From the outside, classical ballet can seem restrictive with its decorum, elaborate costumes and, of course, uncomfortable pointe shoes. Yet as ballet dancers we know that our technique actually allows our bodies to move with incredible freedom. That physical freedom is never more apparent than in watching dancers like Sylvie Guillem and Massimo Murru, both of whom danced with historic ballet companies, take on contemporary masterpieces like Jiří Kylián's Petite Mort. Stripped down to the barest costumes, their musculature and sheer physicality are unencumbered and demand awe.
In 1996, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet artistic director Tom Mossbrucker was a veteran Joffrey Ballet dancer with no aspirations to direct a company. But while visiting a Colorado music festival with his partner, Jean-Philippe Malaty, also a dancer, a chance encounter changed his mind. "We met Bebe Schweppe, who ran a ballet school in Aspen but always dreamt that the city could have its own resident company," Mossbrucker recalls. "We thought she was crazy and said, 'Good luck with that!' But she thought we were the ones who could do it." After a few weeks of discussion, the pair moved to Colorado and a company was born.
As told to Gavin Larsen by Whitney Jensen
My first time dancing Petite Mort—or any ballet by Jiří Kylián—I was 17 and in the corps of Boston Ballet. I didn't know it then, but the stager, Roslyn Anderson, was nervous about me doing it because I was so young. I was super-naïve and had never seen the ballet before, but I just tried to listen to Roz and emulate what she was describing. She said that she knew I could do it when I applied every single one of her corrections after our first rehearsal.
Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.
Three World Premieres at BalletX Philadelphia Summer Series
Fresh off the heels of its Joyce Ballet Festival performances in New York, BalletX is launching its Summer Series with a trio of world premieres on July 11. The program, which runs through July 22 at The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia, features ballets by Penny Saunders, choreographer in residence for Grand Rapids Ballet; Andrew McNicol, BalletX's 2018 choreographic fellow; and Matthew Neenan, BalletX co-founder and company choreographer. Pennsylvania Ballet principal pianist Martha Koeneman will perform Mendelssohn's Songs without Words live for Neenan's work, which shows dancers attempting to solve a mysterious puzzle onstage. McNicol is inspired by Mozart's Requiem and his appreciation of the speed and athleticism of American dance. Saunders' piece will be accompanied by an original composition by Rosie Langabeer, a Philadelphia composer originally from New Zealand. Listen to the pair discuss the collaboration in the video below.
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.
Romantic couples within the dance world are fairly common; it's not surprising that a dancer might find a deeper connection with another who appreciates ballet's unique triumphs and trials (not to mention someone else who doesn't mind eating dinner at 11:00pm, with both feet submerged in a bucket of ice). But when it comes to dancing together? Some love it, some hate it. Being able to communicate frankly with your partner, as you could with your spouse, can either smooth out or derail a rehearsal. But, with that, also comes the fact that there is no one else you want to succeed more, and vice versa.
One of the first things you notice about Ingrid Lorentzen is her laugh—the Norwegian National Ballet director exudes warmth. It's obvious why, in 2012, she was appointed for the job, despite the fact that she was a leading dancer at NNB with little management experience. But Lorentzen knew it wouldn't all be smooth sailing. "I started my first speech by telling the company: 'I'm going to disappoint you all,' " she remembers with a chuckle.
That lucidity, along with her open-minded philosophy, has contributed to lifting the profile of Norway's national company, founded in 1958. As director, Lorentzen has challenged her 65 dancers with boundary-pushing new productions, from Alexander Ekman's water-filled A Swan Lake to ballets based on Scandinavian plays. Programmers have taken notice: This creative vibe and NNB's close relationship with Jirˇří Kylián have led to a series of international engagements.
Kylián's "Falling Angels." Photo by Erik Berg, Courtesy NNB.
