Do you ever wish you could teleport to London and casually stroll into The Royal Opera House to see some of the world's best-loved ballets? Well, we have a solution for you: The Royal Ballet's 2018-19 cinema season.
Whether live or recorded, the seven ballet programs listed below, streaming now through next October, will deliver all of the magic that The Royal Ballet has to offer straight to your local movie theater. Can you smell the popcorn already?
If you are a dancer in high school, listen up! The National YoungArts Foundation has announced that now, through October 12, it is accepting applications to become a 2019 YoungArts winner. Every year the foundation identifies talented teenage artists across multiple disciplines, providing monetary awards up to $10,000, mentorship opportunities (with renowned professionals like Mikhail Baryshnikov), and a chance to participate in regional workshops in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. To qualify, dancers need to be between the ages of 15–18 or in high school grades 10–12, as well as a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy of the Royal Opera House.
Are you a dancer between the ages of 15 and 18, or in high school grades 10–12? Are you interested in receiving scholarships (up to $10,000), working with mentors like Mikhail Baryshnikov and having a chance to be named a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts? Then the National YoungArts Foundation wants to hear from you. Now through October 13, 2017, the nonprofit organization is accepting applications for students interested in becoming a 2018 YoungArts winner. And just in case you're wondering, past participants include American Ballet Theatre's Sarah Lane, The Royal Ballet's Sarah Lamb and English National Ballet's Precious Adams—so it's a pretty big deal.
In Wayne McGregor's high-octane Chroma, The Royal Ballet's Sarah Lamb finds meditative stillness.
As told to Laura Cappelle
Chroma was the first ballet I worked on with Wayne McGregor, and it was like embarking on a relationship for the first time. There's a heightened energy, an expectation and also the desire to be a vehicle for the choreographer's ideas. The creation process was very easy. Wayne didn't give me any information about my role before we started—he doesn't try to analyze anything before it happens. The whole piece is a painting with people: We're in a monochrome environment, wearing light colors, in a white spot.
The first time I appear onstage is for my pas de deux. It often stands out because it comes after a period of loud, staccato, energetic music, and then there is this calm. It's quiet piano music, very meditative—the composer Joby Talbot's title for this section is “…a yellow disc rising from the sea…" One image that I have in my head is of a pebble being dropped into water, and the circles emanating out from it. There's a stillness, but there is also a continuity of movement, an echo and a reverberation.
In the Prologue to Christopher Wheeldon's recent ballet The Winter's Tale, two boys, princely playmates who one day will become kings, are joined onstage by two women veiled in black. They stand, one beside each child, mysterious, disquieting. They hint at the power that women in the ballet will have over men's imaginations as objects of fierce passions or idealized love. In a brief, evocative tableau, the choreographer foreshadows the darker themes of Shakespeare's play, the ballet's source, and their joyful resolution, distilling in a brief passage the story's emotional arc.
Choreographing story ballets that will appeal to contemporary audiences presents unique challenges even for experienced dancemakers. A too-literal approach or too-traditional staging can seem quaint or flat. And what makes a suitable narrative for those coming of age in a digital era, where there are no strictures on what can be searched, seen and shared? How can a story ballet hold audiences' attention? If mere distraction becomes the goal, how can a ballet achieve the resonance that will give it continued life?
The May, 2015 premiere of Wayne McGregor's Woolf Works was part of a recent resurgence in narrative and semi-narrative ballets deriving inspiration from works of literature. In this video by Malcolm Venville for Nowness' Portrait of a Dancer series, we see Royal Ballet principal Sarah Lamb performing McGregor's choreography from Woolf Works, overlaid with the only remaining recording of Virgina Woolf's voice.
In her aristocratic accent, Woolf asks "How can we combine the old words in new orders, so they survive; so they create beauty; so they tell the truth?" If ever a writer gave voice to the impulse of contemporary choreographers like McGregor, this is it.
On September 22 in select cinemas nationwide, The Royal Ballet will live-stream its production of Sir Kenneth MacMillian's Romeo and Juliet. The screening celebrates the ballet's 50th anniversary, which debuted at The Royal Ballet with Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in the title roles. The live stream will feature Royal principals Sarah Lamb and Steven McRrae. (We caught a sneak peak of Lamb and others in rehearsal during a web live stream last week.)
What qualities do you admire most in other dancers?
When you watch someone and have absolutely no worries. Even if something terrible happens, you know they're going to get out of it, in the best way imaginable. You really trust them. I would love to have that.
What would you say is the stamp of your dancing?
I'd say being a chameleon is my trademark—being able to go from Chroma to Manon or Rubies. I think being able to change is something to be proud of. I try to make myself fit each ballet, to really show the specific repertoire as it should be, to its fullest.
Royal Ballet principal Sarah Lamb arrives at the Pointe cover shoot straight from the train station. She’s come directly from Philadelphia, where the night before the company ended its summer tour. She’s tired, but one can see that she also thrives on such a demanding schedule.
“It’s all-consuming,” Lamb says of her chosen path. “For a dancer, you’re never really off dancing. It’s your life. I think for anyone to be good at what he does, he has to make it his life.”
So on one of her few Saturday afternoons off, she puts on the Aurora tutu she wore in Mexico City and the Thaïs pas de deux costume she donned in Guadalajara and transforms. In fact, at 27, Lamb may be more like ballerinas of the past than other dancers her age—she cultivates a certain level of mystique by keeping many details of her personal life secret—ethereal even in real life. Onstage, she is the epitome of classical elegance, inhabiting each role with strength and ease. It’s obvious that she’s found her place at The Royal Ballet, even though her move to that company in 2004 surprised many for its risk and timing.
