Last spring American Ballet Theatre artistic director Kevin McKenzie announced the company's Women's Movement, a multi-year initiative to support the creation of new work by female choreographers. ABT's fall season, running October 17–28 at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater, sets the project in full swing. The opening gala features a world premiere by tap extraordinaire Michelle Dorrance. A co-commission with the Vail Dance Festival, this work marks ABT's third collaboration with Dorrance this year: She created Praedicere, a pièce d'occasion for ABT's spring gala, as well as a work on company dancers at Vail last summer. The gala performance also includes past and present works by two female choreographers: Twyla Tharp's 1986 In The Upper Room and Lauren Lovette's 2017 Le Jeune, which will be danced by the ABT Studio Company.
Last week, Ashley Bouder joined an all-star cast of performers at the 5th annual Lake Tahoe Dance Festival. Co-directors Christin Hanna and Constantine Baecher curated a dramatic evening that included a world premiere by Marco Pelle, iconic masterworks by Lester Horton and Paul Taylor, contemporary favorites by Baecher and Robert Moses, and the California premiere of Red Spotted Purple—a solo for Bouder choreographed by her New York City Ballet colleague, Lauren Lovette.
Named after a butterfly, Red Spotted Purple was made for The Ashley Bouder Project's most recent season at the Joyce Theater's Ballet Festival. Lovette's playful and free-spirited solo seemed ripe for an outdoor performance, especially against Tahoe City's gorgeous landscape of pine trees and its blue lake. Featuring both a commissioned score by Stephanie Ann Boyd and a gorgeous dress designed by Michelle Smith of MILLY, the solo dance was in line with Bouder's mission to promote more diversity in ballet's creative process. I caught the performance in Tahoe City and chatted with the two women via email about the experience of making this dance.
How did this commission come about?
Ashley Bouder: I was brainstorming female choreographers that I'd want to create a solo for me. I thought, who better than a colleague that grew up watching me dance? There isn't a female choreographer out there that knows my dancing better, or my personality on and off stage. I think Lauren is brilliant, and after having seen her two pieces for NYCB, I felt that she could make something special with a clear point of view and message. I wanted the solo to open the [Joyce] program and I just knew she could make a statement piece to fit.
There's nothing more purrrrfect than some fabulous trinas and their feline friends. We're not kitten: these bonds are paw-sitively adorable! From hanging out backstage to working out together and more, these pairs will pas de chat their way straight into your heart.
Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.
Isabella Boylston Curates Her Second Hometown Ballet Festival
American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston moonlights as artistic director of Ballet Sun Valley, which she founded last year. The second annual festival will run July 17–18 in Sun Valley, Idaho, Boylston's hometown. Boylston has created two programs composed of pas de deux and solo pieces from choreographers including George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and William Forsythe, as well as Justin Peck's In Creases, the one work for a larger ensemble.
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.
"My whole mission in life is to keep Balanchine's work alive," says former New York City Ballet dancer Karin von Aroldingen in Frances Mason's I Remember Balanchine, a collection of interviews by George Balanchine's friends and colleagues. Her words feel especially potent now—and never more true. On Friday, January 5, news came to light that the German-born dancer, teacher, NYCB ballet master and longtime stager for the Balanchine Trust had died at age 76.
Born in East Germany in 1941, von Aroldingen joined Frankfurt Ballet as a first soloist before George Balanchine invited her to join NYCB in 1962. Trained in the Russian method, she had to adjust her technique to fit NYCB's fast, streamlined style. "It took me years to unwind myself, to be good," she says in Mason's book. She eventually rose to principal dancer in 1972. Her dancing was strong, assertive and passionate. During her 22-year career at NYCB, Balanchine created 20 roles for her, including Kammermusik No. 2, Union Jack, Vienna Waltzes, Who Cares?, Robert Schumann's Davidsbündlertanze and her most well-known, Stravinsky Violin Concerto. (Who hasn't marveled at her elastic backbends in the 1972 "Dance in America" broadcast above?)
