In Rachid Ouramdane's Tenir le temps, Annie Hanauer articulates the choreography with unforced precision, her natural demeanor and smooth transitions the perfect fit for Ouramdane's undulating, abstract patterns. Few seem to notice that there is something slightly different about her: Hanauer was born missing part of her left arm, and now has a prosthetic one.
Hanauer, 30, has achieved what many thought impossible for a performer with a disability: a thriving career in the mainstream dance world. After performing with the UK's Candoco Dance Company from 2008 to 2014, she is now an in-demand freelancer, and a tall, striking presence in the works of contemporary choreographers Emanuel Gat and Ouramdane.
Born in Minnesota, Hanauer started taking a range of classes at a local studio when she was 10. Both her family and dance teachers were supportive: "I was never excluded," she says. "It was recreational, but when I got to the age of 16, I was taking class every night."
Still, pursuing a college degree in dance was far from an easy decision. "I remember having a crisis when I was accepted, saying, 'Am I ever going to get a job, because I've got one arm, you know?" she remembers dryly. The dance department at the University of Minnesota welcomed and nurtured her, and the curriculum helped widen her horizons. "I was the first person like this that they'd ever taught," she says. "It was probably a challenge for them, but we got a lot of individual attention."
In Rachid Ouramdane's TORDRE. PC Patrick Imbert.
In college, she also learned to work around issues linked to her disability. Partnering proved especially complex, although improvisation helped in the long term. "My strategy was to just do it to the best of my abilities, like every other dancer," she says.
The faculty prepared her for the challenges she would likely face in the industry: "I was ready to struggle through and have seven day-jobs," she says. During her senior year, she spotted an audition notice for Candoco, which bills itself as a "company of disabled and nondisabled dancers." They offered her a permanent contract, and the day after her graduation, Hanauer found herself moving to London.
The diverse repertoire of Candoco introduced Hanauer to European contemporary dance with creations by the likes of Hofesh Shechter, Rafael Bonachela and Nigel Charnock. The company was also invited to perform at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and at the Paralympic Games in London in 2012.
In Rachid Ouramdane's TORDRE. PC Patrick Imbert.
In 2014, Hanauer decided to "stretch her legs" and go freelance. "I wanted to keep growing as a dancer and to see how I would be received as a performer in a different context," she says. Gat and Ouramdane, who had set works on Candoco, soon called, and she now regularly commutes between London, where she lives, and France, where both choreographers are based. Hanauer has been part of three creations with Ouramdane, including TORDRE, a "double portrait" tailor-made for her and another woman. In 2016, she appeared in Gat's SUNNY, where her serene confidence and movement quality were highlights in the fluid group sections.
Prejudice is still part of Hanauer's experience, however. Partners sometimes offer to change choreography before she's had a chance to try it. "You have to be really in touch with your own body, and clear about what you need," she says. Reactions to disabled performers have also frustrated her in the past. "People are surprised that I'm not clunky or awkward. The level of discourse about disability is not super-complex. Either it's shocking, or a novelty, or else it's 'They're so noble.' "
Hanauer knows her success story is fairly unusual, and believes inclusive companies are still relevant and necessary: "The dance world is still very restrictive. In the UK, there is more of a historical conversation about this because of Candoco and others, but there's a lack of opportunities for dancers with disabilities." She now teaches regularly, and is exploring work of her own with three dancers and support from Candoco and London's The Place. "I still wonder if the industry is ready for me," she says with a laugh. "You just have to keep going and try to change people's minds by doing it."
A creation for the Paris Opéra Ballet or The Royal Ballet would have pride of place on any choreographer's resumé. But Crystal Pite is going one better and choreographing works for both companies this season. "Isn't that crazy?" she exclaims at the Palais Garnier in Paris, still sounding surprised. "I have to pinch myself sometimes when I come into this building."
