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How Three Ballet Companies Joined Forces to Bring The Magical World of "The Wizard of Oz" to Life

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.


Putting together all the elements of the ballet was a huge undertaking that began nearly two years ago. In February 2016, while setting his Alice (in wonderland) on Colorado Ballet, Webre approached artistic director Gil Boggs about creating a full-length Wizard of Oz. The beloved book by L. Frank Baum had just become part of the public domain (meaning it's fair game for anyone to use without paying royalties), and Webre had been dreaming of turning it into a ballet for years. Boggs liked the idea, but they knew they'd need three or four companies on board in order to share the financial burden of such a big production. Enter Kansas City Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

With three companies in two different U.S. states, plus Canada, figuring out the best way to set up the partnership was the first challenge. As for splitting the costs three ways, the differences in value between the U.S. and Canadian dollars added another hurdle. For Royal Winnipeg Ballet, "If we were putting in a dollar, they were having to put in about 1.20 Canadian," says Mark Chase, CB's managing director. In the end, a couple of CB's board members who are lawyers suggested the three companies set up an LLC—one entity that they could use to handle all payments and contracts with the various vendors and designers they would hire for the show. To offset the currency differences, a large percentage of the costumes and sets were constructed at RWB's facilities in Canada, which became part of their contribution.

Colorado Ballet's Nicolas Pelletier, Dana Benton, Francisco Estevez and Christopher Moulton

Kate Rolston, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Because Webre's storyline hewed more to the 1939 film of The WIzard of Oz than to the book, the companies also had to contact Warner Brothers, which owns the rights to the movie. "We worked with their attorneys to come up with a shopping list of elements from the movie that we wanted to incorporate into the ballet," says Chase. "Then we pay them a royalty for the right to use those elements." For instance, the famed ruby slippers Dorothy wears in the movie are not in the book (originally, her shoes are silver).

As the ballet came together, the three directors were in constant communication. "We had a standing phone call every Friday," says Boggs, "where the three companies would be discussing the budget, proposal, design costs." They also communicated every few weeks with Webre and their designers, going over photos in shared Dropbox folders and exchanging ideas. Webre choreographed several scenes on each company, so all three were an integral part of the creation process. "We all have our DNA in it," says Boggs.

As for the way audiences are responding, CB is already seeing huge results in the leadup to their performances this week. "We're going to do over a million dollars in revenue on ticket sales for this," says Boggs, "which is the first time a production has done that for us, besides our Nutcracker." Introducing a new ballet has helped the three partner companies gain wider recognition and exposure, and they will likely continue profiting from the endeavor. Other companies have already expressed interest in performing the ballet themselves, which will mean renting out the sets and costumes.

For smaller, more regional companies in particular, the chance to have new work set on them, and to produce something of this scale, is often all too infrequent. "For one company to take on the risk and all the expense of putting on a new ballet is pretty burdensome, especially because most companies need to be very careful of their costs whenever they can," says Chase. "I see this as a model going forward." While he acknowledges that multiple directors working on one project might add complication, it's also triple the resources and creative brainpower. "You could argue that more people contributing to the final product is actually better," he says. "The process for the most part was very smooth between the three companies," says Boggs. "I think we're all very pleased with the relationships we have with each other and the way the production has turned out. It's been a good adventure."

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Orlando Ballet dancers Kate-Lynn Robichaux and Arcadian Broad. Photo by Michael Cairns, courtesy Orlando Ballet.

It's been nearly a year and a half since Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, but that doesn't mean the effects of the storm aren't still being widely felt. Thousands of Puerto Ricans relocated to Florida after the storm hit (the exact number is unknown), and many are still settled in Orlando.

This weekend, Orlando Ballet brings its Bailamos! program to audiences in Central Florida, and the company is offering 1,000 free tickets to Puerto Ricans in the area who were displaced by the hurricane. The ticket donation was organized in partnership with Orlando's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, who helped spread the word about how individuals and families could claim their tickets to the February 16 matinee. Some of the marketing for the performance was entirely in Spanish, and the program will also include an insert for Spanish-speaking audiences. "We're not just a professional ballet company; we are Orlando Ballet and we have a role to play in this community," says executive director Shane Jewell. "We have a social responsibility, I believe, as an arts organization, to do whatever we can to enrich the quality of life for everyone who's here."

