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Newly promoted soloist Lawrence Rines in Mikko Nissinen's The Nutcracker. Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

Boston Ballet announced some happy news this morning: seven dancers have been promoted! The company named three to soloist and four to demi-soloist for the 2019-20 season. "I am excited to see how they continue to grow as dancers in the upcoming season with its versatile and challenging repertoire," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen in a statement. So, who are these lucky dancers? Read on to find out.

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Derek Dunn. Photo by Curtis Brown Photography.

Boston Ballet might be the new United Nations. The company's 2017-2018 roster was announced this morning, and the 65 dancers are representative of 15 different nationalities. Which countries are present at this ballet roundtable? Albania, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Finland, France, Georgia, Italy, Japan, Paraguay, South Korea, Spain and the U.S.

The company boasts the addition of thirteen new dancers and nine promotions.


Who's new?

Our October/November 2016 cover star, Derek Dunn, is leaving Houston Ballet to join BB as a soloist.

Chrystyn FentroyRachel Neville Photography

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Misa Kuranaga with Forsythe in the studio. Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

When Boston Ballet announced its partnership with choreographer William Forsythe last year, it named his full-length Artifact as its first new acquisition. Created in 1984, Artifact is considered by many to be Forsythe's greatest masterpiece, yet it has never been performed in its entirety by a U.S. company. Simultaneously abstract and theatrical (two characters—a Person in Historical Costume and a Person with Megaphone—have speaking roles), this large-scale “ballet about ballet" is reverential to the past while taking the boundaries of classical technique into the future.

Boston Ballet dancers have been working closely with Forsythe in preparation for the February 23 premiere. Artistic director Mikko Nissinen talked to me about the production, and why it's so groundbreaking.

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This week, Boston Ballet hosts its first-ever Choreographic Intensive in Marblehead, MA. Student Leah Hirsch will be blogging daily from the Intensive for Pointe. Read Leah's first entries here, here and here, and stay tuned for more!

 

Dancing and writing share many parallels. That thought came to me as Helen Pickett taught us the different parts of Forsythe improvisation technique today. The ideas of pausing and hovering are very prominent in both art forms. Contemporary and classical dance contain significant pauses—punctuation—that are equivalent to semicolons, dashes, even exclamation points.

But choreography doesn't have to obey set grammar rules. A dancer or choreographer's response to music can be more interpretive. It is not a dancer’s ability to simply regurgitate choreography, but her ability to add to it elements in tune with her own physical structure that makes contemporary dance unique. No piece is ever danced just one way. As Boston Ballet soloist Jeffrey Cirio (who visited us yesterday) pointed out, his choreography is constantly changing to fit a specific dancer at a specific moment. Catching a director's eye is not solely based on technical ability, but also on movement quality, emotion, and imagination.

Today, we had the privilege of taking technique class with Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen. He not only urged us to dance with an expansive quality, but also to toy with the musicality of each combination. Our goal, he said, should be to create a sense of excitement for the audience. He brought the ideas of musicality and movement highlighted in our contemporary classes into a classical ballet setting. At the halfway point of this intensive, I've realized the many connections and parallels between classical and contemporary dance. Both feed off of one another.

Audition season is one of the most grueling parts of a dancer's year. But don't let cattle call burnout keep you from getting into the company of your dreams. To offer a dose of inspiration, Pointe peeked inside an open call for Boston Ballet and picked artistic director Mikko Nissinen's brain for his best audition advice. In the feature, he gives the best defense of falling I've ever heard: It just means he's sure to notice you. He also offered this tip:

 

"Naturally, I’m looking for strong technical ability and musicality. But more than that, the dancer has to be interesting. And as an artist, if you're really open and vulnerable, you will be interesting. Be yourself. I don’t want you to pretend to be Natalia Makarova, because you’re not going to succeed in that!"

 

Check out our auditions page to see which companies are currently looking for dancers.

It's spring showcase season, and every student has the same fantasy: Being seen by a director, and promptly offered a contract. For Hannah Keene, that fantasy came true after she performed as a Boston Ballet trainee in the school's Next Generation concert last year. She shared her story with Pointe:

 

That night, I performed in my trainee "class piece," and in Balanchine's Raymonda Variations, doing the first variation. I was dancing just as I would in any other performance—I had been planning on a second year in Boston Ballet's trainee program.

 

But after the show, while still in costume and heading downstairs to change, I remember Boston Ballet's artistic dtirector, Mikko Nissinen, calling out casually, "Hannah, could I talk to you for a second?" When I went over, he said to me, "How would you feel about joining BBII next year?" I was shocked. I thought at first that he might be joking! I thought, "This can't be real!" I think I even asked him, "Are you serious?" It was such a dream come true, so all I could think was that I was, in fact, dreaming.

 

Now my first season with BBII is almost over, and I've learned so much from taking class and rehearsing with such incredible dancers. I've figured out that I need to take responsibility for my own dancing and be diligent about my work; there's not always a teacher to help me when I'm struggling. I've also learned how important it is to let loose, to be confident that I have the technique and then find ways to make the movements my own. I love Boston Ballet and have spent years looking up to the dancers here. I'd love to grow with the company and become a stronger, more versatile dancer, to take risks with new pieces, and in the process, learn more about myself as an artist.

 

Catch Keene dancing the role of the Piccolo in Jerome Robbins' Fanfare in this year's Next Generation performance on Wednesday, May 8 at the Boston Opera House.

 

 

The role of artistic director sounds like a dreamy career. They get to choreograph, choose company repertoire and watch beautiful dancers all day long. But as it turns out, the job isn't all rainbows and unicorns. What a lot of dancers don't understand is that when they transition to the managerial side of ballet, they'll have to deal with a lot of meetings, dancer turnover and long, long days. Think a leadership position is in your distant future? If so, check this out: The Boston Globe followed Boston Ballet's Mikko Nissinen through a typical week of work. In the article, he candidly speaks about casting, auditions and the not so glamorous parts of his job. (And there are some nice photos of him teaching company class, too.)

 

Above: Nissinen at a Boston Ballet audition. Photo by Matthew Murphy for Pointe.

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