Still, Pite has plainly demonstrated in recent years that she belongs at the top of the choreographic ladder. Since creating her own company, Kidd Pivot, in 2002, the Canadian dancemaker has realized her ambitious vision for dance theater in increasingly large-scale productions: the Shakespeare-inspired The Tempest Replica, in 2011, was described by The New Yorker as "a work of astonishing beauty and thoughtfulness." Since 2013, Pite has been an associate artist at London's prestigious Sadler's Wells Theatre, where her most recent works, from Polaris to Betroffenheit, have made her a critical darling.
And while Pite considers herself a contemporary choreographer, the ballet world has paid attention. A former dancer with Ballet British Columbia and Ballett Frankfurt, Pite has made works for Nederlands Dans Theater and the National Ballet of Canada, among others. In September, her Seasons' Canon made people sit up and take notice in Paris, and The Royal is next for a Pite premiere in March.
"It's exciting to be able to use that knowledge, that mastery classical dancers have," Pite says. "How do I use them and still create a piece that looks like something that I would make?"
Given Pite's background in ballet, it's not surprising classical companies have come knocking. While there was no pre-professional school in her Canadian hometown, Victoria, British Columbia, she trained at "a very good little ballet school" from the age of 4 to 17.
Her hours were limited, but the school's focus on the creative process compensated: "My teacher, Maureen Eastick, would make new pieces for us all the time. We had the experience in the early days of being choreographed on." Her school also entered dance festivals where Pite herself was allowed to develop her creative skills. "We were onstage a lot. I had the opportunity to choreograph on my peers."
Pite in rehearsal at Ballet BC. Photo by Michael Slobodian, courtesy Ballet BC
After graduating from high school in 1988, she was offered an apprenticeship with Ballet British Columbia in nearby Vancouver. "It turned out that it was the perfect place for me to go," she reflects. "It was a small company, the focus was on new work and contemporary ballet, and I was able to widen my vision of what was possible in ballet and dance."
The company's repertoire included works by Jirí Kylián and William Forsythe, and while her own choreographic career was taking off on the side, Pite opted to challenge herself by joining Forsythe's Ballett Frankfurt in 1996. Many of today's top choreographers have come from the company's ranks, and Pite credits Frankfurt's collaborative ethos with pushing her as an artist.
"Bill [Forsythe] was attracted to people that were creative to begin with, people that were willing to take risks, and there was this incredible creative spirit at work there."
By 2001, however, she longed to go home. "I always had the dream to dance in my own work, in my own company, and I wanted to do that in Canada," she says.
With the support of her long-time partner and designer, Jay Gower Taylor, Pite launched Kidd Pivot. Adequate funding was hard to secure in Canada, but she steadily developed her choreographic voice while dancing in her own works for a decade. "I think those two sides of myself, being a dancer and a choreographer, have always fed each other, and at that point I felt this great synthesis within myself," she says.
Her retirement from the stage coincided with the birth of her son Niko, in 2011. "I always imagined that my dance career would end when I either got injured or had a baby. Fortunately, it ended up being the latter, but the decline was exponential," she says with a laugh. "The aging, the child, the challenges of trying to juggle everything! It was a new beginning and an ending all at once."
Kidd Pivot now works roughly half the year, allowing both Pite and her performers time for side projects. Its bold productions have an experimental, multidisciplinary side to them. Pite's grounded vocabulary is often blended with text and commissioned music, with Gower Taylor contributing seamlessly modern set designs. 2015's Betroffenheit, a raw exploration of loss and grief, was a collaboration with actor and playwright Jonathon Young.
"I'm interested in offering an audience a variety of ways to get into a piece," Pite explains. "Some people can connect in a visceral way to pure movement, and others connect more to language. I like to be able to use anything to get people in the same world as each other."
Despite the commissions she has lined up, Pite still feels like a visitor in the ballet world, where she is one of the rare high-profile female choreographers.
"Ballet dancers have a very different skill-set and vocabulary. The way they use their spines, their relationship with the floor, to each other in partnering: There is a whole different kind of musculature that kicks in when they connect."
Pite has adapted, making ballet works that are more dance-centric than her repertoire for Kidd Pivot, and more focused on group work. "I can achieve a physical complexity within an individual body easily with my own dancers, but with dancers I'm just meeting, I'm not going to be able to," she says. At the Paris Opéra Ballet, she found strength in numbers, with 54 dancers often moving as one—and scenes that paid tribute to their unique lines and technique.