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via joffreyballetschool.com

It's never too early to start thinking about your dream job. And summer intensives are an essential step down the road to achieving your dance dreams—whether you want to perform in music videos, ballet companies or Broadway shows.

With 19 programs across the U.S. (plus additional international programs) Joffrey Ballet School offers options for all types of dancers with all types of goals. Whatever you may be working toward this summer, there's a program that will help you get that much closer. We put together a guide to help you find the right one, based on your dream job:

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Ballet Stars
Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Photo by Steven Trumon Gray, courtesy Complexions.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet is celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, and we can hardly contain our excitement. Their longstanding commitment to diversity and daring, edgy repertoire has made them an exemplar of American contemporary ballet today. The company's season opener will be held at the Joyce Theater from February 19–March 3. Works include the world premiere of Complexions co-founder and choreographer Dwight Rhoden's WOKE; a compilation spanning 25 years of the company's repertory titled From Then to Now; the return of the David Bowie tribute Star Dust; and the New York City premiere of Bach 25. A gala evening will be held February 21, in which Complexions co-founder and co-artistic director Desmond Richardson will perform for the last time as a full-time company member.

Pointe caught up with Rhoden and Richardson in separate interviews to hear them reflect on what the past 25 years has meant to them, what audiences can expect from their anniversary season, and why Richardson is choosing to step away from his role as full-time company member.

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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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Are you a total bunhead who loves to write? You might be the perfect fit for Pointe. We're seeking an editorial intern who's equally passionate about ballet and journalism.

Through March 1, we are accepting applications for a summer intern to assist our staff onsite in New York City from June to August. The internship includes an hourly stipend and requires a minimum two-day-a-week commitment. (We do not provide assistance securing housing.)

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Ballet Stars
First State Ballet Theatre's Rie Aoki in the studio at Steps on Broadway, NYC. Quinn Wharton.

First State Ballet Theatre company dancer Rie Aoki was documenting her fashion choices long before Instagram was around. "When I was 8, I used to dress up my little sister and take pictures of her outfits because I loved styling," she says. Aoki grew up in Japan, and started her own fashion blog in high school before coming to the U.S. to pursue a ballet career. After joining FSBT in 2013, Aoki's pictures of her outfits on Instagram (@rievictoriaaoki) took off. Now with a following of over 10 thousand, Aoki has also started a new style blog.

"I love warmer colors like reds, yellows, oranges and browns," Aoki says. "And I'm all about mixing patterns and textures—if you stick to the same tones, you can wear totally different patterns and it looks fashionable," she explains. "But I don't think there are really rules for fashion. It's 2019. You can wear what you like and try something funky or a little crazy."

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News

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

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Ballet Training
Marcus Miller in conversation with Merritt Moore and Claudia Schreier. Courtesy National Museum of Mathematics.

Last Saturday night, I had a balletic epiphany. I wasn't in a mirrored studio taking class or even in a theater watching a performance. This luminous ray of understanding beamed into—wait for it—the basement of a math museum.

The National Museum of Mathematics (yes, that exists) hosted its fourth Quadrivium, a salon focusing on the intersections of music and math last Saturday in New York City. The evening's special guests were none other than ballerina Merritt Moore and choreographer Claudia Schreier.

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Viral Videos
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Master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop is back, this time answering all of your pointe shoe questions. Here she answers: "What could I do if my box is dead after a few weeks, but the shank is still hard?" Lee explains the anatomy of a pointe shoe, and offers tips on how to extend the life of your shoes, whether you break the box or the shank first.

State Ballet of Siberia dancer Yuri Kudriavstev. Courtesy Siberian Swan.

As ballet's gender roles grow increasingly blurred, more men than ever are reaching new heights: the tips of their toes.

It's no longer just Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and the few pointe-clad male character parts, like in Cinderella or Alexei Ratmansky's The Bright Stream. Some male dancers are starting to experiment with pointe shoes to strengthen their feet or expand their artistry. Michelle Dorrance even challenged the men in her cast at American Ballet Theatre to perform on pointe last season (although only Tyler Maloney ended up actually doing it onstage).

The one problem? Pointe shoes have traditionally only been designed for women. Until now.