Last night was New York City Ballet's annual Fall Fashion Gala at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater. Billed as "Uniting the Worlds of Ballet and Fashion," the event paired choreographers with high fashion designers. Chaired by known fashion icon and NYCB board of directors vice-chairman Sarah Jessica Parker, the evening attracted big names in the worlds of dance and fashion. This year's gala featured four premieres choreographed by NYCB affiliates: company dancers Troy Schumacher, Lauren Lovette and Justin Peck and School of American Ballet Alumna and current Dresden Semperoper Ballett apprentice Gianna Reisen. Reisen, 18, is the youngest person to choreograph for NYCB to date.
Gain greater insight into the minds of the designers and choreographers in this NYCB produced video, screened at the Koch Theater last night before the start of the show, and check out some of the night's best moments (and outfits) from the red carpet to the stage.
This Thursday marks New York City Ballet's annual Fall Gala. Spearheaded by actress and NYCB board member Sarah Jessica Parker, this glamorous event unites the worlds of ballet and fashion by partnering choreographers with top designers to collaborate on new works. This year, alongside premieres by NYCB company members/choreographers Lauren Lovette, Justin Peck and Troy Schumacher, 18-year old School of American Ballet alumna Gianna Reisen will present her first work for the stage at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater.
NYCB Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins noticed Reisen's work at SAB's Student Choreography Workshop and invited her to create a piece for The New York Choreographic Institute in 2016 before offering her the Fall Gala commission. This opportunity came as part of a whirlwind year for Reisen; after finishing her studies at SAB she was offered an apprenticeship at Dresden Semperoper Ballett late last spring. Reisen spent only three weeks getting settled in Germany before returning to NYC in late August to start rehearsals for the gala.
We caught up with Reisen to hear what it's been like to work alongside such high-caliber artists and to get the inside scoop on her premiere.
New York City Ballet principal Lauren Lovette is no stranger to Colorado's Vail Dance Festival—she's performed there each summer since 2011. This year, she returns not only as a dancer but as a choreographer. Lovette gained recognition for her September 2016 choreographic debut at NYCB, For Clara. On August 7, Vail audiences will see her latest major commission.
Lovette as Giselle at the 2016 Vail Dance FestivalPhoto by Erin Baiano
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Who says dancers don't eat?
In 1979, the corps of American Ballet Theatre went on strike in a fight to increase their wages (starting corps members made a measly $235 a week). "We're underpaid and overworked" said soloist Rebecca Wright in a People magazine article from the time. Though the nearly two-month long labor dispute ultimately gave dancers a 40 percent wage increase and better benefits, the months without work left dancers tightening their belts even further to make ends meet. Their solution? A benefit performance and auction organized by Gelsey Kirkland starring Natalia Makarova and former NYCB dancer Edward Villella, stars who spoke out on behalf of the corps. The benefit brought in $10,000. One of the items auctioned off was Ballet Theatre Belly-Busters, a cookbook compiled by the dancers of their favorite recipes, complete with a hand-drawn cover.
We got our hands on one of these original copies, and were surprised to see what an eclectic mix of delicacies the book contained, from hometown favorites to ballet-themed baked goods.
When New York City Ballet went on a three-week tour to Paris last summer, we wished we could tag along. The company presented 20 ballets at the historic Théâtre du Châtelet, including 14 by Balanchine.
Thanks to PBS and their Great Performances series, you can now get a taste of what it was like to be in that audience. The network will air the closing night performance in a two-part broadcast on February 17 (that's tonight!) and February 24, hosted by artistic director Peter Martins.
The lineup features four Balanchine works, all set to the music of French composers—and the casting alone is enough to make you want to tune in.
There are many reasons we love New York City Ballet principal Lauren Lovette: She exudes joy, her dancing is pristine and she constantly pursues new adventures and ideas, whether that means dancing in her colleague Troy Schumacher's BalletCollective, or working on her own art projects.
Recently, Lovette premiered her first choreographic work for the main company during NYCB's 2016 fall gala. She was in good company, sharing the bill with fellow dancer Peter Walker, international choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and NYCB resident choreographer Justin Peck. And though Walker's work was also untested, Lovette received extra attention (and extra scrutiny) due to the fact that NYCB rarely commissions women choreographers.
