Transitions

Retirements

Mireille HasssenboehlerHouston Ballet principal Mireille Hassenboehler took her final waltz across the Wortham stage on September 28. She was the last ballerina to be named a principal by former artistic director Ben Stevenson. “I’m the bridge ballerina,” quips Hassenboehler, who served as a dancer representative on the committee that hired Stanton Welch. “I was promoted by Ben and nurtured by Stanton. I’ve had the benefit of dancing through two Houston Ballet dynasties.”

 

Left: Hassenboehler in her Merry Widow farewell. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy HB.

 

Hassenboehler was known for her supple, long limbs, perfectly square arabesque, and sultry mystique in more dramatic roles, like Hanna in The Merry Widow, which she danced at her farewell performance. She is retiring after 21 years with the company, 13 as a principal. During her time with Welch, he created many ballets on her, including Swan Lake and Indigo. “She’s a perfect mix of Balanchine body with English style, which she got from her time with Ben,” Welch says. With her clean lines and crisp attack, she had a natural affinity for Welch’s bold contours. “Stanton set Indigo on me before he was artistic director, and it’s still a favorite ballet,” she says.

She also triumphed in Swan Lake. Welch felt the Odette/Odile role was a perfect match for her elongated physique and talent. “It’s those arms; her port de bras was perfect,” says Welch. “She was able to portray this fragile creature as White Swan, yet she was so strong and fiery as Black Swan.”

Hassenboehler trained with Harvey Hysell and at San Francisco Ballet School before coming to Houston Ballet as a student at 18. She joined the corps in 1992; Stevenson promoted her to principal in 2000. Within the company, she often shared tips with younger dancers, along with her famous praline recipe. “She radiates warmth and generosity,” adds Welch. “There’s such an honesty to her, and that comes out onstage.”

Linnar Lorris partnered her in many ballets, including her final performance. “She loves the details in every role,” he says. “Partnering dialogues, emotions, and steps have to make sense and mean something to both of us. All that turns a ballet into a complete work of art.”

Houston Ballet pays tribute to her during the annual Jubilee of Dance on December 6 in a special video presentation. Hassenboehler plans to focus on raising her 2-year-old son, Teddy, and may return to the ballet field after a well-deserved break. “I get to leave with a glass of champagne and a waltz in an upbeat ballet,” she says. “It feels right.”

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Transitions

Pierre-François Vilanoba and Karen Gabay retire.

 

 

Retirements

 

Pierre-François Vilanoba’s final week as a member of San Francisco Ballet was filled with challenges gracefully navigated. Last April, the veteran French danseur rose above last-minute injuries to give a rousing performance in Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements, capping a 15-year career with SFB. 

 

Trained in Lille and at the Paris Opéra Ballet School—he danced in the company for eight years before joining SFB—Vila-noba was one of SFB’s true danseurs nobles, effortlessly gracious in classical roles like Albrecht in Giselle and Siegfried in Swan Lake, and heartbreaking in dramatic leads in Petit’s L’Arlesienne, Lubovitch’s Othello, and as the title character in Cranko’s Onegin. Vilanoba danced contemporary works with aplomb, making a lasting impression in ballets like Forsythe’s In the middle, somewhat elevated, Elo’s Double Evil, and Helgi Tomasson’s 7 for Eight. Always a gallant partner, his tall, dark good looks and courtly demeanor added a romance to Robbins’ In the Night and Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet. In real life, Vilanoba’s Juliet is Tomasson’s assistant Regina Bustillos, whom he married in 2011. He is currently finishing his degree through the LEAP program at Saint Mary’s College and plans to pursue studies in psychology.

 

Fellow principal Vanessa Zahorian, who danced with Vilanoba in his final performance, says that she is most struck by his always attentive and caring support of her, from her first duet with him as a young soloist in Wheeldon’s Sea Pictures to their more recent pairing in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid.

 

“Pierre is someone who looks you in the eye onstage and makes you feel confident and comfortable,” she says. “He brought out the best in me artistically. He would always laugh and smile at me and I’ll miss that lighthearted presence.” Mary Ellen Hunt

 

Vilanoba as Apollo. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

 

On April 21, during a tribute at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, principal dancer Karen Gabay stepped onto the stage for the last time with her colleagues from Ballet San Jose.

 

Thus ended a remarkable career. Gabay’s four older siblings opted for college, but Gabay had seen calls for auditions in Dance Magazine. So when in 1980, artistic director Dennis Nahat’s young Cleveland Ballet happened to come to Los Angeles, Gabay decided to go for it. “It was my first professional audition,” she remembers. She was 18. Nahat also recalls the moment. “I saw her bright face, her beautiful young presence, so I hired her on the spot.”

 

Gabay danced Maria in Nahat’s The Nutcracker during her first season at Cleveland; last December she choreographed a new Nutcracker for that company’s successor, Ballet San Jose—and danced Marie in one of the performances.

 

During her three decades with the company, Nahat choreographed dozens of roles—both classical and contemporary—on the petite Gabay. Again and again, she captivated audiences not just with her strong technique and radiant smile, but with the range of her expressive abilities. Nahat describes her as a dancer “who can bite into any kind of repertoire.”

 

Even though she had job offers—from Australia Ballet and Broadway, among others—she happily stayed at what became her home. For many summers, however, she performed with Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s Chautauqua Dance Com-pany. “He had full access to the Balanchine repertoire, and I danced a lot of Balanchine with him.”

 

When Gabay joined Nahat’s company—“a choreographer’s company,” she emphasizes—she was young, and so was Ballet San Jose. They have grown up together. It has been a happy partnership. “ I have been very lucky,” Gabay says. “I also still love to dance.” —Rita Felciano


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Transitions

Yuka Iino retires, William Whitener steps down.

 

Retirements

 

by Blaine Truitt Covert, OBT

In nearly 10 years with Oregon Ballet Theatre, principal dancer Yuka Iino set a standard of faultless technique, nuanced artistry, and bold yet sinuous movement. On Feb. 23, Iino’s farewell performance of Odette/Odile in Christopher Stowell’s Swan Lake showed her at the apex of her achievements as a ballerina.

 

Trained at the Reiko Yamamoto Ballet School in her native Japan, Iino won a gold medal at the 1998 Varna International Ballet Competition before joining OBT in 2003. Christopher Stowell, who stepped down as artistic director last fall, was excited by her potential. “When Yuka auditioned for me, it was instantly clear that here was a major talent in the classical repertoire—security, sensitivity, virtuosity, characterization,” says Stowell. “What I didn’t expect to find was that she had an equally natural instinct for the work of choreographers she hadn’t had a lot of experience with in Japan. It was miraculous to see that she was as free and instinctive in the work of Balanchine and Stravinsky as she had been with Petipa and Tchaikovsky, and that she would play a significant role at OBT,” he recalls.

 

Iino’s astonishing technical feats seemed to appear out of thin air, thrilling audiences and inspiring choreographers, including Stowell, Yuri Possokhov, and Nicolo Fonte. In Forsythe’s The Second Detail and Possokhov’s Firebird, her surrender to every movement was exhilarating. Her portrayals of Aurora and Giselle infused the utterly classical with 21st-century dynamism. Although her fans never detected even the slightest falter, a serious knee injury in 2010 influenced her decision to retire at 31 and dedicate herself to teaching. “Since injuring my knee, work has been a constant struggle,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to finish at my best and I feel now is that time. Teaching, I have a different feeling inside me than I have ever had, and I realized this is what I want to do with the next chapter of my life.” Iino returns to Japan to her lucky students, leaving fans and colleagues here with indelibly etched memories of her virtuosic artistry.  —Gavin Larsen

 

Iino rehearsing Odette with Yang Zou as Siegfried. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert, Courtesy OBT

 

—————————————–


Stepping Down

 

 

Whitener by James O'Mara Courtesy KCBWilliam Whitener, who has led Kansas City Ballet for 17 years, will mount his final program as the company’s director this month. Counting his time at the helm of Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, Whitener says that after 20-plus years running companies, he wants to extend the reach of his choreography. “I would like to have more time to focus on myself, my work, and expand my opportunities to include musical theater, opera, television, and film,” he said by phone in March. He was in Seattle, assisting Twyla Tharp in staging her work for Pacific Northwest Ballet. In addition to continuing to work closely with Tharp, with whom he danced for 11 years, Whitener is considering a move to New York City and a position in higher education.

 

Under Whitener, KCB’s budget more than doubled. He increased the number of Balanchine and Robbins works in addition to adding Cunningham, Wigman, and Tharp. He commissioned or choreographed over 30 new ballets, including his full-length Tom Sawyer, the company’s highest-grossing production second only to The Nutcracker. “I’ve never talked to so many boys and men at intermission who were grateful for an entry point into the art form,” he recalls. Whitener takes pride in having helped move KCB to the Todd Bolender Center for Dance & Creativity. The company also began performing at the state-of-the-art Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts (see “All-American Dream,” Oct. 2011).

 

KCB’s roster of 28 have all been hand-picked by Whitener. “He’s quite nurturing,” says Aisling Hill-Connor, who has spent 14 years dancing under his directorship. “I will miss the rapport we’ve had with each other, his confidence in me that I will deliver, and my confidence that he’s coaching me to look my best.”

 

Looking forward, Whitener says, “I hope that the theatrical nature of dance, which both Todd Bolender and I believed in, will continue to be one of the trademarks of the company.” As for the final performance, Hill-Connor says, “It’s going to be really hard, especially for a lot of us who have worked with him for so long. It’ll be a sad day.”  —Kina Poon

 

Photo of Whitener by James O’Mara, Courtesy KCB

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Transitions

 

RETIREMENTS 

 

 

Young in Perpetual Dawn. Photo: Tom Caravaglia, Courtesy PTDC. 


 

Could the title role in Paul Taylor’s Big Bertha and Amy Young’s character in Beloved Renegade be more different? The expanse between a domineering taskmaster and a gentle, compassionate spirit is worth pondering when considering the talent and versatility of Young, who departs Paul Taylor Dance Company this summer after 13 years. They are on her list of favorites alongside Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal), Aureole, Black Tuesday, and Brief Encounters. (She originated roles in the latter two, among others.) “What’s incredible about Paul’s repertory is that the pieces are all so different from one another that you end up loving each one for its particular quality and challenge,” she says. In the company’s recent Lincoln Center season, we had the chance to see her conviviality and impeccable line in other treasured works on her list: Cascade, Brandenburgs, and Musical Offering.

 

Young earned her BFA at Juilliard, dancing with Taylor 2 for three years before joining the main company in 2000. 

 

She looks forward to starting a family with husband and Taylor dancer Robert Kleinendorst. She will stay involved in the dance community by teaching both at the Taylor School and elsewhere, and hopes to set some of Taylor’s work on other companies and schools. “And of course,” she adds, “I’ll be sitting in the audience, cheering on the company.”

 

She has been cherishing her final months of performing. “I’ve been trying to be present, experience each moment onstage and off, and make the most of all of it. In other words, enjoy it and have fun!” She will miss the camaraderie of the company. “We are forever bonded by our love of what we do.” Susan Yung

 

 

Cong in The Nutcracker. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

 

Tulsa Ballet’s mixed bill in March was bittersweet for local dance fans, as principal dancer Ma Cong danced his last two ballets—the Phlegmatic lead in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments and in the ensemble of Kudelka’s there, below.

 

Yet Cong is not leaving dance—or even Tulsa Ballet. He continues as the company’s resident choreographer as he pursues an increasingly international choreographic career that led to his being named a “25 to Watch” in 2006.

 

Cong’s athleticism, fluid grace, and obvious joy onstage made him one of the company’s most popular dancers, as well as an in-demand guest artist.

 

Standout roles included Escamillo in Amedeo Amodio’s Carmen, Puck in Wheeldon’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the Businessman in Young Soon Hue’s This Is Your Life, as well as several Nacho Duato ballets.

 

Cong’s decision is “definitely the end of an era for the company,” says artistic director Marcello Angelini. “His ability to command the stage and the attention of the audience was immediately apparent.”

 

However, Cong says, “I realized all the energy I was putting into performing I could be channeling into my choreography. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I believe it’s the right one.”

 

A native of Yu Xi, China, Cong studied at the Beijing Dance Academy, then joined the National Ballet of China, rising to first soloist. He joined Tulsa Ballet in 1999 and was promoted to principal in 2003—the same year he began choreographing.

 

Cong has created 10 ballets for Tulsa Ballet, as well as works for the Joffrey Ballet, Smuin Ballet, Houston Ballet, BalletMet Columbus, and Richmond Ballet, which last year performed Cong’s Ershter Vals at London’s Royal Opera House. His works are scheduled for the upcoming seasons of Louisville Ballet and Australia’s Queensland Ballet.  —James D. Watts Jr.


 

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Transitions

Christopher Stowell steps down.

 

 

Stowell rehearsing Yuka Iino and Jon Drake. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert, Courtesy OBT

 

 

Last spring, Oregon Ballet Theatre’s dancers tore up the stage of Portland’s Newmark Theatre in a downright thrilling performance of Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto, providing a watershed moment in Christopher Stowell’s artistic directorship. The ballet demands mathematical precision, acute musicality, clean technique, and exuberance—which the dancers delivered in spades. The program was further proof that these dancers can perform anything thrown at them, from Giselle to Forsythe’s The Second Detail. Portland finally had a company equal in quality to the city’s opera, symphony, and art museum.

 

But Stowell resigned last December, citing the board’s divergent vision. In nearly a decade of leadership, the son of Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, who had a stellar career as a San Francisco Ballet principal, used his experience, connections, talent, and good taste to forge a well-schooled, classically oriented company that performed ballets by Wheeldon, Robbins, Nicolo Fonte, Trey McIntyre, and himself.

 

“I am most proud of accomplishing a unity of spirit, a sense that the organization and the audience embrace the same artistic values,” says Stowell. “We’ve built a sophisticated and diverse rep that a company this size can be proud of, that attracts dancers, because they get to work with it, and many choreographers.”  

 

Dancers appreciate his clarity in the studio. “He is so articulate,” says Candace Bouchard. “You always know exactly what he wants.” Anne Mueller, OBT’s interim artistic director, considers herself “deeply lucky” to have worked with him “in a variety of capacities. In each one, he found a way to challenge me at the same time as giving me a true voice.” 

 

In 2009, Stowell met a challenge of his own when OBT, which had no financial reserves (and still doesn’t), discovered a $750,000 season budget shortfall. In three weeks, Stowell put together Dance United, a gala performance by dancers from all over the country, helping to raise $900,000.

 

OBT will continue to perform Stowell’s choreography: three of his pieces, including a premiere, appear on the 2013–14 season lineup. In time, Stowell may use his talents and connections to run another company. Meanwhile, the offers to teach, coach, and stage are coming in from the Balanchine Trust and companies in Estonia and Sweden.


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Transitions

Susan Jaffe at UNCSA; Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra welcome a daughter

 

 

New Role

 

Last August, former American Ballet Theatre star Susan Jaffe became dean of the School of Dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. “Both ABT and UNCSA will have a deeper relationship, and there will be a crossover between the two schools,” says Jaffe, who danced with ABT for 22 years. “ABT and UNCSA have an exclusive affiliation which will require all of the ballet instructors to take the ABT teacher’s training, Primary through Level 7.” (Jaffe says that some of the UNCSA contemporary faculty have expressed interest in the training as well.) She would also like to host the ABT Studio Company on campus, to work with the ballet and contemporary faculty, and possibly have the contemporary faculty create a new work on the group and UNCSA students.

 

Jaffe’s wish list as an educator demonstrates ambition and imagination: to continually bring the latest discoveries in the field of dance to the school, whether in training, choreography, cross-training, or performance-based outcomes; to expand the training and rehabilitation facilities; to form more bonds with professional troupes; to involve the local community; to work with museums to link dance and art; and to develop graduate and outreach programs at UNCSA. 

 

Former ABT principal dancer Ethan Stiefel served as the previous dean from 2008–11 before becoming artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet (see “Transitions,” Sept. 2011). The new dean brings her vast experience of performing, coaching, and teaching to UNCSA, where she currently instructs the upper levels. Jaffe, who was a ballet mistress at ABT before accepting the position at UNCSA, says she misses the dancers and administration at ABT. “Still, I am the kind of person who must always be challenged outside my comfort zone, so taking on the dean of dance at UNCSA seemed to be a good fit,” says Jaffe. “The job has tremendous diversity, and so far I have enjoyed every minute of it.” She occasionally returns as a guest teacher for ABT’s company class. 

 

“I miss her every day,” says ABT soloist Isabella Boylston, who was coached by Jaffe in roles like Odette/Odile. “It takes a while to build that kind of coaching relationship. She was always so generous with her time. The way she’s invested in the dancers is unmatched.” No one has yet been named to replace Jaffe as ballet master. —Joseph Carman

 

Photo of Jaffe by Ramon Estevanell, Courtesy Dance Teacher magazine.

