Ballet Stars
Evelyn Hart in "Swan Lake," via YouTube.

The individual touches that ballerinas incorporate into well-known classical variations are a source of endless fascination for us bunheads. (The abundant "variation compilation" videos on YouTube is proof of our obsession!) Odette's solo in Swan Lake's Act II is one that is particularly open to interpretation. The style is lyrical and introspective, giving dancers ample opportunity to make personal choices about choreography, musicality and character. The Canadian ballerina Evelyn Hart, a former principal with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, performs a fairly traditional version in this clip, yet with each nuance she defines her own Odette.

Evelyn Hart as Odette (1988) www.youtube.com

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Heather Milne, Courtesy RWB

When Catherine Wreford found out that she had brain cancer in June 2013, with doctors predicting she had only two to six years left to live, there was one thing she knew she wanted to do: dance.

She had grown up training in the recreational division at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, then went on to perform on Broadway and in musical theater productions around the country. She eventually left the stage to find more stable work, running a mortgage company and later getting a nursing degree because, she says, "I knew that I could do that for a long time."

But a diagnosis of anaplastic astrocytoma meant she didn't have a long time left.

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Colorado Ballet's Dana Benton as Dorothy. Kate Rolston, Courtesy Colorado Ballet.

Picture The Wizard of Oz, and your head probably fills with yellow brick roads, flying monkeys, emerald cities and ruby slippers. Now imagine what it takes to translate that magic to the stage—and what it would look like in pointe shoes.

On Friday, Colorado Ballet will present the company premiere of Septime Webre's The Wizard of Oz, a ballet they produced jointly with Kansas City Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet (KCB presented the world premiere back in October, and RWB will have their turn this May). The three companies split the costs of creating the full-length story ballet, which includes an original score by Matthew Pierce; 120 colorful costumes (plus 112 hats!) designed by Liz Vandal; projection technology and flying effects; and puppetry (including a puppet Toto) by Nicholas Mahon, who recently worked on the opening ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics. The result is a major new production none of the companies likely would have been able to pull off on their own.

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Joaquin De Luz in Prodigal Son, one of his most celebrated roles. De Luz retires from New York City Ballet this week. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

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

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More than 60 dancers are suing Bruce Monk and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet over explicit photos that were taken of them as students. Photo by Matej/Stock Snap.

More than 60 former students from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet have joined a class-action lawsuit against the company and its former teacher and photographer Bruce Monk. Those involved are seeking $75 million in damages, for inappropriate photos that were taken of them as students by Monk. The lawsuit was reported by MacLean's, a Canadian news outlet.

Now adults, the women claim they were coerced by Monk into posing topless, and in some cases instructed to reveal more, during photography sessions. Some images were later found for sale online. More than 60 dancers were affected by this predatory behavior over a period of 31 years, from 1984 to 2015.

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"Off Kilter" has real dancers playing dancers. Still courtesy CBC Arts.

"It just...always looks better in my head."

While that might not be something any of us would want to hear from a choreographer, it's a brilliant introduction to "Off Kilter" and the odd, insecure character at its center, Milton Frank. The ballet mockumentary (think "The Office" or "Parks and Recreation," but with pointe shoes) follows Frank (dancer-turned-filmmaker Alejandro Alvarez Cadilla) as he comes back to the studio to try his hand at choreographing for the first time since a plagiarism scandal derailed his fledgling career back in the '90s.

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Just for fun
"Off Kilter" has real dancers playing dancers. Still courtesy CBC Arts.

"It just...always looks better in my head."

While that might not be something any of us would want to hear from a choreographer, it's a brilliant introduction to "Off Kilter" and the odd, insecure character at its center, Milton Frank. The ballet mockumentary (think "The Office" or "Parks and Recreation," but with pointe shoes) follows Frank (dancer-turned-filmmaker Alejandro Alvarez Cadilla) as he comes back to the studio to try his hand at choreographing for the first time since a plagiarism scandal derailed his fledgling career back in the '90s.

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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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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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Ballet Stars
Kamikusa and Luzemberg Santana in "Nutcracker." Photo by Rejean Brandt, Courtesy RWB.

As the Red Girl in Mark Godden's Dracula last November, Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Yoshiko Kamikusa proved a perfect blend of strength and seduction. She sailed effortlessly through Godden's demanding choreography, melting through her upper body and whipping off fouettés with fearless energy. "It's a high-stamina piece, but I was really happy to be given that role," Kamikusa says. "It's a dance that represents the sultry lust of the Dracula story."

