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San Francisco Ballet is bringing six works from their Unbound: A Festival of New Works to The Kennedy Center this week. Here, dancers are pictured in Christopher Wheeldon's Bound To. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy The Kennedy Center.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.

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Los Angeles Ballet's Tigran Sargsyan and Petra Conti. LAB opens their fall season this week with a mixed bill including two company premieres. Photo by Reed Hutchinson, Courtesy LAB.

Fall for Dance FestivalWonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.

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Ballet Careers
Nevada Ballet Theatre. Still Courtesy Lee.

Earlier this summer, we followed master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop as she made her on a pointe shoe fitting tour around the West Coast and California. Now she's back, this time on a 45-day tour from California to Chicago, educating students on all things pointe shoes and helping them to find their perfect fit. Lee's making stops at top ballet companies and academies across the country, interviewing school directors and chatting with professional ballerinas to find out how they customize and break in their pointe shoes. Below, check out Lee's first stop: Nevada Ballet Theatre. She touches base with company dancer Caroline MacDonald, and academy director Anna Lantz. Stay tuned for more!

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Nevada Ballet Theatre in Balanchine's "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue." Photo by Virginia Trudeau, Courtesy NBT.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.


New York City Ballet's Jerome Robbins Festival Opens with World Premiere by Justin Peck

This week marks the start of NYCB's Robbins 100 festival, running May 3-20, celebrating the centennial of choreographer Jerome Robbins. The company will dance 19 Robbins' ballets as well as a world premiere by resident choreographer Justin Peck inspired by Robbins and set to a score by Leonard Bernstein. The centennial of Bernstein, Robbins' longtime collaborator, will also be celebrated this year. This striking trailer offers glimpses of some of Robbins' most beloved ballets, including Fancy Free and The Cage.

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Kaiser in the Nevada Ballet Theatre studios. Photo by Virginia Trudeau, Courtesy NBT.

In October, Nevada Ballet Theatre announced that Roy Kaiser, the former longtime artistic director of Pennsylvania Ballet, was heading west to take the helm of the 35-member, Las Vegas–based company previously led by James Canfield. Kaiser took over in the midst of the 2017–18 season; the 2018–19 season has not been announced yet. Below, Kaiser shares his hopes for the company's future.

What have you been working on since you left Pennsylvania Ballet in 2014?

I have always kept my hand in the business; I've been doing a lot of guest teaching, and from time to time a little bit of consulting work.

What drew you to Nevada Ballet Theatre?

I was approached for the job, and while going through the process of being a candidate I was struck by the history of this company and the fact that it's now in its 46th season. And the community that I found in Las Vegas not only has a great spirit about it, but is very interested in developing the total arts scene, not just ballet. It seemed like a wonderful challenge and opportunity to do something really important here in the city.

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Roy Kaiser with Pennsylvania Ballet Dancers. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Nevada Ballet Theatre.

In 2014 the dance world was surprised when longtime Pennsylvania Ballet artistic director Roy Kaiser stepped down. It was announced yesterday that Kaiser will be rising to the helm again as the Las Vegas-based Nevada Ballet Theatre's new artistic director, replacing James Canfield. Kaiser will be the fourth artistic director in NBT's 46 year history.

The company will be gaining a highly experienced leader. Following his rise through the ranks to principal dancer at Pennsylvania Ballet, Kaiser worked as a ballet master and eventually took the reigns as the company's artistic director in 1995. Pennsylvania Ballet added 90 new ballets and 35 world premieres to their repertoire under his leadership.


Roy Kaiser with Pennsylvania Ballet Dancers. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Nevada Ballet Theatre.

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Ballet Careers

For many professional ballet dancers, following the dream means a series of clear upward steps, from corps to soloist to principal. Until last year, you might have said that Nevada Ballet Theatre’s Alissa Dale was right on track.