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Audition Advice
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Let's face it: Auditioning is expensive. Between a $100-per-night budget-hotel room, a $300 round-trip plane ticket, $40 for food per day and $25 to $40 in audition fees, you may be out hundreds of dollars for one audition—and potentially thousands before you land a contract.

When planning an audition tour, you have to weigh the travel costs with the probability that your investment will result in a job offer. Plus, doing it all on a tight budget may mean trying to perform your best on travel-stiff limbs, fast-food options and little sleep. To help, we asked three professionals for their best advice on planning successful audition tours that don't break the bank.

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Mackenzie Brown, the only American prizewinner, at the Awards Ceremony. Gregory Bartadon, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne.

After a full week of class, coaching and competition, the 2019 Prix de Lausanne has announced its eight prizewinners. The dancers were selected from an initial group of 74, narrowed down to 21 selected to perform in last Saturday's Finals. The eight winners will receive company apprenticeships or scholarships to one of the Prix de Lausanne's partner schools. In addition, the Prix awarded five other prizes, and all of the remaining finalists received the Finalist Award, which includes 1,000 Swiss Francs.

This year, the Prix offered an unprecedented number of live streaming hours. If you tuned in this week, you weren't alone; more than 562,530 ballet fans watched the daily sessions, and the selections have been viewed more than 1,199,322 times. If you missed out, you can catch up here.

Get to know the winners below!

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Mackenzie Brown, one of the four Prix de Lausanne finalists from the U.S. Rodrigo Buas, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne.

Earlier today, 74 young dancers from 19 countries had their chance to take the stage at the Beaulieu Theater in Lausanne, Switzerland to compete in the 2019 Prix de Lausanne. A panel of nine esteemed judges including Gillian Murphy and Carlos Acosta chose 21 dancers to advance to Saturday's Finals.

Check out the complete list of finalists below.

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From left: Allegra Kent, Kay Mazzo, Gloria Govrin, Merrill Ashley and Wendy Whelan. Eduard Patino, Courtesy NDI.

On Monday evening, four 20th century New York City Ballet stars joined Wendy Whelan in conversation for an event titled Balanchine's Ballerinas hosted by National Dance Institute, the dance education organization that former NYCB dancer Jacques d'Amboise founded in 1976. D'Amboise introduced the four ballerinas taking the stage as dancers who "graced Balanchine and were graced by him." Hearing the ensuing conversation between Wendy Whelan and Allegra Kent, Kay Mazzo, Gloria Govrin and Merrill Ashley proved just that; the sense of inspiration that George Balanchine gleaned from his muses, and the deep appreciation he had for each individual's unique traits.

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Ballet Stars
Rowser and Owen Thorne rehearse "Attitude: Lucy Negro Redux." Photo by Heather Thorne, courtesy Nashville Ballet.

Nashville Ballet's Kayla Rowser has performed a long list of leading roles: Aurora, Odette/Odile, Sugar Plum Fairy, the Firebird. But this weekend, Rowser takes on a new one created especially for her: the famous Dark Lady of William Shakespeare's sonnets, in artistic director Paul Vasterling's world premiere Attitude: Lucy Negro Redux. The ballet (running February 8-10) is based on the book Lucy Negro, Redux by poet Caroline Randall Williams. It explores the theory that Shakespeare's Dark Lady was a black woman, an actual London prostitute known as Black Luce or Lucy Negro.

For Rowser, who is African American, the ballet offers a rare opportunity to portray a character based on a woman of color. "Being able to explore a character who demands so much of who I am naturally, as well as through the gifts I have to share through ballet, is new to me," says Rowser. "It's different than being an African American woman dancing Odette or Aurora. Now what people are seeing is actually what is written. There's a lot of weight in that."

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Skylar Brandt and Julian Mackay dance Flames of Paris. Vladim Shults, Courtesy Russia-K.

When American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt's phone lit up with a message from Julian MacKay last summer, she never could have imagined the journey it would set her on. Brandt barely knew the Mikhailovsky Ballet first soloist—they'd met briefly in St. Petersburg a few months earlier—but he wrote that he had a project he thought she'd be perfect for. Brandt was flattered, but assumed she'd be unavailable. She'd just come off an eight-week season with ABT and was in Los Angeles finishing up a tour. But MacKay was insistent. The next morning, Brandt was brushing her teeth when his sister, Maria Sascha Khan, called. "She explained that Julian was in Paris rehearsing for a Russian TV show called 'Big Ballet' and his partner had gotten injured. She asked if I could come to Paris immediately, as the show started filming in Moscow in one week."

