Ballet Stars

Alessandra Ferri and Mikhail Baryshnikov are two dancers whose physicality and artistic prowess truly pushed ballet to a new level. Their careers have spanned decades and continents, making them icons of the ballet world. In the late 1980s both dancers were working at American Ballet Theatre, Ferri as a principal dancer and Baryshnikov as artistic director and performer, when they co-starred in the 1987 film Dancers, a drama centered around a ballet company that included a staged production of Giselle. This clip from the film shows Ferri and Baryshnikov as Giselle and Albrecht in the last moments of the ballet, highlighting their dramatic chops with up-close camera angles.

Alessandra Ferri and Mikhail Baryshnikov - Last dance of Giselle and Albrecht www.youtube.com

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A scene from "Pointe of Focus." Photo Courtesy SmugMug Films.

Chances are, you've seen (and "liked") photographer Omar Z Robles' beautiful shots of ballet dancers on social media. Rather than clean and tidy studio photos, his work captures dancers ("the ultimate subject," he says) outside and all over the world, often on vibrant city streets. In Pointe of Focus, a short web documentary from SmugMug Films, director Anton Lorimer goes behind the scenes with Robles during a recent trip to Rio de Janeiro. The doc follows the photographer as he scouts locations in Rio's historical districts and favelas, and directs local Brazilian dancers through the shoot. And these ballerinas are troopers, leaping over concrete, turning over cobblestones or balancing in rain-soaked pointe shoes to achieve the perfect shot.

"Putting them in an environment that's familiar, I think it strips away the barrier that comes with a studio or stage, and really shows how exceptional they are," Robles says about shooting dancers in public spaces. Learn more about this in-demand dance photographer in the nine-minute film below—you'll be sure to get some major Instagram inspiration!

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Film still courtesy Silva.

It goes without saying: We love dance films. Particularly when their creation is inspired by dancers themselves. When Royal Danish Ballet soloist Magnus Christoffersen, currently with Los Angeles Ballet, approached filmmaker Jason Silva with an idea in mind, Silva knew this project was meant to be. They brought in Los Angeles Ballet principal Tigran Sargsyan to choreograph. The trio's dream-like, atmospheric collaboration, titled The Dancer, is set to a sweeping score by Ludovico Enaudi and focuses in on one dancer's experience, a bit reminiscent of Sergei Polunin in the now viral video "Take Me to Church."

While many moments in the film are deeply emotive, we particularly love 2:50, when Christoffersen leaps off the stage as if it can't contain his energy any longer, expanding our view of the space. For someone alternating between dancing on carpet and concrete, we're pretty impressed by his many virtuosic jumps and turns (though we don't recommend trying that at home.)

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Ballet Stars
Guillaume Côté in rehearsal with Harrison James for "Frame by Frame." Photo by David Leclerc, Courtesy NBoC.

This week marks the world premiere of Frame by Frame, The National Ballet of Canada's new full length ballet based on the life and work of innovative filmmaker Norman McLaren. While those outside of the cinephile community might not be familiar with McLaren's work, he is commonly credited with advancing film techniques including animation and pixilation in the 20th century—he died in 1987. The Canadian artist's many accolades include a 1952 Oscar for Best Documentary for his abstract short film Neighbours (watch the whole thing here). Later in life, McLaren became interested in ballet, and made a number of dance films including his renowned 1968 Pas de deux.

NBoC's new work, titled Frame by Frame, will run June 1-10 in Toronto. The ballet combines vignettes of McLaren's life with movement quotes from his films and real time recreations of his technological advances. It was created in collaboration by NBoC principal dancer and choreographic associate Guillaume Côté and film and stage director Robert Lepage, who is making his NBoC debut. Pointe touched base with Côté on how this interdisciplinary project came together.

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Everything Nutcracker

Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov in The Nutcracker are simply iconic—two of the world's most celebrated dancers in the world's best-loved ballet. Starring as Clara and the Prince in American Ballet Theater's 1977 made-for-television film, these two superb talents bring both technical and dramatic brilliance to the ballet's culminating scene.

In this version, which Baryshnikov himself choreographed, Clara and the Prince dance the grand pas de deux. He also mixes up the order so that the variations and coda precede the adagio. The clip begins with the tail end of Kirkland's variation, followed by a flawlessly danced coda. Baryshnikov, looking debonair in all white, flies in his jumps, rebounding off the floor like a spring, and Kirkland's impressive diagonal at 0:43 boasts triple fouetté turns.

The mood changes when Drosselmeyer, played by Alexander Minz, arrives in the first chords of the adagio to usher Clara away from her dreamland. In a pas de trois, Clara is torn between her beloved godfather and her prince, reluctant to choose between childhood and the promise of her dreams. In her gauzy nightgown, the delicate Kirkland is ethereal and waif-like as she is promenaded and passed in the air between her partners. She and Baryshnikov make a tender couple and in the end, as she chaînes into his arms, it is clear that she longs to stay with her prince. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Ballet Stars

December is here and the holiday season—better known to ballet dancers as Nutcracker season—is in full swing. To celebrate, we're throwing it back to Patricia Barker and Wade Walthall as Clara and the prince in Pacific Northwest Ballet's 1986 Nutcracker: The Motion Picture.

In this reimagining of the ballet by PNB founding artistic director Kent Stowell and famed writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak, young Clara (played by Vanessa Sharp) defeats the multi-headed mouse king all on her own with a well-aimed, enchanted pointe shoe. She then follows her Nutcracker inside the shell of the mouse king's armor and ventures into an icy cavern. There she is transformed into an older version of herself, played by Patricia Barker. Clara emerges from the cavern to find that her Nutcracker has transformed as well, from a toy caricature into a handsome, mustachioed prince.

