Ballet Scene

November 2016 | Ballet Scene | Dance Is Joy

by Heather Turbeville

“Some teachers love laying choreography on 16-year-old dancers,” says Donna Rathe, owner of Tiny Dancers in Northern Virginia. “I love working with squirmy little 3-year-old boys and girls and getting them to understand first position and plié.”

Likewise, Tilly Abbe, who has been teaching ballet to little ones at Miss Tilly’s Ballet & Theater Arts in San Francisco for more than 40 years, likes the youngest students best and dislikes it when studio owners and teachers don’t take these children seriously.

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October 2016 | Ballet Scene | Popular Balanchine

For most ballet fans, the name George Balanchine is synonymous with American neoclassicism. It’s true that this great ballet icon is famous for revitalizing classical ballet in the 20th century—think Serenade, Agon, and Stravinsky Violin Concerto—but Balanchine also found inspiration in other dance styles, including popular entertainment.

After immigrating to the United States in 1933, Balanchine continued working in revues, variety shows, and the like for the next two decades, while founding the School of American Ballet and forming short-term companies that would evolve, in 1948, into New York City Ballet. His choreography for the popular stage and screen in the United States included 2 revues, 14 musicals, 4 operettas, 5 films, and a circus spectacle for 50 elephants.

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September 2016 | Ballet Scene | Performing With the Pros

From a young age, dance students idolize professional dancers—and that’s a good thing. They need someone to look up to and goals to aspire to that go beyond their home studio’s doors. That’s why creating opportunities for students to engage with professional dancers is important—it allows them to see that with enough work and dedication, dance training can have long-term payoffs. Even if they have no interest in or potential for a career in dance, students who enjoy the thrill of sharing a studio or stage with the pros may find that the experience deepens their appreciation of dance, motivates them to push past personal limits, and creates long-lasting memories.

How can studio owners create such opportunities for their students? Some ballet companies open their annual Nutcracker to local dancers, particularly children’s roles; school owners can inform students about upcoming auditions. But some schools do more than that, partnering with dance companies on productions that blend professionals and students and giving the students a performance experience they otherwise wouldn’t get.

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August 2016 | Ballet Scene | Innovation Meets Tradition

Ballet has always dwelled within the parameters of formality and rules, from its 16th-century Renaissance beginnings, through the court of Louis XIV, into its Russian legacy, and on to Balanchine’s American neoclassicism. A tendu is a tendu is a tendu, yet ballet has evolved into a dynamic, eclectic art form that reflects new attitudes and styles. Along with these adaptations, ballet training has slowly changed to provide a more anatomically streamlined approach, to allow for new concepts and cross-training methods, and to strive for inclusivity among students.

To keep 21st-century students literally on their toes, ballet teachers need to be creative. Here are some who have devised “outside of the box” training ideas that still respect tradition.

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July 2016 | Ballet Scene | Tying the Knot in Vegas

A stilt-walker surrounded by children, a contortionist amid a whirl of bourréeing ballerinas, a bevy of beauties lifting a clown—it’s a grand pas, Vegas style. Vegas, the wedding capital of the world, has united two unlikely partners: Nevada Ballet Theatre (NBT) and mega-producer Cirque du Soleil®. Each year since 2007, the two have joined forces to produce A Choreographers’ Showcase (ACS) at the 1,500-plus-seat Mystère Theatre at Treasure Island Hotel & Casino, creating buzz up and down the strip.

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May-June 2016 | Ballet Scene | Walking the Walk in Memphis

Where can you find a studio that offers hip-hop, ballet, Memphis jookin, tap, jazz, flamenco, African dance, Chinese dance, and modern dance classes—and that prioritizes heavily underserved students to boot? That rare distinction goes to Memphis, Tennessee, home of New Ballet Ensemble & School (NBE).

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March-April 2016 | Ballet Scene | Making It

Some dance parents know nothing about dance; others “know it all.”