Responses to her ballet, For Clara, were mixed, but in this video profile by CNN it's clear that Lovette has prepared herself for any outcome. The profile was filmed during her creation process and she talks about the vulnerabilities that come with leadership and the risks associated with transitioning from dancer to choreographer (though Lovette is by no means hanging up her pointe shoes permanently!). Despite the pressure, Lovette's positivity continues to shine through, as we see her repeatedly running over to hug her dancers. Watch it here.
It's been five years since a female choreographer premiered a work at New York City Ballet. Fortunately the 2016 fall gala on September 20 presents a more gender-diverse choreographic lineup, including company principal Lauren Lovette and independent choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. The gala program includes premieres by two other NYCB dancers: resident choreographer Justin Peck and corps member Peter Walker, who creates his first ballet for the company.
New York City Ballet principal dancer Lauren Lovette, a prolific user of
Instagram, discovered she had an eager following of aspiring ballerinas while guest teaching at Manhattan Youth Ballet and other summer intensives. “They would come up to me and say, 'I follow you,' " she says. “I realized early on the kind of influence I have on younger girls. Now I like to cater my Instagram that way."
Almost by accident, Lovette had built a "brand"—a successful ballerina whose lively photos, sparkling personality and keen fashion sense speak directly to a target audience. While "dancer as brand" may sound strange or distasteful, it has permeated the ballet world: Think of how American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland has built her empire through social media, a shrewd publicist, television appearances, film and touring with rock star Prince. Now, more dancers are finding ways to market themselves by finding and promoting their unique qualities.
If you're wishing events like World Ballet Day LIVE came around more than once a year, you're in luck: Next week brings not one, but two ballet livestreams that you can enjoy right from your phone or computer. Mark your calendars, and prepare for a week of stellar ballet:
Zarely's first World Online Gala. This Sunday, more than 20 principal dancers from around the world will participate in a 10-hour online performance. The star-studded lineup includes Staatsballett Berlin's Iana Salenko, American Ballet Theatre's Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside, San Francisco Ballet's Yuan Yuan Tan, New York City Ballet's Lauren Lovette and The Australian Ballet's Amber Scott—to name just a few. The dancers will perform their favorite classical or contemporary works, and share personal stories of their own dance journeys. The event promises to be an inspiring way to kick off your week.
Catch it: January 31, beginning at 10:30 am EST. Watch the livestream here.
The 44th Prix de Lausanne. After all that starpower, tune in on Monday for the beginning of the 2016 Prix de Lausanne, and watch some of ballet's most exciting emerging talent. All week, the annual competition will stream daily backstage events, giving viewers behind-the-scenes access to the action. It all culminates in the finals on Saturday, February 6, when 20 young dancers will compete for one-year scholarships at the Prix's partner schools and companies. This will be livestreamed as well.
At 5' 4", New York City Ballet corps member Lauren Lovette could be easily overlooked at the end of a long line of corps women. Once she begins to dance, however, she captures your attention. Her head is held high atop an eloquent neck. Her body is a textbook example of classical proportions with its 2:1 ratio of legs to torso. Her long arms possess an invariably musical sinuosity.
Last year Lovette, now 21, began earning critical acclaim for major roles. Reviewing her debut as Sugarplum in The Nutcracker, New York Observer critic Robert Gottlieb wrote that she was “strong, clear, musical, succeeding through dance power and ballerina-like self-assurance." Yet Lovette has had her share of disheartening setbacks along the way. It took determination and talent to lay the foundation for her success.
One of her first NYCB roles could not have been more negligible. Soon after she became an apprentice in 2009, she was cast in a fleeting cameo in choreographer Susan Stroman's Frankie and Johnny . . . and Rose. She popped up out of nowhere at the end to console Amar Ramasar after he had been simultaneously dumped by Tiler Peck and Sara Mearns.
Lovette's recent Sugarplum debut won her kudos from the critics. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.