Paris Opéra Ballet in Season's Canon. Photo by Julien Benhamou, courtesy POB
At The Royal Ballet, Pite will use the first movement of Henryk Górecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, "music that is very familiar and beloved," she says. She plans to "follow its trajectory," and mine the dancers' classical training for inspiration.
They will have to adjust to the bold yet rigorous earthiness of her style, however. Pite thrives on the energy that comes from that mix: "When there is tension, something flourishes and becomes alive, complex," she says. "I want dancing that looks like it's being discovered in the very moment it's being danced. I want it to look like it's reckless, dangerous and also delightful."
With her soulful presence and elegant manner onstage, Yulia Stepanova was touted as a major talent when she graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy in 2009. She joined the Mariinsky Ballet, where her sensitive phrasing as Odette/Odile confirmed her potential. Stuck for a promotion, however, she made a bold move to Moscow, and it paid off: Stepanova is now the Bolshoi's newest principal, and a rising star.
Company: Bolshoi Ballet
Hometown: Orenburg, Southern Russia
Training: Vaganova Ballet Academy, St. Petersburg
Accolades: 2014 Taglioni Award for "Best Young Ballerina"
Stepanova in La Bayadère. Photo by Damir Yusupov, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet
Vaganova legacy: Stepanova's final teacher at the Vaganova Ballet Academy was Lyudmila Safronova, a former student of Agrippina Vaganova herself. "She developed my individuality," says Stepanova. "She always told me: Yulia, when you appear onstage, you're not the girl next door, you're a ballerina."
Bolshoi goals: While Stepanova danced leading roles in her five years with the Mariinsky, she remained a coryphée: "Gradually I realized that there wouldn't be much change." After spending six months with Moscow's Stanislavsky Ballet, Stepanova worked up the courage to request an audition at the Bolshoi in 2015. "I was afraid—I thought that if the Mariinsky didn't work, it would be even more complicated with the Bolshoi." After a monthlong wait, however, she was offered a soloist position by Sergei Filin, and joined with her dancer husband, Kamil Yangurazov.
"Yulia has huge potential. Just wait—she will be one of the best."
Right place, right time: Soon after Stepanova's arrival, Makhar Vaziev became artistic director of the Bolshoi, and immediately noticed her. A string of big roles followed, and last summer, Vaziev promoted her straight to principal, skipping two ranks.
Star turns: Stepanova's favorite Bolshoi role so far is Nikiya in La Bayadère. While she had previously performed Gamzatti, when she auditioned in the role for Vaziev, he asked her to prepare the lead role instead. "I immediately said, 'Yes, please,' " she laughs. For the future, her wish list includes Giselle and works by Alexei Ratmansky and Yuri Possokhov.
Stepanova as Myrtha in Giselle. Photo by Damir Yusupov, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet
Between styles: Stepanova has had to adjust to the more extroverted style in Moscow. "The tempi are much faster here," she says, "and everything is done with more emotions. I feel much freer, and more confident."
Jewels girl: To relax in her free time, Stepanova taught herself jewelry-making and loves to create tiaras: "I haven't danced with them yet, but I hope to some day. I'm probably still too shy!"
The appointment of Sasha Waltz and Johannes Öhman has already proved controversial.
Iana Salenko and Marian Walter. PC Yan Revazov, Courtesy Staatsballett Berlin
Unrest is brewing in Berlin. In September, local government officials announced that the current director of the Staatsballett Berlin, Nacho Duato, would be replaced in 2019 by a duo of co-directors: choreographer Sasha Waltz and Sweden’s Johannes Öhman. In response, the company’s dancers, worried about the future of ballet in Berlin, have fought back through an online petition and official protests.
Home to a handful of international stars, including Iana Salenko and formerly Polina Semionova, the 89-strong Staatsballett is one of Germany’s biggest classical companies. Born in 2004 from the fusion of Berlin’s three ballet ensembles, previously employed by different opera houses, it became a noteworthy classical company under the direction of Ukrainian-born star Vladimir Malakhov. Duato has proved divisive since his arrival in 2014, but his recent choreography has relied on the classical technique.
