The New York City Ballet is turning to Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller, better known as FAILE—a hip artistic duo known for their tapestry-like sculptures, paintings, and collages—to help bring in a younger audience.
The Wall Street Journal reports that New York City Ballet Art Series, a new initiative, will feature collaborations with contemporary visual artists who will create original works for the public spaces at the company’s home at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center.
The initiative is in keeping with the 65-year-old company’s tradition of partnering with outside artists on new music, ballets and sets, a practice started by its legendary founder George Balanchine and continuing under ballet master-in-chief Peter Martins.
McNeil and Miller have created Tower of Faile, a 40-foot sculpture made of more than 2,000 wood blocks decorated with text and images inspired by the company’s dance repertoire, pieced together in a Jenga-like pillar. The tower will be on exhibit in the theater promenade, where it can be viewed from five rings of balconies, during the NYCB’s winter season from January 15 through February 24.
The 30-something artists spent a lot of time poring over the company’s archives and attending performances, which “allowed us to expand our visual ideas, not just being locked into this classical idea of what you might expect ballet is, because some of these dances are very abstract,” McNeil said.
The artists have also created limited-edition works of art—2-inch wood blocks hand-painted on all six sides—that will be handed out to each of the 5,000 audience members who attend two special performances, on February 1 and May 29, where every seat in the house will go for $29.
To see a video of the artwork’s creation, visit http://www.nycballet.com/artseries. To read more, visit http://online.wsj.com/article/AP3b94b85f8f594ebaa9df49f01324f689.html.
Yvonne Mounsey, a principal dancer with New York City Ballet and the longtime director of one of Southern California’s most prominent ballet schools, died Saturday from cancer at her Los Angeles home, reported the Los Angeles Times. She was 93.
Mounsey took over Academy West on Westwood Boulevard in 1967 with her close friend and former Royal Ballet soloist, the late Rosemary Valaire; the name was later changed to Westside School of Ballet and they moved to Santa Monica. Mounsey was one of the first alumni of New York City Ballet to establish roots in Southern California, teaching in the neo-classical style of choreographer George Balanchine.
Mounsey maintained her close connections with New York City Ballet, helping to open doors for her students there and at prestigious companies around the world, including American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet. At New York City Ballet alone, current and former students include Tiler Peck, Andrew Veyette, Jock Soto, Monique Meunier, and Melissa Barak.
The majority of Mounsey’s students, however, were not bound for the stage. She focused as much on the joy of dancing as on technique, and tried to bring out the artist in every boy and girl.
“I think she just got so much joy out of teaching, and she never stopped thinking about how she could make things better or help someone,” said her daughter, Allegra Clegg. Mounsey continued working at the studio until June.
Born Yvonne Leibbrandt in 1919 to dairy farmers outside Pretoria, South Africa, she started lessons at age 7 with a former member of Anna Pavlova’s company, left home at age 16 to train in Europe, and toured Italy, France, and Cuba before joining NYCB and dancing with the company for almost a decade until 1958.
Mounsey received the Jerome Robbins Award in 2011 and a Lester Horton Dance Award for lifetime achievement in 2002.
A public memorial will be held at October 14 at 3pm at the Wadsworth Theatre, 11301 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles. To see the full obit, visit http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-yvonne-mounsey-20121003,0,6481265.story.
Dancers Over 40—a not-for-profit that supports the needs of mature dancers, choreographers, and related artists—will present a tribute to the great George Balanchine, and the talented New York City Ballet performers who worked with the master, on October 8 at pm at St. Luke’s Theater, 308 West 46th Street, New York.
Broadway World reports that DO40’s first-ever ballet event will feature Merrill Ashley, Vida Brown, Marge Champion, John Clifford, Gene Gavin, Allegra Kent, Frank Ohman, Barbara Milberg Fisher, Bettijane Sills, Carol Sumner, Barbara Walczak, and Patricia Wilde.
Performances include excerpts from On Your Toes, Western Symphony 1st and 3rd movements, Sanguinic Square Dance, Divertimento #15, Pulcinella, Raymonda, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Who Cares? Rare film and video clips will also be shown.
Special guests include Barbara Horgan, director of The Balanchine Foundation, and Candice Agree, radio host for WQXR-FM; with moderators Nancy Goldner, author of The Balanchine Variations, and Robert Greskovic, dance critic for The Wall Street Journal. The event will be videotaped and donated to the Jerome Robbins Dance Collection at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.
Tickets are $40 and $65 (premium seats) and are available through Telecharge (212.239.6200) or online at www.telecharge.com.
New York City Ballet, seeking to furnish the promenade at its theater for pre-performance socializing, has found a cost-effective method—in exchange for featuring the work of three young design firms, it is receiving the free use of their furniture for the season.
“We’re getting this furniture for the comfort of our patrons, and they’re getting the showcase of Lincoln Center,” said Rob Daniels, the company’s spokesman, in the New York Times ArtsBeat blog.
The seating areas will “draw inspiration” from NYCB and from the architecture of the David H. Koch Theater, a news release said. The three designers chosen by the company are based in Brooklyn. They are Egg Collective, made up of Crystal Ellis, Stephanie Beamer, and Hillary Petrie; Asher Israelow, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design whose studio is in the Brooklyn Navy Yard; and Token, whose principals are Will Kavesh and Emrys Berkower.
To see the original story, visit http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/12/quid-pro-furniture-at-city-ballet/.
Edward Villella, the artistic director who founded the Miami City Ballet in 1986 and built it into an internationally recognized company, has left sooner than expected.
Villella, 75, said last year he would retire after the 2012-2013 season ends in April. But according to CBS News, ballet officials announced Tuesday that Villella has decided to leave now.
In a statement, officials said Villella “had given the matter a great deal of thought” and decided with the company’s executive board to speed the transition to new leadership. Immediately succeeding Villella as artistic director is former New York City Ballet dancer Lourdes Lopez, recently the director at New York dance company Morphoses. She arrived in Miami last week to take over the company’s ballet school, which had been run by Villella’s wife.
In an email Tuesday to the ballet’s staff and roughly 40 dancers, Villella said he was confident that the company would continue to flourish. He also wrote that he was especially pleased with the acclaim they earned in rare tours in New York and Paris, and there was no mention of the angst that has shadowed his departure since his retirement was announced.
Ballet trustee Marvin Ross Friedman said Tuesday that he was leaving too. Instead of thanking Villella for the Paris tour, a few members of the executive board forced him to resign, Friedman said. “He created a world-class company, a crown jewel in the pantheon of Miami’s cultural assets . . . yet he was fired,” Friedman said in an email to ballet officials, dancers, and board members.
To read the full story, visit http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505245_162-57505886/villella-leaves-miami-ballet-sooner-than-expected/.
In case ballet isn’t beautiful enough, legendary designer Valentino is creating what will undoubtedly be stunning costumes for New York City Ballet’s fall gala, reported Philly.com.
That performance, on September 20 at New York City’s David H. Koch Theater in Lincoln Center, will also be a Valentino celebration, with all gala pre- and post-performance events a nod to the great master.
The costumes will be worn for three works by Peter Martins, NYCB ballet master in chief. One set is for selections from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. The other two are for rarely performed pièces d’occasion created in 1988: Sophisticated Lady, set to music by Duke Ellington, and Not My Girl, a pas de deux inspired by Fred Astaire.
Valentino costumes will also be worn in a new pas de deux by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.
Finally, as a nod to “Valentino red,” NYCB will perform the “Rubies” section from George Balanchine’s Jewels, set to music by Stravinsky—but in the traditional costumes by Karinska, Balanchine’s designer.
Performance tickets are $29 to $89 at www.nycballet.com or 212.496.0600.
To see the original story, visit http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/hautehouse_row/Ballet-costumes-tribute-Valentino.html.
New York City Ballet principal dancer Daniel Ulbricht on the joys of teaching
By Steve Sucato
New York City Ballet principal dancer Daniel Ulbricht is known for his high-flying jumps and charismatic stage presence. When he is not lighting up stages across the globe with his dancing prowess, he is also a much-sought-after guest teacher whose passion for the craft of ballet and rapport with students has earned him the respect of school directors, students, and fellow teaching professionals alike.
The 28-year-old native of St. Petersburg, Florida, admits to being apprehensive about teaching when he started in 2006. But he says he soon became addicted to the feeling he got when his students succeeded in their lessons.
“I fell in love with the process of breaking down something I do every day as a professional dancer and rediscovering the joy within it, and then seeing a student begin to feel that same joy,” says Ulbricht. “I started to want to collect every opportunity to share that with other dance students.”
Primarily a guest instructor, Ulbricht schedules teaching gigs around his responsibilities at New York City Ballet. He has been a regular guest teacher at the School of American Ballet [SAB] and at the Chautauqua [NY] Institution’s summer School of Dance. He is also artistic advisor at Manhattan Youth Ballet and co-directs (with fellow NYCB principal dancer Jenifer Ringer) the New York State Summer School of the Arts in Saratoga Springs.
Who influenced your teaching approach?