Then there is Kimberly Falker. A dance mom whose personal journey in ballet was limited to a few childhood classes, Falker realized she didn’t have enough firsthand knowledge to guide her dreaming-of-a-professional-career daughter. She wondered: who would know what it takes to become a professional dancer? Why, a professional dancer, of course.

So Falker created Balancing Pointe Podcast, in which she asks dancers, choreographers, educators, artistic directors, and others in the ballet world the burning question “How do you make it?” Her guests, candid and generous, share tales of both setbacks and successes, from injuries, soul-crushing rejections, and lost scholarships, to growing up, gaining wisdom, and living the dream.

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February 2016 | Ballet Scene | Tales of Two Teachers

Over the past quarter century, some of ballet’s most distinguished teachers have shaped the students of San Francisco Ballet School, among them Irina Jacobson, Lola de Avila, Jorge Esquivel, Antonio Castilla, Gloria Govrin, Jean-Yves Esquerre, and Edward Ellison. Recently, two other teachers joined that list: Pollyana Ribeiro, who became part of the full-time teaching staff in 2014; and Yannick Boquin, who chooses to guest teach exclusively. In February 2015, I watched both of them teach class, with a goal of discovering what they might add to the educational structure Patrick Armand, associate director of SF Ballet School (under the direction of artistic director Helgi Tomasson) is putting in place.

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November 2015 | Ballet Scene | Character Dance

In classical ballet, the traditions of European culture come alive onstage. Watch a production of Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, or Don Quixote and you’ll see fairy tales and stories of royalty and ordinary people told through the classical technique handed down from King Louis XIV. But you’ll also see character dances—ballet versions of traditional folk dances such as the Hungarian czardas, in 2/4 or 4/4 time; the Polish mazurka, in 3/4 time; the krakowiak, a fast, syncopated dance in duple time from the region of Krakow; the Italian tarantella, usually danced with tambourines in 6/8 time; and the Spanish seguidilla, in quick triple time that often starts on the “off” beat.

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September 2015 | Ballet Scene | Raising the Barre

As anyone who participates in competitions knows, ballet entries are rare. Ballet is one of the toughest competition categories: ballet technique is not as forgiving as jazz or contemporary—the legs are either turned out and stretched and the feet pointed, or they’re not. Teachers are often hesitant to compete in ballet because they want to showcase their students at their best—and often, their best isn’t ballet.

As both a choreographer and judge, I’ve learned a lot about staging ballet for competitions, and I’ve seen the benefits. My school has been entering ballet and pointe pieces in competitions for 20 years, and I make competing in a ballet group piece mandatory for all students on the team. If you make ballet a priority at your school and challenge your students to put their ballet technique on the stage, you’ll step up their training, encourage self-discipline, and help change the mindset of your team.

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August 2015 | Ballet Scene | Floor It

Barre-type exercises done on the floor, which sometimes include elements of Pilates or yoga, have numerous uses and benefits. In a supine position, using gravity to their advantage, dancers can feel the correct alignment of the body, particularly the spine, hips, and torso. They can understand the proper genesis of turnout in the hips, allow the muscles to lengthen and tone, and more easily coordinate the arms and legs. Floor barres provide excellent core strengthening by requiring stability in movement through the exercises.

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July 2015 | Ballet Scene | Artists in Charge

Imagine a team of dedicated people working together, employing a wide range of skills and knowledge, doing whatever is needed to sustain their organization and keep it growing. Some might call it crowdsourcing, others collaboration. At Saint Paul Ballet (SPB), they call it an artist-led ballet company, and it’s working.

This model has dancers who function not only as performing artists but also take on the administrative roles that keep the company running: some work on public relations, others outreach, marketing, production, or fundraising.

