Ballet Stars
Quinn Wharton

Candy Tong is Complexions Contemporary Ballet's resident fashionista. "I'm known in this company for bringing too big of a suitcase," she says. Tong shares her style tips (and life on the road with Complexions) on her vlog, Candy Coated, and notes that her style is always changing. "I like to switch up my look depending on my mood or where I'm going to be or what city I'm in."

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Artists of Houston Ballet rehearsing Stanton Welch's Sylvia. Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

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

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Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Photo by Steven Trumon Gray, courtesy Complexions.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet is celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, and we can hardly contain our excitement. Their longstanding commitment to diversity and daring, edgy repertoire has made them an exemplar of American contemporary ballet today. The company's season opener will be held at the Joyce Theater from February 19–March 3. Works include the world premiere of Complexions co-founder and choreographer Dwight Rhoden's WOKE; a compilation spanning 25 years of the company's repertory titled From Then to Now; the return of the David Bowie tribute Star Dust; and the New York City premiere of Bach 25. A gala evening will be held February 21, in which Complexions co-founder and co-artistic director Desmond Richardson will perform for the last time as a full-time company member.

Pointe caught up with Rhoden and Richardson in separate interviews to hear them reflect on what the past 25 years has meant to them, what audiences can expect from their anniversary season, and why Richardson is choosing to step away from his role as full-time company member.

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Ballet Stars
New York City Ballet's Olivia Boisson. Photo by Melika Dez, Courtesy Black Iris Project.

In 2016, choreographer Jeremy McQueen founded the Black Iris Project with the aim of bringing together predominantly minority dancers each summer to create works that celebrate diversity and black history. This year, he's mixing it up. In honor of South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela's 100th birthday on July 18, McQueen created 100 FISTS in collaboration with photographer Melika Dez. Each day, for the hundred days leading up to Mandela's birthday, BIP has released a photo on social media of a black dancer in a New York City location, posed with their hand in a fist. Each photo is paired with an inspirational quote by Mandela. Pointe caught up with McQueen to find out how this project came together and what's next for the fledgling collective.

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Audition Advice
In class at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy summer intensive. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Russian American Foundation.

When Complexions Contemporary Ballet's summer intensive program director Meg Paul auditions students for its Detroit intensive, there's one thing that catches her eye for all the wrong reasons. "It's a real pet peeve of mine when a dancer keeps shifting her eyes to me during a phrase," she says. "It tells me that she's not fully invested in the movement, that she's more interested in being watched than in embodying the choreography."

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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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Ballet Stars
Kyle Froman

Hoop earrings are a trademark for Melissa Anduiza. "They remind me of my Cuban side," she says. The Complexions Contemporary Ballet dancer draws inspiration from the bright colors and warm climate of her Miami hometown, and her Cuban and Filipino heritage. "I have a white pantsuit that I rock every once in a while—I feel like I'm part of 'Miami Vice' or something," she says. "And I like that islandy feel in the summertime. Whenever I go home, I'm always in a romper or a sundress." Anduiza prefers a casual yet polished look and gets ideas from fashion icons like blogger Marianna Hewitt, whom she follows on social media. "I like to dress kind of edgy, but classy at the same time," she says. In the studio, the company's contemporary rep calls for pieces that show off her lines. "At Complexions, we always wear things that are fitted to the body. Just our warm-ups are loose," Anduiza says. She'll often balance basic shorts with an unusual top to add flair for class or rehearsal. "I dress to make myself look great," she says. "It's comfortable, but always a clean look."

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Photo via Debbie Allen Dance Academy

When Debbie Allen auditioned for a Texas ballet school as a young girl, she was initially rejected because of the color of her skin. Now world renowned for her performance, choreography, acting and producing credits, Allen seems dedicated to fighting the obstacles she once faced. This month, Debbie Allen Dance Academy is hosting DADA on Pointe, a five-day workshop March 19−23 that will offer students the chance to learn from such stars as Misty Copeland and Desmond Richardson—diverse artists who, like Allen, have paved the way for dancers of color.