I have several mentors who influenced me, the first being my first ballet teacher, Leonard Holmes. He made dance so approachable for me by breaking down many traditional barriers to taking ballet, which made me want to dive into it. I was 11 and my first ballet class was taken in shorts, a hoodie, and a baseball cap; I didn’t have to put on the usual tights and such. He also initially made it more about the athleticism and less about the artistry, which appealed to me. He presented taking dance as another form of being an athlete, like a baseball or basketball player.
What else did you learn from him?
He had a way of “dangling the carrot” for the fun steps. He knew which steps I would be excited by and which ones I could execute, as well as what point to introduce them to me. He created a sense of anticipation in me about what we were going to do next by hinting about the fun steps we were going to do but then requiring me to learn the framework of those steps first. He was the first teacher who taught me to love dancing, which is probably one of the most important seeds that can be planted in a dance student.
My second teacher, Javier Dubrocq [whom Ulbricht took private lessons with from ages 12 to 14 in Sarasota, Florida] taught me discipline and respect for the craft. When I was at the School of American Ballet, Peter Boal [then a principal dancer with NYCB] had a way of making us students feel important in his classes. He had a teaching style that mixed articulating steps verbally with physically showing them, which I found to be very effective.
Another one was Michael Vernon, whom I met while attending the Chautauqua Institution’s summer School of Dance. He created a very positive environment in his classes that made you want to work. In that environment he would let you work out kinks in your technique on your own and would be ready to jump in if you needed it. That is important because even though ballet is a learned technique it is also a learned motor skill. It’s like swinging a golf club. You have to develop in your body the right rhythm to execute it properly.
Do you teach a particular ballet technique?
I teach a hybrid between the very strict Cuban classical style I was first exposed to as a student in Florida and the Balanchine style I studied at SAB. It is a great hybrid because the classical training gives you a very solid structure along with the strength and coordination that always goes with that, whereas the Balanchine style is more of an aesthetic, line-based style that has a greater sensitivity to the music, which I think makes classical technique come to life.
Do you have a philosophy about teaching ballet?
Technique always comes first. Other things like musicality and performance quality follow closely. I think a healthy teaching environment is also paramount. For me, the students dictate how I need to approach a class. I could go into a classroom with a piece of paper with all the combinations on it, but I think what sets a really good teacher apart is the ability to adapt.
I may come into a class with an agenda, but I try to be flexible, especially in articulating steps and making them clear to students. For one student I may say, “Watch your alignment”; for another I may have to be more specific and say, “Your hips have to be here,” or for another I may say, “Imagine your shoulders are on a hanger.”
“A good teacher gave class. A great teacher taught me something that made me a different dancer. A good teacher will tell you what to do; a great one will show you how to do it.” —Daniel Ulbricht
It isn’t a textbook that is teaching students ballet technique; it comes from a person, and I would like to think my abilities, passion, and fire to teach ballet technique and describe steps can help light a fire within a student to want to learn even more.
What kind of teacher are you in class?
I like to be on my feet, move around the studio. I try to make my classes fun, but I am also scrutinizing my students’ technique. I want them to feel comfortable in pushing forward in their dancing, but I also don’t want to let them get away with bad habits. I think I bring an up-to-date knowledge of what is going on in the dance world to my teaching that students really respond to.
Some teachers make analogies to things like food to describe or relate ways of moving or the quality of a movement. Do you use anything similar in your teaching vocabulary?
I use driving metaphors a lot. I may tell a student dance is like driving; you have to have a sense of where you are going. Or to emphasize being focused, I might equate that to keeping your eyes on the road. Others I use are relating the execution of a plié to the way you apply pressure to the gas and brake pedals and the way a student holds their arms to holding a steering wheel. I tell them, “If you let your arms go limp you might be able to steer, but you are not going to have the same level of control.” The choice of metaphors I use also depends a lot on the age of the students I am teaching. I try to draw on as many familiar things to each age group as I can in my teaching vocabulary.
Do you use props or visual aids when you teach?
You have to be creative in class. I may put a dollar bill just outside the reach of a student, making them have to extend a part of their body to retrieve it. I have also used a pencil between a student’s fingers to show the separation needed to finish off the line, and I have also given a student my iPhone to hold while they dance. The fear of dropping the phone helps engage them in not dropping their arms and supporting structure. I use props depending on what I want to achieve, but you also don’t want to overdo it and turn into a prop comedian like Carrot Top [red-haired comic Scott Thompson].
Do you wear anything particular when you teach?
I do have a pair of character shoes I teach in, but I could really wear anything. Put me in fishing boots and I would still try to teach. It is important to me, however, to have a clean and professional look that is respectful to my craft. I also don’t want to blend in with my students and look like I am taking class instead of teaching it.
For you as a student, what was the difference between a good teacher and a great one?
A good teacher gave class. A great teacher taught me something that made me a different dancer. A good teacher will tell you what to do; a great one will show you how to do it. The showing can come in many forms. I have found that great teachers are the ones who don’t give up on teaching a step even if they think the student is not getting it. Instead they think of alternate ways to get their message across.
Also, a great teacher will try to acknowledge every student in their classroom and really knows how to get the entire classroom moving while maintaining a rhythm and pace that keep everyone engaged.
What do you think is the most important thing a teacher can impart to a student?
Honesty in their assessment of the dancing. Being encouraging but honest about how they are progressing and what they need to work on. You have to be both an optimist and a realist with students. So many teachers these days are afraid of losing students by saying something they may not want to hear. Sometimes, though, students have to know the truth to fix what is wrong.
Do you see a dance school of your own in your future?
I don’t know yet. I think it depends on how long I dance and where I end up. It is “in the cards,” so to speak, but I am also very interested in being a director and producer. [He currently directs and produces dance performances for his pickup troupe, Daniel Ulbricht & Friends.] When my dancing days are over I want to know I have explored everything possible with my career. It is kind of like being a professional baseball player—when your playing career is over, there are other areas in the sport, such as coaching, managing, or scouting, you can go into.
What has given you the most fulfillment in your teaching career so far?
One thing is when a student gets a job [as a dancer]. It is a very special thing to be instrumental in someone’s training career. You are one component of their hard work. And to have them go from being your student to a colleague is pretty amazing. One example of a student of mine is Jordan Leeper. He came from a difficult family situation and grew up in Jamestown, New York, a town with not many opportunities to pursue a professional career in dance. But he put in the work and followed his dreams and now is with North Carolina Dance Theatre.
Another thing is when a former student wants to keep in touch with you and for you to take them under your wing. They trust in you and your abilities as a teacher and want to continue that bond going forward. Also, being able to share the stage with my students. Those are times I will never forget, and I hope my students will never forget sharing that experience.
National Museum of Dance will hold an autograph signing and meet-and-greet with New York City Ballet dancers Wendy Whelan, Sara Mearns, Megan Fairchild, and Amar Ramasar, plus NYCB photographer Paul Kolnik, on July 14 at 4pm.
A limited number of headshots of the dancers will be available to have autographed. Guests are welcome to bring personal memorabilia to have signed. The autograph signing is free and open to the public.
Most of the museum exhibits will be open to visit during the event. RSVPs for this event are appreciated by calling Susan Edwards at 518.584.2225 ext. 3009 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Museum of Dance is located at 99 South Broadway in Saratoga Springs, New York, and is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 10am to 4:30pm. For more information about the museum’s current exhibits and upcoming events, visit www.dancemuseum.org.
Got news? Email Karen@rheegold.com and include your name, email and phone. We like accompanying photos too with photographer’s credit and photo description.
The Saratoga [NY] Performing Arts Center’s 2012 season hasn’t even started yet, and already people are upset about 2013, according to the Times Union.
Marcia White, SPAC’s president and executive director, told the Times Unionrecently that the New York City Ballet’s rising costs may reduce the already truncated two-week summer residency to one week in 2013.
How can this be, some people ask, especially since the venue was built—with taxpayer money, no less—for NYCB? George Balanchine had a hand in the stage’s design, and opening night (July 8, 1966) featured NYCB performing his A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The changes at SPAC—some call it an identity crisis—reflect the larger forces reshaping our culture, especially the squeezing of a middle class that no longer has the time or money (or even an appreciation) for “high culture” such as ballet and classical music.
This is what SPAC is going up against when it presents its season that, in addition to NYCB, includes a three-week residency by the Philadelphia Orchestra, the two-day Freihofer’s Jazz Festival, a modern dance performance by Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Chamber Music Festival, and a cabaret series.
Historically, SPAC has made up for the costs of its classical performing arts events with popular music events. What has happened, though, is that the thing that was supposed to supplement SPAC—popular music—has come to identify SPAC.
Although many bemoan the possible further whittling away of the NYCB season, one reader said: “SPAC must become relevant again, and that may mean exploring new dance companies who are fresh and interesting, and cost-reasonable. Nothing is forever!”
For this season, SPAC’s split personality will continue. The future, though, will depend on which events sell tickets.
To read the full story, visit http://www.timesunion.com/living/article/SPAC-faces-a-new-era-3566422.php.
Got news? Email Karen@rheegold.com and include your name, email and phone. We like accompanying photos too with photographer’s credit and photo description.
