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Sara Webb and Connor Walsh with Artists of Houston Ballet in "Swan Lake" choreographed by Stanton Welch. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

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


The Australian Ballet's Triple Bill, Verve, Includes New Work by Company Dancer Alice Topp

Verve, a triple-bill program from The Australian Ballet running June 21-30 in Melbourne, will host revivals of works from resident choreographers Stephen Baynes and Tim Harbour, as well as a world premiere from company coryphée Alice Topp. Topp's Aurum is inspired by kintsugi, a Japanese art in which broken ceramics are mended using lacquer colored with silver or gold, so that the cracks are emphasized, instead of hidden. In Aurum, Topp applies that philosophy to the human ability to find beauty in vulnerability and imperfections. Completing the bill are Baynes's Constant Variants, which pairs neo-classical ballet with a Tchaikovsky score, and Harbour's Filigree and Shadow, a contemporary ballet featuring striking set and lighting design.

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2014 Junior Gold Medalist Gisele Bethea and partner Michal Wozniak at the 2014 USA IBC Awards Gala. Photo by Richard Finkelstein, Courtesy USA IBC.

From June 10–23, 119 competitors from 19 countries will gather in Jackson, Mississippi, for the 11th USA International Ballet Competition. Held every four years, the USA IBC has helped launch the careers of dozens of stars, including Daniil Simkin, Misa Kuranaga and Brooklyn Mack. "The 2014 competition was good, but we're making this year better," says jury chairman John Meehan. Changes include broadened age limits for competitors and a larger sum of prize money. This summer's competition also has a special focus on Marius Petipa in honor of his 200th birthday. There will be an emphasis on Petipa repertoire, and choreographer Alexei Ratmansky will give a workshop for competitors on his reconstructions of original Petipa choreography. This edition will also honor the legacy of Robert Joffrey, who was a catalyst in launching the USA IBC with founder Thalia Mara. Dancers from The Joffrey Ballet will perform in the opening ceremony.

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News
National Ballet of Canada's Skylar Campbell and Elena Lobsanova in "The Dreamers Ever Leave You." Photo by Karolina Kuras, Courtesy NBoC.

This week is bursting at the seams with ballet. Earlier this month multiple companies performed the same ballet (think Romeo and Juliet), but this week brings a truly eclectic mix of new works, company premieres and old classics all around the U.S. and Canada. We've rounded up programs by eight companiesNational Ballet of Canada, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Houston Ballet, American Repertory Ballet, Sarasota Ballet, Ballet Memphis, Texas Ballet Theater and Indianapolis Balletto give you a sense of what's happening.

National Ballet of Canada

In honor of Canada's 150th anniversary in 2017, the Toronto-based National Ballet of Canada is presenting a mixed bill February 28–March 4 titled Made in Canada. The program features works made on NBoC by three of Canada's most lauded choreographers: Robert Binet's The Dreamers Ever Leave You, James Kudelka's The Four Seasons and Crystal Pite's Emergence. Check out the preview below.

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Everything Nutcracker
New York City Ballet's famous growing tree. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

Literary Roots

E.T.A. Hoffmann, a German writer, penned the eerie and dark tale "Nutcracker and Mouse King" in 1816. About 30 years later, the French writer Alexandre Dumas took the Nutcracker story into his own hands, lightening things up and softening the character descriptions. Dumas even cheered up the name of the protagonist. "Marie Stahlbaum" (meaning "steel tree," representing the repressive family Marie found herself in, which led her imagination to run wild) became "Clara Silberhaus" (translated to "silver house," a magnificent home filled with shiny magic.)

Snowflakes of the original cast, "The Nutcracker" at the Mariinsky Theatre, 1892. Photo by Walter E. Owen, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

From Page to Stage

In 1892 St. Petersburg, choreographer Marius Petipa and composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky pulled the story off the page and onto the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre. But Petipa fell ill while choreographing The Nutcracker and handed his duties over to his assistant, Lev Ivanov. Critics at the 1892 premiere were not pleased. Balletomanes felt the work to be uneven, and lamented the lack of a main ballerina in the first act. Many thought that the story was too light compared to historically based stories.

Out of Russia

Despite its initial reception, the ballet survived, partially due to the success of Tchaikovsky's score. Performances were scarce, though, as the Russian Revolution scattered its original dancers. The Nutcracker's first major exposure outside of Russia took place in London in 1934. Former Mariinsky ballet master Nikolas Sergeyev was tasked with staging Petipa's story ballets on the Vic-Wells Ballet (today The Royal Ballet) from the original notation. The notes were incomplete and difficult to read, yet Sergeyev persisted, and The Nutcracker made it to the stage.

Dancers from ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in "The Nutcracker" pas de deux. Photo Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

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Ballet Stars
The Bolshoi Ballet's "Le Corsaire." Photo via Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema.

In a dream world we'd all be able to pop over to the Bolshoi to see the best of Russian ballet whenever we want. But because (unfortunately) that's not a possibility for most of us, the Bolshoi makes it easier by bringing their masterpieces to the silver screen. Now in its 8th year, the 2017-18 Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema season presents a wide range of classic story ballets restaged by some of today's most celebrated choreographers. Movie theaters nationwide will screen these ballets starting on October 22; you can find the closest cinema to your hometown here. So grab a ballet-loving friend and a bucket of popcorn and be sure to get your tickets soon—if these knockout trailers are any indication, tickets are bound to sell out fast.

First up is Le Corsaire. Reworked by Alexei Ratmansky (a theme of this year's selections) from Petipa's 19th century classic, this ballet is billed by the Bolshoi as one of their "most lavish productions." A full shipwreck on stage? Yeah, "lavish" seems about right.

