News
Ma Cong in the studio with Tulsa Ballet. Courtesy Tulsa Ballet.

Without him we wouldn't have The Nutcracker, Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty. But how much do you know about Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the man behind classical ballet's most recognizable music? Did you know that the Russian composer hid his homosexuality for much of his life? He also struggled with depression; there's been speculation that his death in 1893 was in fact a suicide.

Tulsa Ballet resident choreographer Ma Cong dramatically recounts his life in a new full-length ballet titled Tchaikovsky: The Man Behind the Music, premiering March 29-31. If you think a story ballet about the most renowned composer of story ballets set to, yes, a Tchaikovsky score, is a bit meta, you wouldn't be wrong. But considering the renewed importance of LGBTQ rights in society, it's a ballet perfectly timed to our era. In Russia, censorship still asserts that Tchaikovsky was not gay. The subject also calls to mind backlash surrounding an LGBTQ-themed work at Louisville Ballet just last month.

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Artists of Houston Ballet rehearsing Stanton Welch's Sylvia. Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

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

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Ballet Stars
Photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton

This is Pointe's August/September 2018 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

On a slushy March morning in New York City, Tulsa Ballet's Jennifer Grace took warm-up class onstage at The Joyce Theater, gearing up for the company's second day on tour. Even in a relaxed atmosphere, Grace epitomizes her name. In adagio, her arms move as if through warmed honey, swaying richly though never late. As she piqués into an attitude pirouette, her leg soars high, scooping air like a wing.

Grace feels quite at home in roles like Cinderella's Fairy Godmother; Glinda, in Edwaard Liang's Dorothy and the Prince of Oz; and the Lilac Fairy, in The Sleeping Beauty. "I fairy-godmother a lot," she jokes. It's no wonder. Her stature (at 5' 5", she's one of the tallest women in the company) and singing movement quality cast a commanding aura. "Honestly, it's one of my favorite things," she says of dancing regal, feminine roles. "I get to move scenery around and make love stories come true."

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Dancers of Tulsa Ballet. Photo by Francisco Estevez via The Joyce Theater.

From tours to premieres to full-length classics, this is an exciting week in ballet. We've rounded up programs by Tulsa Ballet, BalletNext, National Ballet of Canada, Pennsylvania Ballet, Charlotte Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet, as well as an evening of dance and music curated by Damian Woetzel and featuring some of ballet's biggest stars, to give you a sense of what's happening on ballet stages this week.


Tulsa Ballet

This Oklahoma-based company is heading east for a five-day run at The Joyce Theater in New York City, opening March 6. Their first time at the Joyce in 9 years, the company is bringing a world premiere by resident choreographer Ma Cong as well as works by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Helen Pickett. Check out a preview below.

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Ballet Careers
Nadia Mara (second from left) with Atlanta Ballet patrons. J. Clemmons, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet.

Ballet companies cannot survive without the financial support of their patrons and donors. In addition to underwriting new buildings and world premieres, and contributing to endowments, individual patrons and corporate donors often sit on the company's board. Many even sponsor the salaries of dancers, or support their side projects.

Yet your ballet training does not prepare you for the formal, sometimes awkward socializing you are asked to do with these VIPs at galas, backstage champagne toasts and other events. Atlanta Ballet dancer Nadia Mara remembers feeling uncomfortable at patron events her first year as a professional. "My English wasn't great," says Mara, who grew up in Uruguay, "and I was unsure of what to do, how to act." Yet she found that as she gained more experience speaking with patrons about where she had come from and her interests, the awkwardness melted away. "We have so much in common. We are passionate about the same things: ballet, art, fitness, culture."

Cultivating strong relationships with donors and patrons often means stepping outside your comfort zone. "Our livelihood depends on them," says Sona Kharatian, a dancer with The Washington Ballet. "It is important that we make them feel included and let them know we know they are doing this for the greater good of culture in their city." Read on for some tips on how to initiate conversation and make some new, supportive friends.

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Everything Nutcracker
Photo courtesy Richmond Ballet

How do you attract new audiences while keeping a dedicated following excited about classics they've seen countless times? Regional companies like Richmond Ballet, Houston Ballet, Boston Ballet and Tulsa Ballet all seem to be on the same page—bringing some of the ballet's biggest characters to life in the local community (and posting it all on social media, of course).

Just in time for the Nutcracker season, Richmond Ballet teamed up with The Richmond Flying Squirrels baseball team. Joining mascots Nutzy and Nutasha were Clara, The Nutcracker and The Mouse King, who threw in a few of their own rules on the field.

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Features
Photo by Andrew Fassbender, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Plucked from its second company to star as Olga in Tulsa Ballet's 2016 production of Onegin, Tomoka Kawazoe offered the kind of classic story-ballet sweetness that audiences love. Yet the 19-year-old Tokyo native is equally adept in contemporary works. She wowed audiences in Jennifer Archibald's OMENS, displaying a rapid-fire technical fierceness illuminated by her dazzling flexibility.

Photo by Andrew Fassbender, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

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Ballet Careers
Alexei Ratmansky rehearses The Fairy's Kiss with Miami City Ballet dancers. (Photo by Daniel Azoulay, courtesy Miami City Ballet)

Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky will have world premieres on two coasts this winter. On February 10, Miami City Ballet will debut his new one-act version of The Fairy's Kiss to Stravinsky's celebrated score, a homage to Tchaikovsky. The following month, on March 15, at California's Segerstrom Center for the Arts, American Ballet Theatre will premiere his Whipped Cream, a new full-length story ballet to a Richard Strauss libretto and score.