Born in Japan, Kamikusa moved to Hawaii when she was 6, starting ballet lessons a year later. By age 12, her family had relocated to Vancouver, where she began training with Vera Solovyeva and Nikolai Levitsky, then faculty members at the Goh Ballet Academy. She later frequented the international competition circuit, and was a finalist at Varna and Helsinki IBCs. She joined RWB as an apprentice in 2013, becoming a corps member the following season.


Photo by David Cooper, Courtesy RWB.

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It's often said that the key ingredient in a successful partnership is trust. In this 1994 clip from a Dancers for Life benefit performance, Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Evelyn Hart and National Ballet of Canada's Rex Harrington demonstrate trust in action as they perform Jiří Kylián's Nuages. The two stars of Canadian ballet frequently danced together, and the result is a beautiful example of vulnerability and strength. The aquatic, push-pull effect of Kylián's choreography appears seamless, as if they were breathing as one. Watch the sequence at 1:30, as Hart arches over Harrington's arm, then falls forward over her pointe shoes to her knees—it's a cantilevered moment that could easily look manhandled if not perfectly timed. But these two make it as elastic as taffy. Hart dances completely free, because she has no doubt that Harrington will catch her.

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When ballerina Evelyn Hart retired in 2006 after a legendary 30-year career, it marked the end of an era. The longtime star of Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet relocated to Toronto and has been busy teaching and coaching since. (She even started her own summer intensive last year). But thanks to a growing creative relationship with Canadian choreographer James Kudelka, Hart, 60, has been gradually returning to the stage. On March 16, she joins Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie for the world premiere of Kudelka’s Love, Sex & Brahms in Toronto. Set to Johannes Brahm’s Intermezzi for solo piano, the work is an expanded version of 2015’s award-winning #lovesexbrahms, in which Hart also starred. In the following edited interview, Pointe spoke with her about how it feels to return to performing.

From Kudelka's #lovesexbrahms. Photo by John Lauener, Courtesy Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie

Tell me about your upcoming project, Love, Sex & Brahms.

Brahms created each intermezzo with a different relationship in mind. There’s a cast of 10, and each couple has a different relationship, a different problem, a different past. Of course, my partner and I have the longest past because we’re more senior. There isn’t a linear story, per se, but you see the same characters come back. It’s like when you look at an old master’s painting—it depicts the scene, but you know there was something before and after. There’s also a puppet named Sarkis, who plays a different part in each of these relationships—sometimes he’s part of the group, sometimes he’s an idea, sometimes he’s an actual person, so it’s quite interesting.

My main pas de deux is very dramatic. It’s full of movement, but it’s not dancing in the sense of “chassé pas de bourrée.” James likes to call it “heartfelt walking.” But at this point in my life, it couldn’t be a more joyous experience. Just being able to be inside the music—that’s what I miss most about performing.

 

Had you worked with James Kudelka much in the past?

During my career I didn’t have many chances to work with him, surprisingly! But in 2014, James was setting his Four Seasons on Royal Winnipeg Ballet and he thought it would be lovely to cast a mature artist as the Winter Woman, so he asked the company if I could come back to perform it. That’s sort of how this project got started—afterwards we started working together and did the first #lovesexbrahms in April 2015. He’s also just created a role for me in Vespers, a new ballet at RWB, which I’ll perform in May.

Hart with Bill Coleman in Love, Sex & Brahms. Photo by Jeremy Mimnaugh, Courtesy CLC.

How different does performing feel at this stage in your career?

I was always very nervous performing. Onstage, there’s always tension, the lights, the unknown—and that’s still there. Of course, it feels physically different now. But performing allows you to commune with your own soul. I feel like I’m in this shaft of energy—it’s like a completely different dimension, a divine dimension. The only difference now is that I have this sense of gratitude. I think the perspective of being away from the stage and coming back makes it more cherished.

 

You're now a sought-after coach. Do you find that coaching helps inform your own performances?

When I was dancing, I vowed I’d never teach. I didn’t want to go to that place. But life has funny ways of putting you in places you never expected. Coaching is difficult because it’s 50 percent coaching, 50 percent psychology! It’s all about the dancers and how to get them to their maximum potential—how can I physically help them and also how can I spiritually support them to go to that new place? It’s like a scientist working on an equation: You pare away and pare away and eventually it all leads down to a solution. And that is incredibly exciting to discover. Whether it informs my performing at this point, I don’t know. What’s different is that I don’t have a need to be in control of what I do as much. It isn’t about me, it’s about something bigger, and there's great freedom in that.

