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Royal Ballet principal Sarah Lamb taking onstage class at The Joyce Theater. Kyle Froman.

New York City's dance scene is having its own "British invasion" right now. The 2019 edition of The Joyce Theater's annual Ballet Festival, taking place now through August 18, is curated by a team from The Royal Ballet, and a small group of company members are in town to perform. (The festival also features special guests from National Ballet of Canada, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and New York Theater Ballet.) And while Royal Ballet director Kevin O'Hare had a huge hand in developing the event and planning its first program, he tapped two of his principal dancers—Lauren Cuthbertson and Edward Watson—as well as frequent company designer Jean-Marc Puissant, to curate programs of their own. "Anytime I go to dance events I see them there—they're always interested in what's going on and have such deep knowledge of choreographers," says O'Hare. "I thought they would be up for the challenge."

Most exciting for us, of course, is the chance to see some of The Royal's star dancers. In addition to Watson and Cuthbertson (who are dancing heavily in their own programs), principals Sarah Lamb and Marcelino Sambé (newly promoted, and our April/May cover star) are in town, as well as rising dancers Calvin Richardson, Romany Pajdak and Joseph Sissens. We couldn't pass up the opportunity to see them in action, and last week the company graciously allowed us to sit in on morning class for a Pointe photo exclusive. Check them out below!


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Ballet Stars
Quinn Wharton

This is Pointe's April/May 2019 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

The third movement of Balanchine's Symphony in C is designed to wow, but it's not often a dancer manages to bring unadulterated joy to its brutally difficult steps. Yet when The Royal Ballet's Marcelino Sambé ran onto the stage last fall, the bright, cheerful buoyancy of his first grand jeté drew a gasp from the British gentleman sitting behind me in the Royal Opera House's chic Grand Tier.

The stage isn't the only place where Sambé's infectious energy stands out. Time and again, company employees crack a smile at the mention of his name; a stage door attendant perks up when calling him over and chats animatedly about his performances. "He basically cheers up the whole Royal Ballet," says principal Francesca Hayward, a frequent partner of Sambé's. "He's one of those: Sunshine comes with him," Kevin O'Hare, the director of The Royal Ballet, concurs. "He's just a great, positive influence in the room and in the building."

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Ballet Careers
Photo by Jim Lafferty for Pointe.

Have you ever attended an audition and wished that you knew what the director was looking for? We've rounded up some of our favorite quotes from our Director's Notes column over the past few years to give you a deeper glimpse into the minds of 10 artistic directors.

Ashley Wheater, Joffrey Ballet

"I want to develop and nurture artists," says Wheater, seeking "people who are not afraid to be expressive, and understand all the layers that go into making a work above and beyond the steps."

Ingrid Lorentzen, Norwegian National Ballet

"I like athletic classical dancers, with very strong footwork and articulation," Lorentzen says. "But it's also about the feeling I get from them, who I think can adapt to the Norwegian way."

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Andrej Uspenski, Courtesy ROH.

Wearing leggings and a puffy vest as she works in one of The Royal Ballet's light-filled studios, Charlotte Edmonds could pass for a corps de ballet member. Instead, she is choreographing on them, creating dynamic, ballet-based contemporary dance in her role as the company's first-ever Young Choreographer.

"At the Opera House you have dancers who have 20 years more experience," she says. "I bow to their experience, but I also try to hold the room. It is sometimes quite nerve-racking! But it is always exciting."

Edmonds' uncanny instincts for choreography and leadership were already apparent at age 11, when she was a first-year student in the Royal Ballet School's Lower School—and a finalist in its competition for the Ninette de Valois Junior Choreographic Award. She got her first professional commission at age 16, and was barely 19 when Royal Ballet director Kevin O'Hare named her the inaugural recipient of the company's Young Choreographer Programme. The paid position provides her with studio space, access
to dancers and the mentorship of renowned choreographer Wayne McGregor.


Photo by Alice Pennefeather, Courtesy ROH

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Ballet Careers
Photo by Joe Plimmer

A gentle presence in the studio, Kevin O'Hare was widely seen as a safe pair of hands when he took over as The Royal Ballet's director upon Monica Mason's retirement in 2012. A former principal with Birmingham Royal Ballet, a sister company of The Royal, he had danced much of the British repertoire; as The Royal's administrative director, he knew the London-based institution inside out.

Yet when he was appointed, O'Hare quietly set himself a radical challenge: In 2020, for a full year, he intended to present only works created in the decade prior. "I think we can do it. We're on track," he says now with a laugh. "If we're not pushing ourselves, giving the dancers opportunities to create new roles, then there's no point in being here."

That commitment to renewed creativity, balanced with a sensible respect for the British ballet heritage, has been the hallmark of O'Hare's directorship. Since he took the helm, The Royal has produced at least one new full-length ballet nearly every season, with hits including Christopher Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale and Wayne McGregor's Woolf Works, but not at the expense of his- torical works. A new generation of British- trained dancers has also emerged, nurtured by O'Hare to take over the repertoire.

