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Artur Sultanov’s dramatic artistry, keen phrasing, and sensitive partnering were never better displayed than in his heart-rending performance of “Je ne t’aime pas” from Christopher Wheeldon’s There Where She Loved as he bid farewell to an adoring audience in June. With characteristic grace and modesty, Sultanov included his fellow dancers onstage during his final bow at Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Dance United performance.
Sultanov’s long-limbed physique and sinuous movement quality have mesmerized OBT audiences since 2003. The Russian native trained at the Vaganova Ballet Academy, joined the Kirov (Mariinsky) at 17, and moved to the Bay Area in 2000 to dance with Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet. In 2003, OBT’s artistic director Christopher Stowell came calling. “The dynamic, funny dance animal he became surpassed even his expectations,” says Stowell. “He has been one of our defining artists of the last decade and will always have a special place in our history.”
Sultanov’s fluid strength and passionate work ethic inspired many choreographers, including Trey McIntyre, Yuri Possokhov, James Kudelka, and Nicolo Fonte. His electrifying musicality in Fonte’s Bolero and profound interpretation of Phlegmatic in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments were unforgettable.
In 2010, Sultanov and his wife Cynthia (parents of 3-year-old Shane), opened the Sultanov Russian Ballet Academy. Though just 32, Sultanov says, “I find teaching very rewarding and absolutely love working with kids. My whole dance career was a long learning process, and I’m still learning how to be the best teacher for my students.” —Gavin Larsen
Photo of Artur Sultanov by Andy Batt, Courtesy OBT.
After a rich and varied career that rivals those of Melissa Hayden and Carla Fracci in longevity as well as artistic range, Melissa Podcasy retires from the stage this month.
Podcasy joined Pennsylvania Ballet in 1976 and was a principal dancer with the company under the leadership of her husband Robert “Ricky” Weiss, who was appointed director in 1982. Critic Nancy Goldner praised “the exquisite articulation of her legs and arms,” adding that “whatever the role, Podcasy shades it with a dark glamour.” Leaving PAB with Weiss in 1990, she danced for Heinz Spoerli at Basel Ballet and guested with New York City Ballet and Robert La Fosse’s “Stars of American Ballet.” Heather Watts, who included Podcasy in her touring program “Tribute to Balanchine,” says, “I loved her dancing and revered her. She ate space and broke your heart at the same time.”
In 1998, Podcasy joined Weiss as a founding member of Carolina Ballet in Raleigh, NC. “Melissa brings her very being to rehearsals and makes choreography a collaborative process,” says Weiss of his longtime muse. “She’s one of those rare artists who completely understands the ballet she’s dancing and transforms her style to suit the choreography.”
In addition to more than a dozen ballets created for her by Weiss, Podcasy originated roles in ballets by Christopher Wheeldon, Damian Woetzel, Richard Tanner, and CB principal guest choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett. She performed over 25 ballets by Balanchine, as well as works by Forsythe, Cranko, Limón, Tudor, and Martins. In 2007, she received the Raleigh Medal of Arts.
Looking back on her long career, Podcasy only wishes she could have danced Balanchine’s La Valse and Liebeslieder Walzer. Her proudest achievement? A triumphant comeback after a hip replacement in 2005. “I expected to dance a limited rep after the surgery,” she recalls, “but was able to come back full-force and resume my former repertoire for the next seven years.” She will continue to coach Carolina Ballet’s dancers, passing on her dedicated artistry and determination. —Andrew M. Wentink
Photo of Melissa Podcasy by Chris Walt Photography, Courtesy CB.
After 12 seasons with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Robyn Mineko Williams is venturing into uncharted territory as an independent dancer/choreographer. Fittingly, her last day in the studio with the company was July 4—Independence Day. “I’m ready to see what else is out there,” she says. Williams, 34, grew up in Lombard, IL, beginning dance lessons at age 5. That led to a scholarship at Lou Conte Dance Studio, four years with River North Dance Chicago, and eventually to HSDC.
In her final Chicago performance in June, Williams danced Ohad Naharin’s THREE TO MAX. “She has always been special in Ohad’s work,” says HSDC artistic director Glenn Edgerton. “She is a master at projecting true, honest physicality and emotion without clutter or drama.” Onstage, Williams funked out in a solo section complete with high kicks and an audible primal roar. After tears—“It was like a piano of emotions fell on me”—came bows, balloons, confetti, and gratitude. “I felt like a 4-year-old at Disneyland. It was magical.” It is her love, passion, and honesty onstage that singled her out in a company of stars.
Williams kept busy this summer choreographing at Northwest Dance Project in Portland, OR, and setting her 2012 work Recall on HSDC’s second company, HS2. —Vicki Crain
Robyn Mineko Williams in Naharin's THREE TO MAX. Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy HSDC.
Outside of Europe, Christian Spuck may be best known for his Le Grand Pas de Deux, a witty, parodic gala favorite, but after 11 years as Stuttgart Ballet’s resident choreographer, he is ready to step up to the next level. This month, the 42-year-old takes over as artistic director of the Zurich Ballet in Switzerland, the country’s main classical company.
The German-born Spuck trained at the John Cranko School in Stuttgart and danced for contemporary choreographers Jan Lauwers and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker before joining Stuttgart Ballet in 1995. As resident choreographer, he created 15 ballets for the company, three of them full-length, noted for their theatricality and inventive way with the classical idiom. His resumé also includes works for Aalto Ballet Theater Essen, Staatsballett Berlin, Royal Ballet of Flanders, and Hubbard Street Dance 2, as well as collaborations on plays and operas.
Spuck’s plans for Zurich Ballet involve no radical upheaval following choreographer Heinz Spoerli’s successful 16-year directorship. “The company is very strong, so I want to keep going in the same direction while putting my own stamp on it,” he says. “About a third of the repertoire will be my work, a third works by leading choreographers, and the rest will be the classics.” The 2012–13 season already includes two Spuck full-lengths: his Leonce and Lena and a new Romeo and Juliet.
The transition from Stuttgart hasn’t been an issue. “I’m in love with Zurich. It’s a global city, but everything is condensed right on this beautiful lake.” Two of Stuttgart Ballet’s principals, Katja Wünsche and William Moore, are joining him for the ride. Spuck admits to some nerves: “Sometimes I wake up in the night and go, 51 dancers, oh my god, how can I make them all happy? But I look forward to constantly working with them. It’s my biggest dream come true to have my own dancers.” —Laura Cappelle
Spuck with dancers from Stuttgart Ballet. Photo by Ulrich Beuttenmueller, Courtesy Stuttgart.