Ballet Stars
Hee Seo in La Bayadere. Courtesy ABT.

What are you proudest of in your career?

That I learned how to work in the studio. I always loved being onstage, but now I love the process of getting there. I used to want to be perfect in a role from day 1. Now I work to where I want to be.

Is there a role you haven't danced yet that you're excited to do?

I can't wait to learn Manon—I am dancing it with American Ballet Theatre this season. Usually ballet characters are straightforward—shy peasant girl or flirt—but Manon is complicated.

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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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Ratmansky rehearses "The Fairy's Kiss" with Miami City Ballet dancers. Photo by Daniel Azoulay, Courtesy MCB.

Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky will have world premieres on two coasts this winter. On February 10, Miami City Ballet debuted 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.

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Alexei Ratmansky works through Firebird with ABT dancers . Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT.

American Ballet Theatre's Ratmansky Festival is the centerpiece of the company's spring season at Lincoln Center's Metropolitan Opera House. Since festivals and celebrations usually come later in a choreographer's career, it provides an unusual opportunity to see how ABT has adapted to and absorbed Alexei Ratmansky's approach since he became artist in residence seven years ago. “The last seven years of Alexei's creative process with us was an exploration of the company's depth," says ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie. “I think it's always good to take another look at what is, in fact, still new to us."

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Jillian Vanstone and Dylan Tedaldi in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Photo by Bruce Zinger, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

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?

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Ballet Stars
Walking to work in the morning with Peck's maltipoo, Cali, and Fairchild's toy Australian shepherd, Griz. Kyle Froman.

Growing up together, first as students at the School of American Ballet and then as young dancers on the rise at New York City Ballet, Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild dated off and on. With their lives on the same track for nearly a decade, it's no wonder they felt a special bond. Their relationship became serious several years ago. “I feel so lucky to have Tiler in the same industry," says Fairchild. “We understand the struggles and the achievements that come along with this career, and it's so meaningful to share those moments with someone who truly gets it." The couple, who live in a one-bedroom apartment five blocks from the theater, married in June at the end of NYCB's spring season. A few weeks before, Pointe followed them through a typical day.

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Photography by Kyle Froman

 

Pennsylvania Ballet holds only one audition each year. Every spring, hundreds of dancers crowd into a studio at New York’s School of American Ballet to be considered by artistic director Roy Kaiser and his team. Many come from training programs outside the city. This past March, more than 250 dancers auditioned for the company.

Kaiser looks for qualities that reflect the company’s Balanchine focus. “Above all, I want dancers who are interesting musically,” he says. “I watch how they phrase a combination.” The audition follows a standard class format. “Everyone does barre and at least one combination in the center before we start winnowing,” says Kaiser. He cautions that technique alone will not be enough to get dancers to the final round. “Dancers need to be aware of how they present themselves from the moment they show up,” he says. “There’s a brief time to get our attention. The way a dancer does pliés and tendus, her focus on the combinations, all counts. Dancers in a company have to assimilate material quickly. It’s part of the reality of being a professional.”

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