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Ballet Stars
Evgenia Obratsova

Bolshoi ballerina Evgenia Obraztsova is sunny and spritely in this 2003 video clip from the Grand Pas Classique Hongrois in Raymonda. She performed this solo at 19 during her first year with the Mariinsky Ballet. Audiences around the world love Obraztsova's contagious sense of joy, and this fun little variation is a preview of her successes down the road in other high energy-roles.

Obraztsova beams as she flies across the stage in this video, nailing the fast footwork. At some points she seems to barely touch the floor. She incorporates folksy details, like a charming head wobble, with a natural flair for character. Even in this light-hearted and super-quick dance, Obraztsova lets her soul shine through. It's sure to make you smile. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Viral Videos

The ballet Don Quixote depicts classical Russian elegance dressed in fiery Spanish flair. Although Marius Petipa's version for the Bolshoi Ballet debuted in 1869, most modern productions are based off of Alexander Gorksy's 1900 revival. He sought to trade Petipa's pageantry for more naturalistic storytelling. However, it seems that Gorsky ceded to the suspension of narrative in Act III, keeping the grandiose wedding pas de deux to showcase the Bolshoi stars' resplendent technique.

Many decades later, it still shines. In this 1972 clip, former Bolshoi Ballet principals Vladimir Vasiliev and the late Ekaterina Maximova dance Basilio and Kitri. In the opening section, they bring flair to each dramatic shape and deep dive, but the two really impress in their variations and the coda. After 10 rapid pirouettes (3:50), Vasiliev closes to fifth with a smoothness that wouldn't disturb a teacup on a porcelain saucer, and Maximova is all sass with her playfully angled shoulders and flicking wrists. In the coda, they both keep time with the sprinting tempo, and you can tell that the two are having a blast. Vasiliev's technical bravura and Maximova's pixie-like exuberance are perfectly wedded and, in real life, so were they! Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Views

Marius Petipa’s original version of La Bayadère, which premiered in St. Petersburg in 1877, was meant to evoke the exotic Far East. Today’s productions have no shortage of tropes that Westerners might associate with a royal Indian court: elephants, rajahs, midriffs and opium dreams. The first time I saw La Bayadère, it was not the fantastical setting I found so mesmerizing, but the dancers underneath the layers of intrigue, silk and jewels. Polina Semionova, an American Ballet Theatre principal and Mikhailovsky Theatre guest artist, is particularly captivating as La Bayadère’s heroine, the lovelorn and doomed Nikiya.

 

In the variation preceding the Nikiya’s death, Semionova’s lithe figure undulates—not unlike the snake whose deadly bite is the character’s fate—and melts effortlessly into each supple lunge and backbend. The lyrical choreography exhibits Semionova’s usual flawless lines, and she embodies Nikiya’s desperation in the way she clutches her neck and bows pleadingly towards Solor. Watching this video, I can hardly tear my eyes away from the seductive, simple way Semionova peels one perfectly arched foot off the floor, steps to sous-sus and twists her graceful arms overhead. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

 

Black Swan pas de deux was supposed to be a pas de quatre? At Pacific Northwest Ballet’s recent Works and Process presentation, dance historian Doug Fullington revealed how some of ballet's most iconic pas de deux have morphed since the 19th century. He explained that choreography labeled “After Petipa” can mean that it is once or even twice (“based on a ‘based on’ ”) removed from Petipa’s original choreography, or just done in the Petipa style.

 

The Blue Bird Pas de Deux from The Sleeping Beauty

●    It was originally supposed to be a pas de quatre featuring the Blue Bird, Princess Florine, Cinderella and Prince Charming.

●    Enrico Cecchetti, the first to dance the role of Blue Bird, might have contributed to the choreography.

●    In today's version, the music slows to accommodate the bigger jumps and more turns that dancers now perform.

●    The notated version contains side lifts, which were popular in that era.

 

The Wedding Pas de Deux from The Sleeping Beauty

●    The notated version shows more pantomime and no fish dive, which is believed to have been added by Diaghilev in 1921.

●    The Gold and Sapphire fairies were supposed to dance after the adagio, but the notations are too convoluted to make out the exact choreography.


The Black Swan Pas de Deux from Swan Lake

●    The music had to undergo major “surgery,” as it was initially written for Act I.

●    The original choreography was a “pas de quatre demi d’action” featuring Odile, Prince Siegfried, Von Rothbart (who is called “Evil genie” in the notation) and a mysterious "Cavalier" character. The pas d’action aspect suggests that it was intended to be a narrative with pantomime rather than a technically challenging scene.

●    Odile was not very swan-like at first. In 1895, she was just an enchantress in a colorful costume. Dancers started to wear black and be referred to as the Black Swan only in the 1940s.

●    Odile’s signature 32 fouettes were notated in 1895 and were believed to be first performed by Pierina Legnani, an Italian ballerina who introduced the step in Cinderella (although fouettes didn’t remain in that ballet).

 

It seems the most natural place for a dancer to perform is within a dream. Once the stage transports you deep into the world of the ballet, the audience experiences a surreal vision. Many ballets incorporate a dream scene, but Petipa’s Raymonda comes from the dreams of any girl who has fallen in love. The entire world slows as Raymonda floats through a heavy sleep, moving as if she imagines each step with closed eyes.

 

In this video from 1980, the Kirov Ballet's Irina Kolpakova-—now a ballet mistress at American Ballet Theatre—lulls the audience into a dreamlike trance. Her movement is legato and smooth, as if she’s manipulating the air. Kolpakova is the master of control—from her slowest renversé to her sprightly piqué attitudes. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

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