Hugo Fiorato, a former child prodigy who became the conductor of the New York City Ballet and one of its most enduring influences, died April 23 in Boston, reported The New York Times. He was 98.
Fiorato, who was with NYCB for 56 years, was a figure of continuity surpassed only by George Balanchine, who founded it in 1948 with Fiorato’s mentor, the conductor Leon Barzin.
Fiorato held almost every job the company had to offer, starting as its first concertmaster in 1948 and including associate conductor, tour conductor, summertime conductor at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and principal conductor during the last 15 years of his career, from age 75 to age 90. During off-seasons and leaves of absence he was also chief conductor and musical director of the Boston Ballet, the Houston Ballet, and the National Ballet in Washington. He retired from NYCB in 2004.
He was always aware of the supporting and almost invisible role the conductor played in ballet. In ballet the music matters, he said, but the dancers matter more.
“With a symphony orchestra, you can do what you damn please; if you feel like going a little bit faster or slower, you do,” he said in a 2001 interview. “With a ballet company, if you don’t give the dancers the tempos that they need, they’re dead, because there’s such a thing as gravity.”
“The trick is to give the dancers and musicians the right tempo”—taking into account the different timing required by a taller dancer like Jacques d’Amboise as opposed to a shorter one like Edward Villella, he added parenthetically—“and make it sound as though that’s the way the composer dreamed of it; to give it that excitement.”
His family said that even at 90 he retired reluctantly.
To read the full obituary, visit http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/27/arts/dance/hugo-fiorato-conductor-at-city-ballet-dies-at-98.html?_r=1.
Peter Martins, ballet master in chief for the New York City Ballet, will be among the professional artists receiving recognition when The Juilliard School holds its 107th commencement ceremony on May 25 at 11am in Alice Tully Hall, Broadway at 65th Street, New York City.
Juilliard President Joseph W. Polisi will read special citations and present honorary degrees to the artists, who will be garbed in Juilliard’s colorful academic robes and velvet caps.
Along with Martins, other artists receiving Juilliard’s Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts will be Athol Fugard, playwright, director, actor, and recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award; and James Earl Jones, actor and two-time Tony Award and Academy Award winner.
Honorary Doctor of Music degrees will be presented to harpsichordist, conductor, and musicologist William Christie and Grammy Award-winning singer Nancy Wilson.
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees will be presented to Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors of Van Gogh: The Life and Jackson Pollack: An American Saga and founders of the Juilliard in Aiken festival, held annually in Aiken, South Carolina.
Fugard’s commencement address will follow the honorary degree presentation. Juilliard will award 277 (127 undergraduate and 150 graduate) degrees to its actors, dancers, playwrights, and jazz, operatic, and classical musicians.
As has become tradition in recent seasons, the ceremony will be streamed at www.juilliard.edu/live.
Shaun O’Brien, a celebrated former character dancer with New York City Ballet, died Thursday in Saratoga Springs, New York, The New York Times reported. He was 86.
O’Brien, whose four decades with NYCB included more than 30 holiday seasons as Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker, had been retired from the company for 21 years, The Times said.
He joined NYCB in 1949, a year after its founding, as a member of the corps and soon focused on the character roles that made him a favorite with audiences and critics. By the time he retired, in 1991 at age 65, he had appeared alongside such stars as Violette Verdy, Allegra Kent, Patricia McBride, Jerome Robbins, Edward Villella, and Jacques d’Amboise.
John Peter O’Brien (he changed his name to Shaun early in his career) was born on Nov. 28, 1925, in Brooklyn, New York, and made his dance debut at 4 beside his older sister in a local recital. “I loved every minute of it,” he recalled in a 1979 interview with The Times. “They had to get out the hook and lower the curtain, because I refused to leave the stage.”
To see the full story, visit http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/28/arts/dance/shaun-obrien-86-new-york-city-ballet-dancer.html?_r=1.
New York City Ballet will conduct auditions for children’s roles in Saratoga performances of Firebird and Romeo and Juliet on March 18 at the National Museum of Dance School of the Arts, 99 South Broadway, Saratoga Springs, New York.
The auditions, conducted by NYCB’s assistant children’s ballet mistress, Dena Abergel, will commence at 2pm. A copy of the application is available at www.dancemuseum.org. Any questions about the auditions can be addressed to Abergel on the day of the audition.
Children are needed for the following roles:
• Five boys for Romeo and Juliet with at least three years’ ballet experience
• Fourteen girls, six flag bearers, and two little cape bearers with one to two years’ ballet experience for Firebird
The two-act ballet Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Peter Martins, was last seen at Saratoga Performing Arts Center five years ago. Firebird, choreographed by George Balanchine, features sets by Marc Chagall. Visit the Saratoga Performing Arts Center at www.spac.org for ticket information and performance dates.
Choreographer, dancer, and master teacher David Fernandez will be honored during a program entitled Some Dance Company, featuring performances by dancers from New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and other New York companies.
The program takes place February 27 at 7pm at El Teatro at El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue (at 104th Street), New York City.
Born in Mexico City, Fernandez began his training at the Centro de Arte y Ballet. In 1989 he was awarded a scholarship to study at Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, later joining the company and winning the Jeffrey Mildenstein Award. While studying at the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre he began choreographing, and his work has been featured in festivals and competitions nationwide, including the Youth America Grand Prix, the Jackson Competition, and the New York International Choreographers Festival.
Fernandez, who teaches for the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City, Scarsdale [NY] Ballet Studio, and Westport [CN] Academy, has also created works for the Dance Theatre of Harlem Ensemble and New York City Ballet principal Joaquin de Luz.
Tickets are $25, $50, and $100 (includes a donation to Career Transition for Dancers) and can be purchased at www.davidferndance.com.
New York City Ballet’s December 13 performance of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker will be transmitted live in high definition to more than 500 movie theaters around the country, the company told The New York Times this week.
The Metropolitan Opera pioneered live cinema broadcasts of cultural events five years ago and has built a worldwide audience of several hundred thousand for each transmission. Other opera, ballet, and theater companies—such as the Paris Opera and Bolshoi ballets—have followed suit, hoping to enlarge audiences, build revenues, and help grow their art forms’ popularity.
The NYCB transmission will be made through the NCM Fathom theater network and will be produced by Live From Lincoln Center. NYCB executive director Katherine E. Brown said the company hoped it would be the “first of many” such transmissions, the newspaper reported.
To read the full story, visit http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/03/new-york-city-ballets-nutcracker-coming-to-movie-theaters/.
Bettijane Sills, who danced with New York City Ballet from 1961 to 1972, has donated a collection of memorabilia from her career to the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, New York.
The donation, which will join the growing archives at NMD, includes pointe shoes, photographs, newspaper articles, and an original Dewdrop costume made by Karinska (Madame Barbara Karinska) from The Nutcracker.
Sills had trained at the School of American Ballet from 1950 to 1961, when she was invited by George Balanchine to join the company, being promoted to soloist in 1963. During her years with the company she danced principal roles in many works including Western Symphony, Divertimento No. 15, and The Nutcracker, as well as roles created for her by Balanchine in Jewels and Who Cares? She received critical acclaim as the wife in Jerome Robbins’ revival of The Concert in 1972, her last year with the company.
Sills, a tenured professor of classical dance at Purchase College, has served on the dance faculty since 1979. Prior to her dancing career she had an extensive career on Broadway and television.
For more information on the museum, visit www.dancemuseum.org.
Benjamin Millepied, a principal dancer with New York City Ballet, has retired and plans to focus on his choreography, according to The New York Times.
Millepied, 34, from Bordeaux, France, joined the company in 1995 after training at NYCB’s School of American Ballet. He was promoted to principal in 2002 and originated roles in ballets by Jerome Robbins, Peter Martins, Christopher Wheeldon, Alexei Ratmansky, and others. He was the choreographer for the movie Black Swan.
Millepied has created dances for numerous companies, including American Ballet Theatre and the Paris Opera Ballet. His works for NYCB include Quasi Una Fantasia, Plainspoken, and Why am I not where you are? A Millepied ballet to a commissioned score by Nico Muhly will have its world premiere on May 10, 2012, at NYCB’s spring gala. He’s also working on the choreography for a new musical in development, Hands on a Hardbody, written with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio.
The original news item can be seen at http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/millepied-retires-from-city-ballet/
Eager fans can listen in to a tidbit from Paul McCartney’s first original orchestral score for dance, “Ocean’s Kingdom,” written for the New York City Ballet 2011/2012 season, on his website.
The site also includes several options for purchase, including vinyl, CDs, and downloads.
All versions include an exclusive bonus download of the live recording of the world premiere gala performance by the New York City Ballet Orchestra. Digital albums will be delivered via email on October 4. All physical pre-sale items will ship from the USA on or before October 4.
Access the website at http://www.paulmccartney.com/oceanskingdom/usd.php.
Sir Paul McCartney is to release his first ballet with the record label Decca, half a century after the Beatles were famously rejected by the company, according to BBC News.
The New York City Ballet premiere of Ocean’s Kingdom takes place next month, with the album coming in October next year.
