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Barak Ballet will perform E/SPACE at Joyce Ballet Festival this weekend. Photo David Friedman, Courtesy of Joyce Theater.

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


ABT Wraps Up Its Met Season with Whipped Cream

American Ballet Theatre's eight-week summer season at the Metropolitan Opera House, will wrap up this Saturday. From July 2-7, the company will perform Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream. This candy-coated surrealist ballet features wacky, intricate sets and costumes from Mark Ryden and tells the story of a boy in a Viennese pastry shop who overindulges and falls into a state of wild intoxication that takes him on a journey reminiscent of Act II of The Nutcracker. For a behind-the-scenes look, check out these backstage photos from the 2017 premiere. During the run, Arron Scott will make his debut as The Boy, and Gabe Stone Shayer will make his New York debut in the same role. Thomas Forster and Calvin Royal III will perform as Prince Coffee for the first time in New York.


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National Ballet of Canada's Skylar Campbell and Elena Lobsanova in "The Dreamers Ever Leave You." Photo by Karolina Kuras, Courtesy NBoC.

This week is bursting at the seams with ballet. Earlier this month multiple companies performed the same ballet (think Romeo and Juliet), but this week brings a truly eclectic mix of new works, company premieres and old classics all around the U.S. and Canada. We've rounded up programs by eight companiesNational Ballet of Canada, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Houston Ballet, American Repertory Ballet, Sarasota Ballet, Ballet Memphis, Texas Ballet Theater and Indianapolis Balletto give you a sense of what's happening.

National Ballet of Canada

In honor of Canada's 150th anniversary in 2017, the Toronto-based National Ballet of Canada is presenting a mixed bill February 28–March 4 titled Made in Canada. The program features works made on NBoC by three of Canada's most lauded choreographers: Robert Binet's The Dreamers Ever Leave You, James Kudelka's The Four Seasons and Crystal Pite's Emergence. Check out the preview below.

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When ballerina Evelyn Hart retired in 2006 after a legendary 30-year career, it marked the end of an era. The longtime star of Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet relocated to Toronto and has been busy teaching and coaching since. (She even started her own summer intensive last year). But thanks to a growing creative relationship with Canadian choreographer James Kudelka, Hart, 60, has been gradually returning to the stage. On March 16, she joins Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie for the world premiere of Kudelka’s Love, Sex & Brahms in Toronto. Set to Johannes Brahm’s Intermezzi for solo piano, the work is an expanded version of 2015’s award-winning #lovesexbrahms, in which Hart also starred. In the following edited interview, Pointe spoke with her about how it feels to return to performing.

From Kudelka's #lovesexbrahms. Photo by John Lauener, Courtesy Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie

Tell me about your upcoming project, Love, Sex & Brahms.

Brahms created each intermezzo with a different relationship in mind. There’s a cast of 10, and each couple has a different relationship, a different problem, a different past. Of course, my partner and I have the longest past because we’re more senior. There isn’t a linear story, per se, but you see the same characters come back. It’s like when you look at an old master’s painting—it depicts the scene, but you know there was something before and after. There’s also a puppet named Sarkis, who plays a different part in each of these relationships—sometimes he’s part of the group, sometimes he’s an idea, sometimes he’s an actual person, so it’s quite interesting.

My main pas de deux is very dramatic. It’s full of movement, but it’s not dancing in the sense of “chassé pas de bourrée.” James likes to call it “heartfelt walking.” But at this point in my life, it couldn’t be a more joyous experience. Just being able to be inside the music—that’s what I miss most about performing.

 

Had you worked with James Kudelka much in the past?

During my career I didn’t have many chances to work with him, surprisingly! But in 2014, James was setting his Four Seasons on Royal Winnipeg Ballet and he thought it would be lovely to cast a mature artist as the Winter Woman, so he asked the company if I could come back to perform it. That’s sort of how this project got started—afterwards we started working together and did the first #lovesexbrahms in April 2015. He’s also just created a role for me in Vespers, a new ballet at RWB, which I’ll perform in May.

Hart with Bill Coleman in Love, Sex & Brahms. Photo by Jeremy Mimnaugh, Courtesy CLC.

How different does performing feel at this stage in your career?

