When it was announced last fall that 2017 would be The Suzanne Farrell Ballet's final season, the news rippled through the American ballet community. Farrell, who for many represents the embodiment of George Balanchine's '60s and '70s style, had been producing lucid, emotionally connected performances of his works annually at The Kennedy Center since 2001. In that time, dozens of dancers took time away from their home companies to perform with her troupe and benefit from Farrell's coaching. "The dancers tell me they feel different" after working with her, Farrell says, because "I worked with Mr. Balanchine so closely that I know things other people don't."
Troy Schumacher is on a roll. The 31-year-old was recently promoted to soloist after almost 12 years with New York City Ballet, but that's nothing compared to what he has going on this month. Over the course of a few weeks he will premiere two ballets of his own creation: his third work for NYCB (Sept. 28) and another for the ensemble he founded back in 2010, BalletCollective (Oct. 25), using colleagues from NYCB, including his wife, Ashley Laracey. We spoke with him just as he was gearing up for this choreographic marathon.
What is it like working on commissions while planning for your own company's season?
I'm loving being so busy, working on multiple projects, all extremely different from each other. It's like when you're dancing a lot of ballets at once, and you're warm, both physically and mentally. You can get back into rehearsals and performances much more easily.
Every soloist hopes and prays for the moment when their director offers that first big lead role. For American Ballet Theatre's Christine Shevchenko, it happened last November when artistic director Kevin McKenzie informed her that the following spring she'd dance the role of Kitri at the Metropolitan Opera House.
After three years as a soloist, she felt ready. Shevchenko was particularly glad that her first lead with ABT would be in Don Quixote. She'd won competitions with the third-act variation as a kid back at The Rock School for Dance Education. A few years ago, she danced the full ballet in Ukraine, the country where she was born, with the Donetsk Ballet. Plus, it's a fun ballet, she told me a few weeks before the debut. The whole cast is rooting for you, she says, clapping along, snapping their fingers.
Gemma Bond's intelligence—and knack for detail—never fails to shine through her dancing. It makes sense, then, that the American Ballet Theatre corps members is also a budding choreographer. After making works for ABT's Innovation Initiative and New York Theatre Ballet, as well as for her own pickup ensemble, her name is beginning to pop up with increasing frequency in ballet circles. She just made her first work for Atlanta Ballet, and was invited to take part in a festival at New York City's Joyce Theater. Next season she will create a work for The Washington Ballet. Her latest piece will be unveiled during a festival organized by fellow ABT dancer Isabella Boylston in Sun Valley, Idaho, August 22–24.
How did you get the Ballet Sun Valley commission?
Isabella has put together a wonderful program for the festival and wanted to do one new work. She has always come to see everything I've done; she's hugely supportive. She just said, "I want you to do this."
What is the idea behind the ballet?
There is this solar eclipse happening in Sun Valley on August 21, and we decided to use that as inspiration. There are two groups of dancers; Marcelo Gomes is the leader of one group and Isabella is the leader of the other. I call them the sun and moon. Judd Greenstein wrote the score. It's really about gravity and the tension and suspense that happens when everyone is there waiting for the eclipse to happen. It seems to take forever and then it happens and it's gone.
Some careers come together so organically that the dancer barely has time to take stock of how she got to where she is. That's how it was for Betsy McBride, at least until 2015.
Born in Coppell, a suburb of Dallas, McBride began taking ballet at her local school at age 3. At 14, she attended a summer intensive at the school affiliated with Texas Ballet Theater. Within a few weeks, McBride was offered a year-round place at the school with the tantalizing prospect of being hired by the company. Which is exactly what happened just a few months later. And there she stayed, eventually performing some of the most desirable roles in TBT's repertoire: Juliet, Odette/Odile, Aurora, the glamorous soloist in Balanchine's "Rubies," the title character in Ronald Hynd's The Merry Widow.
In the last five years, Alexei Ratmansky has made seventeen ballets for nine different companies in five countries. These include an abstract ballet set to Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, an interpretation of Plato's Symposium set to Leonard Bernstein, reconstructions of three Petipa ballets based early twentieth-century notations, a re-imagined Baiser de la Fée, and an exploration of Soviet themes set to Shostakovich. Not all have been successful (his version of The Tempest was a bit of a flop), but there's no question that he is the most prolific ballet choreographer, and possibly the most wide-ranging one, working today.
Ratmansky has made danced storytelling, and mime, feel vibrant again. He is as comfortable with farce and pastiche as he as he is with deep subjects, as conversant in irony as he is in sincerity. He has made us reconsider our assumptions about ballets we thought we knew, like Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. He has reinvigorated classical technique, pushing for a fuller and more articulate use of the body. Perhaps most remarkable of all has been his effect on dancers; he teases new qualities out of them them, making them more interesting, complex performers. As the Miami City Ballet dancer Renan Cerdero recently put it: "he changes people."
Paloma Herrera's final performance of Giselle in 2015, like the rest of her 24-year career with American Ballet Theatre, was impeccable. The New York Times described her as "wonderfully musical, unexaggerated and unmannered," words that more or less encapsulate the quality of her dancing in a vast array of classical and contemporary works.
Now, just two years after her retirement and subsequent return to her native Argentina, she has a new role: director of her country's largest and most celebrated ballet company, the Ballet Estable del Teatro Colón. The company, founded in 1925, has around 100 dancers and a storied past—as well as a gorgeous home theater—but has been hobbled in recent years by meager seasons, labor strife and a crisis of confidence in its leadership.
Herrera's directorship was announced in a surprise press conference in February and she got to work right away. As she says, she has barely left the theater since.
So, what happened to the freedom you were looking forward to after your retirement?
I know! Where did it go? I'm in rehearsals and then, during my breaks, I'm in the office, and afterwards I stay late answering emails. I have no life! But I'm happy.