Cautiously, Clara takes the prince's hand. That is when the real enchantment begins. At 2:20 Barker dives into a penché arabesque that is far more dazzling than any cinematic effect. Long-limbed and fresh-faced, Barker captures Clara's innocence even as an adult. She soars across the stage in Walthall's arms, her nightgown billowing in the cold night air. An endless swirl of movement, this pas de deux blurs the distinction between reality and fantasy for the audience. Although Stowell and Sendak's Nutcracker retired from PNB's repertory in 2014, this film ensures that their unique version of the classic can still be enjoyed year after year. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!
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Photo via James Bort

Set to begin shooting in early 2018, Millepied's Carmen will be a modern-day retelling, setting the protagonist on a journey from Mexico to Los Angeles in pursuit of freedom. The film, described as a contemporary musical drama, will also feature an original score by Nicholas Britell, the Oscar-nominated composer of Moonlight. “The incorporation of music and drama in film is a cornerstone of my creativity and having such an experienced and talented team by my side gives me confidence that we will beautifully capture the story told in Carmen," Milliepied told Variety.

Carmen has had a long trajectory. Bizet's 1875 opera—which tells the doomed love story of a passionate Romani woman named Carmen and the naïve soldier Don José (whom she seduces and then leaves for a glamorous toreador)—is based off of Prosper Mérimée's 1845 novella. Upwards of 20 films have been made based on the story, as well as several ballets, most notably those by choreographers Roland Petit and Alberto Alonso. Only time will tell how Millepied will add his own contemporary take to this classic story.

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With digital platforms, cinema screenings and Hollywood-worthy trailers, ballet is rapidly expanding beyond the grainy YouTube clips of yesteryear. These two gorgeous new films by Ezra Hurwitz, a former Miami City Ballet dancer turned director, show two facets of the Ballet Across America program, currently onstage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

One is a moody dance film, featuring American Ballet Theatre stars whirling through the empty halls of the Kennedy Center, bringing the building to life. The other is a touching mini-documentary, highlighting the work, uncertainty and sacrifice that goes into a ballet career. Check them out below!

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Have you seen New York City Ballet's 2016/2017 promotional images? They were shot by famed photographer Peter Lindbergh and feature members of the company in various unstudied poses, set around a rural New York estate. The accompanying video, directed by Stephen Kidd and available on Nowness, is equally dreamy. Lindbergh's style is both gritty and romantic—the dancers never look directly at the camera. Instead, they gaze at each other, or off into the distance. The resulting film creates a feeling of comfortable intimacy. Check it out below:

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There's something compelling about the pristine classicism of ballet contrasted against a gritty setting. The viral success of videos like Sergei Polunin and David LaChapelle's "Take Me to Church" doesn't lie.

Here's another video to add to the list of edgy and beautiful dance films out there: Ezra Hurwitz's latest endeavor with San Francisco Ballet. The film is a trailer for the upcoming Justin Peck premiere at SFB, In the Countenance of Kings. It showcases some of the company dancers in choreography pulled directly from the ballet. The twist? They're dancing in a stunning, abandoned train station instead of onstage at the War Memorial Opera House. The music, composed by frequent Peck collaborator Sufjan Stevens, is propulsive. The dancing is energetic and free. And, in an adorable twist, the performers are all wearing white sneakers.

We love Hurwitz's video collaborations because they give a dreamy, romantic twist to standard behind-the-scenes mini-documentaries. And, since he's a retired member of Miami City Ballet, the films are full of little details that dancers know other dancers want to see. This trailer is no different.

Enjoy! And check out some of Hurwitz's earlier work here, and here.

 

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

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In his new film Why We Dance, director Ezra Hurwitz helps us understand what it looks and feels like for members of Miami City Ballet as they prepare for a performance. The film's detailed shots of hands and feet, and its intimate behind-the-scenes footage, feels like an invisibility cloak that allows you to slip backstage. The propulsive score gives a sense of energy and excitement that builds throughout the day and culminates as the curtain rises, revealing the dancers onstage in Justin Peck's Heatscape and George Balanchine's Bourrée Fantasque.

Created for the company's 30th anniversary season, Why We Dance also includes voiceovers of company members as they reflect on their art. As one dancer says, "We care so much about what we do here and being the best that we can be—collectively and individually." If a ballet company could be summed up in a sentence, I think that's getting pretty darn close.

As with his previous films, Hurwitz draws from his experience as a former member of MCB and uses his dancer's sensibility to create something beautiful. We've loved all his films so far, and can't wait to see what's next!

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Rehearsing Symphony in C with Tanaquil LeClercq and Francisco Moncion (photo by George Platt Lynes)

Elizabeth Kendall’s book Balanchine and the Lost Muse: Revolution and the Making of a Choreographer

has inspired a George Balanchine biopic, to be produced by Gulfstream Pictures.

The book focuses on Balanchine's early life, and his friendship with Liidia (Lidochka) Ivanova, who died days before the two were scheduled to leave Russia together. The book covers the years immediately before the Russian Revolution in 1917 and ends in 1924, when Balanchine left the country.

Zippora Karz, a former New York City Ballet dancer, will serve as executive producer. With her expertise and the foundation of Kendall's research, this film has the potential to be very interesting.

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

 

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