Ratmansky has often looked to ballet history for inspiration. Fairy's Kiss, known as Le Baiser de la Fée when it was originally choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska in 1928, has been staged by Sir Frederick Ashton and Sir Kenneth MacMillan, and several times by Balanchine. Its story comes from The Ice-Maiden, a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, and Ratmansky has kept the narrative. A young man, about to be married, is bewitched by a fairy's kiss and stolen away from the mortal world. “I asked Alexei for a narrative work, possibly one with a Russian flavor to it," says MCB artistic director Lourdes Lopez. “Our dancers have a very strong dramatic quality and short narrative works are not a large part of our repertoire." Ratmansky had created an earlier version during his tenure at the Bolshoi Ballet; this is a new production with new choreography.

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News
Julie Marquet as Glinda the Good Witch. Photo courtesy Tulsa Ballet.

Dorothy returns to the Emerald City in Tulsa Ballet's new full-length adventure, tentatively titled Dorothy and the Prince of Oz, running February 10–12, at Tulsa Performing Arts Center. The million-dollar co-production with BalletMet is the centerpiece of Tulsa Ballet's 60th-anniversary season.

The ballet is choreographed by BalletMet artistic director Edwaard Liang and is based, in part, on Glinda of Oz, the 14th and final book in L. Frank Baum's Oz series. Liang says the ballet won't follow the familiar tale of Dorothy, Toto and the gang from the popular movie. "Tulsa Ballet artistic director Marcello Angelini and I really wanted to have a dramatic storyline beyond flying monkeys and another witch," Liang says. He and librettist/composer Oliver Peter Graber took creative license to fashion the ballet's tale of romance between Dorothy and the Prince of Oz and create a fable in the Prince's relationship with his fighting parents King Sapphire and Queen Diamond.

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Everything Nutcracker
Tulsa Ballet's Jennifer Grace. Photo Courtesy Tulsa Ballet.

Six pros reveal their most creative tricks for making it through everyone's favorite holiday marathon.


Alana Griffith: Artist, Milwaukee Ballet

Griffith in rehearsal for Milwaukee Ballet's "Waltz of the Flowers." Photo by Timothy O'Donnell, Courtesy Milwaukee Ballet.

Favorite role: Clara

"Clara was my first soloist role and the first role I did where my character danced through the entire ballet. I liked playing with different ways of making her sweet and lovable or bratty and funny. Switching from Clara to the corps to divertissements makes the rehearsal process exciting and challenging."

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Rehearsing a world premiere can be daunting for any dancer. This month, Tulsa Ballet principal Youhee Son is faced with triple the challenge. She'll be dancing in brand-new creations by Jorma Elo, Dwight Rhoden and Ma Cong in Tulsa Ballet's Creations in Studio K program. For Pointe's biweekly newsletter, we spoke with Son as she prepared for the performances which start next weekend.

What can you tell us about the new works?
Since Ma is resident choreographer here, he knows us very well. In his ballet, I start out sad and romantic, but the next part is really energetic. That's the hardest thing, to change my mood in a minute. For Dwight, I'd been hoping to work with him for a long time, so this is a dream come true. In his piece, we start with pointe shoes and lots of partnering before changing to soft shoes--that's hard. Dwight's movement is very rich. Even when you wave your arms, it's not just the arms. You have to use your whole body. For Jorma's ballet, he came in with sketches but didn't give us exact movements. He gave us some freedom to collaborate, so I feel like I'm really a part of his choreography.

You'll be performing in Studio K, a 300-seat theater. How is that different from dancing on a main stage?
With the audience so close, it can be harder to concentrate. But that also means they can see everything; they don't miss any part of the choreography since the space is so compact. And as dancers, we get to feel what the audience feels. When they're surprised, we can hear them gasp.
In rehearsal, do you approach a premiere differently than a ballet that already exists? 
Yes, because when I learn an older piece, I can watch a video to see how to fix a difficult movement. But for a new piece, I am in charge of driving the car. I'm not following somebody's interpretation. I'm trying to find a way to make it look better for not only myself, but for the entire piece. It's about making it a better collaboration. 
What advice do you have for dancers when they're learning a brand-new ballet?
Go for it. Be creative. And don't be afraid to be a part of it. If the choreographer is working with another dancer on a different part that's not yours, you still need to listen to him because it's all about that one piece.
For even more interviews, tips, audition info and giveaways, sign up for our FREE e-newsletter.
Phot credit: Son in Yuri Possokhov's Classical Symphony with Hyonjun Rhee. Courtesy Tulsa Ballet.
News
Marcello Angelini. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet.

The close of the 2014–15 season marks Marcello Angelini's 20th year as artistic director at Tulsa Ballet, a company that has grown substantially under his leadership.

Since he arrived in 1995, Angelini helped extend the dancers' contracts from 27 to 40 weeks and increased their salaries by about 60 percent. In 2003, he oversaw the opening of the Tulsa Ballet Center for Dance Education. Now, the first dancers from the school are starting to enter the ranks of the second company, Tulsa Ballet II, which formed in 2005. While it functions as a bridge between academic studies and a professional career, TBII also provides students with a stipend to offset their cost of living.

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