Tamara Rojo joined the elite, though thankfully growing, roster of female ballet company directors seven years ago when she took the helm at English National Ballet. Since then she's managed the even more uncommon feat of continuing to perform as a leading principal dancer for ENB while directing the company. Rojo began her remarkable career in her home country of Spain, but at 22 years old she left for the UK, dancing with Scottish National Ballet, ENB, and then The Royal Ballet, where she spent 12 years as a principal and earned international acclaim for her assured technique and passionate stage presence. Her performances, like this 2009 La Bayadère, show an artist truly in command of her craft.
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.
Two hundred is the new 30. Or at least it seems so for Marius Petipa, whose ballets are as active as ever as we celebrate his 200th birthday this year.
Nearly all major ballet companies dance Petipa's iconic ballets, which reflect his prolific creative output. And they are heavy hitters: Swan Lake, La Bayadère, Le Corsaire, Don Quixote, The Nutcracker, Paquita, The Pharaoh's Daughter, Raymonda and The Sleeping Beauty, to name just a few of the 50-plus ballets he choreographed. He also revived and reworked earlier productions of Coppélia, La Fille mal gardée and Giselle. During American Ballet Theatre's 2018 spring season, five out of its eight weeks will be attributable to Petipa, including the debut of artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky's newly reconstructed Harlequinade.
Gabe Stone Shayer and Misty Copeland in "The Sleeping Beauty." Photo by Doug Gifford, Courtesy ABT.
Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.
Ballet Nacional de Cuba Continues U.S. Tour at the Kennedy Center
A few weeks ago we shared that the historic Ballet Nacional de Cuba is back in the U.S. after 40 years. The company has already made stops in Chicago and Tampa, and heads to The Kennedy Center May 29-June 2 as part of the Artes de Cuba festival with performances of Giselle and Don Quixote. The tour will conclude at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center June 6-8. Whether or not the company is heading to a city near you, you can catch a glimpse of Don Q in the below trailer.
La Scala Ballet étoile and American Ballet Theatre principal Roberto Bolle has been everywhere this summer, performing with companies all over the world as well as touring with his own troupe, Bolle and Friends. Still, we can't get enough of this dreamy danseur. This clip of his Solor variation from a 2006 performance of La Bayadère reminds us why Bolle has been one of the most in demand dancers for over two decades.
As Solor, the tall and insanely muscular Bolle looks like he could actually be a warrior just back from a tiger hunt. He brings a regal, slightly arrogant persona to the role, which he pulls off thanks to his exacting technical control and noble stage presence. During every saut de chat and cabriole he suspends himself in the air for a moment, without a hint of effort. If only this variation were longer, because we could watch his soaring jeté en manège all day long. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!
When we chose Houston Ballet soloist Derek Dunn as our October/November cover star last year, we knew he could do just about everything. But what we didn't know is that he—along with his fellow HB chums Hayden Stark and Daniel Durrett—can also kill it in pointe shoes! Apparently while the company was preparing for La Bayadère earlier this month, Dunn, Durrett and Stark got inspired to tackle the three Shades' variations from Act III. And they do not disappoint. From Stark's rock-solid relevés in arabesque to Dunn's near-silent footwork to Durrett's super-controlled ballonnés, these three pretty much nail their variations with both grace and aplomb. And, you know, with some double cabrioles and saut de basques thrown in.
This isn't the first time "sur les pointes" for Dunn (who announced on Instagram that he's leaving Houston Ballet for a yet-undisclosed company) or for Stark. Both were required to wear pointe shoes as the evil stepsisters in Stanton Welch's Cinderella in March. Still, knowing how many years it took me to perfect my pointework, I can't help but feel a little jealous of these guys.
The dancers at Houston Ballet really know how to go above and beyond the call of duty. Not only are they spectacular performers, but they have comedic chops—the dry, sarcastic kind we love—as seen in this new promotional video for La Bayadère. The company reimagined the famous ballet as a parody of the popular mockumentary series "The Office."
What about the snake? Oh, it's totally there, and we don't mean as a fake prop. Check out the short below to see the dancers' snake-handling skills in action. And if you're as obsessed as we are, you'll also want to watch Houston Ballet's earlier "Office" parody for Cinderella.
Keep 'em coming, Houston, because we love when ballerinas aren't afraid to show their funny bones.
When this La Bayadère clip was filmed in 2008, Natalia Osipova was two years away from breaking into the Bolshoi Ballet's highest rank. Though she doesn't play the tragic heroine in this performance, it's actually a treat to watch Osipova in a purely technical soloist role. Despite the ethereal-sounding name, the second Shade variation is no delicate, airy solo. Osipova devours space, both horizontally and vertically with her famously explosive jump. But she doesn't sacrifice details for airtime. The controlled stationary steps, like those perfectly crossed relevé attitudes, are all the more impressive for having followed such a leg-tiring sequence (well, for any other human).