 

 

Birth

 

Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra, principal dancers with Miami City Ballet, welcomed their first child, Eva Carlynn Guerra, in November. Kronenberg, who graced DM’s cover in October 2009, said, “Nurses were amazed how immediately expressive she was. We weren’t so surprised—she had been preparing her grand diva entrance for quite a while!”

 

Photo courtesy MCB 

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Retirements

 

Megumi Eda, the knockout dancer who’s been with Armitage Gone! Dance since its return to the U.S. in 2003, gives her last performance with the company during its NYC season Jan. 31–Feb. 9. 

 

Megumi Eda and Zoko Zoko in Itutu. Photo: Julieta Cervantes, Courtesy AGD. 

 

With her elegant sensuality and flexibility, Eda animates Armitage’s extreme technique effortlessly. She earned a Bessie Award in 2004 for her stunning performance in Armitage’s Time is the echo of an axe within a wood. She also dazzled as the slinky adagio dancer in Itutu (2009) and the glamorous/funny wanderer in UnEasy (2011). 

 

About the creative process, she says that for Armitage, “the first place is always very abstract. But I always bring my own story and Karole really likes it. She used me for different characters. In the first piece, Echo, I was the beautiful, exotic Asian. But after that I was doing punk or using humor, and I didn’t get bored.” (For more on Armitage’s approach, see “Auditions Guide.”)

 

Eda, who also danced with Hamburg Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, and Rambert Dance Company after training in Japan, says she will miss working with Armitage. “With Karole I enjoyed being in process. Still she surprises me. And onstage, always, I feel good.”

 

Eda, 38, has lost none of her ability to mesmerize. But, as the mother of two children, it’s time. “I am not ready to stop totally,” she says. “I probably will dance forever.”

 

She still takes ballet class at Steps, and she’s learning to edit film to help her husband’s business. Still, “If I think about not dancing, then part of my body will disappear. It won’t be me anymore.” 

 

Armitage Gone! Dance will honor Eda at its gala on Feb. 5, and the Japanese ambassador is expected to make a toast to her. It will be a bittersweet moment for Armitage watchers. —Wendy Perron

 

 

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has risen to unmatched levels of popularity and financial stability, and Sharon Gersten Luckman has been instrumental in that ascent. Luckman is retiring as executive director at Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, where she has been since 1992. 

 

Her slate of accomplishments includes helping establish the Ailey/Fordham BFA program, which offers an academic degree alongside professional dance training, and increasing the number of AileyCamps (dance classes, personal development, and creative communication) from 2 to 10. This expansion was possible because of financial growth, with net assets growing from $300,000 to $136 million during her tenure.

 

“The thing of which I’m most proud—and it ties in to programs and everything else: We built the Joan Weill Center for Dance,” she said. “With this building came so much added visibility for the company, and we were able to expand our school. We had more studios, and we started the Ailey Extension program—real classes for real people.” The sleek building also houses the 235-seat Ailey Citigroup Theater.

 

The company’s 50th-anniversary celebration in 2009 was another career high note. “It encompassed free performances in all boroughs, a Barbie doll, historic films, and more,” said Luckman, former director of the 92nd Street Y dance center. Bennett Rink, senior director of development and external affairs, will succeed her. The transition follows in the wake of Robert Battle assuming the artistic directorship in 2011 after Judith Jamison. Luckman’s impressive behind-the-scenes work was recognized at the Dec. 4 program of Ailey’s 2012 City Center season. “It’s pretty fabulous that after 21 years I get to step in front of the footlights and be recognized by Robert Battle, Masazumi Chaya, and the dancers on that night,” she said. It’s the visible crowning achievement of a stellar career built largely backstage. —Susan Yung


 

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Transitions

Kathi Martuza, Thomas Lund, and Arantxa Ochoa retire; wedding bells for Ashley Bouder and Matthew Dibble

 

 

Retirements

 

Oregon Ballet Theatre principal Kathi Martuza, whose regal stature and seemingly effortless technique riveted audiences and colleagues alike, has stepped down from the stage. Long admired for her exquisite line and deeply expressive face, she was moving and exhilarating in Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena in June, her final performance.

 

Born in Boston, Martuza trained at Maryland Youth Ballet and began her professional career with San Francisco Ballet. In 2003, she joined OBT at the invitation of artistic director and former SFB dancer Christopher Stowell. “An extremely talented, brave, and ambitious young dancer when I invited her to join me on my move to Portland, Kathi blossomed into one of OBT’s most distinctive ballerinas,” says Stowell. 

 

Martuza attracted national notice when Dance Magazine named her one of its “25 to Watch” in 2005, and again in 2007 when she appeared on Pointe’s cover in James Kudelka’s Almost Mozart, one of her signature roles. Her chiseled limbs made her a standout in neoclassic ballets such as Stowell’s Adin and Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. She transcended technique with beautifully nuanced interpretations of Odette/Odile and Aurora. 

 

Offstage, Martuza’s empathy and sense of humor made her a natural role model for younger dancers. Her own struggle with an eating disorder as a teenager sparked her commitment to mentoring and education, leading her to study health and wellness coaching. Now 33, married to former dancer Kester Cotton and with a 1-year-old son, Martuza counsels private clients while also keeping a foot in the studio as a ballet teacher at Portland’s Da Vinci Arts Middle School.

—Gavin Larsen

 

Martuza in Stowell’s Opus 50. Photo by Blaine Covert, Courtesy OBT.

 

 

The Royal Danish Ballet may have lost a star, but it gained a leader for the future this fall. Thomas Lund, who joined the company from the school in 1993 and was promoted to principal in 2000, retired at 38 to take over from Niels Balle as director of the Royal Danish Ballet School. The very Danish double bill of Flemming Flindt’s The Lesson and Bournonville’s La Sylphide he chose for his farewell was a fitting end to a remarkable career. When director Nikolaj Hübbe asked the entire theater to bow to him during the curtain calls, the emotion and respect of both audience and company were palpable.

 

Lund is famous as a Bournonville stylist of the highest order. While his rise to the rank of principal wasn’t without obstacles in a decade, the 1990s, that was a troubled one for the RDB, he was soon recognized as one of the jewels in the Danish crown and played a leading role in the 2005 Bournonville Festival. A born character dancer, he also mastered a varied repertoire that included princely and abstract roles and created parts for choreographers from Kylián to Ratmansky.

 

Lund has long worked on the side as teacher, choreographer, and director, so when Hübbe suggested he take the helm of the RDB School, he decided it was the right time to retire. “If I look at my CV and see what I have accomplished over my career, I feel very fulfilled,” he says. Drawing on his experience, he plans to introduce Bournonville steps earlier in the school syllabus and to work on cohesion across all levels.

 

Like many Danish stars before him, Lund’s good-bye to the stage is likely to be only temporary. “Right now I want to focus on the school, but I would like to be back in character roles in the future,” he says. “I love to create characters onstage, and I want the children to see that I’m still a part of that line. —Laura Cappelle

 

High spirits at Lund’s farewell. Photo courtesy RDB.

 

 

With a faint and knowing smile, principal dancer Arantxa Ochoa floated through the last moments of Giselle with Pennsylvania Ballet. Her character, though tragic, evoked calmness and assurance as she said good-bye to Albrecht and melted into the wings. After this final performance on October 28, Ochoa stood center stage, nearly eclipsed by a hefty bouquet of white roses. Deafening applause, shouts of affection, and a cascade of red flowers overwhelmed the ballerina.

 

“The audience loves her,” says artistic director Roy Kaiser. “They certainly appreciate her talent, what she does technically, and how she develops a character, but her personality has really impacted her artistic identity. That’s why she resonates so well with our public.” 

 

Ochoa’s Sugar Plum Fairy was gracious and warm; her Juliet simply heartbreaking. In Balanchine’s Agon pas de deux, she took pleasure in the extremes, pushing her already high extensions and attacking the movement with energy and zeal. As Lise in La Fille Mal Gardée, her comedic timing impressed critics such as John Rockwell of The New York Times. He wrote: “Ms. Ochoa beamed like Audrey Hepburn. She danced the part with complete command, but if anything her miming was even better: a complete performance.” 

 

A native of Spain, Ochoa studied with Victor Ullate before moving to the School of American Ballet. She danced for three years with Hartford Ballet and then for 16 years at PAB. Ochoa, known for her sweet demeanor and staunch work ethic, admits, “I’m going to miss the day-to-day rehearsal process, trying things over and over to achieve that perfection that doesn’t exist.” This discipline serves her well as the new principal instructor of the School of Pennsylvania Ballet. Ochoa’s presence will continue to grace the studios at PAB, just as her last performance of Giselle will linger in the memories of her adoring fans. —Julie Diana

 

Ochoa’s last bow. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy PAB.

 

 

Marriage

 

New York City Ballet principal and Twitter czarina Ashley Bouder married Matthew Dibble, former member of The Royal Ballet and recently of Twyla Tharp’s Come Fly Away, just off Sanibel Island in Fort Myers, FL, in October.

 

Photo of Bouder and Dibble by Life Point Photography.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Transitions

In Memoriam

Tony Stevens (1948–2011)
Tony Stevens’ musical theater class at Steps on Broadway was always packed. From current Broadway stars to former musical theater veterans, his students all came for the same reason: Stevens’ ability to share his vast knowledge and complex choreography, with an unabashed appetite for fun. His vibrant spirit, gentle manner, and passion for all things dance filled the studio—along with the George Michael tunes he played (regulars called it the “Church of George Michael”). Stevens focused on alignment and technique rooted in ballet, as well as the work of Jack Cole, Peter Gennaro, and Martha Graham during the lengthy warm-up. Then throughout the week, he tweaked his combinations, playing and exploring. At 63, amidst a still-flourishing career, the twinkly-eyed pied piper of dance died from Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Stevens had an illustrious career long before he became a well-known teacher. He first hit the Broadway boards in 1969 in The Fig Leaves Are Falling, followed by a slew of other productions including The Boy Friend and On the Town. He was Bob Fosse’s assistant on the original production of Chicago and later restaged parts of Fosse’s work for Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life in 2005. In 1974, the taped workshops he organized with Michon Peacock were to serve as the basis for the legendary A Chorus Line. Later he choreographed dances for several films and off-Broadway productions.

Due to his modesty, many of Stevens’ students never knew the extent of his credentials. But they knew and felt his inspiration and encouragement to “Dance in the moment!” and “Tell the story!” They returned week after week to experience the pure joy he offered—in and out of the studio. —Lauren Kay

Pyotr Pestov (1929–2011)
Pyotr Antonovich Pestov’s articulate teaching style and vast league of star alumni (Ratmansky, Malakhov, Tsiskaridze, and many others) meant that he was already referred to as “Peter the Great” long before his death in July. In Perm, Pestov was one of the first pupils of Alexander Pushkin. As a senior student, he started mentoring a rowdy group of young boys sent to live at the school when the war left them without parents or homes. After their eyes lit up seeing their first ballet performance, they begged Pestov to teach them to dance. His teaching career went on to include 33 years at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow and 15 years in Stuttgart at the John Cranko School (see “Teacher’s Wisdom,” Oct. 2009).

Chesnaya (honest) is the Russian word I remember Pestov saying most. All of us boys had to be honest with ourselves and our art form through the best work ethic imaginable. Pestov was small, humble, witty, and mainly spoke Russian. He demanded acute musicality, strong character, and perfect manners during his classes. He could work on one step for an agonizing hour. When he wanted to get a point across, he stuttered. He often made grown men cry, but his jokes inspired uncontrollable laughter. He was famous both for extreme attention to detail and for educating his students outside of the studio. Pestov brought us to museums, and quizzed us on the styles of different composers in order to cultivate a deeper understanding of the steps we were trying to refine.

Pestov wrote a book called Forty Lessons before leaving Russia. He taught in Stuttgart until his death. —Evan McKie

Marriages
San Francisco Ballet principals Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan were married in June in Karapetyan’s home country of Armenia, and also in a civil ceremony in San Francisco in August. Karapetyan had given their performance of Romeo and Juliet in May a happy ending when he proposed to Zahorian onstage during the curtain call.

New York City Ballet principals Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette tied the knot in July in Chappaqua, NY.

New York City Ballet principal Maria Kowroski married Martin Harvey, a former Royal Ballet dancer who’s currently a featured dancer on tour with Come Fly Away, in August in the Cayman Islands.

Royal Ballet principal Steven McRae married RB first artist Elizabeth Harrod in August in London.

 

 

Zahorian and Karapetyan‘s onstage engagement. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

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Transitions

Retirement

 

Houston Ballet principal Amy Fote takes her final bow as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker this month. On November 30, Houston Ballet’s annual gala pays tribute to her seven-year career with the company. 

 

Before she joined HB, Fote danced with Milwaukee Ballet, where she achieved the rank of principal, for 14 seasons.

 

Fote possesses an intimate generosity onstage. As lovely as her dancing can be, her humanity always comes to the fore. Sometimes she goes full blast into a role; at other times, she invites us to come closer, to embrace the complexity of her character.

 

Artistic director Stanton Welch considers Fote one of his muses, and set about a dozen of his works on her, including The Four Seasons. “She’s so complete, and such an inspiration to choreograph on,” says Welch. “With her fantastic work ethic, Amy has been a great role model. She is part of the legacy of this company.”

 

Fote, a consummate technician (profiled in “Pure Imagination,” Jan. 2008), praises the “amazing rep” of HB. She is known for her portrayals of Cio-Cio San in Madame Butterfly, Tatiana in Cranko’s Onegin, and Hanna in Ronald Hynd’s The Merry Widow, as well as humorous roles in Robbins’ The Concert, and Wheeldon’s Carnival of the Animals.

 

Fote also excelled in Welch’s Clear, where she held her own with seven men onstage. She is considering many post-dance career options, including teaching, coaching, and acting. —Nancy Wozny

 

 

Fote as Carabosse in Ben Stevenson’s Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy HB.


 

 

In Memoriam

 

Yvonne Mounsey (1919–2012)

As a principal in New York City Ballet from 1949 to 1958, Yvonne Mounsey’s flair for drama, impressive height, and sensual appeal ignited the femme-fatale roles she often danced. She was most famously remembered as the Siren in Balanchine’s Prodigal Son

 

“She’s bad,” Mounsey said of the Siren in a recent interview. “I used to like playing bad.” She also danced the Queen in Robbins’ The Cage (1951). The title fit so well that Robbins called her “Queenie” thereafter. He drew upon her comedic talent when he created the Wife in The Concert (1956); the ending of her Harp solo in Fanfare (1953) capitalized on her acrobatic capabilities. Balanchine featured her in La Valse (1951) and Swan Lake (1951), and as the Spanish divertissement in The Nutcracker (1954).

 

Born Yvonne Louise Leibbrandt in 1919 outside Pretoria, South Africa, as a girl she danced barefoot on her family’s farm. She studied ballet in South Africa and in London with Igor Schwezoff. She auditioned for Léonide Massine, entering the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1939. Following the outbreak of World War II, she joined the Original Ballet Russe in Australia, taking the Russified name Irina Zarova. She danced featured roles in Fokine’s Le Coq d’Or and David Lichine’s Graduation Ball. Balanchine created a role for her in his Balustrade (1941).

 

Members of the Original Ballet Russe, Zarova among them, went on strike in Cuba and she was stranded. Yvonne found a job creating a solo act in an upscale Havana nightclub, then toured Latin America through 1945. In 1967 Mounsey founded what would become the Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica, California. 

 

Among the many alumni are Jock Soto, Tiler Peck, and Joy Womack. The choreographer Melissa Barak, who trained with Mounsey and danced with NYCB and Los Angeles Ballet, says, “To us she was so much more than a ballet figure. Yvonne taught me a healthy emotional foundation and to love this art form.” Like many former Balanchine dancers, Mounsey emphasized footwork, but her primary concern was artistry.

 

Into her ninth decade Mounsey carried on like a woman half her age. “She was such a lively person,” says her former student Andrew Veyette, an NYCB principal. “Happy and proud and gracious. Engaged and involved, not complacent.” —Emily Hite

 

 

Mounsey as the Siren in Prodigal Son. Photo by Walter Owen from the DM Archives.

 

 

 

Birth

 

Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz, principal dancers at San Francisco Ballet, welcomed Luciana De Souza-Feijoo in July.


 

The happy family with Luciana. Photo courtesy SFB.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

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Transitions

Daniel Santos, Monica Mason retire, wedding bells at NYCB

 

 

Retirements

 

Daniel Santos. Photo: Steve DiBartolomeo, Courtesy ODC.