 

What do you try to pass on to younger generations?

First, to not be afraid of the work. I think a lot of dancers are fearful of working really, really hard and committing to it. If you stop fighting it and embrace it, then you’re focused on doing what you love. We all get bogged down by politics, or something hurting, but mostly it’s fear. And the antidote to that is to work.

The second thing is that there will be a lot of people around you who’ll say, “That’s good enough.” And what I try to get across to my students is to not let anyone tell you what’s good enough. You decide what level you want to achieve, and in that sense, you will always be striving for more.

Catch Hart with Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie in Love, Sex & Brahms March 16–19 at the Betty Oliphant Theatre in Toronto.

 

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

Ballet Stars
Sophia Lee. Photo by Aleli Estrada, Courtesy RWB.

The Royal Winnepeg Ballet principal adapts her cross-training for the company's frequent touring.

Travel savvy: Touring seven to eight weeks a year means Sophia Lee hits hotel gyms a lot. “I usually pack my runners and workout clothes," she says. Once she arrives at a tour stop, she'll hop on the elliptical for 20 to 30 minutes. If there's no gym, she'll walk around the city to relieve stiffness from the bus or plane ride.

Picture this: While she's traveling or in her hotel room, Lee does visualization exercises. “I close my eyes, listen to the music and imagine exactly how I'm going to execute each movement. I actually think about firing the same muscles and where I'll breathe in and breathe out."

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Ever wonder what life is like on the road? Well, thanks to social media, you can see for yourself. Next week, while Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet makes an East Coast tour of the U.S., apprentice Philippe Larouche will be taking over the company’s Instagram account to provide behind-the-scenes footage. And it should be fun, seeing as the ballet RWB is bringing is Mark Godden’s Dracula. (I’m hoping there will be some hair and makeup videos in the mix.) Set to Gustav Mahler’s Symphony Nos. 1, 2 and 9, the production closely follows Bram Stoker’s 1897 horror novel, complete with flying bats and gargoyles.

Katie Bonnell and Liang Xing in Dracula. Photo by Rejean Brandt, Courtesy RWB.

 

The company, which will tour four cities in New York and Massachusetts, gets going Saturday morning with a 7 am airport call in Manitoba. Here’s is a rundown of the performance schedule:

 

Bronx, NY: Sunday, November 13, Lehman Center for the Performing Arts

 

Worcester, MA: Tuesday, November 15, The Hanover Theatre

 

Buffalo, NY: Thursday, November 17, University at Buffalo Center for the Arts

 

Stony Brook, NY: Saturday, November 19, Stony Brook University - Staller Center for the Arts

While RWB regularly tours Canada, it comes to the U.S. less frequently. For those of you who live near a tour stop, take advantage while you can.

 

For more news on all things ballet, don't miss a single issue.

Ballet Careers
Smuin Ballet's Terez Dean. Photo by Lois Greenfield, Courtesy Smuin Ballet

From the outside, one might assume that the stars onstage are leaders offstage, too. It might be so, but life in a company is usually more complex. Opportunities to volunteer, teach or represent fellow colleagues allow dancers at any rank to develop important skills and make their voices heard. Others take the lead simply by lifting company morale or setting a good example in the studio. In fact, leadership takes many forms—and you don't have to be a principal ballerina to be an influential company member whom others look up to. For these three dancers, stepping into leadership roles has given greater meaning and fulfillment to their careers.

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RWB's Chenxin Liu and Liam Caines in rehearsal. Vince Pahkala, Courtesy RWB.

In October, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet kicks off its 75th-anniversary season with a thought-provoking world premiere. Going Home Star: A Story of Truth and Reconciliation is inspired by The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, an organization that examines the cultural trauma of the nation's Indian Residential Schools—a compulsory education program that targeted and isolated indigenous children so that they might better assimilate into nonnative culture.

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If you live in the Winnipeg area, you're in for a ballet treat to kick off the fall season.

 

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet is hosting a free performance on October 4 in honor of it's late Artistic Director Emeritus Dr. Arnold Spohr, who passed away in April. Spohr led RWB for three decades. The tribute will be co-hosted by choreographer Stephanie Ballard and Spohr's biographer (and Pointe contributor!) Michael Crabb. RWB dancers and guest artists will perform work by Jiri Kylian, Peter Quanz, Itzak Galili and others.

 

Although tickets are free, you have to reserve them in advance by calling 1-800-667-4792.

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