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Why Daniil Simkin is Joining Staatsballett Berlin as a Principal Dancer
One of the ballet world's busiest superstars is adding another role to his resume, and it's a big one. American Ballet Theatre principal Daniil Simkin is joining Staatsballett Berlin as a principal beginning with the 2018-2019 season. Though he will be based in Berlin, the virtuoso will maintain his position at ABT, performing with the company as often as his schedule will allow.
In some ways, the move makes perfect sense: Simkin, who grew up in Germany, has been performing all over the world as a guest artist for years, and will get to tackle contemporary work that he doesn't have the opportunity to dance at ABT. Plus, he'll be joined by a very familiar face: ABT artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky will create a new La Bayadère for the company in the 2018-19 season.
But on the other hand, Staatsballett has been engulfed in controversy for the last few years. Few were happy when contemporary choreographer Nacho Duato was hired as director back in 2014. Since then, his tenure has been rife with criticism and even a dancer strike. Last year, it was announced that Duato would be stepping down to be replaced by choreographer Sasha Waltz and Johannes Öhman, former artistic director at the Royal Swedish Ballet. The dancers were even more unhappy with this leadership choice, creating a petition against them that gained thousands of signatures.
But none of that has deterred Simkin, who's excited about joining a company that's in transition—and whose hiring could be a glimmer of hope for dancers worried that the company will move too far away from classical technique. He gave us the scoop on his new role:
Simkin and Sarah Lane in Giselle. Photo by Erin Baiano
Did you seek out this new position, or did the directors approach you?
I congratulated Johannes, who I've known for many years, when he was named director. I guested at the Royal Swedish Ballet with him. We kept in touch and eventually Sasha came into the discussion and it crystallized—I don't know who brought it up—but we came to the conclusion that this would be a win-win situation because I could return to Germany and be part of something new. They are resetting the whole institution, and I'll be a key figure in that.
Do you still have family in Germany? Was that part of your decision?
Yes, my parents live in Frankfurt and I'm excited to be closer to them. I know a lot of the dancers from back when I was in Berlin at age 17. I know Polina Semionova very well, I just danced with her recently. I miss Europe, having grown up there, and I'm excited to expand my spectrum of choreographers. There are many layers to this decision.
Any choreographers in particular you're excited to work with?
I would be excited to work with Sasha and William Forsythe and Kylián. The contemporary classics. I'm more than open to be part of cutting edge European choreographers' creations, and Johannes has great taste. He made great headway at the Royal Swedish to produce contemporary choreography while maintaining classical ballet. I believe in the concept of a company that can create something cutting edge while also dancing classical works.
What about INTENSIO and the other side projects you've worked on while in New York?
I just finished Falls the Shadow at the Guggenheim which went very well. I'm hoping to continue with that creativity on the side. I'll be based in Berlin but I'm open to possibilities.
Do you have any sense of how much you'll be back at ABT?
I will be a principal dancer. I will still be an integral part of the company. In the big picture this is a new step for me and a new chapter in my life. It's kind of like the return of the prodigal son: I feel in my heart that I'm part of the culture in Germany and I'm happy to bring back what I've learned in the States.
Congratulations to Simkin on his new position!
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.
In today's dance world, it seems to go without saying: The more varied the training, the better. But is that always the case? Rhonda Malkin, a New York City–based dance coach who performed with the Radio City Rockettes, thinks trendy contemporary techniques that emphasize improvisation and organic movement quality are detrimental to the precision and strength needed to be a Rockette, in a traditional Broadway show or on a professional dance team. Her view is controversial: "If you really want to work, making $40,000 in three months for the Rockettes or $25,000 in one day filming a commercial, you need ballet, Broadway jazz, tap, hip hop—not contemporary," she says.
On the flip side, techniques that allow dancers more freedom may help them connect more deeply with their body and artistry, while providing release for overused muscles. We broke down the argument for both sides:
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.
Not all ballet dancers cling to their youth. At 26, Lauren Lovette, the New York City Ballet principal, has surpassed the quarter-century mark. And she's relieved.
"I've never felt young," she says. "I can't wait until I'm 30. Every woman I've ever talked to says that at 30 you just don't care. You're free. Maybe I'll start early?"
When Beatlemania swept through the U.S. in the 1960s, Mark Morris was one of millions of young Americans who fell head over heels for the revolutionary group. "I was not immune," the choreographer says. "My sisters were mad about The Beatles and so was I. At age 12 I had a crush on Paul, of course."
Flash forward 50 years and he is still rocking to the British band, but this time with a new Beatles-inspired dance work his company is touring across North America, starting this month with scheduled stops in Seattle, Toronto, Portland, Oregon, and another 25 cities before the end of 2019.
You could call it island-hopping, but it's not exactly a vacation. After choreographing last season's Come From Away, and winning a Tony nomination, Kelly Devine zipped from frosty Newfoundland to the Caribbean beach resort that is the setting for Escape to Margaritaville.
In the fall, she was shuttling between them, before they start this month: flying to Toronto to prepare a new Canadian production of Come From Away, then jetting back to Chicago for the final stop of Margaritaville's four-city pre-Broadway tryout.
"These two shows could not be more different from each other," Devine says with a dash of understatement. Come From Away is about the small Newfoundland town where airliners grounded by the 9/11 attacks dumped thousands of unexpected visitors; Escape to Margaritaville, at the Marquis Theatre, is a comic island romance concocted from the beachcomber songbook of Jimmy Buffett.
How does someone go from being a New York City Ballet corps member to training Hollywood A-listers like Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara and Jennifer Lawrence? By getting injured, says Kurt Froman.
When an ankle sprain left him sidelined a few years back, Froman was "sitting at home, depressed" when he sent his friend Benjamin Millepied an email asking what he was up to. It turned out that Millepied had just been hired to choreograph some scenes for a movie, but had to be in Paris during pre-production. "He needed someone to teach two actors choreography and get them in shape," says Froman. With nothing else on his plate, he said yes, and started prepping Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis for Black Swan.