 

On August 11, Daniel Santos said farewell to ODC/Dance by stretching out his right hand and staring into the darkness in front of him. It was the last phrase of Brenda Way’s exquisite Part of a Longer Story and a moment of poignancy for the audience. In his 10 years with ODC, Santos was a commanding presence who filled his performances with clarity and a subtle elegance.

 

The Manila-born and San Jose–raised dancer began studying ballet intensively at age 18 with Dennis Marshall at the University of Oklahoma. But he was not certain that a life in dance was for him. Back in the Bay Area he happened to drop into a ballet class that Brian Fisher was teaching. “He wasn’t dancing with anybody at the time,” remembers Fisher, who was then a member of ODC. “Yet he was astounding—strong, focused, and open to suggestions.” Fisher gave him some intricate combinations, and “he picked them up scary fast.” It was Fisher who suggested ODC to Santos.

 

An inexperienced though technically strong dancer whose “beautiful lines and partnering skills” impressed Way when she met him in 2002, Santos, with his stretched musculature and quiet intensity, has become a nuanced artist. Whether gamboling with Yayoi Kambara in KT Nelson’s Grassland or tearing up space with Anne Zivolich in just about any of their many pairings, Nelson’s Scramble and Way’s In the Memory of the Forest among them, Santos brought passion and a sense of personal investment to these encounters. Most recently, with Vanessa Thiessen as the young lovers in Nelson’s Transit and the more experienced ones in Longer Story, they looked as if made for one another.

Santos’ plans for his post-ODC life are wide open; he began it by going rock climbing.

Rita Felciano

 

 

Monica Mason with Rudolf Nureyev in Robert Helpmann’s Hamlet in 1964. Photo: ROH Collections, Courtesy ROH.

 

After 54 years at The Royal Ballet, the last 10 spent as its artistic director, Monica Mason’s farewell gesture to the company was to commission the most ambitious program seen under her tenure. Set to new scores by leading composers, “Metamorphosis: Titian 2012” consisted of three world premieres created collaboratively by seven choreographers, including Wayne McGregor and Christopher Wheeldon. The results were slightly mixed, but this was still a creative bombshell, serving both as a marker of Mason’s leave-taking and a testament to a sustained and stellar career.

 

Born in Johannesburg, Mason was the Royal’s youngest member when she joined the company at age 16. But she was mature for her age, with strong feet and legs and striking features: magnetic eyes and an aquiline nose (which Frederick Ashton suggested she have fixed). She also exuded uncommon strength of character both onstage (notably in Kenneth MacMillan’s landmark version of The Rite of Spring) and off in her later duties as principal repetiteur, assistant director to Anthony Dowell, and her final stint as company leader.

 

Mason took up the top post at a time when the company was demoralized and unsteady, reinvigorating it by increasing the number of performances and bolstering the work of the education and outreach departments. Any accusations of conservatism in her programming were countered by her appointment of McGregor as resident choreographer. Mason proved to be a sharp talent-spotter, providing opportunities for the likes of Edward Watson, Lauren Cuthbertson, and the dancer/choreographers Liam Scarlett and Jonathan Watkins. “Monica’s not only been fundamental in my personal creative exploration,” says the latter, “but paramount in the shift of direction for the company as a whole. I’ll be forever grateful to her.”

 

Gratitude certainly flooded the auditorium during a post-show tribute held onstage on the final night of “Metamorphosis” on July 20. David Attenborough hosted a witty, endearing film homage that also featured, among others, brief encomiums from Dowell, Peter Wright, and Darcey Bussell.

 

 Even before Mason herself materialized, casually elegant in sparkling black garb, we could hear her laughing in the wings as photos of her in performance were being projected. What ensued was lump-in-throat speeches, a parade of stellar bouquet-bearers, more flowers showering the stage, and confetti littering the stalls. The last, forward-looking words were Mason’s. “We must never be afraid of change,” she said, dabbing at her eyes and turning to incoming artistic director Kevin O’Hare. “Take care of Kevin, everybody. He’s fabulous.” He could hardly have asked for a better passing of the baton. —Donald Hutera

Marriages

 

Janie Taylor and Sébastien Marcovici. Photo: Matthew Murphy, Courtesy NYCB.

 

Janie Taylor and Sébastien Marcovici, principal dancers with NYCB, were married on August 12 in New York City. Marcovici proposed in May after a performance in which the couple danced Balanchine’s Liebeslieder Walzer.

 

 

Frank Wildermann and Craig Hall. Photo: Erin Baiano.

 

NYCB soloist Craig Hall married Frank Wildermann on August 25 in Prattsville, New York.

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Retirements

In 1993 Larissa Ponomarenko made an unforgettable debut with Boston Ballet as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, slipping and hitting the floor moments after her second-act entrance. Then she got up and, for the next 18 years, astonished audiences with her dancing. She’s been one of the most extraordinary artists in Boston Ballet’s nearly 50-year history. Now she’s retiring from the stage and entering a second career as one of the company’s ballet masters.

Born in Ukraine, Ponomarenko graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia, and arrived at Boston Ballet with her husband, dancer and now choreo­g­rapher Viktor Plotnikov, via Missis­sip­pi Ballet and Tulsa Ballet. She came as a principal, and from the beginning, it was clear there was nothing she couldn’t do. You’d have expected her Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake to be sublime, and they were, but she was also hilarious in Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew; down and dirty in Tharp’s Waterbaby Bagatelles; and the muse for Jorma Elo’s Brake the Eyes and Le Sacre du Printemps.

It’s difficult for her to single out a favorite role. “I always liked ballets that demanded technique and artistry beyond the athletic balances and 32 fouettés,” she says. “Working on and performing roles like Tatiana in Cranko’s Onegin, Marguerite in Val Caniparoli’s Lady of the Camellias, and Madama Butterfly in Stanton Welch’s Madame Butterfly was always very fulfilling.”

But she’s excited about the next stage of her career as a ballet master. As she told Dance Magazine in “Long May They Reign” (Jan. 2010), “I’m pretty good at analyzing why things work in a ballet. I work with a mirror, almost like a sculptor with stone and a chisel, in slow motion, going from pose to pose.” Looking back at her career, she says, “I was fortunate to have extraordinary teachers, mentors, and colleagues who greatly contributed to my personal and professional growth. In the next chapter of my life, I am looking forward to passing on my knowledge and passion, and hopefully inspiring a young generation of artists.”­ —Jeffrey Gantz

Shila Tirabassi, who epitomized Stephen Petronio’s muscular, elegant choreography for 10 years, has retired from the company at 33. With her lush movement and striking presence, she delineates the bold lines and explosive moves of Petronio’s choreography. Petronio, she says, “cherishes the dancers’ individuality and not only respects our choices, but is curious about them. He pushes the edges and never takes the easy path, so the challenge kept me hungry all those years. He is a creative genius when it comes to movement invention.”

Of the numerous Petronio works she has danced, she says, “My favorite is The Rite Part, danced to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring—specifically, the virgin sacrifice solo that closes the piece. It was very challenging physically, and the music is such a masterpiece that the driving force behind it gave me a huge rush.” She has put to good use the training she received at The Juilliard School. After she gradu­ated, she danced with Ballet Hispanico and Cunningham’s Repertory Understudy Group (among others) prior to joining Petronio.

Tirabassi’s plans include moving to Florida to help run the family restaurant, opened by her grandmother and run by her father for 35 years. She hopes to open her own yoga/Pilates studio adjacent to the restaurant (she credits Career Transition For Dancers as a vital resource). In preparation, she has trained in those disciplines as well as Thai yoga massage, restorative yoga, and prenatal fitness. But her magnetic, cool presence will be missed in Petronio’s annual seasons. —Susan Yung

Birth

Houston Ballet principal Mireille Hassenboehler and her husband, Robert Patman, welcomed their first child, Theodore “Teddy” Ambrose Patman, on April 29.

In Memoriam

Garry Reigenborn (1952–2011)

A veteran dancer with the Lucinda Childs Dance Company and a Cunningham master teacher, Garry Reigenborn died in March. A University of Utah graduate, Reigenborn performed with Andrew deGroat before joining Childs’ company in 1981. He worked with avant-garde theater director Robert Wilson, a frequent collaborator with both deGroat and Childs, on several pieces, including revivals of Einstein on the Beach. In his later years with Childs, he set her work on new company members and served as assistant to the choreographer. In the ’90s, he taught at the Cunningham Studio and abroad, and joined the Bard College faculty in 1998. He performed with Childs as recently as 2000. In 2006, he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and relocated from New York to Colorado.

 

 

From top: Larissa Ponomarenko in Swan Lake. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy BB; Shila Tirabassi. Photo by Sarah Silver, Courtesy Petronio.

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Transitions

 

Retirements

 

Leonides Arpon is a compact dancer with a huge heart. Even standing still, he radiates electricity through his taut limbs and intense expression. And when he starts moving, he pushes the limits of maximum acceleration, extension, and projection. You have no choice but to watch his incisive renditions of Karole Armitage’s explosive, ballet-infused style. After eight years with Armitage Gone! Dance, he is retiring from the company.

Arpon’s favorite Armitage work is Time is the echo of an axe within a wood, made when the choreographer returned to New York in 2004 after years in Europe. “I enjoy the challenge of executing the contemporary ballet aesthetic while having the freedom to interpret Karole’s concept, culture, and the philosophy that inspires her,” he says.

Of Filipino heritage, Arpon, 30, began dancing at 6 at the Bat-Dor Dance School in Israel. His plans include developing outreach programs for children in those countries, helping them to realize their potential. He will continue to study Argentine tango and explore commercial opportunities as a dancer/choreographer. After this chapter in his career, he takes away this thought: “I most value the wonderful artists I have met and the places I have seen, which have opened up my heart even more. I have no doubt that art can truly heal the world.” —Susan Yung

 

 

Amidst countless flowers and a thunderous, 15-minute ovation, Pennsylvania Ballet’s Martha Chamberlain retired in April. The lively principal was known for her expressive dancing in many Balanchine ballets and for her portrayal of heroines both comedic and dramatic.

 

A homegrown talent, Chamberlain began studying ballet at the Fellowship House in nearby Media, PA, and gradu­ated from the School of Pennsylvania Bal­let (now the independent Rock School). She joined PAB as an apprentice in 1989, working her way to principal in 2000.

Chamberlain, 39, underwent extensive knee surgery six years ago, from which, she says, “it took a lot of PT and a lot of will to come back. The past three years, I got the chance to do a lot of great ballets I never thought I would do, like Rodeo and Square Dance.” She explains, “I wanted to stop while dancing was still an enjoyable process. Twenty-one years is a long time.”

Chamberlain felt that Who Cares? would set the right celebratory tone for her final performance. “I didn’t want to retire with something where everybody dies at the end,” she laughs. “Who Cares? is so fun.” About her final bow she says, “It was surreal. The audience’s reaction was overwhelming. I don’t like being in the center of attention, but in that moment, I allowed myself to take it all in.”

The humorous Katherina in Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew, and “Rubies” from Balanchine’s Jewels, numbered among her favorite roles. In addition to her onstage partnership with her husband, company member Jonathan Stiles, she will miss dancing with principal Alexander (Sasha) Iziliaev.

Chamberlain, who has been sewing since the age of 5, has designed costumes for such choreographers as Matthew Neenan, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Helen Pickett, and Jorma Elo, whose Pulcinella for PAB premiered earlier this year. She plans to keep designing for the stage and get her own line, MC Dancewear, up and running. She will continue to teach ballet at several schools, including The Dance Center in West Chester, PA, where she studied as a young dancer. —Kina Poon

 

New Roles

Jose Manuel Carreño, a leading man who combines heroic strength with modest sensitivity, will bid farewell to ABT on June 30 during the company’s Metropolitan Opera season. The performance of Swan Lake will feature Carreño partnering Julie Kent as Odette and Gillian Murphy as Odile. He has consistently thrilled ABT audiences with his stellar technique, unforced mascu­linity, extraordinary partnering skills, and meticulous melding of athleticism and artistry. Before joining ABT as a principal dancer in 1995, Carreño danced with the English National Ballet beginning in 1990 and was a member of The Royal Ballet from 1993 to 1995.  

“I especially love dancing full-length ballets with history and an acting background,” he says. Among his favorite ballets to perform were Giselle, Don Quixote, and Romeo and Juliet.

He fulfilled one of his greatest wishes when ABT performed in his native Cuba last fall (see “Dance Matters,” Feb.). “It was one of the best times in my life,” he says. “To perform with my company, ABT, was really special. I told the Cuban dancers, ‘No more ABT in videos. Now you are going to see the company live.’ ”

Carreño, a 2004 recipient of the Dance Magazine Award, plans to continue dancing as a guest performer and to keep teaching and coaching. He will also serve as artistic director of the Carreño Dance Festival in Sarasota, FL, and would like to make it an annual event. The festival includes an intensive in August with the goal of training pre-professional students.

But Carreño says he will miss the company he has long called home. “ABT has been a very special company for me. You do so many things—classical and contemporary pieces. But I have had propositions before from Broadway that I have never been able to do. This will be a new step in my life.” —Joseph Carman

 

 

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Ariana Lallone will forever be remembered for her stunning line and gracious manner, immortalized on the cover of Dance Magazine in 1998 when Howard Schatz shot her in a glorious gown of black tulle-like fabric. The statuesque balle­rina, now 43, joined PNB as an apprentice in 1987. Seven years later, she became a principal.

 

For her final PNB appearance at the Encore gala in Seattle last month, she performed the lead in Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena. Having danced in around 100 ballets, her roles in William Forsythe’s In the middle, somewhat elevated, Kent Stowell’s Carmen, and Ulysses Dove’s Red Angels well illustrate her commanding presence.

“Ariana created a truly unique place for herself with her dancing but also her tireless offstage advocacy,” says artistic director Peter Boal. “At home in both the lyrical romanticism of Balanchine’s ‘Emeralds’ and in the grounded pathos of Nacho Duato’s Jardí Tancat, Ariana’s range as an artist has been tremendous.”

Others in the company admire her for challenging the classical ballet “type.” Lallone is 5’11”. “When I was younger, I remember thinking that it would be impossible for a tall ballerina to exist in the ballet world—until I read about Ariana Lallone,” says PNB soloist Lindsi Dec. “Her length, power, and presence onstage and in the studio is going to be greatly missed. Many of us grew up with her on a pedestal.”

Lallone is not moving very far. Beginning in September, she’ll be a regular at Teatro ZinZanni, just across the street from PNB. The improvisational and theatrical performances will be well suited to her striking presence, witty humor, and heartfelt dancing. —Gigi Berardi

In Memoriam

Longtime dancer, production assistant, and manager of New York City Ballet Edward Bigelow died last April. From the 1950s through 1987, he was the go-to guy for just about everything backstage and on tour. He started studying at the School of American Ballet in 1941, joined Ballet Society in 1946, and was still with the group when it was renamed New York City Ballet in 1948. While still performing, he became assistant to Balanchine in 1949.

Writer and former NYCB star Allegra Kent remembers him dancing character roles like the towering figure in Robbins’ Age of Anxiety and Mother Ginger in Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. But more than his onstage roles, she remembers how kind he was to everyone.

“On my first tour to Europe, when I was 16,” she reminisces, “he was looking out for me. He was so worried about me that he gave me the upper berth on the plane usually reserved for ballerinas.” She also remembers that he gave out pointe shoes, made sure the dancers got to costume fittings, and carried out every wish of Balanchine and Kirstein. “Whatever was necessary,” says Kent.  

As mentioned in the May issue (“Sinful Memories”), Bigelow’s backstage duties included catching Kent as she dove through a window frame in The Seven Deadly Sins. Says Kent, “He was totally reliable, totally cool.”

Jacques d’Amboise remembers in his autobiography, I Was a Dancer, that once on tour in Kiev, Bigelow stepped in as Rothbart at the last minute when Shaun O’Brien had disappeared (he had been taken to jail!). It was a role Bigelow had originated more than 10 years before.

In 2004, he curated the exhibit “Balanchine 100: Centennial Exhibition,” which graced Lincoln Center that year. —Wendy Perron

 

 

From top: Leonides Arpon in Armitage’s Gaga Gaku. Photo by Julieta Cervantes, Courtesy AGD; Martha Chamberlain with Zachary Hench in Balanchine’s Who Cares? Photo by Alexander Iziliaev © Balanchine Trust, Courtesy PAB; Jose Manuel Carreño in Diana and Acteon. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy ABT; Ariana Lallone in Dove’s Red Angels. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

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Transitions

Angel Corella and Ethan Stiefel retire

 

 

Angel Corella. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy ABT.

