Ballet Stars

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.

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Recently, Europe has seen its fair share of ballet-related drama. From Benjamin Millepied’s sudden departure from Paris Opéra Ballet to the turbulent shift in directors at Staatsballett Berlin, several companies have undergone big changes this year.

Now, after only eight months in the position, La Scala Ballet's artistic director, Mauro Bigonzetti, has announced his resignation. His reason for leaving is a severe back injury that he's had since the summer, though there has already been some speculation that other reasons may be at play as well.

La Scala Ballet dancers in Bigonzetti’s Cinderella. Photo by Marco Brescia and Rudy Amisano courtesy Teatro alla Scala.

Before taking the position at La Scala, Bigonzetti directed the Italian contemporary ballet company Aterballetto, and he has choreographed for prominent companies around the world. To some, his appointment as artistic director was controversial from the start—his more contemporary background seemed an odd fit for La Scala, traditionally a very classical company. During his tenure, there were reports of strain between him and the dancers over repertory choices, and he was notably absent from a recent tour to China and Japan.

A new director hasn't been chosen yet, but Fréderic Olivieri, who currently runs the company's school, will take over as interim director until February 2017. As they go through this transition, we'll be keeping our eyes out to see what's in store for the company next.

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

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The Fountain of Youth might be in Italy. Alessandra Ferri may be defying all preconceived notions about the length of ballet careers, but she isn't the first Italian to do so. Carla Fracci, a former prima ballerina at La Scala Ballet and international guest artist, who started her career in the 1950s, didn't stop when convention might have told her to.

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Photo by Dean Alexander, courtesy The Washington Ballet.

From Paris to Washington, D.C., there seems to be something in the air affecting ballet directors. On the heels of Benjamin Millepied's startling resignation announcement last week, The Washington Ballet has disclosed the impending departure of Septime Webre; the company's longtime artistic director will step down at the end of the season. "My current contract expires in June," Webre says, "it felt like a 'now or never' moment to take this bold step."

Webre's tenure has left a lasting impact on The Washington Ballet and the city's arts scene. Since taking the helm in 1999, he has increased TWB's budget nearly six fold, expanded the school (which now trains over 1400 students), increased the organization's community outreach, added many works of his own to TWB's repertoire and brought in a number of guest artists. The company has yet to find a replacement director.

Looking forward, Webre says, "I have been itching to get back to my core skill set: creating new work, coaching and mentoring young dancers and choreographers and advocating for the art of ballet." In addition to new creative endeavors, he plans to stage his ballets for other companies. Already, Webre's Alice (in Wonderland) has appeared in repertoires from Kansas City to Cincinnati.

Companies in Italy and Russia, too, are seeing big changes. Milan's La Scala Ballet announced that choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti will replace Makhar Vasiev, who heads to Moscow in March to lead the Bolshoi Ballet. Bigonzetti was the artistic director of the Italian contemporary ballet company Aterballetto from 1997 to 2008, and he has choreographed for companies like New York City Ballet and Stuttgart Ballet. Given his contemporary background, Bigonzetti's appointment at the large and traditionally classical La Scala has raised some eyebrows.

We'll be keeping our eyes on how the flurry of new directorships develops this year. For more news on all things ballet, don't miss a single issue.

Septime Weber interviewed about his Alice at KCB:

A clip of Bigonzetti's Vespro for New York City Ballet: http://www.nycballet.com/ballets/v/vespro.aspx

La Scala Ballet dancers in Bigonzetti's Cinderella. Photo by Marco Brescia and Rudy Amisano courtesy of Teatro alla Scala.

Makhar Vaziev with La Scala Ballet dancer Claudio Coviello on tour in Japan. Photo courtesy of Teatro alla Scala on Twitter

 

From Russia to Italy and home again: Makhar Vaziev, former director (and principal dancer) of the Mariinsky Ballet and current director of the La Scala Ballet in Italy, will replace Sergei Filin at the Bolshoi Ballet when his term is up next spring.

Given his two decades of directorial experience, Vaziev’s appointment to the helm is not surprising—but it is exciting; the Russian expatriate is known for shaking up repertoires at both La Scala and the Mariinsky, which he lead for 13 years.

The title “artistic director” will leave with Filin. Instead, Vaziev will be known as “ballet director,” and it remains to be seen whether the title’s narrowing will reflect a narrowing in the scope of the director’s power as well. Either way, we can only hope his tenure is less tumultuous than his predecessor’s.

 

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

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