Students will take technique, partnering and contemporary classes taught by Desmond Richardson, Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet dancers, Debbie Allen and Bolshoi Ballet alumni Giana Jigarhan, Alla Khaniashvili and Vitaly Artiushkin. Misty Copeland will also teach a master class, open to students who purchase the highest of the program's three price packages.

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Proceed with caution: This emotionally charged death scene is balletic but brutal. San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan and former American Ballet Theatre principal Desmond Richardson perform in this excerpt of Lar Lubovitch’s Othello. The ballet, based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name, was jointly produced by SFB and ABT in 1997, and the companies’ respective stars are brilliantly paired. As Othello, Richardson emanates chilling menace as he stalks around Desdemona. Tan aptly blends Desdemona’s palpable fear of her husband with complete devotion to him. She yields her limbs to his manipulation and lies prone and submissive while he pulls out the handkerchief with which he’ll murder her. Though innocent of the adultery she’s accused of, Desdemona helps him wrap the silk around her neck, reaching desperately for Othello as he strangles her to death.

 

These dancers have taken vastly different career paths over the past two decades, but neither has lost momentum. Richardson, between stints on Broadway and dancing in films, continues to break boundaries as the co-director (with Dwight Rhoden) of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, and Tan is lauded in both her adopted and home countries as a sublime ballerina. She is currently on tour with SFB in China (following a successful tour there in 2009)—a homecoming and a celebration of her 20 years with the company. Happy #TBT!

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

Ballet Careers
Walker in LAB's production of Swan Lake. Photo by Reed Hutchinson, Courtesy LAB.

Today's directors are increasingly looking for maturity, experience and versatility, and choreographers are drawn towards artistically intelligent dancers who can contribute to the creative process. Although ballet dancers have traditionally been wary of losing precious performing years by going to college before heading into the job market, it's becoming routine to see company rosters populated with college grads. For these three professionals, the well-honed skills they gained in school not only boosted their dance careers, but opened doors into a myriad of exciting paths for their futures.

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It's been a dramatic ride for the ballet dancers on this season of "So You Think You Can Dance" so far. I was thrilled when three—three!—ballet specialists made the Top 20 a few weeks ago: former San Francisco Ballet dancer Daniel Baker, former Los Angeles ballet dancer and Come Fly Away cast member Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, and Joffrey Ballet School-trained Eliana Girard. They were even showcased together in a highly technical piece by Complexions  Contemporary Ballet's Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden. (It wasn't my personal favorite, but anything that gets pointework on national television is fine by me.)

Initially, then, things were looking up for the ballet crew. But from that point on, the men, especially, struggled, and both Daniel and Chehon ended up in the bottom 6 at the end of this week's show. Chehon was saved by the judges; Daniel was sent packing.

With the exception of the phenomenon that is Alex Wong, ballet dancers have always had trouble on "SYTYCD." I think that's partly because audiences just expect more of contestants with strong technical training. Ballet dancers' failures on the show are more pronounced, and their successes less impressive, because audiences set higher standards for them. To be fair, ballet dancers do tend to have a hard time relaxing into other styles. But they're cut a lot less slack in hip hop routines than hip hop dancers are in contemporary routines, for example.

I'll miss Daniel, but here's hoping that Eliana and, in particular, Chehon, make it all the way this season. There's a reason the judges saved Chehon: Not only is a beautiful technician, but I think he also has that ineffable "it" factor. He just needs to stick around long enough (and stay away from the samba long enough!) for everyone to realize it.

Artistic directors who hire straight from cattle calls are becoming an increasingly rare breed. Today, networking and building connections before the audition have become the far more common routes to a job. But how do you do that successfully? Our sister publication Dance Magazine has a great story this month with advice from five directors on how dancers can take charge. Dwight Rhoden, co-artistic director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet tells writer Elena Hecht, "I like proactive dancers, people who go for what they want. I prefer them to be really frank, just kind of blunt...I like to know exactly how they feel."

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