Decca’s original rebuff of The Beatles in 1962 on the grounds that “guitar groups are on the way out” has since passed into music legend. The label instead signed the Tremeloes, while the Beatles went to Parlophone.
McCartney was asked to consider the classical collaboration after meeting NYCB’s ballet master in chief, Peter Martins, at the School of American Ballet’s Winter Gala last year. The musician completed a first draft in two months, then worked with Martins to refine the work. The music was recorded in June and was conducted by John Wilson.
To read the full story, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-14632652.
Savannah student Alston Macgill, 13, has been invited to join the year-round program at the School of American Ballet in New York City. SAB is the training ground for New York City Ballet.
Alston trained at The Studio in Savannah, Georgia, with Veronica Moretti Niebuhr for seven years, beginning at the age of 5. During this time, she danced the role of Clara in The Nutcracker for three years with Columbia City Ballet, under the direction of William Starrett.
At the age of 11, she was a Top 12 finalist of the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) New York finals. She has also placed first twice at the regional level of the Youth America Grand Prix, and most recently was awarded the top prize for junior division dancers at the 2011 YAGP semifinals in Philadelphia.
She attended the Chautauqua Regional Youth Ballet workshop I in 2008 and 2009. During the summers of 2010 and 2011, she attended SAB’s five-week program on a full merit scholarship. She has spent the past year as a merit scholarship student at the Rock School for Dance Education.
She is also a contributor on the arts and technology website www.thewinger.com.
Paul Kolnik’s “Balanchine: a tempo,” a digital installation of dynamic images from the New York City Ballet’s current season, will be on display at The National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, New York, through the rest of 2011.
Kolnik has been the New York City Ballet’s photographer since 1976 and created this exhibit to showcase NYCB’s current season and the pairing of Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky. Photographs from Agon, Apollo, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Symphony in Three Movements, and other ballets are in black and white to illuminate the line of Balanchine’s neoclassicism.
Also on display is a costume and historical display of the Balanchine classic Jewels.
Upcoming events at NMD include the ’70s-inspired fundraiser Disco Fever, the National Dance Day celebration, and the 25th Silver Anniversary Gala, where actress Ann-Margret will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. A display honoring the actress opens August 5.
NMD is located at 99 South Broadway and is open Tuesday through Sunday, 9am to 5pm during peak season. Admission is $6.50 (adults), $5 (seniors/students), and $3 (children 12 and under). For more information, visit www.dancemuseum.org.
New York City Ballet fans accustomed to sitting in the lofty fourth ring of the David H. Koch Theater are a hardy band of passionate balletomanes, and they’re angry that the company has decided to stop selling most of the low-priced nosebleed tickets, according to The New York Times.
The move is part of a strategy of changing ticket prices and limiting access to certain parts of the theater to help consolidate its audience in the orchestra and lower rings for less-than-full performances. This move will eliminate scattered pockets of people and create a more “vibrant performance atmosphere,” the company said.
The Fourth Ring Society, a company-sanctioned program that offered $15 seats once a $20-per-season fee was paid, is effectively ending—or at least “evolving or changing,” in the words of Rob Daniels, company spokesman. He said current members would be offered discount seats “in the neighborhood” of $15, mainly elsewhere in the house, but new memberships would not be available. In addition, Daniels said, single tickets to the third and fourth rings will be offered only if there is enough demand in the 2,600-seat theater for a particular performance, such as for popular works like Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, or The Nutcracker.
New subscriptions for the third and fourth rings are not being offered, and current third- and fourth-ring subscribers are being encouraged to move to lower sections, the spokesman said. The changes are part of a rethinking of ticket pricing, in which prices have been raised for certain seats throughout the house, but also lowered in certain sections, as the company wrestles with an expected $6 million deficit this season.
To read the full story, visit http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/23/arts/dance/city-ballet-raises-prices-and-phases-out-low-cost-tickets.html.
A mild tremor of excitement ran through the New York City Ballet audience on Sunday afternoon as the cast of George Balanchine’s Slaughter on Tenth Avenue took a bow. The dark-suited and hatted dancer who had played the “Big Boss” in the tale of murder and mayhem at the ballet had just popped out of the wings, performed a quick, modest salute, and popped back in. It took a moment to realize that the Big Boss was in fact the Big Boss.
A story in The New York Times says that Peter Martins, the ballet master in chief of the company, had stepped in for an injured Ask la Cour the previous night, and reappeared at the matinee with no fanfare or announcement of the change in cast.
Martins, who retired from dancing in 1983, hadn’t appeared onstage since dancing in a pas de deux with Suzanne Farrell at her farewell performance in 1989. To see the full story, visit www.artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/30/at-new-york-city-ballet-the-big-boss-plays-the-big-boss/?ref=dance.
Dancers with the New York City Ballet voted 63-1 on Tuesday to accept a contract after contentious negotiations over issues like overtime and salary, according to The New York Times.
The dancers will receive a 2.5 percent pay increase for the year beginning in August and no increase for the current year. (They had asked for a 3 percent raise for both years; the company had proposed no increase for the current year and a 1.5 percent increase for 2011-12.) The troupe, which is facing a $6 million deficit on an operating budget of $62 million, unsuccessfully tried to reduce overtime pay.
“There are always compromises,” said Katherine Brown, NYCB’s executive director. “We have a lot to do going forward to get ourselves to a balanced budget. But I think it’s a good start.”
To see the full story, visit www.artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/03/city-ballet-reaches-accord-with-dancers/?ref=dance.
New York City Ballet is engaged in combative negotiations with its dancers over their union contract, which expired in August, according to a story this week in The New York Times.
A federal mediator has been brought in to help bridge the divisions over pay, overtime, sick pay, and dancers’ participation in small off-season tours.
The dancers are seeking a 3 percent salary increase for the year beginning in August and retroactively for the current year. NYCB has proposed a 1.5 percent increase for 2011-12, a pay freeze for the current year, and a reduction in overtime pay.
“Our goal is to make a deal, not to prompt a strike. I’m not optimistic,” said Alan S. Gordon, national executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, the union representing the dancers.
NYCB faces declining repeat attendance and flat fund-raising amid a nationwide recession. Executive director Katherine Brown told the Times, “There are certain things that have been givens for so many years that we simply cannot afford any more.”
The dancers say NYCB is responsible for its financial straits. “They’re chasing a bygone subscription model and doing a poor job of bringing the audience into the theater,” said Devin Alberda, a member of the corps de ballet who serves on the dancers’ negotiating committee.
To read the full story, visit www.nytimes.com/2011/04/28/arts/dance/city-ballet-and-dancers-stuggle-to-avert-contract-impasse.html?_r=1&ref=dance.
The Joffrey Ballet School Performance Company will make its inaugural performances with seven new ballets by choreographers whose credits include the New York City Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, and Morphoses, this May.
The formation of the Performance Company is part of the expansion at New York’s Joffrey Ballet School, which has expanded its home at 434 Sixth Avenue, and added two 150-square-foot studios at 357 Broadway in Tribeca.
Company artistic director Davis Robertson has commissioned five new works in both classical and contemporary ballet, and there will also be new works by Robertson and associate director Brian McSween. Choreographers include Julie Bour (Ballet Preljocaj), Africa Guzman (Compania Nacional de Danza), Helen Heineman (Netherlands Dance Theater), Brian McSween (Joffrey Ballet), Matthew Prescott (Morphoses), Davis Robertson (Joffrey Ballet), and Daniel Ulbricht (New York City Ballet).
Performances will be held May 7 at 2:30 and 7:30pm at Miller Theatre, 2960 Broadway (entrance on Broadway at 116th Street). Tickets are $20 general public or $15 for students. For reservations, call 212.254.8520 or visit www.joffreyballetschool.com.
Edward Bigelow, a longtime dancer and administrator at New York City Ballet, died Monday in a car accident in Sharon, Connecticut, The New York Times reported Friday. He was 93 and lived in West Cornwall, Connecticut.
Bigelow, who performed as a dancer from 1946 through the 1960s, was known for his character roles, including the Mouse King in George Balanchine’s Nutcracker; Kastchei, the evil wizard in Firebird; Rothbart in Balanchine’s Swan Lake; and Pluto, king of the underworld in Orpheus.
He was also an aide to Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, NYCB’s founders. He became an assistant to Balanchine in 1949 while still a dancer, was a production assistant from 1951 to 1977, and had the title of manager from 1978 to 1987.
Bigelow is survived by his wife, Carla, and four stepchildren. For full story, see www.nytimes.com/2011/04/08/arts/dance/edward-bigelow-dancer-with-the-new-york-city-ballet-dies-at-93.
Video documentation preserves history and benefits dancers
By Nancy Reynolds
The ghost of George Balanchine indisputably hovers over New York City Ballet, and one day last fall it was more than usually present. The occasion was a taping session devoted to Balanchine’s La Source, undertaken by The George Balanchine Foundation for its Interpreters Archive.