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Ballet Stars
Francesca Hayward photographed by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

This is Pointe's February/March 2016 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

Last September, as one of The Royal Ballet's coaches walked her through the potion scene from Romeo and Juliet, Francesca Hayward wasted no time marking the steps. Instead of lingering on individual poses, she was instantly focused on the web of emotions behind the choreography. Sitting on Juliet's bed, she seemed to contemplate the events that had just unfolded as Prokofiev's music swelled up, projecting despite her tiny stature; after pretending to drink the poison, she reached for her neck, her eyes filled with fear and disgust.

When The Royal Ballet first soloist made her debut in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's iconic ballet the next month, British critic Luke Jennings tweeted: “Francesca Hayward dances Juliet and British ballet is remade." At 23, the Kenya-born dancer is the leading light of a rising UK-trained generation nurtured by director Kevin O'Hare. She is also a rare mixed-race ballerina on the path to stardom, but neither she nor UK audiences have paid that fact much heed. Instead, Hayward has become known for embodying quintessential Royal Ballet qualities: fleet-footed articulation, sparkling musicality and strikingly natural acting.

Born near Nairobi to a Kenyan mother and British father, Hayward left Africa when she was 2. She was raised by her paternal grandparents in Sussex, not far from London. When they bought her ballet videos, she was instantly hooked; she vividly recalls mimicking Alessandra Ferri's own potion scene as Juliet in her living room. “I was fallen on the floor and doing all the dramatic bits. My grandpa looked into the living room and thought I was really ill."

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New Work at The Royal
Though long a story ballet stronghold, The Royal Ballet has become a home for new choreography as well. During his first year at the company’s helm, artistic director Kevin O’Hare has made it clear that he’ll follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Monica Mason—which means there are a lot of premieres on the horizon. “I want to build on what Dame Monica started,” O’Hare says. “New work is the lifeblood of the company.”

To wit: The Royal will perform its first Alexei Ratmansky commission, set to an orchestration of Chopin’s 24 Preludes, this February. “I approached Alexei before I even got the job,” O’Hare says. “I felt if I wasn’t appointed director, whoever was would be happy to have a new Ratmansky work.”

O’Hare also made up-and-coming talent Liam Scarlett The Royal’s first artist-in-residence last fall. Add in resident choreographer Wayne McGregor and artistic associate Christopher Wheeldon, and the company has a heady home team of choreographers generating new ballets, on top of its commissions. “What’s fantastic about Wayne, Christopher and Liam is the diversity of their styles,” O’Hare says. “And they know the company dancers so well they will bring out facets of their abilities that may not have otherwise been seen.”


Ballet San Jose Rebounds
Ever since Wes Chapman’s appointment as Ballet San Jose’s artistic consultant last January—following the controversial ousting of founding artistic director Dennis Nahat—ballet fans have wondered what the reinvented BSJ might look like. The answer? A bit like American Ballet Theatre, Chapman’s one-time home.

BSJ announced a partnership with ABT in December 2011, giving it access not only to the larger company’s teaching curriculum, but also to its coaches, costumes and sets. So in a way it’s not surprising that BSJ begins 2013 with three company premieres right out of the ABT playbook: the full-length Don Quixote (staged by Chapman) in February, and a repertory program that includes Sir Frederick Ashton’s Les Rendezvous and Thaïs Pas de Deux in March.

“We’re still trying to figure out the company’s identity,” says Chapman, who now serves as BSJ’s artistic advisor, and shares artistic leadership with principal ballet master Raymond Rodriguez. “But for me it’s natural to head in the ABT direction. I grew up there during the Baryshnikov era, and he was one of the greatest directors of the time. He had exquisite taste. So these days, I frequently find myself thinking, ‘What would Misha have done?’ ”

In future seasons, Chapman hopes to bring in a production of The Sleeping Beauty, as well as works by European choreographers like Jirí Kylián and Hans van Manen. He’s also planning a number of repertory commissions, with the first, a ballet by frequent ABT collaborator Jessica Lang, premiering in April. “This company is a strong, eclectic group of people,” Chapman says. “They’re hungry for new stuff, and the best way to feed them is to have them work with artists like Jessica.”


Rite of Spring Turns 100
Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, with choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, shocked balletomanes at its Paris premiere in 1913. A century later, Stravinsky’s score has become one of the most frequently choreographed pieces of music in the world. Ballet companies everywhere are celebrating Rite’s centennial this year with performances of old and new versions of the work. Particularly notable is Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer’s reconstruction of Nijinsky’s original choreography. The Joffrey Ballet will tour it in the U.S. in February and March and the Mariinsky Ballet will perform it later in the spring.