 

A trainee with NBT in 2004, Dale got into the corps the next year and advanced to soloist in 2007. But in 2009, as NBT changed its artistic leadership, it also changed from a tiered company of principals, soloists and corps members to a 23-member ensemble of dancers, all equals—an unranked company.

 

Although staying with Nevada Ballet Theatre meant losing a title, Dale didn’t see herself as a casualty of the transition. “I’ve always been a fan of the ensemble system, so I was really excited,” she says. “It increases the competition, but it’s also an opportunity to work harder. You can’t take for granted where you stand in the company—you can be passed over if you sit back and don’t grab the reins. But that in turn increases your work ethic.”

 

Bucking the hierarchy laid out by the great European ballet institutions, more and more unranked companies are dotting the landscape of American ballet. The root of that model traces back to the “all-star, no star” Joffrey Ballet. “Robert Joffrey’s philosophy was that in a non-ranked company the strength lay in everyone, rather than resting on one or two featured artists,” says James Canfield, a Joffrey alumnus who took over the helm of NBT last year after serving as interim director for a year.

 

Famously egalitarian, Joffrey’s approach meant that his hard-working dancers might find themselves leading a ballet one night and dancing in the corps another. That sense of democracy is part of the rationale for unranked companies. “In a ranked company, everyone knows their place, so there’s an assuredness,” says Septime Webre, who has headed the unranked, 22-member Washington Ballet since 1999. “But in an unranked company, there’s a social mobility, shall we say?”

 

It’s an approach that has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, any dancer can earn a chance to shine in a leading role. But the lack of clear levels means that life becomes a daily competition with fellow dancers.

 

“There’s a sense of ‘on edge’ that you have to maintain,” says Travis Bradley, who is in his sixth season at Ballet Memphis. Bradley has also danced with the ranked Houston Ballet, but says he knew he wanted the opportunities available to small-company dancers. “Anytime a choreographer comes in, you can’t just rely on the advantage of status,” he says.

 

However, in many hierarchical companies, when a choreographer arrives to cast a new work, he or she is directed towards principals or soloists for leads. In an unranked company, every dancer has a shot. “When a stager or choreographer comes in, they’ll work with a huge group for a day, just to see how we move and who’s best for a role,” explains Nadia Iozzo, a dancer with the unranked Kansas City Ballet.  “And the senior dancers in our company aren’t necessarily guaranteed those principal roles. But they’ve put in their years and they’ve reached a certain excellence in technique and artistry and that elevates their work.”

 

Which brings us to the question: Are all unranked companies really that egalitarian, or will certain dancers implicitly still have a better chance of being cast in leading roles than others?

 

“Inevitably, some will rise to the top,” says William Whitener, artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet and another Joffrey alum. “But when a choreographer picks dancers, there is generally an element of surprise, too.”

 

“You feel like no matter who got chosen for a role, it was always fair game for everyone,” says Dale, who found herself cast as Myrtha in Giselle one year and in Canfield’s ensemble-driven Jungle the next. “You can’t get complacent.”

 

Dorothy Gunther Pugh, who founded Ballet Memphis in 1986, says that her unranked company’s roster needs to be proportionally sized for its relatively small city—but also ready for the eclectic repertoire she’s building. “A ranked system is an inefficient model for our company’s strengths,” she says. “I need nimble, versatile people.”

 

“It’s a democratic model, and we live in a democracy,” says Pugh with some warmth. “I feel like we need to reflect our culture. There’s something very American about a more level playing field.”