The aim of this video series is to document the viewpoints of leading dancers on whom Balanchine choreographed his ballets, capturing his intentions at the time of creation through coaching sessions with dancers of today. What Balanchine imparted to those original dancers is perhaps the closest we can come to knowing what was in his mind. And since he was famously nonverbal about the effects he wanted, the best way to pass on his ideas is in the studio, through dancing.
The videos are about process rather than performance. The dancers wear practice clothes, and the atmosphere is that of a rehearsal. Twenty-eight earlier videos, covering many of Balanchine’s most important works, are now housed in some 70 educational institutions and research repositories around the world, and as of February another seven were to be available. A selection is also viewable, by institutional subscription, in streaming video. The videos are not for private sale.
The original ballerina of La Source, Violette Verdy, was on hand for the Foundation’s session, partnered by Helgi Tomasson, who did not originate the male role but frequently danced the ballet with her in the 1970s. (Verdy is now a distinguished professor of ballet at Indiana University–Bloomington and Tomasson has been artistic director of San Francisco Ballet since 1985.) The two were among some of Balanchine’s brightest stars of an earlier era, and he choreographed several roles on each. Here they worked with Sterling Hyltin and Gonzalo Garcia, present-day principal dancers with New York City Ballet.
La Source, which premiered in 1968, is unique in the Balanchine canon; he never created another work like it. Its melodious score by Delibes, composer of Coppélia, is almost too easy to listen to, with a lilting grace that can tempt one to pass it off as lightweight. Balanchine responded with an affectionate gloss on the Paris Opéra divertissements of the mid-19th century. As the French-born Verdy puts it, however, in its freedom and risk-taking it is really “France in America” 100 years later. And while its ballerina might be mistaken for a pink powder puff, its choreography—for both the ballerina and her cavalier—is intricate and demanding. In performance, a light tone must prevail throughout. As Verdy says, it’s “serious without being serious—serious fun. It’s a moment of incredibly refined French dancing—ornamented, very detailed, and with a lot of subtle nuances of charm, femininity, and coquetry.”
It is also a virtual lexicon of “old-fashioned” French style and technique. Key elements are nuance and épaulement, of which there can never be too much. Unlike the better-known Russian style, predominant in American training, which stresses croisé (crossed) positions, with the hips and shoulders “opposing” each other to create torsion through the body, French style more often calls for the body in effacé (open) positions. In contrast to the Russian school, with its jumps and arm movements reaching for the sky, the port de bras of the French is more contained than expansive, with rounded arms and the head directed into the cupped palm. The French excel in small jumps and beats and very fast movements of the feet—“perky feet,” as Verdy says. Balanchine, who valued contrapposto (opposition of the hips and shoulders), added many Russian touches.
As the cameras rolled, there was hardly a part of the body Verdy did not address. Articulation of the head and shoulders was paramount, but she also drew attention to the soles of the feet in pas de bourreé (for speed), initiating arm movements from the armpit and the “roof” of the hand (for lightness), gazing beyond the third finger of the extended arm (for a look of involvement), and overcrossing the feet on pointe (to accent precision). She was concerned with the sharpness of the fouetté (“whip”) of the body from developpé front to arabesque and had comments as well about elbows and chin. Hips should ripple in reaction to the shoulders, but not enough to shake the tutu—that would be vulgar.
Verdy also encouraged playing with musical accents, emphasizing rubato and retard. She urged contrast—a high arm complemented by a low one would be more interesting than both arms raised equally aloft. Not every step should be danced as large or as emphatically as possible; more modulation will give a richer texture. Above all, she said, one must dance with allegresse (which, roughly translated, means “joy”). That’s where the French atmosphere comes in.
One can scarcely imagine a better coach for this material than Verdy, the epitome of French style and chic as well as an artist of enormous intelligence and musicality. Now in her late 70s, she still has the most elegant arms and feet in the business.
Tomasson, the purest of classicists as a dancer, was quieter. The partnering secrets he shared with Garcia dealt revealingly with both practical matters and aesthetics. Balanchine partnering features light fingertip support, or sometimes no support at all—the woman often starts movements alone on a single pointe, trusting her partner to catch her at the last minute. Obviously, timing and a feel for the woman’s center of balance are crucial.
“With today’s rushed rehearsal schedules, young dancers often do not have time to ‘inhabit’ the style of a ballet and are inclined to fill out the choreography with generic movement, which results in a sameness in their dancing. I see myself as providing a context with which to approach a particular work.” —Violette Verdy
Tomasson underlined the ballet’s playfulness and its element of surprise. At one point in his variation the man must descend from a large beating step to the knee almost without the audience knowing it. He’s just there. In the coda, before the ballerina dives into her partner’s arms, the orchestra pauses as though holding its breath, and suddenly she’s arrived. Tomasson also called for a greater feeling of flow. “I think we ‘sang’ more in our day,” he said.
At the end of the session Verdy concluded, “With today’s rushed rehearsal schedules, young dancers often do not have time to ‘inhabit’ the style of a ballet and are inclined to fill out the choreography with generic movement, which results in a sameness in their dancing. I see myself as providing a context with which to approach a particular work. I think today we have also defined La Source within the context of Balanchine’s output.”
The coaching of La Source occurred over three intense hours, crammed with detail. The edited tape, which will include an interview with dance critic Robert Johnson, will probably run about two hours. Since the Balanchine Foundation tapes are about the insights of leading dancers on whom Balanchine created principal roles (not about performance), they include run-throughs in practice clothes of only the leading roles of the various sections. In the session for La Source, almost no movement or step—or nuance—was left undissected. For the dancers, this kind of careful, concentrated coaching is bankable gold. They danced full-out virtually the entire time. Says Hyltin, “From Violette I got an enlightening contrast to how I had originally interpreted the role. She conveyed to me that being understated in moments can be just as regal and oftentimes more effective—the idea that ‘less is more.’ This approach to dancing La Source is an idea I cannot wait to explore and incorporate not only into La Source but into my other roles.”
Says Garcia, “Working with Violette and Helgi is so inspiring. Violette gives you precise corrections that bring depth and dimension to each step, always dancing from the inside of the body, helping to reflect your soul. Helgi works on bringing that element of fluidity—arms and legs connecting—that makes dancing look easy and pleasing.”
Clearly, the videos are highly informative for the participating dancers and they also act as an aide-mémoire for those who stage the ballets. But they serve a broader educational purpose as well. All the commentary, not to mention the choreography itself, is preserved for non-professional dance students too, available in the classroom or studio. The material is there, for students of various backgrounds to absorb as they are able.
Beth Genné, professor of dance studies and art history at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, has used the videos both at the graduate level and in the introductory survey course. For her, “they are a new kind of educational tool that takes advantage of new technology. Students can study them the way they study texts. They are remarkably effective in conveying details of style that cannot be brought forward in any other way. And they give the students a vivid insight into the impact of the dancer-originator of a role on the choreography itself. They make Mr. B come alive in the student’s imagination—not as a remote historical figure but as a three-dimensional human being with his own distinctive personality and approach, as seen through the eyes of [a dancer] who worked closely with him on what was most important to him, rather than through the eyes of a critic or academic, who is always at a distance from the actual creative process.”
Mindy Aloff, adjunct associate professor in dance at Barnard College, New York City, finds that for her non-dance majors, curious to know how a dance is put together, the videos reveal some of the mysteries of creativity as well as the nuts and bolts of constructing a piece of choreography. For her more advanced students, they provide material for comparative analysis of how movements were danced in earlier times and now.
The videos serve dance history as primary source material. In addition they exist as a permanent record of an evanescent art.
Paul McCartney has written a major orchestral work for New York City Ballet—a love story titled Ocean’s Kingdom, which will premiere at the company’s fall gala on September 22, according to The New York Times.
NYCB’s ballet master in chief, Peter Martins, will create the choreography. In its current state the four-act ballet is 45 to 50 minutes long with a cast of 40 to 45, including four or five main roles. A composer, John Wilson, is helping with the final orchestration. The other half of the gala program will consist of George Balanchine’s Union Jack, which Martins said would be a tribute to the former Beatle.
More than most mainstream celebrity musicians, McCartney has crossed over to the classical world with enthusiasm in the past two decades, composing two major oratorios, Liverpool Oratorio and Ecce Cor Meum, a symphonic poem (Standing Stone), and some shorter works.
He’s certainly not the first pop musician to plunge into modern dance or ballet. Elvis Costello has written at least two ballets, and next month Sadler’s Wells Theater in London will present The Most Incredible Thing, a collaboration between the Pet Shop Boys and the choreographer Javier de Frutos.
To read the full story, visit www.nytimes.com/2011/02/24/arts/dance/24dance.html?_r=2&hpw.
“Who am I? I’m a man; an American, a father, a teacher, but most of all, I am a person who knows how the arts can change lives, because they transformed mine. I was a dancer.”
In his new memoir, I Am a Dancer, Jacques d’Amboise, one of America’s most celebrated classical dancers and former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet for more than three decades, tells the extraordinary story of his life in dance, and of America’s most renowned and admired dance companies.
D’Amboise writes of his classical studies beginning at age 8 at the School of American Ballet, of his career as George Balanchine’s protégé, of the NYCB ballerinas who inspired him, and of the moment when he realized his dancing career was over and he began working toward a new dream of teaching children all over the world about the magic of dance.
