she sought out the varied repertoire of PNB, she felt that she was pushing her body too hard, and that she was ready to move on.

“I trust Carla with this difficult decision,” said Boal in PNB’s press release. “After all, she’s always had impeccable timing.”   

Körbes and Jerome Tisserand rehearsing Debonair with choreographer Justin Peck. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB.

 

When Pacific Northwest Ballet toured to NYC in October, Big Apple audiences got a first look at Justin Peck's new ballet for the company. Now, they're bringing Debonair home for its Seattle premiere (Nov. 7-16 on the Director's Choice mixed bill). For Pointe's bi-weekly newsletter, we spoke with PNB principal Carla Körbes, who will retire at the end of this season, about Debonair's creation.
 

This is your first time dancing a Peck work. What was the experience like?

The first step Justin gave the company, I kept looking at him like, "Where does he take his ideas from?" I always find it fascinating when people come in to choreograph and the steps are so different. He has this thing where he will put his hand in front of him and the other hand will come and meet it and then you'll spiral into the other side. It looks very easy on him. We try to do it, and it's like, "Oh. Wait. What?"

 

You dance Debonair's central pas de deux with Jerome Tisserand. What was the atmosphere like in those rehearsals?

Justin gets quite serious and then all of a sudden all this stuff comes out of him. He definitely concentrates when he's working, but we had a nice back and forth between what he wanted and what we were able to do.

 

What's most challenging about the piece?

Justin's movement is very continuous, so sometimes we have a hard time finding where we're going to breathe. He always wants you to go to the edge. The hardest part is not really the steps, but doing the movement fully and getting to the end looking debonair. 


Looking back over your years with PNB, are there are performances or roles that stand out?

You know, you're doing these roles over and over again, but I've definitely had some moments where they feel unforgettable. One is the last time I did Swan Lake with Karel Cruz. There was one show where I thought, It's not perfect. It's never going to be. But this is as good as it gets in terms of an emotional experience.

 

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Carla Körbes in "Diamonds" from George Balanchine's Jewels (photo by Angela Sterling)

 

For ballet fans around the world, there is a lot to be sad about in the 2014/2015 season. Wendy Whelan ended her career at New York City Ballet, while Carla Körbes will retire in June. At the end of the American Ballet Theatre season, Julie Kent, Paloma Herrera and Xiomara Reyes will all take their final bows with the company. It's enough to make any balletomane cry.

Recently, The Huffington Post and Ballet to the People featured each of the five ballerinas in a long article describing the changes they’ve witnessed throughout their careers, and what they each have planned for their next steps.

Each dancer made pointed comments about the future of artistry in the ballet world, noting that while dance is more accessible than it has ever been, the open floodgates of information can be overwhelming. Interestingly, many of them noted that social media has had the impact of encouraging people to be something rather than do something. They claim that it has influenced young people to seek celebrity or stardom over the less immediately rewarding aspects of a dance career—namely the loyalty of sticking with one company, and the daily grind and reinvention that comes from training regularly. “That,” Herrera notes, “is where the humility is.”

It's heartbreaking when a great ballerina retires and only a lucky few thousand people can see her final performance. Not so, with Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Carla Körbes. Her final performance with PNB will be live-streamed through PNB.org/Live on Sunday, June 7 at 6:30pm PST. 

The evening is PNB's Season Encore Performance and will feature George Balanchine's Serenade along with selections from his ballet Jewels. It will also feature the local premiere of a piece by Ballet BC dancer and former PNB corps member Andrew Bartee, as well as the retirements of corps de ballet dancer Brittany Reid and soloist Kiyon Gaines.

Körbes is scheduled to perform in Serenade, Diamonds and the premiere of Jessica Lang's The Calling. Tickets to attend the live performance are available through the PNB box office.

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