Mary Ellen Hunt writes about dance and the arts for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Uncertain times have pushed Nevada Ballet Theatre’s new artistic director, James Canfield, to make some significant changes. Canfield, appointed in January, has laid off 10 of the company’s dancers and several administrative staffers. “It’s hard, but tough times will make us more committed, innovative and creative,” he says. (He hopes that NBT’s move to the new Smith Center for the Performing Arts in early 2012 will help draw the large audiences the company needs.) Canfield’s restructuring plan also includes the elimination of a ranking system. “I believe that the ensemble company allows for more opportunities for the entire roster of dancers and makes for a stronger, more well-rounded and diverse company," he says. Despite the recession, there’s happy news for ballet fans in Arkansas and Indiana. The directors of Ballet Arkansas—which hasn’t mounted a professional company in 12 years—recently announced that they have enough funds to support a troupe again; it will consist of six dancers under the artistic direction of Arleen Sugano. The revived BA’s first concert is scheduled for October 16–17. Meanwhile, newly formed Indianapolis City Ballet is the first ballet company to call the city home since Ballet Internationale folded more than four years ago. Chairman Robert R. Hesse is planning a gala performance for September 12. If the response is positive, Hesse will continue with the troupe, which will have 10 to 14 dancers and be led by former ABT II director John Meehan. -Laura Di Orio and Amanda Sillikier

The recession is hitting the ballet world hard. Faced with significant shortfalls, New York City Ballet, Nevada Ballet Theatre, Ballet Florida and Miami City Ballet have been forced to cut dancers from their ranks. Eleven NYCB, nine NBT and nine BF members will not be returning next season, and eight MCB dancers, fresh from the company’s triumphant first NYC season, also discovered that their contracts would not be renewed. American Ballet Theatre’s dancers have accepted a proposal eliminating pension contributions and vacation pay in 2009, but the plan allows the company to retain all 86 of them. There’s happier news at Texas Ballet Theater, which was on the verge of folding last year. The company has made such a strong recovery that they plan to add three dancers to their roster next season and to extend the length of their dancer contracts by three weeks. — MF

--American Ballet Theatre dancer Cory Stearns was promoted to soloist at
the beginning of January, three years after becoming a member of ABT’s corps de ballet.

 

--Manuel Legris will direct the Vienna State Opera’s ballet beginning in 2010, upon retiring as an étoile with the Paris Opéra Ballet. In his new position, Legris will work to grow the troupe’s international reputation.

 

--James Canfield was chosen as Nevada Ballet Theatre’s next artistic director after serving as the interim artistic director since March 2008. Canfield will lead the company through its transition to a new home in the $475 million Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

Have you gotten your April/May issue of Pointe yet? Click on the photo at right for an exclusive sneak peek. It's an outtake from Jim Lafferty's photo essay, which chronicles Ballet West, Nevada Ballet Theatre and Pacific Northwest Ballet's historic shared production of George Balanchine's Jewels. Lafferty captured the dancers backstage: warming up in company class, soaring in performance. The result is a kind of magical series of intimate images. Keep your eyes peeled for the full feature.

Former New York City Ballet principal Nilas Martins and former NYCB principal and American Ballet Theatre soloist Monique Meunier recently began their tenure as co-directors of the Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre (ANBT). Pointe asked the husband-and-wife team about their plans for the school, and their advice for pre-professional students.

What is your vision for ANBT?
We want to raise the technical level of the students to the best of our ability and to explore the possibility of expanding the current programs. We believe that exposure is one of the key elements needed; we would like for the students to be able to maximize their experiences and receive the opportunity to see and be part of great art. This can be achieved by working with established artists in addition to dancing challenging works during the annual Spring Concert.

Are there any particular changes you're planning to make?
We would like to eventually invite accomplished artists to ANBT to teach and create on the students within a workshop setting, and add additional styles of dance to the curriculum.

What drew you to this new position?
We feel it is a wonderful opportunity to make a difference in a community that has clearly shown an interest in expanding its arts programs, within the educational system as well as in the performing arts.
 
In your view, what are the most essential skills for ballet students to hone during their last years as pre-professionals?
Discipline, respect and etiquette are absolute essentials. Most important is cultivating an ability to set goals while striving to achieve them.

What advice would you offer students hoping to be professionals?
Continue to work hard, take care of your body, and be committed to your mission. Always look to improve and don’t compare yourself to others.

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