 

When Angel Corella gave his farewell performance with American Ballet Theatre on June 28, a sold-out audience crammed the vast Metropolitan Opera House. After a half-dozen curtain calls, they reluctantly let him go, still pelting him with flowers at his final bow. “It’s been like a wonderful dream for 17 years,” says Corella. “You wake up and it’s been a lifetime, but it feels like only a flash in the night.”

Corella first dazzled at ABT as a 19-year-old prodigy, joining the company in 1995 after winning a gold medal at the Concours Internationale de Danse. Trained at the Victor Ullate School of Dance in Madrid, his bravura technique and trademark grin made him a natural crowd-pleaser from the start.

Corella, 36, was often paired with Paloma Herrera in his early years at the company. Audiences went wild for their youth, exuberance, and competitive third-act fireworks in ballets like Don Quixote. As Corella’s artistry developed—he was promoted to principal in 1996 and notes with pride that he is the first Spaniard to have achieved that rank—he became an expressive and sensitive dancer, solicitous in his partnering. And it was Herrera, herself an artist who has evolved over the years, with whom Corella danced his final performance at ABT, as Prince Siegfried in Kevin McKenzie’s production of Swan Lake. It was a role that McKenzie had tailored to Corella, adding a solo and several passages that tapped a subtle melancholy in the dancer.

Corella’s appearances at ABT have been rare since 2008, when he launched what is now Barcelona Ballet, Spain’s only major classical company. While it has been challenging to steer his troupe through the vicissitudes of Europe’s financial crisis, he has committed himself to a full-time role as director and occasional dancer. “When you’re dancing, the rewarding part is right away,” he says. “When you are teaching, it’s double the pleasure and fulfillment in the end. When you tell a dancer something and they understand and do it amazingly, it’s almost better than when you do it.”

Looking back on his ABT years, Corella feels no regrets. “ABT made me who I am as a man, as a dancer, and now as a director. They took a little boy from Spain who spoke no English, and turned him into an adult who had everything to dance and amazing choreographers to work with. All I wanted was to reflect my love of dance and of life onstage. All I wanted was the audience to dance with me.” —Hanna Rubin

 

 

Ethan Stiefel. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor, Courtesy ABT.

 

The ballet world grew dimmer on July 7 when the Metropolitan Opera House curtain descended over the brilliant performing career of Ethan Stiefel. An artist of vigor, wit, and versatility, he was equally dynamic in classical and contemporary works, performing with what Terry Teachout, writing for Time Magazine, called “a casual virtuosity and unmannered grace worthy of Fred Astaire.” Such grace belied explosive technique, and his on- and offstage charisma launched him among the brightest ballet stars of his generation.

Stiefel’s artistry arose from a deeply American sensibility, and his story begins in the heartland. The son of a prison warden and a schoolteacher, he was born in Pennsylvania and grew up mostly in Wisconsin, where he first forged a love of dance (and the Green Bay Packers). He trained summers at Baryshnikov’s School of Classical Ballet (where he befriended a kid named Sascha), and studied under Stanley Williams at the School of American Ballet. He joined New York City Ballet at 16 and by 21, following a stint with the Zurich Ballet, was promoted to principal. Two years later, eager to expand his repertoire with more full-length classics, he migrated west across the Lincoln Center plaza to ABT.

Stiefel performed the quintessential ballets in the male canon and created numerous roles; made guest appearances with world-class companies; and won myriad awards, including the Dance Magazine Award in 2008. He employed a wide variety of media, including television and film, to deliver dance to a diverse audience. To his peers, he offered support and inspiration—through his talent, work ethic, and lust for dance and life. He embraced every opportunity to nurture younger dancers, as a director, teacher, and colleague. He established a touring ensemble and summer school, and revitalized the University of North Carolina School of the Arts during his four-year tenure as dean of the School of Dance. He recently began to design, stage, and choreograph ballets.

Last year, he signed on as artistic director of the burgeoning Royal New Zealand Ballet. The company struck gold a second time when Stiefel’s fiancée, the beautiful Gillian Murphy, joined the roster as principal guest artist.

For 23 years, Stiefel tore across the landscape of ballet, offering exhilarating vistas along the way. Although he has taken his final bow at ABT, his contributions to the art form continue with spirit and vision. The grandest vistas may be yet to come. —Sascha Radetsky

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Transitions

Retirement

 

In Mark Morris’ Dido and Aeneas, Bradon McDonald danced the dual roles of Dido/the Sorceress with such contained abandon that he resembled a young Morris—in spirit. The roles were McDonald’s favorites even before his decade with the Mark Morris Dance Group, from which he recently retired. “When I joined the company in 2000, Mark was still performing them, and I was understudying the piece,” remembers McDonald, a “25 to Watch” in 2004. “I’d squeeze myself into a little ball and sit at the base of the mirrors. So I was looking up at Mark on the bench doing Dido. It was pretty amazing!”

 

At age 6 in Lowville, NY, McDonald began tap, which he studied for seven years before taking up jazz. In 1997, while he was still a student at Juilliard, he was invited to join the Limón Dance Company. After three years, he joined MMDG, where he became known for his precision, wit, and charisma, and his performances of many of the roles Morris created for himself.

 

During his professional career, McDonald has moonlighted as a handbag designer, taking his sewing machine on tour and working from his hotel room. He is currently pursuing a degree at L.A.’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. After a life at “a very successful not-for-profit dance company,” he is ready to tap fashion’s commercial potential, and his devotion compares to his passion for dance. “I was so scared that I wouldn’t find something I liked as much,” he says. “Fashion showed me that I could be as interested and obsessed as I was about dancing.” While the dance world will miss his riveting presence, look for his emergence on the fashion scene. —Susan Yung

McDonald in Morris’ Mozart Dances. Photo by Stephanie Berger, courtesy MMDG

 

 

Death

Miriam Golden (1920–2010)
An original member of Ballet Theatre (now ABT), Miriam Golden Ziegler Hailparn died in September. She danced as a “Goldwyn Girl” in several MGM classics in the 1940s.

 

Born Miriam Goldstein in Philadelphia, she began her professional career in her teens with the Littlefield Ballet before joining Balanchine’s Ballet Caravan. She danced in ABT’s inaugural performance at Rockefeller Center on January 11, 1940. As a principal, Golden appeared in the first American performance of Tudor’s Dark Elegies in 1940. She also portrayed Lady Montague in the premiere of his one-act Romeo and Juliet in 1943, with Hugh Laing and Alicia Markova in the title roles and a young Jerome Robbins as Benvolio.

 

Golden settled in L.A. in 1944 and appeared as a dancer in film musicals, including Show Boat (1951). She also worked with legends like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Cyd Charisse. With Irina Kosmovska, Golden founded the Los Angeles Junior Ballet, which in 1974 became the official school of John Clifford’s Los Angeles Ballet. 

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Transitions

Retirements

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.

 

New Role

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.

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Transitions

Drew Jacoby joins Nederlands Dans Theater; Moscelyne Larkin; Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette welcome their second child.

 

 

New Role

After five years of pouring all her energies into Jacoby & Pronk, Drew Jacoby has decided to leave her artistic partnership with Rubinald Pronk to join Nederlands Dans Theater. (Pronk will continue his freelance career.)

For the fiercely independent dancer, it was time for a change. “It was exciting and fulfilling, but so exhausting that I was getting old,” she says, laughing. Working with choreographers Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, now also the director of NDT (see “Quick Q&A,” March), on Softly As I Leave You when she was a member of Morphoses was “one of the best experiences of my career. Their work is gut-wrenching to watch because it’s so beautiful.”

At that time, the choreographers asked her if she’d ever consider joining NDT. “I was flattered and jarred because I never have had an opportunity fall in my lap.” However, when it came time for contracts, Jacoby did not receive one from then-director Jim Vincent. Three years later, she reconnected with Lightfoot and León at the Holland Dance Festival last January, and within a week, she made her decision. Calling herself “impatient,” she says, “I’m never exactly where I want to be. I have moments of fulfillment, but I don’t know that I can grow on a real, deep level without that kind of creative atmosphere.”

She’s looking forward to expanding her repertoire with works by Mats Ek, Crystal Pite, and Johan Inger—and “I know it’s a minor thing, but the perks—free Pilates? Not paying for class? I haven’t had health insurance in six years.” She will miss her life and her husband in New York. “But I’m going to work at NDT. It’s going to be hard because I’ve had my own way. But I think to have someone tell me what to do is going to be refreshing.” —Kina Poon


Jacoby in Lightfoot León’s Softly As I Leave You. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy Jacoby.

In Memoriam

Moscelyne Larkin (1925–2012)
Co-founder of the Tulsa Ballet with her late husband, Roman Jasinski, Edna Moscelyne Larkin died in April in Tulsa.

Larkin was born in Miami, Oklahoma, to a Russian mother and a Shawnee-Peoria father. She was always proud of her mixed heritage. Though she began studying ballet with her mother, at 13 she traveled to New York City to work with an array of teachers, including Mikhail Mordkin. At 15, Larkin joined the corps of Colonel W. de Basil’s Original Ballet Russe, which toured South America during World War II. And she met principal dancer Jasinski, whom she married in 1943 in Buenos Aires. De Basil Russified her name to Moussia Larkina.

Athough the Jasinskis went to Europe in 1947 with Original Ballet Russe, the pair soon returned to the United States, appearing with Sergei Denham’s Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. With her name re-Americanized, Larkin was popular in such roles as the Waltz in Fokine’s Les Sylphides and the Cowgirl in de Mille’s Rodeo. In an interview in 2006, Frederic Franklin, premier danseur and ballet master of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, said of Larkin, “What a sparkler! She was our soubrette.”

Upon retirement from performing, Miss Larkin—as she was known to generations of students—and Jasinski taught ballet and formed a student company in 1956. The group was so warmly received that it developed into the current Tulsa Ballet, a lively professional troupe. Recipient of many honors, Larkin shared with Jasinski a 1988 Dance Magazine Award, in praise of the couple’s fostering “a dynamic bastion for classical dance in America.” Tulsa Ballet will host a memorial celebration of Larkin’s life in September. —Camille Hardy

 

Larkin with Jasinski in Paquita. Photo from DM Archives.

 


Births

New York City Ballet principal dancer Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette, former NYCB principal and the New York area dance executive for the American Guild of Musical Artists, welcomed their second child, Luke Douglas Fayette, in April. Luke joins sister Grace Rebecca, 4. Ringer hopes to be back onstage for NYCB’s fall season.

 

Photo courtesy Fayette

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Transitions

Lucien Postlewaite leaves Pacific Northwest Ballet; Sylvia Waters steps down from Ailey II; Lauren Grant and David Leventhal welcome a son

 

 

New Company, New Country
After a nine-year stint at Pacific Northwest Ballet, Lucien Postlewaite will depart in August for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. Postlewaite, a principal for four years, first worked with Monte Carlo director Jean-Christophe Maillot when he coached PNB’s performance of his Roméo et Juliette in 2008. “Now, the timing feels right—for the contemporary repertoire, but also the touring,” says Postlewaite. “I’m ready to fill up my passport.”

Flaunting his technique in Ulysses Dove’s Red Angels, his emotion in Olivier Wevers’ Monster for Whim W’Him, or his romantic side in Roméo et Juliette, the 28-year-old is known for his honest performances—as well as his connection with his partners. Kaori Nakamura raves about Postlewaite’s “gentle” nature, his “striving for perfection.” For Carla Körbes, “He is a strong and emotional dancer and makes you believe that we are dancing our real lives.”

PNB artistic director Peter Boal recognizes Postlewaite’s departure as a loss—“he’s that guy every visiting choreographer found inspiration in”—but also sees that he had a rich experience at PNB. A native of Santa Cruz, CA, who trained at the School of American Ballet and PNB’s school, Postlewaite danced principal roles most of his Seattle career. Boal adds, “I know that [Maillot] is a big draw—a huge, compelling force in the studio.” For his part, Postlewaite’s husband Wevers realizes that it will be difficult to separate from a soul mate (see “Putting a Ring on It,” Feb.). “He has been there for me and Whim W’Him,” says Wevers. “It is my turn to support his career.”

Postlewaite’s farewell performance in June featured him in his breakout role in Prodigal Son, and in Roméo et Juliette, with Nakamura. It is a fitting good-bye for Postlewaite. “Kaori has given me some of my most transcendent moments onstage,” he says. “I am so happy to be wrapping up my time at PNB with her in my arms.” —Gigi Berardi

Lucien Postlewaite in David Dawson’s A Million Kisses to My Skin. Photo by © Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

Passing the Torch
At the opening night of Ailey II’s New York season in April, the last under Sylvia Waters’ direction, the house was full of tears, cheers, and—before any dancing had even occured—a standing ovation.

To many dance artists, just saying the name Sylvia Waters means love in a big way. Both Alvin Ailey and Judith Jamison sought her out as a confidante, and like them, she has had a significant impact on countless dancers. On July 1, Troy Powell, mentored by Waters for 20-plus years, will succeed her as artistic director of Ailey II. Imprinted into her 38-year tenure is her nurturing, encouraging way of molding young dancers into well-rounded artists.

A New Yorker, Waters began studying modern dance in junior high, trained at the New Dance Group, and graduated from Juilliard. She danced with Donald McKayle’s company, on a European tour of Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity, and in Maurice Béjart’s company Ballet of the 20th Century. She performed with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from 1968 until 1975, when Ailey asked her to direct the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble, later renamed Ailey II.

A Dance Magazine Award recipient in 2008, Waters had a hand in the careers of Ailey’s current artistic director, Robert Battle, whom she invited to set a work on Ailey II back in 1999; Matthew Rushing, Ailey rehearsal director; and Tracy Inman, former Ailey dancer and co-director of The Ailey School. Some others who have been helped by Waters are Ronald K. Brown, Shen Wei, Jessica Lang, and Kyle Abraham.

Following her retirement from Ailey II, Waters will conduct the new Ailey Legacy Residency for college students and lend her expertise to Battle’s New Directions Choreography Lab. And, ever the mentor, she will make time to stop by Ailey II rehearsals. —Charmaine Patricia Warren

 

Photo of Sylvia Waters by Colin Fowler.

 

 

Births
Mark Morris Dance Group dancer Lauren Grant and David Leventhal, former MMDG dancer and program manager of the company’s dance program for people with Parkinson’s disease (see “Transitions,” April 2011), welcomed their son Zev Louis Leventhal on March 28.

 

The happy parents with Zev. Photo by David Levithan, Courtesy MMDG.

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New Role

Ethan Stiefel surprised the ballet world last year when it was announced that he’d been appointed artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet. This month, the American Ballet Theatre principal and former dean of dance at University of North Carolina School of the Arts begins his position at the head of the 32-member company.

While Stiefel’s programming decisions won’t take effect until the 2012–13 season, he plans to maintain the varied classical and contemporary ballet repertoire. He will continue to nurture Kiwi choreographers and work with international dancemakers, plus bring in work by Americans—and even develop his own choreography. He notes that the dancers are “not only solid across the board whether it be in classical dance or contemporary, but they’re hungry. They’re taking the change in leadership as an opportunity to elevate their game.” Stiefel, whose mantra is leading by example and who invests wholeheartedly in his work, anticipates being in New Zealand for most of the year, hopefully returning to New York for ABT’s 2012 Met season.

He has the full support of his fiancée, ABT’s majestic principal Gillian Murphy, who may guest with RNZB while continuing to perform with ABT. “We certainly never thought that this was the way that things would go, but she’s being very generous to take the plunge with me,” he says. “We’re looking forward to carving out our own little life in a beautiful place.”

He continues, “I’m going into it with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm, but also trying to be grounded and realistic, because there’s a whole lot of unknown. Which is a little bit daunting,” he says, laughing, “but you’ve got to take some risk every now and then.” —Kina Poon

 

Ethan Stiefel teaching class at UNCSA. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor for Pointe.

 

 

In Memoriam


Annelise Mertz (1918 –2011)

Since 1957, when Annelise Mertz arrived to teach dance at Washington University, she fought to give modern dance its rightful place in St. Louis. She taught in the gym next to the swimming pool since the university lacked studios. Her persistence led to the creation of the Performing Arts Department, whose dance program she directed for 31 years. In addition, she founded Dance St. Louis, a major presenter, in 1966. She housed and fed the earliest visiting companies, including those of Alwin Nikolais and Murray Louis.

Mertz’s fierce determination had its roots in pre–World War II Berlin, where she studied Laban theory, as well as ballet. She performed at Berlin State Opera, and the Dusseldorf and Darmstadt Operas (before she dismissed ballet as antiquated), as well as her own solo programs. Mertz did graduate studies with Kurt Jooss in Essen, and became a member of his company, performing The Green Table a reported 109 times.

