News
Justin Peck rehearsing his new ballet, Reflections, with Houston Ballet. Lawrence Knox, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

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

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Giveaways
Photo Courtesy Sacramento Ballet.

Enter now to win a pair of tickets to see Sacramento Ballet's brand new Nutcracker on December 22 at 7 pm at the Community Center Theater in Sacramento, CA.

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News
Dancers of The Washington Ballet. Photo by Dean Alexander, Courtesy TWB.

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

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News
National Ballet of Canada's Harrison James and Hannah Fischer with Artists of the Ballet in rehearsal for Justin Peck's "Paz de la Jolla." Photo by Karolina Kuras, Courtesy NBoC.

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

National Ballet of Canada's Justin Peck Company Premiere

June 16-22, NBoC presents their first work by Justin Peck (who as of last night can now add Tony Award winner for his work on Carousel to his long list of accolades). The company will dance Paz de la Jolla, created in 2013 for New York City Ballet and based on Peck's Southern California upbringing. The NBoC program also includes James Kudelka's The Man in Black, set to the music of Johnny Cash, and Alexander Ekman's wild and wacky Cacti.

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Ballet Stars
Amy Seiwert in rehearsal. Photo by Scot Goodman, Courtesy Seiwert.

When Sacramento Ballet's board announced that it would not be renewing the contract of longtime co-directors Ron Cunningham and Carinne Binda after the 2017–18 season, the news upset many in both the Sacramento community and the dance world. The husband and wife duo, who have run the company for 30 years, told the Sacramento Bee that they were being let go unwillingly, while several company members publicly criticized the board's decision. In a move that would give them greater protection, the dancers voted to join the American Guild of Musical Artists in March.

Last week, Sacramento Ballet announced that choreographer Amy Seiwert, a former company member, will become the company's new artistic director in 2018. And it seems to be smart move. Seiwert, who directs the San Francisco–based contemporary ballet troupe Imagery, danced for eight seasons under Cunningham and Binda. "One of the reasons I decided to go for this was to honor the legacy of Ron and Carinne," Seiwert said in a recent phone interview. "They are in my artistic DNA. My choreography, when you look at my aesthetic choices, when you look at my approach to technique, that comes from them. It's a position I want, but not the situation I want it in, because there's a lot of heartbreak."

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These days, when we hear news of a change in leadership at a ballet company, it feels less and less surprising. Over the past year, a surge of companies across the U.S. and abroad have changed directors, and started new chapters—from Benjamin Millepied's abrupt Paris Opéra Ballet departure, to Julie Kent taking the helm of The Washington Ballet, to Gennadi Nedvigin leaving San Francisco for Atlanta.

This week, according to The Sacramento Bee, Sacramento Ballet's board announced that the company's longtime co-artistic directors, Ron Cunningham and Carinne Binda, will depart after the 2017-18 season, when their contract ends.

Sacramento Ballet dancers rehearsing in their new studios. Photo by Manny Crisostomo, via The Sacramento Bee

For the husband-and-wife team, it will be their 30th season at the company, which they helped build and develop over the years. The ballet's school, which Binda was particularly involved with, has grown to almost 400 students, and Cunningham has been praised by critics for his varied repertory choices, which have included works by Balanchine, Trey McIntyre and Twyla Tharp, as well as his own original works. After the transition to new leadership, the pair will become artistic directors emeritus.

While Cunningham and Binda are not fighting the board's choice, they emphasized that they do not feel ready to leave. "We are not retiring; we are not resigning," Cunningham told The Bee. “We want it clear that it’s the board’s decision.”

Nancy Garton, president of the board, stressed that the decision was about mapping out a plan for the organization's future. "This in no way reflects on the quality or quantity of the work that Ron and Carinne have done with the organization," she told The Bee. The choice seems to be more about bringing in a fresh perspective and considering new directions for the company. Already, this transition comes on the heels of another big change—the company recently moved to a new home at the E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts.