The selection of Waltz and Öhman, on the other hand, has sparked anxiety about the potential fate of the Staatsballett’s classical tradition. While Waltz is a world-renowned choreographer with her own Berlin-based company, she works in the Tanztheater tradition of Pina Bausch, with a contemporary vocabulary. “She comes from a completely different genre,” says Elinor Jagodnik, a member of the corps de ballet and union representative. “The dancers will know more about ballet than she does, and the company will no longer attract classical talent.”
The inclusion of Öhman, who has been the director of the Royal Swedish Ballet since 2011, was widely seen as an attempt to balance Waltz’s avant-garde approach, but the dancers are unconvinced. Waltz stated in an open letter that her planned repertoire would be 50 percent classical, yet included Angelin Preljocaj’s modern Snow White among those classical productions. (Waltz and Öhman declined to comment for this article.)
In addition to around 20,000 signatures, the Change.org petition attracted statements of support from the likes of John Neumeier and Lucia Lacarra. The dancers contend the appointment was political in nature. The mayor and cultural senator of Berlin, Michael Müller, appoints the Staatsballett’s director, and he made the announcement three years in advance, shortly before standing for reelection. In October, his political party weakened, and it is likely that he’ll be ousted as cultural senator, along with culture secretary Tim Renner. Jagodnik says the dancers hope the new directors’ appointment will be reversed. “We’re open-minded, but audiences in Berlin deserve to see classical ballet.”
Meanwhile in Milan…
In October, La Scala announced that artistic director Mauro Bigonzetti was stepping down effective immediately, citing his need to recuperate from a severe back problem. Bigonzetti took over early in 2016 after Makhar Vaziev left to direct the Bolshoi. Echoing the current situation in Berlin, there has been speculation that ongoing tensions between the classically trained company members and the more contemporary director/choreographer were a contributing factor to Bigonzetti’s departure after only eight months at the helm. A new director is expected to be announced by March, and will take over from Fréderic Olivieri, who is filling the post in the interim. —Courtney Escoyne
The legendary choreographer takes on a new role.
At 69, Jirí Kylián is back in a leadership role in ballet. In 2009, he parted ways with Nederlands Dans Theater after 24 years as artistic director and another decade as resident choreographer; the company shelved his works entirely in 2014. The Czech luminary has since stopped making new pieces for the stage to focus on film and photography, but his blend of classical lines and contemporary fluidity remains a cornerstone of neoclassical ballet worldwide. Starting this season, it will have a new home at the Lyon Opera Ballet, where Kylián is taking up a position as associate artist with a three-year contract.
Kylián’s Sleepless. Photo by Joris Jan Bos, Courtesy Lyon Opera Ballet.
Why did you say yes to becoming associate artist in Lyon?
I started working with the Lyon Opera Ballet in the early 1980s, when Françoise Adret was the director of the company, so it’s a long tradition for me. The current artistic director, Yorgos Loukos, simply asked me to take a more prominent role.
How much time will you spend in Lyon?
We’re still negotiating the plan, but it won’t be as regular as you might think. I won’t be there every month. The company will present existing ballets, including the ones that are already in the repertoire, and I will also present works that I made for older dancers and a photography exhibition, Free Fall.
You have exactly 100 works for the stage listed on your website. Do you have any plans to make new ones?
For now, no. I’m concentrating on film and photography. But once a choreographer, always a choreographer. The danger that I will start choreographing again is great. [Laughs]
What prompted that shift towards photography and film?
I’m interested in the tension between what is alive and what is dead, like photos and film. I’m very old now, I’m almost 70, so death is coming, it is closer to me. Even the photos that I make have some kind of choreography in them, however. I was busy making movement all my life, and I call my images frozen choreography.
You’ve also completed two short films this year, including Oskar for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo.
You can get closer to faces with film. Onstage, you can be a fantastic dancer, but you’re still removed from the public. I’m interested in working with older dancers, including my partner of 43 years, Sabine Kupferberg. Their faces speak of incredible experience. They are like a map of the world, with so much written inside.