I was always very nervous performing. Onstage, there’s always tension, the lights, the unknown—and that’s still there. Of course, it feels physically different now. But performing allows you to commune with your own soul. I feel like I’m in this shaft of energy—it’s like a completely different dimension, a divine dimension. The only difference now is that I have this sense of gratitude. I think the perspective of being away from the stage and coming back makes it more cherished.

 

You're now a sought-after coach. Do you find that coaching helps inform your own performances?

When I was dancing, I vowed I’d never teach. I didn’t want to go to that place. But life has funny ways of putting you in places you never expected. Coaching is difficult because it’s 50 percent coaching, 50 percent psychology! It’s all about the dancers and how to get them to their maximum potential—how can I physically help them and also how can I spiritually support them to go to that new place? It’s like a scientist working on an equation: You pare away and pare away and eventually it all leads down to a solution. And that is incredibly exciting to discover. Whether it informs my performing at this point, I don’t know. What’s different is that I don’t have a need to be in control of what I do as much. It isn’t about me, it’s about something bigger, and there's great freedom in that.

 

What do you try to pass on to younger generations?

First, to not be afraid of the work. I think a lot of dancers are fearful of working really, really hard and committing to it. If you stop fighting it and embrace it, then you’re focused on doing what you love. We all get bogged down by politics, or something hurting, but mostly it’s fear. And the antidote to that is to work.

The second thing is that there will be a lot of people around you who’ll say, “That’s good enough.” And what I try to get across to my students is to not let anyone tell you what’s good enough. You decide what level you want to achieve, and in that sense, you will always be striving for more.

Catch Hart with Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie in Love, Sex & Brahms March 16–19 at the Betty Oliphant Theatre in Toronto.

 

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

Larissa Ponomarenko, long a revered principal at Boston Ballet, has been with the company through multiple versions of Cinderella—most recently James Kudelka's in 2005 and 2008. Now, as ballet master, she's guiding dancers through Frederick Ashton's classic rendition, which BB performs through this weekend. Pointe talked to Ponomarenko about the similarities and differences between the fairytale worlds of Kudelka and Ashton, and about dancing and coaching the ballet's title role.

In terms of storytelling, how do the Ashton and Kudelka Cinderellas compare?
Well, the basic story is the same in both—a  joyful, witty, lively girl who has a heart bigger than life lives in this unfortunate house, and then the goodness in her heart brings the fairy godmother, who elevates her out of the situation. I think the biggest difference is the timeframe. Ashton's is set in the 18th century, I think, and Kudelka's is in the 1930s Art Deco period. Ashton also has the sisters played by men, but in Kudelka's version they are ladies and actually beautifully choreographed on pointe.

You danced Cinderella in Kudelka's version. What was most challenging about that role?
For me, it was the fact that his Cinderella starts out dancing in bare feet in the kitchen, and then when she's presented with the crystal shoes, she has to put them on onstage and dance in them immediately! I liked to tape all my toes, and that was a big challenge, to find flesh-colored tape that wouldn't leave any residue on the floor while I was dancing barefoot. I think some ballerinas would pre-set their toe pads inside the shoes—everyone had to come up with little tricks.
 
How about Cinderella's technical challenges in Ashton?
It has at times been difficult for the dancers to adapt to the Ashton style. I believe there are moments when he wanted Cinderella almost to represent a clock, with a leg and an arm as the clock's hands. Today everyone wants the leg up high in arabesque, but to achieve the clock effect the limbs have to be angled and close to the body.

Wendy Ellis Somes set the Ashton version on the company. What advice has she had?
She's very rich in information. She knows exactly when to turn the head, here you go on pointe, here you stay flat. And she conveys the ballet's history, too. She said that Ashton started to choreograph the part of Cinderella on Margot Fonteyn, and then she got injured, so he called in Moira Shearer for the ballroom scene. Wendy pointed out that much of the first act is lyrical and fluid, like Fonteyn, and then the second act is more sharp and edgy, like Shearer.

As a Cinderella veteran, what advice do you have for the dancers taking on the title role?
First, to enjoy the performance! But also to think about overcoming the sadness in the music. Cinderella's musical themes are quite dark—probably because the score was written while Prokofiev was having a very difficult time—but Cinderella is actually joyful and optimistic. You can't succumb to that heaviness in the music, at least not all the time.

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