Ballet Stars
Karin von Aroldingen and Mikhail Baryshnikov in "Prodigal Son." Photo by Costas, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

"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?)

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Maria Kowrowski and Amar Ramasar in Herman Schmerman, photo by Paul Kolnik

 

When tickets go on sale for New York City Center’s annual Fall for Dance Festival on September 14, you might want to cancel your plans for the day—getting through to the box office can take hours, and before you know it, the shows are sold out! It’s no surprise as to why—tickets are a mere $15, with five programs of deliciously eclectic dance companies from around the world to choose from.

 

Luckily, the festival is offering a free sneak preview on September 12 and 13 at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. New York City Ballet principals Maria Kowrowski and Amar Ramasar are slated to perform Herman Schmerman, a quirky duet choreographed by William Forsythe to an electronic score by longtime collaborator Thom Willems. Also on the program is Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, performing Nacho Duato’s Gnawa; Bend in the Road, a world premiere collaboration by Damian Woetzel and Memphis jookin’ extraordinaire Lil Buck; and Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in D-Man in the Waters (Part I).

 

While the preview performances are free, you’ll still need tickets, which will be distributed two per person at the Delacorte Theatre on the day of the show and through virtual ticketing at shakespeareinthepark.org.

Where would ballet be without villains? Aurora would never sleep, and Odette would never become a swan. Getting cast as one of ballet’s memorable miscreants can help dancers develop new facets of their artistry and explore their dramatic side. Three professionals talk about how they approach their baddest roles.

Creating a Commanding Carabosse

Blessed with long legs, strong technique and grace, Maria Kowroski has all the qualities of a perfect Lilac Fairy, a role she has performed with consummate skill since becoming a principal dancer with New York City Ballet in 1999. So it surprised ballet master in chief Peter Martins when Kowroski asked to play Carabosse in his version of Sleeping Beauty, a role that’s the absolute opposite.

“It’s taken me a few seasons to feel comfortable in it,” she admits. To channel Carabosse’s ferocity, Kowroski calls on methods from her acting classes, like centering herself so she can draw on an inner source of anger. “When you’re really mad, it comes from a deep place. You have to try to feel that connection,” she says. She finds it helps to talk to herself throughout the performance. “I look at the king and queen, and think, ‘This is all your fault!’ ”

Kowroski says a dancer must fully inhabit the production’s outlandlish Carabosse costume, from the beaded robe and claw-like fingernails to the peaked cap. “It’s important to not hold back,” she says. “You really have to believe what you’re doing, not just go in halfway.”

Making Myrtha Menacing

She’s mean, she’s mad and she’s ready to make men dance to death. But Myrtha, the queen of the ghostly Wilis in Giselle, is also calm and collected, says National Ballet of Canada principal Heather Ogden, who has mastered the role’s combination of rage and restraint. “She’s a queen, and you need to have a certain regal quality,” she says. From Myrtha’s first bourrées onto the stage, “You are in command of the whole act. This is your land.”

A powerful technical dancer, Ogden loves Myrtha’s athletic jumps and challenging adagio. Yet to convey Myrtha’s eerie authority, “I focus on having a really quiet interior, even though the dancing has to be huge.”

Expressive mime completes the portrayal. “Myrtha doesn’t rush for anything,” Ogden says, so she tries to hold each gesture as long as possible to show that quality to the audience. “I walk almost late. When you hold a movement, it gives weight to the mime.”

One key moment comes when she plucks rosemary sprigs, a symbol of remembrance, from Giselle’s grave to summon her. Because Myrtha holds one in each hand, it isn’t possible for Ogden to use only her stronger side when it’s time to toss them away. “When I throw the left one,” Ogden admits, “it kind of goes ‘Boop!’”

Though she usually dances prima ballerina roles, she relishes the opportunity to play opposite to her personality—and opposite her husband, fellow principal Guillaume Côté, who dances Albrecht. “People always laugh because I have to be so mean to him!”

Ruling the Stage as Von Rothbart
Joshua Grant doesn’t want to play good guys. “People say I have this bubbly personality, but I enjoy doing angry roles to get some aggression out,” he says. Last season the Pacific Northwest Ballet corps member found a satisfying outlet when he was cast as Von Rothbart in PNB’s Swan Lake.

Grant was well prepared by his tenure as a principal with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Famed for their send-ups of classical ballet, the Trocks taught Grant to let go of his inhibitions, which he finds essential to creating a believable evil magician. After all, villains are bold and unapologetic: “All I have to do is walk around and the audience knows that I own everything onstage,” he says.

At 6' 4", clad in a costume that features 16-foot wings, Grant effortlessly commands the audience’s attention. But, he cautions, “It’s really easy to get lost in the costume. You almost have to act ten thousand times better to compensate.” Villains defer to no one, so Grant menaces the crowd as well as the cast. He does not ever bow to the audience, even at the curtain. He knows he’s nailed the role when they boo—a response only a villain could love.

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