The book, 464 pages, is available as hardcover or ebook March 1 (pre-order are now accepted) at www.randomhouse.com.
New York City Ballet is creating a small and nimble touring ensemble in the hopes of broadening its appeal around the country and the world, according to The New York Times.
While the company’s stars often perform elsewhere on their own, establishing an official spinoff is a departure for the company. Performances by the new group, called New York City Ballet Moves, will also replace work days lost when the company shortened its summer season at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center to two weeks from three weeks several years ago.
Ballet master in chief Peter Martins said the small works that Moves will perform can easily be accommodated by more modest sites, like university auditoriums. A rotating group of dancers will make up Moves, and will include members from every level of the company. The first season roster includes principal dancers Jared Angle, Joaquin De Luz, Robert Fairchild, Sterling Hyltin, Maria Kowroski, Tiler Peck, Amar Ramasar, Daniel Ulbricht, and Wendy Whelan; soloists Adrian Danchig-Waring, Erica Pereira, and Rebecca Krohn; and corps de ballet members Chase Finlay, Anthony Huxley, Lauren Lovette, Brittany Pollack, and Taylor Stanley.
Moves’ first performances will be at the Vail International Dance Festival July 31 and August 1 and 2, followed by August 5 to 7 at the Center for the Arts in Jackson, Wyoming. The new program is a return to City Ballet’s history of touring, especially its frequent travels in the United States in the 1950s through the early ’80s.
To read the full story, visit www.nytimes.com/2011/01/07/arts/dance/07nycb.html?_r=3&src=tptw.
Students and faculty of the School of American Ballet will present “The Beauty of Ballet,” a fun and educational program that illustrates the process by which talented youngsters develop into accomplished classical ballet dancers, in March at the Brooklyn Center for Performing Arts, Brooklyn, New York.
The free family program includes excerpts from classic ballets such as The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty, as well as a “class” where training exercises and steps are demonstrated. The program features advanced students from the School of American Ballet, the official academy of the New York City Ballet.
“The Beauty of Ballet” will be held at 2:00 p.m. March 6 at the Walt Whitman Theatre, Brooklyn College, and is recommended for ages 4 and up. No tickets or reservations are required; seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information visit www.brooklyncenter.com or call 718.951.4500.
Dek: Ballet takes to the silver screen in a psychological thriller
By Karen White
Many aspects of Swan Lake contribute to its fame as one of the most popular ballets of all time—Tchaikovsky’s haunting score, bravura choreography, a romantic setting, a story of true love crushed by betrayal, and, of course, the dramatic dual performance by the lead ballerina.
Now, 128 years after Petipa and Ivanov’s Swan Lake captivated audiences, the new Fox Searchlight Pictures’ film Black Swan, a psychological thriller set in the glamorous yet gut-wrenching world of professional ballet, may do the same for moviegoers.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan follows the story of Nina (Natalie Portman), a star dancer with an unnamed ballet company cast in the dual role of Odette/Odile. She’s just replaced the company’s former star (Winona Ryder) but already finds her replacement Lily (Mila Kunis) standing in the wings. As Nina navigates this world of intense rivalry and emotional pressure, she delves deeper and deeper into the dark side of the swan she is portraying onstage.
As unlikely as it might seem at first glance, this film shares much in common with one of Aronofsky’s previous movies, The Wrestler. With both, the director peers into an unseen world and peels back what drives the people within to sacrifice so much.
About 10 years ago, Aronofsky became intrigued by a screenplay he came across—a dark drama concerning a rivalry between a Broadway actress and her mysterious understudy. Growing up he had watched his sister go through years of intense ballet training, and with that in mind, Aronofsky switched the backdrop from Broadway to a New York ballet company. After a chance night at a performance of Swan Lake, Aronofsky found the perfect hook with which to tell his story of a dramatic duel between innocence and wickedness.
As the final script developed, co-writer Mark Heyman says, it was increasingly difficult to place it into a genre. Was it a horror film about a woman who morphs into a demon swan or a riveting portrait of a driven artist losing control of her mind? Heyman hopes the answer is both.
To accurately depict the world of a professional ballet company, with its stressful rehearsals and backstage drama, and present that imaginary company’s production of Swan Lake required plenty of personal research by the crew. Costume designers sat in on New York City Ballet classes; the movie’s composer attended ballet performances. “As a filmmaker, Darren is obsessed with details,” Heyman says. “So despite the fantastical elements of the story, it was very important to him to ground the film in a lot of authenticity.” Dancers will notice that many elements of their world play double duty in the movie—such as mirrors, used here thematically and to set a chilling tone.
Aronofsky also did his research when it came to selecting his choreographer, New York City Ballet dancer Benjamin Millepied. Millepied says Aronofsky watched some of his work and was intrigued by his contemporary take on classical ballet. “It made a lot of sense to him,” Millepied says. “He didn’t want something entirely classical and he knew I could deliver something like that, and that we could work together. We both like to collaborate.”
He, in turn, was impressed by Aronofsky’s ideas for the script—inspired, as choreographers often are, by music. “He had all these musical ideas, and where to use this piece or that piece,” he says. “We talked after I read the script and I started to feel what he was after. He thought this movie could really have some impact. It’s so stylish and sharp and expressive. He managed to deliver a great movie.”
Millepied worked closely with Aronofsky to create dance moments that fit the Black Swan script. And it fell to Millepied, an expert on the world of professional ballet, to ensure that the film got everything just right. That, he says, was not hard. “There were little things we corrected, but overall [the film crew] did an excellent job,” he said in a phone interview from Los Angeles last fall. “Darren was in charge, and he had done so much research that he knew [how to get it right].”
With all that research in hand, Aronofsky was able to deliver a movie that appeals to the built-in ballet audience and beyond. “From the music, costumes, and sets, the melding of choreography with camerawork, every aspect of shooting the Swan Lake scenes was a major learning experience, but each paid off,” Aronofsky says. “We started out knowing very little about ballet, about how to shoot it and how to get people excited by it, but I think the film really works to connect people to the art form, to make it accessible.”
Millepied, a native of Bordeaux, France, and a 1994 Prix de Lausanne winner who studied on scholarship at the School of American Ballet before joining NYCB in 1995, began choreographing in the early 2000s. In 2002 he began presenting his own and guest choreographers’ works under the name Danses Concertantes. His choreography includes Double Aria for NYCB (2005), From Here On Out (2007) and Everything Doesn’t Happen at Once (2009) for American Ballet Theatre, and Tirade (2008) for Paris Opéra Ballet. He has also created works for Pacific Northwest Ballet and Grand Théâtre de Genève, as well as a solo for Mikhail Baryshnikov. A pickup company, Benjamin Millepied and Company, performed at the Joyce Theater in New York City in 2006.
“We started out knowing very little about ballet, about how to shoot it and how to get people excited by it, but I think the film really works to connect people to the art form, to make it accessible.” —Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky
Once signed on for Black Swan, Millepied and the director talked at length about each scene and what it required in terms of dance. Still, serving the film was top priority. “[Aronofsky] was there a lot of time when I was making the dances and he told me what he needed,” Millepied says. “We had to understand what was needed in each scene in regard to the acting and the story and script, so that was very interesting for me.”
On the set, Millepied found himself rethinking choreography in very real ways. “You find new things, are exposed to new ideas, you pay attention to different things,” he says. “[You have to] be aware of what the purpose is, to convey the right choreography, emotionally and physically. It was a new challenge.”
One thing that made his job easier was that professional dancers, members of Pennsylvania Ballet, portrayed the ballet company in the movie. “They are not a big company, but they are Balanchine [technique] trained,” Millepied says. “They are very good, very musical, and a pleasure to work with.” The dancers filmed rehearsal footage and other scenes in January 2010 at the SUNY-Purchase campus.
Other performers did not come with pointe shoes in hand. Portman, Kunis, Ryder, and other leads, such as Vincent Cassel, who plays the company’s artistic director, are professional actors, not dancers. Although Portman had studied ballet as a child and continues to take the occasional class, she is not a professional dancer. Millepied realized this assignment was very different from his usual choreographic commissions. “Truly, it was an impossible challenge. How do you make someone look like a ballerina in Swan Lake?”
He started by “giving them some basics,” he says, and then taught the actors sequences of steps that they repeated over and over again. Portman, particularly, rehearsed steps “hundreds of times,” he says, until the details, such as how the eyes follow the hands, were good enough to allow her to pass for a professional ballerina.
“She worked so hard, so very, very hard, and she’s not going to get the credit she deserves,” Millepied says. “People will look at it and say, ‘Well, she knew how to dance.’ She didn’t start from scratch and she had a sense of movement, but the amount of work she put into it was really phenomenal.”
Portman trained for five hours a day, every day, for 10 months before production began, with several pro-level teachers and trainers including Mary Helen Bowers, formerly of New York City Ballet. Her regimen included dancing, swimming, weight training, and cross-training.