Mertz tolerated no nonsense, and never took no for an answer. “You must first learn to move before you can dance,” she said. St. Louis will miss that powerful voice. —Alice Bloch

Marriage

New York City Ballet soloists Rebecca Krohn and Adam Hendrickson (see “Why I Dance,” Aug. 2010) were married on June 24.

 

Krohn and Hendrickson. Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB.

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Retirements

Kansas City Ballet’s sublime Kimberly Cowen concludes her 20-year performing career with the company this month. She dances in Balanchine’s Serenade and Todd Bolender’s Souvenirs May 4–13 in Kansas City, and performs a pas de deux from artistic director William Whitener’s Carmen and the tango from Souvenirs on May 24 at St. Louis’ Spring to Dance Festival.

 

Cowen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo by Kenny Johnson, Courtesy KCB.

 

“Equally at home as a ballerina in Giselle or the frightening figure in Wigman’s Hexentanz, Kimberly has made her mark on a broad range of repertory,” says Whitener, who in the 16 years he has worked with her has found “her engagement in the creative and interpretive processes awe-inspiring.”

Giselle tops a list of favorite ballets that includes Bolender’s The Still Point, Balanchine’s Agon, and Carmen. “I get the most joy from dancing work with a story behind it,” she says. The last KCB dancer to be trained by Bolender, who took her into the company at 16, Cowen continues to be guided by him in memory. Whitener challenged her in other ways, and gave her different opportunities.

“I didn’t know I’d enjoy contemporary work like Margo Sappington’s Cobras in the Moonlight and Nacho Duato’s Jardí Tancat,” she says.

At 37, Cowen retires at the top of her game. “It’s time,” she says. “I feel really fulfilled. I’ve gotten to do whatever I’ve wanted, including moving into the new building.” (See “All-American Dream,” Oct. 2011.) In her new position as principal and associate director of the KCB School, she remains in the Bolender Center for Dance & Creativity, passing on her artistry to future generations. —Martha Ullman West

 

 

Just before Riolama Lorenzo’s farewell performance with Pennsylvania Ballet, a child’s voice sounded over the backstage speakers: “Fifteen minutes, Mommy. I love you!” Lorenzo’s 4-year-old son, Sebastian, called his mom to the stage. It was a fitting gesture, since Sebastian and his sister, 10-month-old Rio Maria, are the reasons why Lorenzo has decided to end her 15-year professional career.

“As a mother of two, it’s too much without any family around [to help],” admits the Cuban-born dancer, who trained at the Harid Conservatory and School of American Ballet. “I’ve done all the roles I’ve wanted to do, like Giselle, Carmen, and Odette/Odile.” As Giselle, she billowed through Act II like a puff of smoke, grounded only by her heavy emotion and strong technique. In Roland Petit’s Carmen, Lorenzo captivated audiences with her oozing sensuality and unwavering command. Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake showcased her dramatic ability, supple spine, and gorgeously arched feet. She was promoted to principal in 2005.

But the highlight of her career was her mentor/muse relationship with Jerome Robbins. The famed choreographer plucked Lorenzo from the corps at New York City Ballet and gave her principal parts, like the Mad Ballerina in The Concert. “Her movement quality suited his works,” says Jean-Pierre Frohlich, ballet master at NYCB. “He just loved her look—dark hair, beautiful face, and well-proportioned body.”

Lorenzo’s expressive features, stunning lines, and mature presence have made an indelible mark on the next generation of dancers. For her last show on February 12, she performed two ballets by Matthew Neenan. She playfully seduced her partner in 11:11. In Keep, she exuded calmness and maternal warmth. Lorenzo, as usual, brought the house to its feet. And Sebastian, carrying a bouquet of white roses, met his mom onstage for her final bow and ushered her into full-time motherhood. —Julie Diana

 

Lorenzo with son Sebastian and husband Javier Lasa at her final curtain call. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy PAB.

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Births

A lyrical beauty who sparkles with elegance and generosity onstage, Julie Diana has another role offstage—mom. Diana and husband Zachary Hench welcomed their second child, Lukas, in September. With Riley, 3, the Pennsylvania Ballet principals have their hands full. “One is fun, but two is a zoo!” quips Diana. She returned to the stage in December, as Frau Stahlbaum in The Nutcracker.

Diana (see “Why I Dance,” May 2010) says that having children gives her a new perspective on dancing. “I enjoy what I do and live in the moment,” she says, “making each second in the studio and onstage a time to nurture myself.” She also takes advantage of the smaller joys of performing. “One of the best parts about returning to the stage is putting on a beautiful costume and about two inches of makeup. When I’m sleep-deprived and wearing clothes soaked in spit-up, getting ready for a performance is a welcome part of my job.” —Kina Poon

 

In Memoriam

Andrea Vodehnal (1938–2011)

 

Vodehnal in the 1970s. Photo courtesy HB.

 

 

Former Houston Ballet principal Andrea Vodehnal was revered for her dramatic dancing and warm personality. A native of the city, Vodehnal died in November due to an aneurysm.

Vodehnal trained with Alexander Kotchtovsky from the age of 7, then later with Alexandra Danilova at the School of American Ballet. Her professional career began with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1957, followed by tours with American Festival Ballet and National Ballet of Washington, DC.

She spent the last decade of her career with Houston Ballet, from 1974 to 1984, where she excelled in such ballets as Ashton’s Façade, Choo San Goh’s Variaciones Concertantes, Cranko’s The Lady and the Fool, and several of then director Ben Stevenson’s most beloved works, including Four Last Songs and Bartok Concerto.

Vodehnal was in her prime during the crucial years when Stevenson was building the company. Her interpretations of the leading roles in Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Giselle, Coppélia, and The Sleeping Beauty were legendary. She graced the cover of Dance Magazine in October 1981. Upon retiring, Vodehnal became a teacher in the Houston area.

Former Houston Ballet principal Janie Parker remembers Vodehnal’s unique qualities: “Andrea was a dancer who drew all eyes to her. Beyond her natural technique was a body that generated admiring gazes. Those of us who were fortunate to be behind the scenes with her saw the true depth of her generosity and caring personality. Sharing her secrets with younger dancers brought out the mentor in Andrea. She was always quick to teach.” —Nancy Wozny

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Weddings

On Dec. 26, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Penny Saunders and Pablo Piantino married in a small family ceremony held in the backyard of Saunders’ grandmother’s house in Orlando, FL. The bride wore a gold and white dress she found in a second-hand shop in Chicago.

The two had been a couple for five years. Piantino, 36, graduated from Juilliard and danced with the San Francisco Ballet before arriving at Hubbard Street in 2005. Saunders, 33, had joined Hubbard Street a year earlier, having danced with Ballet Arizona and MOMIX, and been a founding member of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. A friendship came first as both were initially involved in other romantic relationships. Then something changed when they began working on Kylián’s Petite Mort. As Saunders recalls, “There is a real intimacy to that work, and I think we began to see something else in each other.”

In April the couple will have a big party at Hubbard Street’s warehouse space “for all the people we love in Chicago,” and then in mid-July they will travel to Mendoza, Argentina, where Piantino’s childhood music teacher, now a priest, will perform another ceremony.

The dancers’ choice of rings suggests how they think. As Piantino noted, “We’re both spiritual in our different ways, and we didn’t want diamonds with corrupt origins, so we commissioned handcrafted wooden rings inlaid with shells and leaves from an artisan in British Columbia, a place we love.” —Hedy Weiss

 

Stealing a kiss. Photo by Kristie Kahns.

 

In Memoriam

Mark Goldweber (1958–2011)
Mark Goldweber, ballet master for Ballet West and director of Ballet West II, died in December in Salt Lake City after a battle with cancer. An impeccable classicist, Goldweber’s ebullient performance as the Boy in Blue in the Joffrey Ballet’s 1977 revival of Ashton’s Les Patineurs lives on in memory. As dancer and ballet master, he embodied the traditions of his art form: clarity, musicality, virtuosity, and decorum.

“Mark had so much knowledge, so much to give,” says Adam Sklute, Ballet West artistic director and a close friend from their days with the Joffrey. “We shared a passion for ballet history. We were working on a new Little Mermaid almost to the end. He wanted to honor Ashton’s Ondine.”

Born in Miami, Goldweber trained with Thomas Armour at Miami Ballet, where the focus was on 19th-century classics. Hanging around the studio, as young as 10, he easily learned roles just by watching. He also studied at the Washington School of Ballet and the School of American Ballet summer program. Short, compact, with huge elevation, Goldweber performed in the Joffrey’s eclectic repertoire until 1988. He then relocated to Portland as ballet master and dancer for Pacific Ballet Theatre (which became Oregon Ballet Theatre), headed by James Canfield, another Joffrey alumnus. There, Goldweber helped to establish the city’s first resident ballet company, setting high standards for the dancers in a wide range of repertoire.

He returned to the Joffrey in 1997 as ballet master and in 2007 went to Ballet West with Sklute. His life was too short; his impact on three companies and scores of young dancers profound.

—Martha Ullman West

 

Goldweber as the Boy in Blue in Ashton’s Les Patineurs. Photo by Herbert Migdoll, DM Archives.

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Blissful Tribute

On March 13, dance luminaries celebrated Sally Brayley Bliss, retiring after 11 years as executive director of Dance St. Louis, in A Bliss Full Affair, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center in St. Louis.

 

Speakers included Carla Maxwell, Victoria Morgan, Tom Mossbrucker, David Parsons, and Edward Villella, who said, “I got to know her artistry first, but it’s her humanity that finally moves you.”

 

Performers included Elizabeth Parkinson and Stuart Capps of Movin’ Out, Maia Wilkins and Willy Shives of the Joffrey Ballet, Tina LeBlanc and Gonzalo Garcia of San Francisco Ballet, Brian McGinnis of Parsons Dance Company, Antonio Douthit of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and Kim Cowan and James Jordan of Kansas City Ballet.

 

Former American Ballet Theatre dancers Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner, who performed an excerpt from Tudor’s Leaves Are Fading, summed it up: “Sally’s been so generous with her commitment to dance. Being here is our way to give back to someone who’s given so much.”
Bliss, a Canadian, joined the National Ballet of Canada in 1955. She performed as principal dancer with the Metropolitan and New York City Operas, and as guest artist with ABT and the Joffrey Ballet. In 1969 she co-founded The Joffrey II Dancers, serving as artistic director until 1985 when she was appointed to the National Council of the Arts. At Dance St. Louis, Bliss expanded education and outreach programs and established an endowment.

 

Bliss will continue to administer the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust, a position created for her in Tudor’s will. She says, “To me, Tudor is the great choreographer of the 20th century. When today’s dancers perform his works, they become better artists, which makes me proud.” —Alice Bloch

 

Bocca’s last bow at ABT

I first heard praise of Buenos Aires-born Julio Bocca around 1984 from Fernando Bujones, who had just seen him dance in Rio de Janeiro. In 1985 the 18-year-old Bocca won the gold medal in the International Ballet Competition in Moscow, and a year later he joined American Ballet Theatre as a principal dancer. Although Bocca is gifted with a remarkable technique, with impeccable beats and seemingly limitless turns, his physique isn’t that of the born premier danseur. He has had to devise a category of dramatic/classicist, unique almost unto himself. He’s been outstanding as Albrecht, James, Romeo, and—the role in Manon in which he makes his ABT farewell—Des Grieux. He will partner his beloved Alessandra Ferri in the role on June 22 at the Metropolitan Opera House. Bocca has also guested with great ballet companies around the world (including his Lincoln Center rival, New York City Ballet); started two companies of his own, Ballet Argentino (1990) and BoccaTango (2001); and his inquisitive feet have found time for the Broadway show Fosse. But most of all he has left his insignia of excellence on ABT’s classical repertoire, and his accomplishment as the troupe’s greatest male stylist provides a banner-mark for all who follow him. —Clive Barnes

 

Retirements

She has been the nearest thing to royalty in the British ballet world for the past 19 years, a household name known by bus driver and banker alike. And now, at the peak of her professional life, Darcey Bussell, 36, has decided to retire. “I have always wanted to end my full-time career while dancing the classical repertoire at the standard to which I aspire,” she says.

 

Bussell’s unforced, silky-smooth technique and well-developed characterizations made her the model of the British ballet establishment. Born in London and trained at the Royal Ballet School, she was a member of Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet before being plucked at the age of 19 by Kenneth MacMillan to create the leading role in his Prince of the Pagodas. Bussell became MacMillan’s muse and the darling of Covent Garden goers. Three months after her Royal Ballet debut, she was promoted to principal.

 

In addition to her impeccable English schooling in the classics, Bussell delighted in works by Balanchine, Forsythe, Tharp, and Robbins. For her fresh face, wonderful smile, and genuine interest in other people, the British public adored Bussell, whose portrait hangs in London’s National Portrait Gallery. For the 2006-07 RB season, she will dance intermittently as principal guest artist. She will devote the remainder of her time to her husband, Angus Forbes, and their two daughters. —Margaret Willis.

 

Stephen Legate, principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, retires from the stage in June. Legate, who joined SFB in 1991 after dancing with the National Ballet of Canada, plans on enrolling in chiropractic college and spending more time with his wife, Evelyn Cisneros, former San Francisco Ballet principal and current education coordinator for the company, and their two children.

 

Maggie Wright, a principal dancer with Ballet West, is retiring this month after the birth of her second child. Wright joined the company 19 years ago.

 

Brian Fisher, dancer and assistant to the choreographers at ODC in San Francisco, retired in March. Fisher has appeared on Broadway in La Cage aux Folles, and in the national tours of The Music Man and The Wizard of Oz Live. He was awarded a 2002 Isadora Duncan Award for outstanding ensemble performance.

 

Brandon “Private” Freeman, dancer with ODC for 10 years, retired in March. He started dancing in college and continued while serving in the Army National Guard. He is a principal dancer in the movie Matrix II: Reloaded, and is a recent recipient of an Isadora Duncan Award.

 

Deaths

Peter Hamilton, a lead dancer in the Humphrey-Weidman Company in the 1940s, a guest artist with Weidman’s Theater Dance Company until 1960, and a successful choreographer, died in January at the age of 90. Hamilton won a Donaldson award for his work in Broadway’s Sing Out Sweet Land.

 

Rodney Strong, former dancer and founder of Rodney Strong Vineyards, died in March at the age of 78. Strong trained at the School of American Ballet and was an associate professor at San Francisco State College, teaching drama, dance, and film.

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Transitions

Deaths

Pamala Jones (1966–2006)

A memorable performer with the Limón Dance Company from 1988–98, Pamala Jones’ radiant smile and powerful onstage persona endeared her to audiences and colleagues alike. She was a muse to Limón’s guest choreographers including Donald McKayle, Garth Fagan, and Ralph Lemon, all of whom created roles for her. She also knew how to make an existing dance her own, creating lasting impressions as the Young Girl in Doris Humphrey’s Day on Earth, and in Daniel Nagrin’s Spanish Dance. She established a strong presence in the Limón repertoire, where she was unforgettable as Maenad in Dances for Isadora and in A Choreographic Offering. She also danced with the companies of Kevin Wynn, Annabelle Gamson, Diane Jacobowitz, Larry Clark, and Phyllis Lamhut. A SUNY Purchase graduate, she received her early training from Annette Lewis. Since leaving Limón in 1998 to give birth to her daughter Olivia Ann, she had focused on teaching in her native Atlanta, serving on the faculty of the DeKalb School of the Arts. Pamala lost her battle with cancer on January 12, two weeks before her 40th birthday. —Norton Owen

 

Barry Martin (1961–2006)

Dancer, teacher, and choreographer Barry Martin died at his home in Manhattan in February at the age of 44. Martin won a scholarship to The Ailey School in his teens and went on to earn his degree in sociology and dance at SUNY Purchase. In 1983, the hip British dance company Hot Gossip asked him to join its world tour. While performing in South Africa, he was in a car accident. Refused transportation by the white-only ambulance service and entrance into the white-only hospitals, he did not receive proper care until too late. His broken neck and fractured vertebrae were left untreated, and he became quadriplegic.