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Ballet Stars
The Royal Ballet's Marianela Nuñez in "Swan Lake." Image via YouTube.

Need an excuse for a YouTube ballet break? Probably not, but just in case, here are videos to celebrate some of this month's off-the-beaten-path holidays.

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News
Grand Rapids Ballet in rehearsal. Jade Butler, Courtesy GRB.

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

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News
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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Ballet Stars
Jayme Thornton

This is Pointe's February/March 2019 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

When Natasha Sheehan debuted in The Sleeping Beauty's Bluebird pas de deux last season, she enchanted the San Francisco Ballet audience with her filigree footwork, elegant lines and effortless charisma. It was a big moment for the then-19-year-old, who was just beginning her second year in the corps, but it wasn't her first—Sheehan has been in the spotlight since she was a 16-year-old trainee in the company school.

That's when SFB artistic director Helgi Tomasson gave her the lead in his Bartók Divertimento for the 2016 season gala, an evening featuring the company's biggest stars. Before that she was a cygnet in Swan Lake. "It felt like a dream," Sheehan says of getting featured roles so early. But it was also high-stakes. "During the 'Little Swans,' I could see Helgi watching me in the wings," she recalls vividly. "It was like, 'This is my one chance. I have to do this right.' "

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Courtesy Nutmeg

Congratulations! You've made it through audition season and have decided which summer intensive to attend. (Don't worry if you're not there yet—that day is just around the corner.) We asked faculty from The Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory what to do in the months leading up to your intensive so you can get the most out of it:

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Competitors in class. Gregory Bartadon, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne.

Prepare to give up your plans for this entire week. The 2019 Prix de Lausanne is underway, with more hours of streaming available than ever before. Bunheads and balletomanes can enjoy up to six hours a day of free streaming live from Switzerland.

The broadcast started this morning with the junior category girls running through their classical variations onstage for the first time, followed by the senior boys in contemporary class. The full schedule for the week is available here, and streaming can be viewed on ARTE Concert or on the Prix de Lausanne website. (The ARTE Concert site is in French, but don't let that deter you; the stream itself is all in English.)

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Ballet Stars
James Whiteside and Isabella Boylston. Courtesy In the Lights PR.

"Cindies" fans, this one's for you. February 9-10, American Ballet Theatre's James Whiteside and Isabella Boylston are collaborating with pop singer Rozzi to put on a full-length show titled When I Think Of You at The Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum, Idaho. Set to Rozzi's debut album Bad Together, performed live by the singer and her band, the show features choreography by Whiteside, Boylston, ABT's Gemma Bond and commercial dancer Ai Shimatsu with dancing by Whiteside, Boylston and ABT soloist Calvin Royal III.

Whiteside is no stranger to pop music. The principal dancer doubles as singer/songwriter JbDubs, known for choreographing and producing his own wild music videos and performances. We touched base with Whiteside to hear all about how When I Think of You came to be, what this unique show will look like, and how he balances his musical career with his work at ABT.

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via joffreyballetschool.com

Summer is a great time to make new friends, broaden your horizons and get tons of dancing in at a summer intensive. As you get closer to college-age, it can also be a great time to get valuable information and extra training that can come in handy later when you're thinking about college auditions. With 19 summer programs running throughout the U.S. (plus a ballet intensive in Genoa, Italy, and a musical theater intensive in London), Joffrey Ballet School offers a wide variety of experiences that give you both top-notch dance training and a taste of what college life will be like:

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Ballet Stars
Cirio in English National Ballet's "Manon." Photo by Laurent Liotardo, courtesy English National Ballet.

Jeffrey Cirio's meteoric rise is what dreams are made of. A Pennsylvania native, he joined Boston Ballet in 2009 and quickly rose up the ranks to principal dancer by 2012. While he felt Boston was "home," he left to join American Ballet Theatre as a soloist in 2015, where he was promoted to principal after only one year. Now, after a four-month stint as a guest artist with English National Ballet last season, this all-American boy has joined the company as a full-time lead principal. It's hard to believe he's only 27.

Just a day after his performance as Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake with Alina Cojocaru last month, Cirio sat down with Pointe to give an update on his new life living and working in London.

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