Trained at the Boston Ballet School from the age of 6, Lamb quickly took to the art form for its challenge and the hard work it demanded. A self-described attention seeker, Lamb strived to be noticed. Her teacher at Boston Ballet School, Tatiana Legat, says, “At 12 years old, she already stood out in class, not just because of her technique, but because she already showed artistry.” With Legat’s help, Lamb studied the Russian style, developing strong and expressive limbs.
Lamb says Legat taught her what it meant to be a true artist. “There’s always going to be someone who’s younger, can do more turns and jump higher and has nicer legs and feet,” says Lamb. “The earlier you can accept that, the happier you can be with the rest of your career, because you can try to appreciate what you can bring to the art form and hope that other people will appreciate what you can bring individually.”
In 1998, when she was 17, she joined Boston Ballet II—a necessary stepping stone, but admittedly difficult for someone so driven. “It was a lot slower, and you’re kind of at the bottom of the food chain,” Lamb says of the experience. She recalls a performance of The Princess and the Pea in which she was cast as a mattress, with a blanket attached to her wrists and ankles. “I thought, ‘I gave up college for this!’” says Lamb, who had deferred enrollment to Oberlin College. By the next year, she had joined Boston’s main company and danced Sugar Plum Fairy.
During down times, Lamb entered several ballet competitions, with Legat as her coach, to gain performance experience and learn how to deal with anxiety and pressure. She won silver medals at the International Ballet Competition in Nagoya, Japan, in 1999, the New York International Ballet Competition in 2000, and the U.S.A. International Ballet Competition in 2002.
By 2003, she had been promoted to principal at Boston. She was already considering her next move. She says she was looking for a broader repertoire and that after Legat left the company, she didn’t feel she could get the coaching she needed. But when she was offered the position as first soloist at the Royal, taking a perceived demotion required some thought.
“It was hard,” she says. “I thought, ‘Am I ever going to get to this position again?’ And I felt I was going down a level, even though The Royal Ballet is a much bigger company.” An offer to become principal at the Dutch National Ballet didn’t make the decision any easier. Eventually, the Royal’s job security, additional performance opportunities and repertoire won out. A dual citizen, Lamb made the move to London.
Royal Ballet Director Monica Mason provided understanding and support. “I think the first year for any dancer coming from another company must be the hardest because it’s adapting to a new way of working,” Mason says. “Then she married, and her husband came to live in London, and that was a big change for her. But she was clearly intelligent, musical and interesting, and I felt this boded well.”
She started that first season with Frederick Ashton’s Thaïs pas de deux and finished it with Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. Soon after, she danced the Sylph in La Sylphide, Lise in La Fille mal gardée, Sugar Plum in The Nutcracker and Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, among many other roles. Her intelligent approach to each role has been commended, as well as her ardent focus on artistry. Some contemporary works have also come her way, notably Wayne McGregor’s Chroma, a smash success to be repeated this season.
Principal Viacheslav “Slava” Samodurov has been a frequent partner. “She is very light and a great turner, which makes my life much easier,” he says. “She gives everything to her rehearsals and even more for the performances. She is one of those people who repeats until she achieves perfection.”
Those who work with her can’t help but notice this trait. “She’s very goal-oriented,” says Legat, recalling a rehearsal in London where Lamb worked with one instructor and then with Legat, who was visiting, afterward. “Any other person would be happy to stop and just go, but no. She’s very serious.”
Adds Mason, “She’s extremely focused. You don’t ever get Sarah on a day off when she’s fooling around. She doesn’t fool around. She’s right there, and you know for as long as she’s going to dance, you’ll get 100 percent from her.”
In 2006, all the effort paid off when Mason promoted her to principal dancer. As more lead roles come her way, her motivation remains the same: to always do better. “I am always striving, and because I am now a principal that doesn’t make me work any less or think I can sit on my laurels,” Lamb says. “Now I have even more to work on. I will always be learning. I will always want more. This is fulfilling for me, if I were to stop or think I have done enough I would feel dead.” For Lamb, ballet is art and that is inseparable from the rest of life.
This single-minded attitude has gotten her far, but Lamb is quick to point out that she also enjoys her work. There are days when she’ll dance around her dressing room or in an elevator in front of strangers for the pure love of movement. And Samodurov says, “You can talk to her seriously, but she can still come off the leash from time to time and have a lot of fun.”
For one thing, moving to Britain has been a great adventure—one that has been literally transformative. A British lilt now accents her American speech, and even Lamb admits that she “feels a little more British now.” When asked if she plans to dance stateside again, she jokes, “It would take a deal like David Beckham’s. No, I think I’m here for the long haul.”
Carving out a spot in the company has certainly helped. “Sarah will probably dance every major role we can throw at her. She should go from strength to strength,” says Mason, who says she plans to cast her as Juliet this year and Manon the next. “So I think it’s going to become more and more interesting for her now.”
Act III of The Sleeping Beauty celebrates the resolution of Princess Aurora’s dramatic curse with her wedding to Prince Florimund, with a cast of fairytale characters in attendance. Two of the most notable are Bluebird and Princess Florine, who dance a call-and-response pas de deux to Tchaikovsky’s sprightly music.
The Royal Ballet’s Sarah Lamb easily masters Princess Florine's tender and royal presence. This 2006 video was one of her final performances as a soloist with the company—she was promoted to principal dancer later that year. In this short pas de deux, Lamb captures Princess Florine’s controlled stability and ease with a subtle conviction, portraying the beauty of ballet’s simplicity. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!