 

But the fact Martin was confined to a wheelchair never stopped him from continuing his involvement in dance. After receiving a graduate degree in arts administration from New York University, he established Déjà Vu Dance Theater in 1986—so named “because dance was something I saw once and now see again in a new way.” Alvin Ailey commissioned Martin’s Chelsea’s Bells for his company. Martin ran workshops at the Public Theater in New York and had just established a children’s dance workshop with students from The Ailey School, School of American Ballet, and Dance Theatre of Harlem. He was working toward a further degree at NYU in arts and disabilities when he died. —Valerie Gladstone

 

Elena Carter Richardson (1948–2006)

Elena Carter Richardson died in Portland, OR last February. The Mexico City native and former Dance Theatre of Harlem ballerina came to Portland in 1983 to teach at Jefferson High School and dance with Pacific Ballet Theatre (a precursor of Oregon Ballet Theatre), for which she was a founding dancer. Classical roles were her forte (as a delicately loving Sugar Plum Fairy she made me cry) and her Emilia in The Moor’s Pavane was extremely effective. A dedicated, influential teacher, she was still working at OBT’s School a few months before being felled by the cancer she fought gracefully for five and a half years. Arthur Mitchell called her an inspiration: “She was part of the foundation of Dance Theatre of Harlem and she will never be forgotten.” Said OBT school director Damara Bennett, “When Elena taught, it wasn’t just about technique. She wanted to see the fire in people’s eyes.” —Martha Ullman West

 

Dai Ailian, founder of the prestigious Beijing Dance Academy and former director of the National Ballet of China (among many other dance companies in China), died in February. She was 89. Born in Trinidad, Ailian trained in ballet, modern, and Labanotation in London and later went to China, where she was primary in establishing ballet.

 

Alex Martin, founder of the Ballet Guild of Cleveland, a precursor to the Cleveland Ballet, and prominent figure in the development of dance in that city, died in January at the age of 84. Martin, who performed with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, also founded the Cleveland Ballet Center and Cleveland Institute of Dance.

 

Jean Zipser, the granddaughter of former Dance Magazine owner and publisher Rudolph Orthwine, died in a car accident in February at the age of 59.

 

Birth

Nina Ananiashvili and her husband Gregory Vashadze welcomed their new daughter Helene into the world on February 14, Valentine’s Day.

 

Retirement

Jennifer Langenstein and Dmitri Kulev, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principals, are leaving the company. With their third child born recently, they have decided to move back to Texas to be closer to their family.

 

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Transitions

Deaths

Fayard Nicholas (1914–2006)

The elder and taller of the brilliant Nicholas Brothers, Fayard was known as “having the best arms and hands in the business.” His fluid torso and eloquent hands wove poetry in counterpoint to the complex tapping. Watching this perfect tap duo, it was difficult to know where Harold (who died in 2000) ended and his brother began. But Fayard was the primary choreographer. In 1989 he created the witty tap number, “I Want a Big Butter and Egg Man” for Broadway’s Black and Blue, whose choreographers received the Tony Award that year. Sons of vaudeville musicians, the boys grew up around music and in the theater. They made their debut as the Nicholas Brothers when Fayard was 14 and Harold was 7 and were instantly successful in theater, vaudeville, and movies. The charming child performers grew into astonishing adult dancers who combined classic finesse and hard attack with daring acrobatic jumps and splits. The brothers appeared in more than 30 movies and received a Dance Magazine Award in 1995. Check out the 1943 film Stormy Weather. “Jumpin’ Jive,” their spectacular number with Cab Calloway, will live forever in memory. —Sally Sommer

 

 

Rebecca Wright (1947–2006)

Although the Joffrey Ballet promoted its “all star/no star” policy, Rebecca Wright, who danced there from 1966–1975, was indisputably a star. Sadly, after a prolonged battle with cancer, her star faded on January 29.

 

A dancer of remarkable precision and power, Wright seemed incapable of marking a rehearsal—she always danced full-out. Able to move instantly from pointe shoes to sneakers, she embodied the versatility of the Joffrey style. In Ashton’s The Dream, Wright’s Titania had impeccable footwork, clearly shaped port de bras, and infallible musicality. Wright demonstrated her allegro showmanship in Arpino’s Kettentanz, Trinity, and Valentine, as well as in Tharp’s Deuce Coupe. Later, at American Ballet Theatre, she excelled as a spunky Swanilda in Coppélia and sailed through the technical demands of Theme and Variations. On Broadway, she played a spry unicorn in the musical Merlin.

 

Later Wright served as the ballet master for Twyla Tharp’s company, director of both the Adelphi University and Joffrey/New School dance programs, and artistic director of ABT’s summer training intensives. Since the fall of 2004, Wright directed the Washington School of Ballet, succeeding Mary Day.

 

Christian Holder, who often danced with Wright at the Joffrey, said, “Becky’s smile lit up every room she entered, just as her personality lit up every stage on which she performed. She made a wonderful contribution to dance from the ’60s–’80s and in administration up to the present. I loved her very much, and still do.” —Joseph Carman

 

Moira Shearer (1926–2006)

With the groundbreaking 1948 movie The Red Shoes, she probably inspired more girls to dream of ballerinadom than anyone since Anna Pavlova. And yet it was a dream that eluded its Scottish-born star Moira Shearer herself. It was a film, she confided to me in a Dance Magazine interview in the 1960s, that she never wanted to make. Although it was the beginning of a promising film career, it also proved the beginning of the end of her serious dance aspirations.

 

With her red hair and commanding personality, she was a dancer of delicacy, style, and musicality. She made her debut with Mona Inglesby’s International Ballet in 1941, and joined the Sadler’s Wells Ballet a year later. She instantly caught the eye of Frederick Ashton, who created the role of Pride for her in his ballet The Quest. As a schoolboy seeing her then, I was bewitched. So was Ashton, who also put her into Symphonic Variations in 1946, and two years later cast her as his first Cinderella.

 

She danced, with charm and almost infinite promise, the roles of Aurora, Odette/Odile, Giselle, and Swanilda. In 1948 Massine created the lead role for her in Clock Symphony, and two years later she was the favorite interpreter for Balanchine (she wrote a biography of him after his death) in his Ballet Imperial. In Paris Roland Petit revived his Carmen for her. Yet her career, peaking early, never matched that of the company’s senior ballerina, Margot Fonteyn. During the early 1950s she drifted away from ballet, concentrating on movies, the theater, and later writing. But Moira crossed the dance sky like a comet…never to be forgotten. —Clive Barnes

 

Maclovia Ruiz, identified as the first dancer of color to perform in a major American company, died last New Year’s Eve at age 95. Born in Mexico and raised in San Francisco, Ruiz performed with the San Francisco Ballet, Balanchine’s American Ballet Company, and the Metropolitan Opera Company. Her solo in Bizet’s Carmen, choreographed by Balanchine, made her famous.

 

Remembered for her great enthusiasm and energy, dance teacher Gertrude Hallenbeck died last December. Her ballet, jazz, tap, and ballroom training was passed on to her students at The Hallenbeck School of the Dance in Albany, New York.

 

Ballet dancer, teacher, choreographer, and painter Paul Grinwis, 85, died last January in Gent, Belgium. Grinwis founded the Gent Ballet Academy.

 

Retirement

Last January New York Foundation for the Arts held a “Ted Fest,” a gala for retiring executive director Ted Berger. Hosted by Kathleen Chalfant, the evening included a performance by Nicholas Leichter Dance and other New York artists.

 

Wedding
In January American Ballet Theatre soloist Erica Cornejo married Boston Ballet principal Carlos Molina in Colombia. Members of Molina’s family hosted the ceremony at their home overlooking the mountains. Guests included Cornejo’s brother Herman and Maria Riccetto. The bride and groom took the rest of the weekend off before returning to their respective companies to resume rehearsing and performing.

 

Birth

Chan Hon Goh, principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada and founder of the dance shoe company Principal by Chan Hon Goh, and her husband Chun Che, teacher and choreographer, are proud parents of a baby boy. Aveary Gene Leon Che was born in February; he weighed 7.7 pounds.

 

 

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Transitions

Marriages

Lauren Fadeley, Pennsylvania Ballet soloist, and Francis Veyette, PAB principal, were married in October in Florida. The couple first met at a photo shoot for The Rock School in 1997; Fadeley was just 12 and Veyette (the brother of New York City Ballet’s Andrew Veyette) was 17. They were paired together in a rehearsal 10 years later, when Fadeley joined PAB—and she remembered him from that long-ago photo shoot. Celebrating that moment, they used the shoot as inspiration for their engagement photos.

 

Lauren Fadeley and Francis Veyette. Photo by Candice DeTore, Courtesy PAB.

 

 

Polina Semionova, principal dancer with Staatsballett Berlin and guest artist at American Ballet Theatre, tied the knot with Staatsballett corps dancer Mehmet Yümak in September in Germany.

In Memoriam

 

Alexander Grant (1925–2011)

Alexander Grant joked that if he’d not made it as a dancer, he’d have become a sailor. He adored the sea, went on frequent cruises in his senior years, and the last time he traveled to New York in 2008, arrived from Britain on the Cunard liner Queen Mary 2.

But his first visit was almost 60 years earlier as a leading member of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet on what is now The Royal Ballet’s legendary 1949 debut North American tour. By then, at 24, Grant had more than made it as a dancer. He was a rising star whose seemingly instinctive artistry buoyed him through a long, distinguished, and dazzling career.

Grant, who remained with The Royal Ballet for 30 years, is often hailed as the greatest character dancer of his era, an accomplished classical dancer whose accompanying dramatic gifts made him a natural for character roles—and what roles! Early on, Grant became RB founding choreographer Frederick Ashton’s male muse. The number of roles he created for Ashton rivaled Margot Fonteyn’s total. And those roles, like the Jester in Cinderella (1948), Alain in La Fille Mal Gardée (1960), and Bottom in The Dream (1964), fully employed Grant’s virtuoso technique and indeed enlarged the whole concept of character dance in ballet.

Grant loved North America, forging many friendships, notably with Robert Joffrey, in whose 1987 version of The Nutcracker Grant was the first Drosselmeyer. Before that, from 1976 to 1983, Grant served as artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, where he introduced works by Ashton, Robbins, Tetley, and MacMillan. He commissioned North America’s first full staging of Bournonville’s three-act Napoli as well as many new works by Canadian choreographers, notably James Kudelka.

After Canada, Grant remained active as a London-based coach and occasional performer, mostly with English National Ballet, and traveled the world staging Ashton’s Fille, most recently in Budapest in November 2010. He died in September after fighting infections that followed a hip replacement. —Michael Crabb

 

Grant takes a bow as Alain in Fille in 1976. Photo by Beverly Gallegos, DM Archives.

 

 

Ruth Currier (1926–2011)

Impassioned performer, accomplished choreographer, and dedicated teacher, Ruth Currier contributed to American dance in many ways. She joined the José Limón Dance Company in 1949 and remained there as a principal dancer until 1963, creating roles in some of Limón and Doris Humphrey’s greatest works, including Limón’s Missa Brevis and There Is a Time and Humphrey’s Night Spell and Ruins and Visions. She also served as the company’s artistic director from 1973 to 1978.

From the mid-1950s forward, Currier presented her own choreography. In the Dance Observer, Louis Horst called her Antagonists “surely one of the finest works in the entire modern dance repertory.”

Because of Doris Humphrey’s disability (crippling arthritis), Currier served as her creative assistant for years. She became the physical translator for Humphrey’s choreographic visions. At Humphrey’s request, she completed a last work, Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, in her place.

As a teacher, Currier brought unusual clarity, humor, and great expectations to her classes. She often used examples from literature and music to make assign­ments clearer. Even her beloved cats, Belle and Gypsy, sometimes served as models—on one occasion, “successional symmetry,” as they sat spiraled around each other in identical shapes.

Currier’s teaching took her to many parts of the world, to universities and colleges, including Ohio State University, where she was an artist in residence for five years, Bennington College in Vermont, the Limón Institute, and her own studio in NYC.

Ruth Currier died at her home in Brooklyn in October. —Martha Wittman

 

Currier with José Limón in Humphrey’s Night Spell, ca. 1956. Photo from DM Archives.

 

Nina Sorokina (1942–2011)

Nina Sorokina was one of those ballerinas who set the stage ablaze with her dancing. She demonstrated the exuberance, vitality, and risk-taking of the Soviet style, yet showed elegance, serenity, and grace—all tied up neatly in excellent technique—in her Russian classical roles. As Giselle, she displayed the lightest of footwork, buoyant with joy and love, while her Kitri was all passion, reckless and full of fun.

Born just outside Moscow, Sorokina attended the Moscow Choreographic School, where she was taught by Sofia Golovkina. Upon graduating, she joined the Bolshoi Ballet as a soloist. She won the gold medal at the International Ballet Competition in Varna in 1966, snapping up another gold at the Moscow competition in 1969, as did Mikhail Baryshnikov.

She was often partnered by her husband Yuri Vladimirov, and the duo delighted audiences with their speed and daredevilry. They created roles in Vladimir Vasiliev’s The Geologists and Icarus and were especially noted for their bravura performances in The Flames of Paris and Spartacus.

Sorokina left the stage in 1980. She taught at the Bolshoi School and at GITIS (Russian Academy of Theatre Arts) for many years, passing on her knowledge and technical fire to her students.

Her death in October, within four years of two other great Bolshoi ballerinas—Natalia Bessmertnova and Ekaterina Maximova—closes an illustrious chapter of women stars in the Bolshoi’s history. —Margaret Willis

 

Sorokina with Yuri Vladimirov in Diana and Acteon. Photo by Judy Cameron, DM Archives.

 

 

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New Company, New Country

Principal dancers Bridgett Zehr and Zdenek Konvalina are straddling two continents.

The offstage couple and occasional onstage partners left the National Ballet of Canada last summer after five years to join English National Ballet in London, but as scheduling allows, they will continue to appear as guest artists with the Toronto-based company.

Last fall, Konvalina was back for NBC’s Western Canada tour. The couple will join the company in March for Sleeping Beauty and Konvalina will return for Béjart’s Song of a Wayfarer in June.

Meanwhile, ENB is keeping them busy with its intense schedule of London performances and touring around the UK and abroad. “It seems we’re always in a theater,” says Zehr. “It’s such a treat.”

Czech-born Konvalina, 33, and American-born Zehr, 27, are no strangers to ENB. Konvalina has guested there several times since 2008. Zehr took class with the troupe in 2006 and was offered a job but then opted for Toronto because Konvalina, with whom she’d previously danced at Houston Ballet, was joining NBC—the company where their romance blossomed (see cover story, June 2010).

“Still, it’s different when you’re no longer a guest artist,” says Konvalina. “Suddenly people really want to get to know you.”

Adds Zehr: “The six-week tour we did last fall really helped with that. This is a tight-knit company and it’s been very welcoming.”

But there have also been adjustments. ENB dancers routinely work six days a week. Unlike NBC, class is mandatory. “We work between and sometimes even after performances,” Konvalina explains. “They’d rather pay the overtime and have a good show.”

So far the couple have not been paired together but relish the chance to work with different partners. “It’s always a good experience,” says Konvalina.

Domestically they’re well settled, in a flat within walking distance of ENB headquarters. And, after a brief November trip to Toronto to collect their cat, Phantom, Zehr says London truly feels like home. —Michael Crabb

 

Konvalina and Zehr. Photo by Matthew Karas.

 


In Memoriam


Donya Feuer (1934–2011)

As a dancer, Donya Feuer radiated impulsive energy, poetic detail, and integrity. She was also a choreographer, teacher, theater director, and filmmaker who strongly influenced those with whom she collaborated: Paul Sanasardo, Pina Bausch, and Ingmar Bergman, among others. She received her early dance training from Nadia Chilkovski, studied at Juilliard, and danced with the Martha Graham and Paul Taylor Dance Companies. She founded Studio for Dance with Paul Sanasardo in 1957, collaborating with him on four evening-length works. A young Pina Bausch danced with them between 1959 and 1960 and had spoken of their influence on her own work. Sanasardo-Feuer concerts incorporated elements of ballet into modern dance in the late 1950s, at a time when they were considered polar disciplines. The choreographers trained a serious children’s company to support their artistic vision.

In 1963 Feuer moved to Sweden, where she introduced American modern dance to Stockholm, taught a teenaged Mats Ek, and mounted works for her own company. She was named a choreographer and director at the Royal Dramatic Theatre and worked closely with Ingmar Bergman, whose stage productions she brought to Brooklyn Academy of Music to great acclaim. Feuer created dance films with the Royal Swedish Ballet School (The Dancer) and the Hamburg Ballet (The Working of Utopia), along with many other experimental dance films. She inspired Ted Hughes, the late poet laureate of England, to write Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being, and she collaborated with Hughes on productions based on his selections of Shakespeare’s verse. Feuer’s intense, intellectual brilliance deeply affected the lives of those who worked with her. —Mark Franko

 

Feuer with Sanasardo in 1962. Photo by Zachary Freyman, DM Archives.

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In Memoriam

Rebecca Jung (1965–2011)

For Rebecca Jung, the decision between being a dancer and an engineer may have finally been settled on the day when she proclaimed aloud, in her college dance history class at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, that Pilobolus was the company she wanted to dance with. Her characteristic determination carried her from there to becoming one of the six dancers in Pilobolus in only a few years. Along the way she performed with Phoenix Repertory, Naked Feet, Forrest Collection, and Nina Weiner. 