A new artistic director has yet to be chosen, but the board hopes to fill the position this spring.

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

Nicole Ivan, now a dancer with Bodiography Contemporary Ballet, in Elon University's 2016 Fall Dance Program. Photo by Tony Spielberg, Courtesy Elon University.

During his sophomore year at the University of Oklahoma, Austin Crumley switched the focus of his Bachelor of Fine Arts from ballet performance to ballet pedagogy. “I figured I already knew how to perform," he says. “I wanted to take advantage of OU's incredible faculty to learn something new." The degree change didn't close any doors for Crumley, who joined Sacramento Ballet this fall. However, he plans to focus on teaching after he retires. “The pedagogy degree turned a passion into a potential long-term career," he says.

Some degree-seeking dancers opt to concentrate on dance studies outside the traditional performance track—from dance science or administration to dance media, pedagogy, or even cultural studies. And for many, these degrees can support long careers both onstage and beyond.

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As four members of the Shanghai Ballet blocked the opening of Jules Perrot’s Pas de Quatre at Shanghai’s Majestic Theatre, a lone cowboy wandered out of a wing. Clad in the bright aqua shirt and black Stetson worn by the male corps in George Balanchine’s Western Symphony, Sacramento Ballet dancer Eric Holzworth sharply contrasted with the Chinese dancers’ pink Romantic tutus. A voice from the back of the theater said, “Well, the Americans have arrived.”


Indeed they had. Ballet traditions and national identities commingled during the tech rehearsal for the May 4 shared program that featured Sacramento and Chinese dancers in Shanghai. That night, Sacramento showed off its Balanchine repertoire, performing the first movement of Western Symphony, the third movement of Scotch Symphony and the pas de deux from Apollo. The Chinese dancers presented all 19th-century works: Company members danced Pas de Quatre and the pas de deux from Grand Pas Classique, and students danced the Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty and a pas de deux from Paquita.


Western Symphony
and Scotch Symphony were whirlwinds of complexity compared to Pas de Quatre and the students’ extremely slow-tempo Rose Adagio. The pas de deux from Apollo, danced by Kirsten Bloom and Jack Hansen, looked astonishing following Paquita. After seeing the Chinese dancers’ absolute verticality, Apollo, particularly the well-known “swimming” moment, in which Terpsichore arches her body as her hips rest on Apollo’s upper back and neck, recalled the revelation Apollo must have been at its première in 1928.


Shanghai’s school director, Hang Xin-Yua, had especially wanted his students to see the Balanchine works. His 400-student school follows a strictly Vaganova syllabus which, over the seven years it has to train young dancers, yields a firm technical base, however, the students are not exposed to neoclassical or contemporary ballet.


“The dancers here need to see Balanchine, not just on DVD, but in live performance,” says Hang. “The Balanchine style has such a strong personality to it, and Chinese dancers seldom have chances to see such a strong personality.”


The Chinese students also watched company class and took a Balanchine-based class from Cunningham. Huang Jun Shuang a student at the Shanghai Dance School who took Cunningham’s class and performed in Paquita, says, “Balanchine is so full of rhythm. We focus on the basics and muscle training here at school, but the musicality in Cunningham’s class was faster and much more flexible.”


The Chinese may have been struck by the “personality” and speed of the American rep, but the Shanghai students’ strong technical foundation impressed the visiting dancers.

Sacramento dancer Bobby Briscoe, who formerly danced with The Joffrey Ballet, noticed how the Chinese dancers’ deep pliés and perfect fifth positions allowed them to execute double tours with an entirely different sense of timing from anything he had seen before. 


“Watching and then going out to do Scotch Symphony pushed me technically,” he says. “I’m more comfortable as an artist, but I started thinking about technique more in the moment of performance, instead of hitting marks and being in line.”