You’ve withdrawn your works from the repertoire of Nederlands Dans Theater for three years, until 2017. Will they be reintroduced next year?
There are no plans to reintroduce my work to the repertoire, and I encourage that. They’re doing fantastically well, and they should keep going the way they have. Before the Kylián period at NDT, there was a Glen Tetley and Hans van Manen period, and now it’s a new one—the company has always renewed itself and been at the forefront of dance’s development. I didn’t want to hang there like an ever-present shadow.
Have you taken any steps for the long-term preservation of your work?
All my work is digitalized. It’s not for my own glory—when I go, I want to make sure that there is good information available, so that people who are interested in what happened can have truthful sources.
Bursting out of a group of corps men at the start of Alexei Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH, Nadezhda Batoeva embodies the ballet’s blend of Russian and American influences, launching into a perilous sequence of fast turns with devil-may-care energy. After overcoming initial obstacles, the bubbly Mariinsky Ballet second soloist now dances with an infectious joy that makes her stand out among her more studied colleagues.
Batoeva’s determination rocketed her from character parts to lead roles. Here, in William Forsythe’s In the middle, somewhat elevated. Photo by Natasha Razina, Courtesy Mariinsky Ballet.
Company: Mariinsky Ballet
Hometown: Neryungri, Russia
Training: Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg
Accolade: 2008 Hope of Russia prize
Playing catch-up: When Batoeva was accepted to the Vaganova Academy at age 9, her complete lack of previous classical training meant she struggled. “All nine years were a challenge,” she says. “At first I was fighting not to be kicked out.” But her final teacher, Lyudmila Safronova, one of the last remaining students of Agrippina Vaganova, persuaded her that she could do it. “All those years before, everyone tried to tell me that ballet wasn’t for me.”
Character star: Despite her strong technique, when she joined the Mariinsky in 2009, Batoeva’s appearance was considered unsuitable for classical corps work, and she was pigeonholed in character roles. In 2010, she had a breakthrough performance in the sensual Etruscan dance in Leonid Yakobson’s Spartacus, attracting director Yuri Fateyev’s attention.
Typecast no more: With the help of her coach, Galina Kekisheva, Batoeva slowly broke out of the character mold. “Over time she built up her body, and I thought we should try something classical,” says Fateyev. She moved into leading roles, such as Kitri, and, increasingly, romantic parts: Earlier this year, she made her debut as Juliet.
Ratmansky connection: Batoeva’s promotion to second soloist came at the end of the 2012–13 season, after Ratmansky chose her for the Mariinsky premiere of his Concerto DSCH. The speed of his work suits her, and she has since earned international plaudits in his Cinderella. “I love his musicality—it makes you listen from a different angle.”
Choreographer’s muse: Her husband, Anton Pimonov, has choreographed for the Mariinsky, and Batoeva has created roles in his pieces. “It’s difficult to work with him,” she says, “because I feel a responsibility. In the studio, I try to do more, to tell the others if I notice something that would help him.”
On the small screen: In 2015, Batoeva took part in the second season of the TV competition “Bolshoi Ballet,” which features up-and-coming dancers from Russian companies. She and fellow Mariinsky second soloist Ernest Latypov placed fourth. “The conditions were very challenging—there is so much waiting with filming, so I had to learn patience. I was very happy when it ended.”
The Royal’s new breakout stars: Naghdi and Matthew Ball in Romeo & Juliet. Alice Pennefather, Courtesy ROH
Last fall, Yasmine Naghdi’s debut as Juliet was an instant sensation in London. Hers was a raw, touchingly youthful account of the role. With effortless technique and musicality, she allowed Kenneth MacMillan’s steps to sing. Of Persian and Belgian descent, the British first soloist, who joined The Royal Ballet in 2010, is now establishing herself as a lyrical ballerina to be reckoned with, and a proud representative of the British school.