After seven years with Pilobolus, and collaborating in the creation of 10 original roles, she continued performing in pieces by Austin Hartel, Valerio Cesio, Lisa Giobbi, Doug Hamby, and in the hula troupe Halau i Ka Pono. She also taught master classes and helped to coordinate New York’s Fashion Week, up until three months before she succumbed to cancer in September.

However, it was with Pilobolus (1990–97) that Jung secured an indelible place in the dance world. She exhibited a formidable, but always exquisite, strength onstage. With her consummate precision and supple body, her dancing transformed time and gravity into seemingly unnecessary concerns. Perhaps the engineer hadn’t been replaced after all.

Becky was both an accomplished artist and a hometown girl. She had a quick, nothing-to-hide smile and she spoke her mind—irreverent humor and particularities sounding delightful through her hint of a Baltimore accent. Even from her hospital bed, Becky was funny. She would recount cheeky anecdotes to her lifelong friends, then suddenly spritz perfume into the air. “Fressshhh,” she’d say, putting down the bottle. She managed, even in the end, to transform time and gravity into seemingly unnecessary concerns. Since her passing, an ancient haiku keeps coming to mind:

Skylark
sings all day,

and day not long enough

—Rosalynde LeBlanc

 

 

Rebecca Jung with John-Mario Sevilla of Pilobolus in 2003. Photo by John Kane/Silver Sun Studio.

 

 

Sergei Berezhnoi (1949–2011)
A leading dancer with the Kirov Ballet for more than two decades and a beloved coach at Boston Ballet and the Kirov, Sergei Berezhnoi died in August. The Odessa native received his early training in Kiev, and joined the Kirov after graduating from the Leningrad State Choreographic Institute (now the Vaganova Academy) in 1970. He performed leading roles in many of the classics, including La Sylphide, The Sleeping Beauty, La Bayadère, and Swan Lake. His frequent partners included Irina Kolpakova and his wife, Tatiana Terekhova. In the 1990s, he became a teacher and coach of the Kirov company’s men.

In 1998, he and Terekhova were named ballet masters at Boston Ballet. After five years, he returned to St. Petersburg and the stage, appearing in Noah Gelber’s The Golden Age in 2006. In his last stage appearance, he danced the role of Karenin in Ratmansky’s new production of Anna Karenina, to Ulyana Lopatkina’s Anna, in 2010.

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Retirement
On October 9, New York City Ballet principal Charles Askegard will dance his last performance with the company. During his career, Askegard made many ballerinas happy with his impeccable partnering. His impressive stature, long lines, and clean technique made him an asset to the company. The program was designed to be emblematic of Askegard’s career there and will include some of his favorite roles: Balanchine’s elegant Diamonds pas de deux, the black-and-white Episodes, and the upbeat Western Symphony. Also on the program is Robbins’ In Memory of… “When I first joined the company Jerry picked me right away and put me in that ballet. I’ve done it ever since,” says Askegard. In the farewell performance, he will partner some of the great artists of this generation: Maria Kowroski, Wendy Whelan, Sara Mearns, and Teresa Reichlen.

Askegard began training with Loyce Houlton at Minnesota Dance Theatre at age 5. His later teachers included Maggie Black, David Howard, Wilhelm Burmann, and Stanley Williams and Andrei Kramarevsky at the School of American Ballet. After dancing with American Ballet Theatre for 10 years, Askegard joined NYCB as a soloist in 1997 and was promoted to principal in 1998. Among the many things he says he will miss are “the people, the performances, and dancing these great ballets that only NYCB does,” says Askegard.

In the last year, he has formed a dance partnership with former ABT principal Michele Wiles. “I will continue dancing for a little bit—not on the same schedule as NYCB, which is so physically demanding,” he says. “You know when it’s time.” —Joseph Carman

 

In Memoriam

Roland Petit (1924–2011)
He commissioned works from the likes of Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Brassai, Yves Saint Laurent, David Hockney, and Pink Floyd. He created more than 100 ballets performed thousands of times worldwide. Roland Petit, choreographer of Le Jeune Homme et la Mort and Carmen, who co-founded Les Ballets des Champs-Elysées in 1945 and directed the Ballet National de Marseille from 1972 to 1998, died in his Geneva home on July 10.

“Choreography is like making love,” he once commented to the French daily Le Figaro. “It requires reciprocity.”

For Petit, life was an all-consuming, enflamed love story: A love story with his wife and muse, Zizi Jeanmaire, for whom he created countless roles, from classical ballet to her signature music-hall piece, Mon Truc en Plumes. A love story with his dancers, from whom he “settled only for total devotion,” commented former New York City Ballet principal and one of his earliest dancers, Violette Verdy. “Distraction outraged him.”

Passionate and demanding, he pushed his dancers to their physical limits. For Verdy, his charm was irresistible. “He knew how to make women sexy, flirtatious, womanly onstage,” she adds. Every movement told a story.

Petit was an insatiable creator who slipped on his first pair of ballet shoes at the Paris Opéra Ballet School at 9. Yet he knew his destiny would be choreography. In 1945, he transformed the life savings of his father, a restaurant owner, into his first Parisian success with The Poet, featuring Verdy. A year later, Le Jeune Homme et la Mort was staged to international acclaim.

He is survived by Jeanmaire and their daughter. “I want to die first,” he declared to Paris Match in 2002. “Without Zizi, the lights go down. —Karyn Bauer

 

 

From top: Askegard with Maria Kowroski in Diamonds. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB, © Balanchine Trust.

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Retirements

With the charisma of a movie star, Damian Woetzel has been irresistible to audiences at New York City Ballet for 23 years. One of the best virtuosos of his generation, he is also a gloriously relaxed performer. He brought bursting spirit to Stars and Stripes, tossing off amazing turns and jumps like fireworks. He was all dreamy sensuality in Afternoon of a Faun, and a cocky cowboy in Western Symphony. He was a sailor who loves to get his pals into trouble in Fancy Free. In A Suite of Dances, he held the audience rapt as he passed through a wide range of moods.

 

So it was with heavy hearts that many of us attended his farewell concert in June. But our hearts grew lighter as the evening progressed, simply because Woetzel projected a sense that this is the right time. He took it in stride that there were standing ovations after each piece: Fancy Free, “Rubies,” and Prodigal Son. During his farewell bow, when dancers and choreographers lined up to say goodbye, he spontaneously lifted Eliot Feld about two feet in the air. While Peter Martins cued the orchestra to play a drum roll, confetti rained down and Woetzel kept his arms out, like he was singin’ (and dancin’) in the rain.

 

Woetzel, 41, said, “I felt like last Wednesday was a dream. I have so loved my time onstage at State Theater; there are a million memories.”

This summer, he went on a farewell tour to Italy organized by Alessandra Ferri. Woetzel has also been named the 2008 Harman-Eisner Artist in Residence at the Aspen Institute. And at the Vail International Dance Festival this summer, which he now directs, he danced Sinatra Suite with NYCB’s Tiler Peck—“That’s a dance that has been on my wish list for a long time.”

 

Woetzel’s long-term plans include setting up a foundation to support cultural diplomacy initiatives. But first, he’ll serve on Barack Obama’s Arts Policy Committee. “I feel so lucky to have had the career I have enjoyed, and now it’s time for Act II.” —Wendy Perron

 

National Ballet of Canada principal Jennifer Fournier, 39, gave her farewell performance in June in bare feet and a flurry of rose petals. Toronto fans cheered her poignant interpretation of Ashton’s Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan, taught to Fournier by the role’s originator, fellow Canadian Lynn Seymour. Company members showered her with flowers onstage.

 

Fournier trained at Canada’s National Ballet School and joined NBC as an apprentice in 1984, rising to principal in 1997. A fine dance-actress, she performed many of the full-length classical roles, but she was particularly notable in works by Balanchine, Glen Tetley, and former NBC artistic director James Kudelka. Given her appetite for contemporary choreography, in her farewell performance Fournier aptly also danced in Forsythe’s the second detail.

 

In fact it was her second farewell. She danced her supposed final performance in 2000 when she was four months pregnant. However, after her daughter’s birth Fournier was lured back to dance with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and rejoined NBC in 2002.

 

It was after the birth of her son last year that Fournier, finding fewer new roles coming her way, made the difficult decision to retire. “When I’m inspired, I could dance forever,” she says. “If I’m not busy, I get bored.”

 

Fournier, highly articulate and intelligent, is unlikely to remain a full-time mom for long. She is already weighing higher education options. A new career cannot be far away. —Michael Crabb

Deaths

Cyd Charisse (1922–2008)

With her passing, the era of great dancing movie musicals has become one for the history book, and, when it is written, it will tell the story of the former Tula Finklea of Amarillo, TX, who metamorphosed into Lily Norwood, and then, definitively, into Cyd Charisse.

 

She was the last of the screen’s dance divas, and she came by her status honestly. Charisse trained in ballet with legends like Bronislava Nijinska, Adolph Bolm, and David Lichine and toured with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She was noticed by the Hollywood moguls and attracted attention in bits in the MGM movies of the 1940s. Then came a trio of musicals, all co-directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, that propelled her into stardom.

 

When, in the “Broadway Rhythm” number in Singin’ in the Rain, Kelly almost collides with Charisse’s leg and traces its infinite length with his eyes, he makes voyeurs of us all. She got her first lead in The Band Wagon, and her stroll through Central Park with Fred Astaire to “Dancing in the Dark” remains one of the movies’ foremost essays in telling a story and capturing a relationship through movement. Charisse brought exotic beauty, dauntless technique, and sheer star power to a medium that could never get enough of any of them. —Allan Ulrich

 

Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008)

A titan of American modernism, visual artist Robert Rauschenberg collaborated with Merce Cunningham and John Cage early on, helping to define the startlingly contemporary look of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Beginning in 1954, Rauschenberg designed some 24 pieces for Cunningham, always working on separate but equal terms.

 

In the 1950s, Rauschenberg also created set designs for Paul Taylor; his wonderfully weird costumes for Three Epitaphs (1956) are still in the current repertory. He collaborated often with Trisha Brown, for whom he once designed a coat of roses to wear during a curtain call. He made it artistically possible for her to migrate from smaller spaces and outdoor work to the stage. His five decors for her include the exhilarating Set and Reset (1983).

 

In the 1960s Rauschenberg took an antic tilt at choreography himself, including the 1963 Pelican, in which he wore rollerskates and a parachute (while Carolyn Brown wore pointe shoes).

 

On the afternoon of Rauschenberg’s death from heart failure, Cunningham said, “He was a dear friend and a great artist. Together we erased boundaries between the arts.” —Nancy Dalva and Wendy Perron

 

 

From top: Woetzel at his farewell performance. Photo by Paul Kolnik; Charisse in the movie Silk Stockings (1957). Photo from the DM Archives.

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Deaths

 

George Zoritch (1917–2009)
An extraordinary dancer who was one of the few living links to the Ballets Russes era, George Zoritch died in November. He was supremely elegant, with beautifully expressive épaulement, and he could play both princes and villians. He had partnered the great ballerinas of that period, including Danilova, Baronova, Toumanova, Markova, Maria Tallchief, and Krassovska. Beloved by audiences, he once took 18 curtain calls for a performance in Fokine’s Le Spectre de la Rose.

 

Born in Moscow, Zoritch began his career in Lithuania, where his mother immigrated to. When he moved to France at age 14, he studied with the famed Olga Preobra­jenska, who had also trained the three dancers who became Balanchine’s “baby ballerinas.” In 1934 Anna Pavlova’s husband, Victor Dandré, took the teenaged Zoritch on tour with his company, the Dandré-Levitoff Russian Ballet. It was on this tour that Zoritch saw Olga Spessivtseva and other Russian stars, strengthening his commitment to a professional ballet career.

 

Zoritch began dancing in the Ballets Russes company of Colonel de Basil in 1936, and then in the first generation of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1938. He created major roles in ballets by Balanchine, Ashton, and Lifar. He became the protégé of Massine, who choreographed 18 ballets on him. The Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas was one of the many other post-Diaghilev groups he toured with. He also spent time in Hollywood, where he appeared in several movies including Samson and Delilah and Night and Day.

 

After opening his own school in Los Angeles and founding the dance department at the University of Arizona (from which he retired in 1987), Zoritch returned to Russia to revisit his roots. At the invitation of Yuri Grigorovich, he participated several times as a juror in the Diaghilev Arabesque Competition at Perm (Diaghilev’s hometown). Even when he was quite elderly, he coached young Russian dancers in ballets he had danced, like Le Spectre de la Rose. He had a fabulous memory and a very clear mind.

 

Although he was soft-spoken, he had a wicked sense of humor. About Agnes de Milles’ work, he once quipped to a Dance Magazine interviewer, “Anyone who’s not lying in bed can do Agnes de Mille.”

 

With his wit and charm, Zorich was one of the shining lights of the popular 2005 documentary Ballets Russes. In the film, his former partners mention the fact that not only was he a natural dancer with a good physique, but was also a wonderful partner.

 

Zoritch was very concerned that the tradition of ballet as it was handed from generation to generation should not be lost. “Dance should live,” he said. “If it doesn’t come from the heart it is not dancing.” —Olga Smoak and Wendy Perron

 

Marjorie Mussman (1943–2009)
A dancer of dramatic potency who became a revered teacher, Marjorie Mussman died in September after a prolonged battle with ovarian cancer.

A member of the Joffrey Ballet from 1965 to 1969, Mussman drew critical praise for her portrayals of the Old Mother in Jooss’ The Green Table, the Suicide role in Sokolow’s Rooms, and the pianist in Flemming Flindt’s The Lesson. After dancing with the First Chamber Dance Quartet (now First Chamber Dance Company), she began teaching ballet classes at the Morelli Studio in NYC. Mussman served as an associate director of the Milwaukee Ballet and as director of New Jersey’s American Repertory Ballet. She choreographed more than 35 ballets for the Joffrey Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Kansas City Ballet, among others. In 2001, she joined the faculty of Mark Morris Dance Group to teach professional/advanced ballet (see “Teacher’s Wisdom,” Jan. 2005).

 

“Marjorie had x-ray vision,” says Morris, “which allowed her to recognize and rectify a dancer’s posture and physical placement. She possessed an instinctive and educated sense of music and its corporeal manifestation. She was strict and kind. She treated each of her students with respect and clarity. She taught me how to dance. We who came in contact with Marjorie are better for it. And we miss her.” —Joseph Carman

 

 

Photo of George Zoritch in Le Spectre de la Rose by Castro, DM Archives

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Deaths

Carolyn George d’Amboise (1927–2009)
Carolyn George with Todd Bolender in Western Symphony.Former New York City Ballet soloist and Broadway dancer Carolyn George died in February. The Dallas-born dancer got her start in musicals because there were no professional ballet companies in the area. In 1946 George spent a summer at the School of American Ballet, two years before the founding of NYCB. A year later, she journeyed to the San Francisco Ballet School, where she also performed with the company.

 

Known for her elegant, witty style, George returned to New York in 1952, auditioned for NYCB, but danced in Broadway musicals until being invited to join the company on its major European tour. She later created roles in William Dollar’s Five Gifts (1953), Jerome Robbins’ Fanfare (1953), and, after being promoted to soloist in 1954, Todd Bolender’s Souvenirs (1955). She also danced in the 1954 revival of Balanchine’s On Your Toes. In 1956, she married NYCB star Jacques d’Amboise.

 

She retired from NYCB in 1959 and found her passion in photography. By the 1980s George was photographing for both NYCB and SAB, although her work included non-dance subjects as well.

 

George is survived by her husband and their four children, who include choreographer Christopher (formerly of NYCB) and Broadway leading lady Charlotte. —Kathleen McGuire

Nora Kovach (1931–2009)

Nora Kovach and Istvan RabovskyA glamorous star who once refused to abandon a sinking ocean liner without first applying lipstick, Nora Kovach trained at the Hungarian Royal Opera Ballet school. A spontaneous and charismatic performer, Kovach traveled to Leningrad with her teenage sweetheart and dancing partner, Istvan Rabovsky. There she became a favorite of the pedagogue Agrippina Vaganova, and the couple performed with the Kirov Ballet. In Budapest she worked with Soviet ballet masters Asaf Messerer, Rostislav Zakharov, and Vasily Vainonen.