Observing the Shanghai dancers and students from the wings gave the Americans more than just a new perspective on technique. Despite the language barrier, many managed to
communicate with their Chinese colleagues, while others focused on the Chinese company’s way of working. The dancers were surprised that Shanghai Ballet Artistic Director Xin Lili stayed in the wings throughout the performance, calling out to her dancers mid-variation.

While language posed an obvious barrier among the dancers, shared knowledge of ballet’s challenges created camaraderie. Sitting in the audience during the tech rehearsal, Bloom found herself rooting for a Shanghai Ballet ballerina working her way through the long series of single-foot relevés in the woman’s variation from Grand Pas Classique.


Almost all of Sacramento’s rep was totally new to Shanghai, especially Trey McIntyre’s Wild Sweet Love, choreographed to songs by Roberta Flack, The Partridge Family and Queen, which was performed as part of the performances Sacramento presented on its own in Shanghai and Beijing. Cunningham and Binda had not planned to bring such a contemporary work to China, but after the McIntyre piece received wild applause at its March première in Sacramento, the directors added it to the tour. 


The Chinese audience, prone to talking and taking photographs during the performance, grew silent during Wild Sweet Love. As the dancers, led by soloist Ilana Goldman, swerved through McIntyre’s almost animalistic movement, everyone, regardless of national background, sat rapt.


And for the Sacramento dancers, the international experience was exhilarating and potentially long-lasting. “The first performance in Shanghai I had a lot of adrenaline for the collaboration,” says dancer Annali Rose Lulebas. “I think this has been uplifting for everyone. We have a renewed sense of energy at the end of a season.”

Clare Croft is a dance writer for the Austin American-Statesman and a PhD student in the Performance as Public Practice program at the University of Texas–Austin.

For the second year in a row, Sacramento Ballet is teaming up with the Firefighters Burn Institute to create one hot 2013 calendar. Each month will feature a photo of a dancer and local firefighter partnered. The best part? You get to decide who makes the cut. Visit sacballet.org to vote for your favorite Sacramento Ballet dancers as many times as you want through August 10. Each vote is a tax-deductible fee of $2, and will benefit the Sacramento Ballet and the FFBI. Winners will be announced on August 13, and calendars will be available for purchase starting in mid-October.

Photo via Sacramento Ballet.

What's better than the Nutcracker? The Nutcracker with puppies and kittens, naturally. This year, Sacramento Ballet has partnered with the Front Street Animal Shelter to feature adoptable pets in each of their 13 Nutcracker performances. The critters will have roles in the opening scene—a busy street—and in the party scene at Clara's house.

So far, each and every one of the 40 featured animals has found a forever-home. The goal for the next five performances is to bring that number up to 50. Front Street Animal Shelter often features their animals in creative ways, and is very social media savvy. So far the partnership with Sacramento Ballet has been very successful for both organizations. Ticket sales for Sacramento Ballet's Nutcracker have been up 15% since last year.

Another regional company is weathering financial instability. Sacramento Ballet announced on Tuesday that it was laying off all of its dancers for the remainder of the 2014/2015 season due to a budget shortfall. After Ballet San Jose's near miss earlier this year, the news is an especially disheartening look at the reality of arts funding in the U.S.

Fortunately, the dancers have sprung into action, organizing their own show to fill the void left by their suspended contract. They've scheduled a concert for May 30, which will feature many of the pieces slated to be performed at the company's canceled "Beer and Ballet" program. Many Sacramento Ballet dancers had been planning to start a company so that they could continue to perform during their regular summer layoff. Now, they've received the nudge they need, and many dancers have come together to form Capital Dance Project.

Nancy Garton, the chair of the Sacramento Ballet board of directors, claims that the company is financially sound and that the budget shortfall was due to poor timing with their various revenue streams. The company is unusually reliant on private donors and ticket sales because Sacramento lacks sizable corporate sponsorship. The company is scheduled to resume its 2015/16 season in October, as planned.

 

Get tickets to Capital Dance Project's show here.

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