Millepied worked with Portman’s strengths and weaknesses as a dancer and used steps that showed her at her best. “This was not about my choreography; it was about finding the right choreography for the film,” he says. “But again, that is where the [choreography’s] success is—making it work.”
One of the hardest parts was explaining what he wanted to the non-dancers in “a language they could understand,” he says. “It’s a talent some people have. My teacher had it. It’s finding the right language for people, and being patient.”
There were other challenges as well. Several times he had to work quickly to redo choreography because a scene wasn’t working. The inevitable waiting around that happens on a film set was hard on the professional dancers, and the film’s small budget, says Millepied, meant that the cast and crew were often pressured for time. Dance sequences would be filmed at all hours of the day or night. (It was widely reported in the Hollywood press that Aronofsky struggled to find financing for this film.)
Millepied remembers filming one scene that appears late in the film. “I had choreographed all this running, and I didn’t know running in pointe shoes is one of the toughest things to do,” he said. “It was 4:00 in the morning, and we did that scene so many times, and basically the girls were just in tears. It was really tough.”
Production was under way when Millepied volunteered himself for the role of a dancer. He even spoke a few lines. “I really was just playing myself,” he says. “Being in front of a camera and acting is inhibiting. But it’s a great thing to do because you learn how to be natural.”
Millepied has no plans to give up dancing for acting, but he says his brush with Hollywood might lead to a new career as a director. “There are a lot of similarities between choreographing and directing,” he says. “How to use space and timing and people. As a choreographer, you choose what you want the audience to see and look at onstage; but with the camera, you choose how you want them to look at it. It’s kind of an exciting departure.”
His first directing job is for a short film that he wrote with a friend, which the two plan to shoot in Paris. For now, he’s keeping the details under wraps. “It’s not a ballet film, and it’s not a dance film per se, but the film has movement in it,” he says. “I’m very excited about it. I would like to explore this direction more.”
Other ballet choreographers have made the jump to Hollywood director, Millepied says, such as Jerome Robbins, who created a principal role in 2 & 3 Part Inventions on him when he was still a student. He would also be up for another movie choreography job, he says, “depending on the project.” But for now, he’s sticking with ballet. “The movie world is really tough,” he says. “The ballet world is gentle next to it.”
The Vail International Dance Festival will bring some of the world’s greatest dancers, choreographers, and musicians to stages of the Vail Valley in Colorado for a two-week celebration of dance July 31 to August 13, 2011.
Under the direction of former New York City Ballet dancer Damian Woetzel, the festival has been widely acclaimed for its innovation and growth as a nationally recognized summer showcase for dance. The festival has featured such companies and artists as Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company, Savion Glover, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Paul Taylor Dance Company, as well as musical collaborations with Philip Glass and the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival.
More information can be found at www.vaildance.org.
The Chicago Sun Times has reported that during a news conference at this year’s Havana International Ballet Festival in Cuba, a festival official said he hopes to have the Joffrey Ballet appear as part of its 2012 season.
Both American Ballet Theatre and stars of the New York City Ballet performed in the festival.
“I very much want us to go,” Ashley Wheater, artistic director of the Joffrey, told the Sun Times. “It would be a great experience for the company, and I also think it would be very important for Cuba’s dancers to see the work of the current generation of choreographers now creating new dances in this country.”
The New York Philharmonic is planning to visit Cuba in 2011. And earlier this year Chicago hosted both Havana’s Teatro Buendia (at the Goodman Theatre), and the Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba company (at the Auditorium Theatre). For the full story, visit www.suntimes.com
Gaspar—A Pirate Fantasy, a two-act swashbuckling ballet, is begin re-staged in the Tampa Bay area after a 16-year absence by the original creator and choreographer, Christopher Fleming, a former New York City Ballet dancer.
The ballet, with an original score by Tampa Bay composer Dr. David Goldstein, will be presented at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa, Florida, on January 30, 2011 at 2:00 and 7:30 p.m.
Gaspar—A Pirate Fantasy tells the tale of Tampa Bay’s most famous pirate, José Gaspar, and will be performed by local dancers, principal dancers from New York and Philadelphia, and Patel Conservatory students.
Gaspar was intended to be an annual production, but shortly after the first performance in 1994, Tampa’s Bay Ballet Theatre ended and the ballet was lost for 16 years. Sharon Sanchez, executive producer of the new production, and two of her sons danced small parts in the original performance. Her love of dance and her tenacious nature prompted her to start a crusade to bring the ballet back. “We need to fight for the arts,” Sanchez says.
All proceeds from the ballet will go to local non-profits including the Tampa Bay chapter of the American Red Cross and the Florida chapter of Operation Homefront, as well as Drew’s Shoes, a charity dedicated to providing dance shoes for underprivileged children. Tickets are on sale at www.tickets.tbpac.org or by calling 727.683.8827. More information is available at www.gasparballet.com
A performance of Avi Scher’s new pas de deux for New York City Ballet dancers Ana Sophia Scheller and David Prottas will premiere as part of the Young Choreographers Showcase on November 14 at 8 p.m.
The showcase will be held at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, 248 West 60th Street, New York City, and also features new works by Emery LeCrone, Justin Peck, Ja’Malik, and Zalman Grinberg. Tickets are available at SmartTix.
Scher, 26, trained at the School of American Ballet and has appeared with 11 ballet companies, including Joffrey Ballet, Washington Ballet, Ballet British Columbia, and Los Angeles Ballet. His first commission as a choreographer came at age 18, creating Jouons for the ABT Studio Company in 2002. He started his own project company Avi Scher & Dancers, in 2009 with performances at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the Kennedy Center, and a New York season at the Ailey Citigroup Theater. Ballet West, Sacramento Ballet, San Francisco Ballet School, and Miami City Ballet have danced his works
Also, at noon November 19, two short works by Scher, as well as pieces by LeCrone, Ja’Malik, and John Mark Owen, will be featured in a free performance at the 92nd Street Y. For more information on Scher, visit www.avischer.com
Valentina Kozlova, a former principal dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet and New York City Ballet, has announced the first Boston International Ballet Competition, scheduled for May 12 to 16, 2011, in Boston’s John Hancock Hall.
Kozlova, a teacher of the Vaganova method, has also distinguished herself as both a competition judge and coach of young dancers. She notes that competitions provide invaluable opportunities “to draw attention to special dancers, to allow company directors to see dancers in stage performances rather than in class or at auditions, and to help young dancers further their careers.”
The Boston competition will have a Student Division (ages 13 and 14); a Junior Division (ages 15 to 18); and a Senior Division (ages 19-25). The three rounds will be held May 12, 13, and 15, with a gala and awards ceremony on May 16.
The panel of six judges, presided over by Mikko Nissinen, artistic director of Boston Ballet, will include Violette Verdy (France), Andris Liepa (Russia), Hae Shik Kim (South Korea), Septime Webre (artistic director of The Washington Ballet), and a judge from South America to be announced.
Ballet, modern, hip-hop, and Broadway dance will all be represented in the East Room of the White House on September 7 for the “White House Dance Series: A Tribute to Judith Jamison.”
First Lady Michelle Obama invited has invited some of the country’s leading dance companies to perform at the celebration of Jamison’s career as a dancer, choreographer, and artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for the past 20 years. (Robert Battle succeeds her in the post in July 2011.)
The participants include the Ailey company, Paul Taylor Dance Company, The Washington Ballet, one of the boys playing the title role in Billy Elliot the Musical, Super Cr3w, and New York City Ballet.
Each of the participating companies will lead a segment of a dance workshop that will be held in the East Room at 3 p.m., two hours before the tribute.
Miami City Ballet been selected to make its debut at the 2010 Fall for Dance Festival at New York’s City Center on September 28 and 29, when it will perform Twyla Tharp’s The Golden Section.
The Golden Section (1983), a ballet for 13 dancers with music by David Byrne, had its Miami City Ballet premiere in the 2009-10 season.
The festival, from running September 28 to October 9, will showcase 20 dance companies and choreographers from across the United States and around the world, including American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, and Paul Taylor Dance Company. Miami City Ballet is one of 10 dance companies making their debut in the festival.
All tickets are $10 and go on sale at 11 a.m. September 12 at www.NYCityCenter.org or by calling CityTix at 212.581.1212.
For more information about Miami City Ballet, visit www.miamicityballet.org.
The Summer Intensive at Princeton Ballet School ended its five-week program on July 30 with a performance that included George Balanchine’s Serenade, restaged by Kyra Nichols, a former New York City Ballet principal dancer, and a suite from Giselle, restaged by Maria Youskevitch, a former soloist at American Ballet Theatre.
Also on the program were original works by Mary Barton, a former principal dancer with ABT and Joffrey Ballet, and Princeton Ballet School Director Mary Pat Robertson, as well as student choreography developed in a workshop led by former Twyla Tharp dancer Katie Glasner, who’s now assistant chair of the Dance Department at Barnard College.
The students attending the New Jersey workshop, now in its 29th year, were chosen last winter in auditions conducted across the United States, as well as in Paris and Rome. Attendees included eleven dancers from Italy, two from France, and one each from Spain, Switzerland, South Africa, and Japan.