Hamburg Ballet Brings Nijinsky to the U.S.
This February, Hamburg Ballet embarks on a U.S. tour that includes stops in San Francisco, Costa Mesa and, for the first time, Chicago. The highlight of the three-week excursion is Nijinsky, artistic director John Neumeier’s dark, kaleidoscopic retelling of Vaslav Nijinsky’s life. Neumeier, who is famously fascinated with the great dancer, has amassed the world’s largest private collection of Nijinsky artifacts. “I’ve learned so much through John,” says Hamburg principal Alexandre Riabko, the tour’s first-cast Nijinsky. “He brought photographs and lithographs to rehearsals, and told us: ‘It looks like Nijinsky is still dancing, even though his movements are frozen within a photo. He is never posing, but always alive in these images.’ That was my greatest inspiration for the role.”


Going Gaga at Atlanta Ballet
The works of Batsheva Dance Company artistic director Ohad Naharin—rooted in his improvisational, imagery-driven Gaga technique—have become staples for many contemporary dance companies. But a ballet company tackling Naharin? That’s a very different story.

When the Atlanta Ballet dancers found out they’d be performing Naharin’s Minus 16 this March, “we flocked to YouTube to get a sense of what exactly we were in for,” says company member Rachel Van Buskirk. “I knew a little about his work, but not much. It looked fun. And surreal. And, really, really hard.”

Van Buskirk has been exposed to improvisational techniques before, but “nothing as in-depth as Gaga,” she says. “The hardest part was letting go of my ballet impulse to make pretty shapes all the time. Gaga isn’t about shapes; it’s about interpreting words and feelings through movement.” Former Batsheva dancer Rachael Osborne, who set Minus 16 on AB, tried to ease the transition. “She knows we’re ballerinas,” Van Buskirk says, with a laugh. “Her whole approach is: Nothing you do is ‘wrong.’ She’d pick out different words to motivate each person, to get us closer to the look she wanted.”

It’s a process that has stretched the company dancers considerably, but they’ve relished the chance to branch out. “During one of our first rehearsals, there was a moment when we all looked around at each other and just shook our heads in disbelief, it was so different,” Van Buskirk says. “We were like: Is this happening? This is so cool.”

South Africa seems like an unlikely place for ballet. But Cape Town actually attracts its fair share of top talent, especially since the inception of the Cape Town Internationl Ballet Competition in 2008. Royal Ballet director designate Kevin O'Hare, Washington Ballet director Septime Webre, National Ballet School of Cuba director Ramona de Saá and other powerful players will be there this spring to judge promising young dancers from around the world.

 

Dates: February 27 to March 4

Location: Artscape Opera House in Cape Town, South Africa

Held: Every other year

Applications due: January 16

Past winners: Alys Shee (formerly with ABT II), Aaron Smythe (also formerly with ABT II), Andile Ndlovu (Washington Ballet)

Ages: Junior division dancers must be 15–18, senior division dancers 19–28

Categories: Dancers can compete as soloists or couples, in classical or contemporary

Awards: Gold, silver and bronze are named in each division for women and men in classical and contemporary. Monetary awards come with the prizes. One winner is selected to compete in Youth America Grand Prix finals in New York.

Website: ctibc.com

What's Kevin O'Hare planning to do with The Royal Ballet? A video feature published today by online magazine Crane.tv interviews the new artistic director about his vision for the company. Get a peek inside the Royal's studios, hear O'Hare's plans for the future and watch footage of the dancers performing a number of ballets, including a new Wayne McGregor work. It's like a 3-minute trip to Covent Garden.

Is ballet's post-Balanchine choreography rut finally over? Roslyn Sulcas, a contributor to Pointe, argues today in The New York Times that it is. She points out that works by Christopher Wheeldon, Alexei Ratmansky and Wayne McGregor offer a completely new way of using the classical vocabulary. There's also a whole generation of imaginative choreographers who came out of William Forsythe's company: David Dawson, Crystal Pite, Jacopo Godani, Helen Pickett, Jorma Elo, Emily Molnar—a group that's exceptional not only for its prolific creativity, but also for its large number of women. Just in the past couple of years we've seen two newbies with exceptional promise: Justin Peck at New York City Ballet and Liam Scarlett at The Royal Ballet.

 

Why is ballet choreography finally stretching in new directions and connecting with audiences again? Peck credits the distance from the shadow of Balanchine. He tells Sulcas, “There is a clearing for new creative thought in choreography. I don’t feel intimidated; there is a lot I can do that is new or innovative or different.” Pickett points to the use of technology like projections that can make ballet more cinematic and engaging. Kevin O'Hare, the new artistic director of The Royal, suggests today's interconnected world has given choreographers a broader perspective, and encouraged a willingness to take risks: “They are slightly fearless...these are people who are not afraid to fail. This generation sees so much, is open to so much, is always looking for new inspiration and collaborations. Ballet was very away from all of that, but very recently we seem to have broken down those barriers. It feels very much part of our world.”

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