It's often said that the key ingredient in a successful partnership is trust. In this 1994 clip from a Dancers for Life benefit performance, Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Evelyn Hart and National Ballet of Canada's Rex Harrington demonstrate trust in action as they perform Jiří Kylián's Nuages. The two stars of Canadian ballet frequently danced together, and the result is a beautiful example of vulnerability and strength. The aquatic, push-pull effect of Kylián's choreography appears seamless, as if they were breathing as one. Watch the sequence at 1:30, as Hart arches over Harrington's arm, then falls forward over her pointe shoes to her knees—it's a cantilevered moment that could easily look manhandled if not perfectly timed. But these two make it as elastic as taffy. Hart dances completely free, because she has no doubt that Harrington will catch her.
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Admit it: You've considered the various ways you could sneak your favorite costume home with you. We don't blame you. Whether it's a jaw-dropping tutu or the world's most comfortable slip, costumes are made to make dancers look and feel beautiful. Here, we've rounded up some of our favorites, that just happen to be street-style ready.
Justin Peck's Entre Chien et Loup, at the Paris Opéra Ballet, featured stunning dresses by couture designer Mary Katrantzou which wouldn't look out of place on the streets of New York City. Peck and Katrantzou also worked together for his Belles Lettres at New York City Ballet—though those sheer, lace covered costumes are probably best left onstage.
The costumes for Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette were designed by Jérôme Kaplan and the iridescent dresses are utterly 90s-chic. Throw a choker on with Juliette's party-scene dress and you're ready to step out tonight.
The costumes for Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room are iconic: Bright red, with black and white stripes (not to mention crisp white sneakers and red pointe shoes). The costumes were designed by another famous name in couture: Norma Kamali. Her costumes for Tharp wouldn't be out of place at an art opening or summertime concert.
The new costumes for NYCB ballet master Peter Martins' Thou Swell were designed by Oscar de la Renta's Peter Copping. The results are spectacularly glamorous, and we can't really think of an occasion that would merit wearing something so fabulous. Maybe the Met Gala?
The costumes for Mark Morris' After You were designed by none other than Isaac Mizrahi. The jumpsuits would be so much fun to wear to an early-summer picnic...or maybe jet-setting around the Mediterranean.
The simple color palate of the costumes for Jiří Kylián's Forgotten Land brings to mind twilight and the approaching end of the year. These flattering dresses, designed by Kylián himself, would fit right in at a winter holiday party.
What are your favorite "street-style" costumes?
What better way to open the season than with a trailer? The Washington Ballet has done just that, releasing this video of the company preparing for its season opener next week (October 22–26). The program, entitled Taking Flight, has a distinctly European flavor, and includes Jirí Kylián’s Petite Mort, Hans Van Manen’s 5 Tangos and Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia. The behind-the-scenes video shows the dancers rehearsing with Kylián répétiteur Urtzi Aranburu, highlighting the sweat and hard work that goes behind every finished performance. Enjoy!
This interview first appeared in the June 5 Pointe e-newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.
Pennsylvania Ballet's "Forsythe & Kyliàn" program, which opens next week, includes the company premieres of William Forsythe's Artifact Suite and Jiří Kylián's Forgotten Land--and principal Lauren Fadeley will be dancing in both. Pointe's e-news talked to Fadeley about the two works' different challenges.
This is your first time dancing Kyliàn. How would you describe his style?
I wouldn't call it simple, but there's no extra frou frou to it. It's pure choreography, very grounded, and frequently dramatic. It feels mature.
You've danced Forsythe's In the middle, somewhat elevated and The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. How is Artifact Suite like and unlike those works?
Bill was actually here working with us last week, and the way he described it is that works like In the middle are essentially ballet-like, whereas Artifact Suite is aggressively abstract and contemporary. I mean, the full-length Artifact involves text and spoken word and lots of props--it's pretty out there.
What was working with Forsythe like?
It was incredible! He even tweaked a few things in Artifact for me personally, and that was a huge rush. The changes went down in the books, too--the next time someone dances it, that's the way it'll be.
Going from Forgotten Land to Artifact Suite is a pretty big shift.
This morning we had Artifact rehearsal, and this afternoon it was back to Forgotten Land, which is a different world--that definitely challenges you. But it also helps me feel like a more complete dancer. We've been rehearsing The Four Temperaments recently too, because we're about to do it at Ballet Across America. When you get to do Kyliàn and Forsythe and Balanchine all in the same week, it's hard to complain.