Scarsdale Ballet Studio in Westchester, New York, is adding a third classroom at the school in the Vernon Hills Shopping Center as the studio celebrates its 19th anniversary in September.
“More space gives our students and teachers more opportunities to share and enrich their dance experience,” said artistic director Diana White.
The studio also has added Abi Stafford, a principal dancer with New York City Ballet, as a master teacher. Stafford, who remains with NYCB, recently moved to Westchester. She will join faculty members from NYCB, the Bolshoi, Ballet Hispanico, and other companies.
For further information visit www.scarsdaleballetstudio.com or call 914.725.8754.
Seth Orza, who joined Pacific Northwest Ballet as a member of the corps de ballet in 2007, has been promoted to the rank of principal dancer for the 2010-2011 season, PNB artistic director Peter Boal announced July 6.
Orza trained at San Francisco Ballet School and the School of American Ballet before joining New York City Ballet as an apprentice in 1999. He became a corps de ballet member in 2000 and was promoted to soloist in 2007. That same year he joined Pacific Northwest Ballet as a member of the corps de ballet and was promoted to soloist in 2008.
In other PNB news, corps de ballet member Laura Gilbreath, who joined the company as an apprentice in 2003, was promoted to the rank of soloist, as was Sarah Ricard Orza, a member of the Seattle-based company’s corps de ballet since 2007. Also, Chelsea Adomaitis, Ryan Cardea, and Ezra Thomson, who joined PNB as apprentices in 2009, have been promoted to the corps de ballet.
The Washington Ballet has chosen Monique Meunier, a former New York City Ballet principal dancer, as its new ballet mistress, the company has announced. She will take up the position on August 23.
Meunier joined NYCB after attending the School of American Ballet and in 1998 became a principal. In 2002 she joined American Ballet Theatre, where she was a soloist. Meunier joined Complexions Contemporary Ballet in 2007.
She succeeds The Washington Ballet’s late ballet master, John Goding, once a featured dancer with the company. Goding became ballet master in 1998 and died last year.
The goal of the festival is to create a venue for dance schools and students, ages 9 to 25, to share their knowledge of dance through performance. Scholarships, certificates of merit, and written evaluations from judges will be distributed.
Dance categories include classical ballet, contemporary, jazz, and folk dance. The festival’s competitions and workshops will end in an awards ceremony and the Festival Winner’s Showcase.
The event is hosted by Kozlov Dance International, a non-profit organization based in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and dedicated to Youth carrying on the traditions of classical ballet. It was founded by Leonid Kozlov, a former dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet and New York City Ballet.
Students may register independently or through their dance school to participate in solo or ensemble numbers. To register or to request an information package, call 201.961.4123. The festival website is www.ydfofnj.org.
Avi Scher & Dancers will present six works—three of them premieres—in the troupe’s first New York City season April 3 to 5 at the Ailey Citigroup Theater. The lineup of dancers includes American Ballet Theatre principals Marcelo Gomes and Veronika Part, New York City Ballet principals Sara Mearns and Abi Stafford, and NYCB soloist Savannah Lowery.
The premieres are Utopia Variations, featuring Gomes and Mearns; Inner Voice, with Scher and Genevieve Labean, a former New York City Ballet dancer turned-pop artist; and Mystery in the Wind, a much-expanded version of a work that premiered in 2009 at Harvard University. The program also includes Little Stories, No Matter What, and Touch.
Tickets are $22 ($12 for students) and available at SmartTix (www.smarttix.com).
The dancewear company was a performance benefactor of “Healing for Haiti,” a benefit performance held February 22 and presented by Manhattan Youth Ballet and Nalini Method. Capezio provided a silent-auction prize package, valued at more than $1,000, that included a dancer’s wardrobe, a 10-class pass from Peridance Capezio Center in New York, a private fitting with master pointe shoe fitter Zoe Cleland (a former fitter for Los Angeles Ballet), and a custom pair of Capezio pointe shoes.
The evening included performances by dancers from New York City Ballet, the Martha Graham Contemporary Dance Company, the Brice Mousset Company, and Manhattan Youth Ballet.
Capezio also has donated nearly 1,000 pairs of shoes as well as other dance apparel to the Haitian relief efforts of Soles4Souls, Inc. The charity, based in Nashville, Tennessee, collects shoes for the needy from footwear companies’ warehouses and individual donors. Since 2005, Soles3Souls says, it has given away more than 7 million pairs of new and gently used shoes. For details on the charity, visit www.souls4soles.org.
Pacific Northwest Ballet will feature three works by the late Ulysses Dove in a program to be performed from March 18 to 28 at McCaw Hall in Seattle, Washington. Suspension of Disbelief by Victor Quijada, a choreographer who counts Dove among his inspirations, is also on the program.
The three works by Dove, who died in 1996, are Vespers (1986), Serious Pleasures (1992), and Red Angels (1994). PNB artistic director Peter Boal danced in the last-named work at its New York City Ballet premiere.
“Ulysses lived in the moment, feeding off the energy of dancers and relishing the fruits of his creation,” Boal recalls. “Ulysses took on classical ballet and knocked it out of the park.”
For tickets, call the PNB box office, 206.441.2424, or visit www.pnb.org. (PNB cautions that the program is suggested for mature audiences.)
Scarsdale Ballet Studio will offer an ambitious program March 20 and 21 at its seventh annual workshop performance, to be held at the Dance Theatre Lab at Purchase College, SUNY, in Purchase, New York.
In addition to Fokine’s Les Sylphides and a new work by Pedro Ruiz, a former principal dancer with Ballet Hispanico, the program will include George Balanchine’s Valse-Fantaisie (1967). The company’s artistic director, Diana White, worked with Balanchine as a former New York City Ballet soloist and has the permission of the George Balanchine Trust to stage his works on her students.
The performance will conclude with The Firebird, choreographed by White in collaboration with faculty members David Fernandez and Simon Kazantsev. White danced the role of the Princess in Balanchine’s Firebird at NYCB.
Tickets are $20. To buy them, call the Scarsdale Ballet Studio at 914.725.8754. For more information, visit www.scarsdaleballetstudio.com.
This is an excerpt from Pacific Northwest Ballet artistic director Peter Boal’s blog, which first appeared on PNB Unleashed (www.pnbunleashed.com) in May 2008, when the company was presenting an all-Jerome Robbins program. Boal was a student at the School of American Ballet and a longtime principal dancer with New York City Ballet, where he worked with Robbins.
My first experience with Jerry came as a 10-yearold. I was chosen to be Cupid in Mother Goose. My task was to lead Prince Charming to the fairy princess and shoot her in the heart with my magic arrow. I was onstage for all of 3 minutes, a seemingly unimportant child’s role that a ballet master could no doubt teach. Robbins taught it himself as he would later teach Fancy Free and Dances at a Gathering: so that I recognized the importance, filling me with images of my character’s motivation and a sense of my larger responsibility to the plot and success of the ballet. He reminded me of the dangers of twigs snapping under my clumsy foot or of rustled leaves waking the dormant princess. He instilled in me an importance of our work in the studio, his and mine, not my work for him, which is more how I would have seen it.
I entered the New York City Ballet in Balanchine’s wake. Critics and fellow dancers wondered what of value could possibly follow. For me there were many highlights, but my work with Robbins was exceptional. We spent hours over years creating phrases of his choreography, some lost, some safely becoming ballets, some merely a great learning experience for a young dancer and a master choreographer. The two years spent choreographing Robbins’ final ballet, Brandenburg, were my most concentrated experiences with Jerry, though the work on Opus 19/The Dreamer and A Suite of Dances sticks in my mind. For the latter, Jerry had agreed to make a solo for Mikhail Baryshnikov. To say that both Misha and Jerry were nervous about this experience would not begin to describe their feelings. Jerry’s solution was to take Victor Castelli and me into a studio weeks before his first rehearsal with Baryshnikov and create samples of choreography. The work was actually pleasure, with plenty of laughter and banter. Jerry and I had met in the studio many times before to work through the creation process. We were comfortable together. Misha would seek me out in a hallway later in the day to question me on the progress. “Not too many arabesques, are there? A lot of jumps?” I must admit I enjoyed my position of privilege. The result was a charming, challenging solo that was perfect for Misha. I had the pleasure of performing it only once, but for me the real pleasure was in the process.
No one has ever asked for more or pushed me harder than Jerry did in Opus 19. In retrospect, my career may have suffered from an imbalance of praise to criticism, with more compliments than corrections filling my ears. Jerry was the exception. Praise and appreciation from Jerry was both seldom and well deserved. I will remember the speechless, teary-eyed kiss I received on my forehead after one performance of Opus as one of life’s most rewarding moments. During the decade or so that I performed the great role, also made for Misha, I could never rest on past successes, constantly pushing myself to go farther. Jerry continued to expect more. Our last conversation happened on the telephone in his final months, after he had seen a performance of Opus. His last words were, “You can do more.” Communicating and passing on a legacy is what I can do now. I am proud to witness tomorrow’s generation of great dancers connecting with one of time’s greatest geniuses.