Company: The Royal Ballet
Hometown: London, England
Training: The Royal Ballet School (White Lodge and Upper School)
Accolades: 2009 Young British Dancer of the Year
Breakout moment: Naghdi’s first principal role was Olga, Tatiana’s carefree sister, in John Cranko’s Onegin in 2013. When she reprised it in 2015 with Natalia Osipova as Tatiana, director Kevin O’Hare noticed how much she’d grown, and deemed her ready to dance Juliet. “She really brought Olga to life,” he says. “It’s easy to get lost alongside Tatiana, but they were equals.”
MacMillan heroine: With Matthew Ball, another young British talent, as her Romeo, Naghdi proved a natural as Juliet. “We were both starting from scratch, and I think that helped our bond,” says Naghdi. “I like to think of acting more as being, because if you force it, the audience can see that. With Juliet, I felt like I was living onstage as her.”
Generation change: Along with Ball, Francesca Hayward and a few others, Naghdi is part of an outstanding UK–trained generation that is challenging the notion that British dancers are too timid. Onstage, she draws the eye with her calm self-possession. “We’re quiet fighters—not brash, but quietly working on what we need to do, and then when it’s time, really showing what we can do,” Naghdi says.
Queen of the Brits: In addition to the MacMillan and Frederick Ashton repertoire, Naghdi is thriving in works by The Royal Ballet’s trio of in-house choreographers: Wayne McGregor, Christopher Wheeldon and Liam Scarlett. “To work with these three face-to-face, you feel like you’re making history.”
What she’s working on: “I’m more of an adagio dancer, so I’ve had to work on my petite batterie.”
What Kevin O’Hare is saying: “She is nicely ambitious—she knows what she wants, and she’s a sponge in the studio. She’s not going to waste an opportunity.”
A trained ear: Naghdi also sings, plays the piano and composes her own music. “It helps with breathing, musicality and to understand musical scores and phrasing. I don’t like to count—if there is an opportunity to just trust the music, I will.”
In the end, the revolution Benjamin Millepied sought to bring to the Paris Opéra Ballet didn't last long. In February, less than a year and a half after he took over as artistic director, the Frenchman announced that he was resigning to devote his time to choreography. This summer, he will be replaced by former étoile Aurélie Dupont, and his resignation has left France's national company reeling.
Millepied's appointment was initially welcomed by the French media and many dancers as a breath of fresh air for the institution. But issues had been mounting behind the scenes since the beginning of the 2015–16 season. Millepied's impatient criticism of the company's performances and traditions in the press and in a French TV documentary ruffled feathers, and signaled that he still saw himself as an outsider to his own company.
Officially, Millepied stated upon his resignation that the job, with its extensive administrative duties, “wasn't the right fit for me." The Paris Opéra's general director, Stéphane Lissner, who hired Millepied in 2013, praised his work with young dancers and his creation of Paris Opéra's online artistic platform, 3rd Stage. The new health system Millepied implemented, drawing on his American experience, has also been widely credited with improving care at POB, where injuries have been prevalent in recent years.
The company's image has been bruised by Millepied's departure, however. Some were quick to blame the Paris Opéra's conservatism and outdated practices for the fallout, but the dynamics at play were arguably more complex. Millepied's combative style and refusal to compromise with local culture took its toll: Company members stated to the press that they felt he had little regard for France's ballet tradition and had focused on young talent at the expense of the rest of the company, where dancers retire at 42. When Millepied presented his 2016–17 season the week after his resignation, the culture clash was again clear. His last program heavily skewed towards mixed bills and American-style neoclassicism, with five Balanchine works, including the company premiere of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
While Millepied will return to Los Angeles and his L.A. Dance Project, his successor, Aurélie Dupont, is looking to steer POB back to stability. The homegrown étoile paid tribute to Millepied's vision, adding, “I'll do my best, I promise. I have so much passion for the company and its dancers. It takes time to change things, and I will take my time." Little is known about her artistic plans, but she argued that POB would need to dance more than two classics a season, as has been the case in recent years, to improve in the classical repertoire. After outsider Millepied, POB is entrusting its fate to a long-time insider; time will tell if the company grows more insular as a result, or thrives on its own terms.