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May-June 2015 | Ballet Scene | Teacher Transformation

When American Ballet Theatre initiated its outreach program Project Plié in 2013, the company’s CEO, Rachel Moore, was clear about the lack of diversity in ballet schools and companies and the need to mitigate the problem. “My observation is that currently in the U.S. none of the major ballet companies have a female principal dancer of color,” says Moore. “I think it’s a real problem because American ballet companies should look like America. As the demographics of this country change, in order for ballet companies to remain relevant, we need to change with them.”

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February 2015 | Ballet Scene | Offstage Insights

In ballet, many are called but few are chosen, and tradition has long held that no one is obliged to explain why one dancer makes the cut and another does not. That wasn’t the case for contestants at last June’s USA International Ballet Competition (IBC) in Jackson, Mississippi. Dancers who did not advance through the rounds—or receive the award or medal they hoped for—could uncover the secrets of that elusive “why not me” by participating in the IBC’s Competitor Evaluation Program.

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January 2015 | Ballet Scene | French Lessons

Ballet is a beautiful art form, but the day-to-day work involved isn’t always glamorous. It can be hard for students to think of themselves as participants in a grand artistic tradition when they’re repeating exercises for the 500th time. That’s what Genevieve Le Gall Fortner, the founder and director of Oxford Ballet School in Oxford, Mississippi, noticed over a period of several years: her ballet students lacked motivation.

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December 2014 | Ballet Scene | Tutu Fabulous

Making costume confections takes skill, patience, and years of experience By Karen White Take tulle and satin, rhinestones and ribbon. Mix with knowledge and experience. Sprinkle on a creative touch with a dash of daring. Voila! A tutu. “It’s a fantasy thing. It’s so iconic,” says Claudia Folts, a former professional dancer and studio owner…

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November 2014 | Ballet Scene | Up, Up, and Plié!

“The arts are a powerful force!” Pumping their fists in the air, dozens of students in a school auditorium scream the motto of The Corps of 4 in “Dr. Injury Returns!”—Milwaukee Ballet’s high-energy, superhero-themed Ballet-in-a-Box, just one of the company’s many community outreach programs. Aimed primarily at grades pre-K through 8, and tapping into the popularity of superheroes in pop culture, this imaginative program highlights the athleticism, discipline, and history of ballet.

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October 2014 | Ballet Scene |Ballet in Cleveland

Every gardener knows that if you want to raise tomatoes in a pot or peas in the ground, you need to give your seedlings the right mix of soil, water, and sunshine. Otherwise, forget about even thinking of harvesting a halfway decent crop. Arts entrepreneur Jessica Wallis, a former elementary school teacher who was once an aspiring ballerina, knows how to create a good environment for what she wants to grow: ballet in Cleveland.

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September 2014 | Ballet Scene | Welcome to Pineapple Tree

Dance troupe lets Arkansas locals collaborate, create, and perform By Joseph Carman A pineapple symbolizes hospitality. So says Pineapple Tree Dance Company co-founder Sally Ashcraft. When the dance troupe, located in Fayetteville, Arkansas, was founded in March 2013, the founders’ prime motive was to bring dance teachers, dancers, choreographers, and studio owners together to establish…

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May-June 2014 | Ballet Scene | Shuffles and Chassés

You wouldn’t expect to find tap among the offerings at Thomas Armour Youth Ballet, a Miami studio rooted in ballet since 1951. But today this classical ballet school, formerly called The Miami Conservatory, encourages students ages 7 and up to study tap and ballet; for the members of its Tap Team, both forms of dance are required. The result? A win-win scenario.

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March-April 2014 | Ballet Scene | Viva Villella!

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that there are no second acts in American lives. But Edward Villella has proved the author wrong once, and is embarking wholeheartedly on his third act. After his career as one of the dance world’s greatest leading men at New York City Ballet, Villella built Miami City Ballet from nothing and took it to international acclaim over a 27-year period (1985–2012). Since his controversial departure from MCB, Villella has accepted the position of chair of the jury for the 2014 USA International Ballet Competition. At 77, Villella still retains serious ambitions and goals.

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