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Nikiya's epic “death" solo at the end of La Bayadère's second act is more than a test of stamina: It's integral to the ballet's plot. In it, Nikiya laments her doomed relationship with Prince Solor, rejoices upon receiving a basket of flowers she believes to be from him and collapses after being bitten by a snake hidden in the basket. “There's a lot of storytelling in the steps," says Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Julia Erickson, who danced the role this spring. Here are her tips for navigating the variation's technical and emotional complexities.
1. Let the Character Drive the Choreography
One of the most difficult aspects of the variation is making the spare choreography fill the music. If you're having trouble slowing down, focus on what Nikiya is feeling as much as what she's doing. “Her love has betrayed her—and she's mourning," Erickson says. “When you grieve, it's like you're suspended in time, and that's exactly how the variation should feel."
Marius Petipa’s original version of La Bayadère, which premiered in St. Petersburg in 1877, was meant to evoke the exotic Far East. Today’s productions have no shortage of tropes that Westerners might associate with a royal Indian court: elephants, rajahs, midriffs and opium dreams. The first time I saw La Bayadère, it was not the fantastical setting I found so mesmerizing, but the dancers underneath the layers of intrigue, silk and jewels. Polina Semionova, an American Ballet Theatre principal and Mikhailovsky Theatre guest artist, is particularly captivating as La Bayadère’s heroine, the lovelorn and doomed Nikiya.
In the variation preceding the Nikiya’s death, Semionova’s lithe figure undulates—not unlike the snake whose deadly bite is the character’s fate—and melts effortlessly into each supple lunge and backbend. The lyrical choreography exhibits Semionova’s usual flawless lines, and she embodies Nikiya’s desperation in the way she clutches her neck and bows pleadingly towards Solor. Watching this video, I can hardly tear my eyes away from the seductive, simple way Semionova peels one perfectly arched foot off the floor, steps to sous-sus and twists her graceful arms overhead. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!
Nikiya’s forbidden love is taken to a whole different level in the Royal Danish Ballet’s new production of La Bayadère. At the Guggenheim’s Works and Process showing, artistic director Nikolaj Hubbe spoke about RDB’s restaging, and his dancers performed excerpts wearing costumes by Richard Hudson (who also designed costumes for The Lion King).
RDB’s version, choreographed by Hubbe and Eva Draw after Petipa, takes place during the British occupation of India, and some of the major roles have new names and ethnicities: Solor is now a British lieutenant named Sir William, Gamzatti becomes Lady Emma and the Raja is the Viceroy. In the Pas d’ Action in Act II, the choreographers added a solo for Sir William (Solor) and incorporate children from the RDB school to dance a Peacock mating dance (originally the Parrot dance). But the Kingdom of the Shades? Too iconic to mess with. “The first arabesque and its repetition signify the clarity and aesthetic value of hard core classical ballet. It is staggeringly beautiful cause it is so simple,” explained Hubbe. The fourth act with the revenge of the gods and the destruction of the temple is eliminated, but the Bronze Idol variation remains—except, the idol is now blue and called The Blue God. According to Hubbe, the restyling of the role is his salute to Nijinsky, and Hudson also noted that the change adheres more to the god Shiva in Indian culture who is also blue.
Watch the event for yourself here. The full ballet will premiere on November 10 in Copenhagen.
This interview originally appeared in the October 16 Pointe e-newsletter. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.
This month, the Joffrey Ballet presents Stanton Welch's production of La Bayadère for the first time. Pointe's e-news spoke with 22-year-old Jeraldine Mendoza, who will make her debut as Nikiya this Saturday, about learning the ballet.
When did you find out you'd been cast as Nikiya?
Actually, toward the end of last season, my director, Ashley Wheater, was saying things like, "You'd better work on those bourrées--there are a lot of bourrées in Bayadère!" He kept dropping little hints that I'd be doing something big in the ballet.
You trained at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, and this is a ballet with a strong Russian tradition.
I've seen the Bolshoi do Bayadère, and I've tried to incorporate not only their dancers' precision, but also the passion they put into their acting. I'm constantly looking at videos on YouTube, especially of Svetlana Zakharova, my favorite Nikiya. In school, we also learned the various variations from the Kingdom of the Shades, so I'm very familiar with the ballet, which definitely helps.
How different is Stanton Welch's version from the Russian classic?
His third act is more traditional, Russian-style ballet, but he really puts his mark on the first act, especially the choreography for the temple dancers and Nikiya and Solor's first pas de deux. There are a lot of tricks--it's really technical. There are also real snakes, although fortunately I don't have to deal with them! There's a snake handler who comes on--it's really cool. Actually, the snakes are very friendly. We've had fun with the snakes.
You joined the Joffrey just a couple of years ago, and have already had several featured roles. How have you dealt with the pressure?
Honestly, I have no idea! I do tend to keep to myself on big performance days, because I get extremely nervous before the show. When I'm onstage, though, it all goes away. It's just the first five steps on that are bad--once I'm out there, I'm much more comfortable.