 

During the Cold War, in 1953, Kovach and Rabovsky caused a sensation by leaving a performance in East Berlin and escaping to the West by subway. Although the couple was sometimes criticized for their bravura approach to showstoppers like Don Quixote, a fire-and-ice contrast in temperament made their partnership thrilling. In America, they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, in Las Vegas, and at Radio City Music Hall. They made three world tours, guested frequently, and in the 1960s formed the concert group Hungarian Ballet Bihari. —Robert Johnson

 

Marina Svetlova  (1922­–2009)

Svetlova at Jacob's Pillow in 1943Former ballerina and teacher Marina Svetlova died in February. Born in Paris to Russian parents, Svetlova had her first role as a child in 1931 with Ida Rubinstein’s experimental troupe in Amphion, choreographed by Léonide Massine. While she was dancing with de Basil’s Original Ballet Russe (1939–1941), Balanchine choreographed a section of Balustrade for her. She joined Ballet Theatre (now ABT) in 1943, and became prima ballerina with the Metropolitan Opera for seven years, then at the New York City Opera for two. She toured with her own concert dance troupes from the 1940s to the late ’60s. Svetlova choreographed for opera companies across the U.S., was ballet director at the Southern Vermont Arts Center, director of Svetlova Dance Center, and professor and chair of the Ballet Department at Indiana University. She wrote for The New York Times, Dance Magazine, and others. —Brynn Wein Shiovitz

Hilary Ostlere (1927–2009)

Dance critic and longtime Dance Magazine contributor Hilary Ostlere died in January. She was born in Wales and danced professionally with Ballet Rambert before moving to the U.S. in 1960. She worked as a reporter, editor and critic for Dance Magazine, Time, Ballet Review, Pointe, The Westsider, and most recently The Financial Times of London.

 

 

Photo (top to bottom): © Radford Bascome, Courtesy NYCB Archive, Ballet Society Collection; DM Archives; John Lindquist © Harvard Theatre Collection, Courtesy Jacob’s Pillow 

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Transitions

 

New Role

 

The luminous and elegant Nina Ananiashvili was one of American Ballet Theatre’s most beloved principals—lyrical and witty (a delightful Kitri and a warm Lise in Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée) as well as dramatic. When a role called for flamboyance, she was a technical spitfire, with a space-devouring jump and rock-solid fouettés. Swan Lake, which she performed for a teary, cheering audience at her U.S. farewell on June 27 at the Metropolitan Opera House, was her signature ballet, but she excelled in modern works as well. She originated roles in pieces by choreographers such as Alexei Ratmansky, Mark Morris, Stanton Welch, and others.

 

Ananiashvili’s ballet career began in her native Tbilisi, Georgia, studying with the former Kirov star Vakhtang Chabukiani. She transferred to the Bolshoi school in 1976, joined the company in 1981, and became a principal in 1985. Her outsized onstage personality quickly made her a household name in Russia. During the Bolshoi’s 1987 tour of the U.S. her combination of strength, musicality, and open-hearted naturalism captivated audiences. Glasnost meant that she could work abroad without cutting her home ties. In addition to her 16 years with ABT, she danced Balanchine with the New York City Ballet, Ashton with The Royal Ballet, and Bournonville with the Danes.

The 46-year-old ballerina has left ABT in order to move home, where she will spend more time with her husband (Georgia’s minister of foreign affairs) and their 5-year-old daughter. She will devote her professional energies to directing the State Ballet of Georgia, a role she took on in 2004 (see “Georgia on Her Mind,” June 2007). Her Western experiences are reflected in the repertory, which includes many Ashton and Balanchine ballets. Last month the company worked with the Royal Danish Ballet on a joint revival of Bournonville’s long-lost From Siberia to Moscow. She plans to film her Odette/Odile this year. The world is fortunate that, although she has retired from ABT, she hasn’t left ballet. —Mary Cargill

 

Deaths

Larry Long (1936–2009)

If Woody Allen, Constantin Stanislavsky, and Felix Mendelssohn morphed into a ballet teacher, that might begin to approximate Larry Long. But he was uniquely himself. Dancers from the concert stage to Broadway who flocked to his classes at the Ruth Page Foundation in Chicago didn’t need Baryshnikov to tell them that Long was “one of the six best teachers in America who was developing students of the dance” (as Baryshnikov told The New York Times). Long died in August from injuries sustained in an automobile accident.

Born in Des Moines, Long trained with former Ballets Russes ballerina Alexandra Baldina in L.A. He moved to Chicago in 1958. With Delores Lipinski, his wife of 47 years, the couple danced, choreographed, directed, and taught together throughout a career that included Ruth Page’s Chicago Opera Ballet and International Ballet companies, National Ballet of Washington, DC, Harkness Ballet, Chicago Ballet, Ballet International of London, and, for 32 years, the Chicago Tribune Charities production of the Nutcracker.

 

This wiry guy with dark curly hair, huge black-rimmed glasses, and a gift for seeing dance in its essence was a physical comedian—his humor made you laugh and work hard all at once. He would begin center floor with a slightly off-center smile that expanded into a smirk as a kooky idea popped into his head. He’d then launch into a choreographic rhapsody that would challenge and inspire. His body was a veritable musical instrument—he danced his corrections and sang melodic syllables, beating time on the floor with his legendary stick. Always self-effacing, Larry exemplified his maxim that “a good teacher is willing to learn while he is teaching.” Generations of students carry his legacy of wisdom, teaching excellence, and a lifelong quest for learning in careers across all facets of the dance world. —Lynn Colburn Shapiro

 

Richard Cook (1951–2009)
A SUNY Purchase faculty member since 1997 and former associate artistic director of Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Richard Cook died in July. He performed with the San Francisco Opera and Pennsylvania Ballet before becoming a teacher and choreographer, and his works have been performed by CPYB, Atlanta Ballet, and Dayton Ballet. His students have gone on to New York City Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, and Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

 

André Prokovsky (1939–2009)
A former principal dancer with New York City Ballet, André Prokovsky died in August. He originated roles in Balanchine’s Pas de Deux and Divertissement (1965) and Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet (1966) opposite Melissa Hayden. He also performed with the London Festival Ballet and founded the now-defunct New London Ballet with then-wife Galina Samsova in 1962. He choreographed full-length works for the Australian Ballet, London City Ballet, and the Paris Opéra.

 

Ernest Brown (1916–2009)
The last surviving member of the original Copasetics, hoofer Ernest “Brownie” Brown died in August in his hometown of Chicago. The troupe, whose name comes from Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s frequent quip, “Everything’s copasetic” (or very satisfactory), included Charles “Honi” Coles and Charles “Cookie” Cook. Formed in 1949, the group would showcase the individual styles of its members in energetic performances. Cook and Brown enjoyed a 30-year partnership as a vaudeville tap duo—Brown was just under 5′ tall while Cook was 6′ tall and lanky. Brown’s last performance was with his tap protégé Reginald “Regio the Hoofer” McLaughlin, at Tap City last year, when he and Cook were inducted into the American Tap Dance Foundation’s Tap Dance Hall of Fame.

 

Shawneequa Baker-Scott (1932–2009)
Shawneequa Baker-Scott began her career with the Donald McKayle Dance Company in 1951, and went on to dance with the New Dance Group, Eleo Pomare, Dianne McIntyre, and various companies in Europe. A Bronx native, she taught dance and choreographed in New York for more than 20 years. She died in August.

 

Elena Shapiro (1988–2009)
Elena Bright Shapiro was a trainee entering her second year with Carolina Ballet. A Winston-Salem native and graduate of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, she had also danced with Boston Ballet. Tragically she was killed in a car accident in September after a rehearsal for CB’s Swan Lake. The company dedicated the performances to her.

 

Patrick Swayze died as we were going to print. Look for an obituary on him in the next issue.

 

 

Pictured: Nina Ananiashvili and Marcelo Gomes in Giselle. Photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy ABT

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RETIREMENTS


Thomas Edur
and Agnes Oaks, Britain’s favorite ballet couple, are returning to their native Estonia, where Edur has been appointed artistic director of the National Opera Ballet of Estonia. Oaks, who recently announced her retirement from performing, will assist her husband in the company and hopes to start a family. Since 1990, both have been members of English National Ballet, where they have created a unique partnership, performing with outstanding technique and unity. Edur is a true danseur noble who demonstrates softness, style, and elegance, while Oaks has been hailed for her pristine technique, grace, and delicacy. She is leaving the stage at the height of her career and will be sorely missed.

 

Both trained at the Estonian State Ballet School in Tallin, and first performed publicly together in The Nutcracker at the age of 13. At 16 they danced Coppélia together—and romance blossomed. Oaks studied briefly at the Bolshoi Ballet School but in 1989 returned to join the Estonian ballet company, where they partnered each other in Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet. The couple was invited to USAIBC, the international competition in Jackson, MS, in 1990 when, under the Communist regime, foreign travel was limited. The two dancers slipped out of Estonia to Finland in order to fly to Jackson, where they won the best couple award and a contract from (then) ENB director Ivan Nagy. They moved to London where their classical refinement, heartfelt emotion, and genuine niceness made them favorites for 20 years. They have been guest artists with companies around the world, most recently appearing in the Maryinsky Festival in St. Petersburg. Together they have collected many awards, but last January, Oaks received best female dancer of 2008 in her own right at the British National Dance Awards, a fitting end to a superb performing career. —Margaret Willis

 
DEATHS

Eva Evdokimova (1948–2009)

Renowned Romantic ballerina Eva Evdokimova died in April. She was 60.

With a delicate port de bras and soft but powerful jump, Evdokimova received particular acclaim for her tender, innocent Giselle and her playful, airborne Sylphide. Her career spanned 150 works, and she was unusually versatile. She credited her range to training in three methodologies: Vaganova, Bournonville, and Cecchetti. Deeply musical and inherently dramatic, she was a fragile Tatiana in Cranko’s Onegin and a carnal Miss Julie in Birgit Cullberg’s ballet of that name.

Born in Geneva to a Bulgarian father and an American mother, Evdokimova began her studies in Munich, transferring to London’s Royal Ballet School at 10. In 1966 she became the first foreign ballerina to join the Royal Danish Ballet. In 1969 she moved to the Berlin Opera Ballet, where she was prima ballerina assoluta from 1973–1990.

In 1970 Evdokimova became the first American to win gold at the Varna International Ballet Competition, an honor that brought her international attention. She became guest artist at the London Festival Ballet and performed with the Kirov Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and Tokyo Ballet. In 1971 Nureyev invited her to dance with him in La Sylphide, launching a partnership that lasted 15 years. The pair toured his Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet with London Festival Ballet to much fanfare.

Evdokimova was a sought-after teacher (see “Teacher’s Wisdom,” Dec. 2005) and coach, and was Boston Ballet’s ballet mistress in 2002–03. —Nicole Dekle Collins

 

Ekaterina Maximova (1939–2009)

She was a ballerina of rare quality who demonstrated the daintiness, precision, grace, and charm of Russian classics and the explosive, dazzling virtuosity of Soviet blockbusters. She filled each role with heartfelt dramatic content. So the unexpected and tragic death of Ekaterina Sergeyevna Maximova at her home in Moscow in April sent sadness and shock around the world. She had spent the evening watching a performance of Spartacus, a ballet in which she had created the role of Phrygia 41years before. Her husband and stage partner, Vladimir Vasiliev, was abroad on business but flew back immediately on hearing the news.

Maximova was born in Moscow and graduated from the Moscow Choreographic Institute under the tutelage of Elizaveta Gerdt in 1958. She was taken immediately into the Bolshoi Ballet, where her unique talents were quickly seized upon. She created the role of Katerina, with Vasiliev as Danila, in Yuri Grigorovich’s The Stone Flower.  The duo forged an exciting partnership that contrasted his virility with her delicacy and set audiences cheering—including those on the company’s first American tour in 1959. Maximova danced all the classical roles, coached by Galina Ulanova, and most of Grigorovich’s ballets. The couple also worked with other choreographers, such as Goleizovsky, Béjart, and Petit, and made several dance films for TV. Petite and heartbreakingly lovely, she leaves a lasting memory as Don Quixote’s Kitri, where she sped across the stage with the fastest bourées, and spun, hands on hips, with perfect placement, balance, and contagious exuberance. —Margaret Willis

 

 

Photo: Laurent Liotardo, Courtesy ENB 

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Deaths

 

Georgina Parkinson (1938­–2009)

A principal with The Royal Ballet in the 1960s and coach and ballet mistress at American Ballet Theatre for the past 30-plus years, Georgina Parkinson died in December from complications of cancer.

 

As a dancer Parkinson was striking, adept, and accomplished—sharing stage and studio with legends from Kenneth MacMillan and Frederick Ashton to Antoinette Sibley and Rudolf Nureyev. With her unique blend of wit, candor, and style, she guided innumerable dancers at ABT and elsewhere.

 

Born in Brighton, England, Parkinson was accepted into the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School at age 11. The Royal Ballet offered her a contract four years later, in 1957, and she became a principal in 1962.

 

Although Parkinson danced roles like Odette/Odile, she felt most suited to 20th-century narrative ballets. Her breakthrough came as La Garçonne (The Girl in Blue) in Nijinska’s Les Biches, which was restaged for The Royal Ballet in 1964. “It suited her to perfection,” says choreographer Ronald Hynd. “It was technically very difficult. She was chic and slightly androgynous.” Parkin-son originated roles in ballets by Cranko and MacMillan, including Rosaline in the latter’s Romeo and Juliet (she later went on to dance a dramatic Juliet and to coach the role).

 

Parkinson came to the U.S. in MacMillan’s stead to coach Mikhail Baryshnikov and Leslie Browne in Romeo and Juliet for the film The Turning Point and was then invited to teach ABT company class. In 1980, when Baryshnikov became artistic director of ABT, he offered her a full-time position as ballet mistress.

 

Although she continued to perform with ABT in roles such as Lady Capulet and the Stepmother in de Mille’s Fall River Legend, Parkinson’s primary responsibility was coaching the company’s dancers. From Cynthia Harvey to Julie Kent, they soaked up her knowledge. Always a perfectionist—every finger and head placement counted—she nevertheless supported her dancers through thick and thin, giving them room to make mistakes and grow. And she always had a pithy one-liner at the ready to defuse dancers’ nerves and push them forward: “It’s only ballet, darling,” she might say in her crisp British accent. “Go on, get on with it.”

 

“She knew how to say different things to different people,” says Monica Mason. “How tough to be with some and gentle with others. Yet she never gift-wrapped anything. She was always honest.”

 

Parkinson is survived by her husband, photographer Roy Round; her son, Tobias Round; and her daughter-in-law, Leanne Benjamin (see “Long May They Reign,” Jan.). ABT will honor her with a commemorative evening at The Joyce Theater on March 29. —Kate Lydon

 

 

Pamela Joan Raff (1952–2009)
The Boston-area jazz tap dancer, teacher, and choreographer Pam Raff died in No­vember after a long illness. She is re­m­em­bered for her feminine presence and her devotion to her students. Tap mat­riarch Dianne Walker, who worked closely with Raff, recalls Raff as “a lyrical, sweet-faced, introspective dancer, really pure in terms of the art form. I could cheat a step. To Pam, that was a mortal sin.”

 

Born in Oxford, England, and raised in Morristown, NJ, Raff studied tap from age 3, later adding ballet, modern, and belly dance. She settled in Boston after briefly attending American University and traveling the country. She began studying in 1978 at Star Steps Studio, Roxbury, with the shaggy-legged and idiosyncratic tapper Leon Collins, a legendary member of the Copasetics. She absorbed Collins’ traditional riffs and rhythms, and with Walker, C. B. Hetherington, and their mentor Collins formed Collins and Company in 1982. Raff and Walker continued to teach at Collins’ Brookline studio after his death in 1985. By 1995 Raff was teaching in her own space. She also taught at Brandeis, Boston, and Roger Williams Universities, and Mt. Holyoke College.

 

A highly musical dancer, Raff released “Feet First,” the first full-length, digital recording of jazz tapping in 1994.

 

Raff was a beloved performer and teacher, indispensable to Boston’s dance community. Hetherington says, “As a rather shy woman, she had a mysterious strength and power.” —Iris Fanger

 

 

Photo of Georgina Parkinson from the DM Archives

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Transitions

 

Retirements

 

Miyako Yoshida tops the list of my idea of the complete prima ballerina,” says Sir Peter Wright, former director of Birmingham Royal Ballet. Dame Monica Mason, director of The Royal Ballet, calls her “a unique international ballerina who will be very much missed.” Yoshida retires from The Royal Ballet at the end of the season.

 

Born in 1965, Yoshida trained in Tokyo and in 1983 won a scholarship to The Royal Ballet School after competing in the Prix de Lausanne. Graduating a year later, she joined the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet (now Birmingham Royal Ballet), rising to soloist in 1987 and principal the following year. In all her roles, especially as Giselle and Cinderella, she displayed pristine technique, enhancing it with lyricism, musicality, and featherlike jumps.

 

In 1995, the much-loved ballerina transferred to The Royal Ballet, where she expanded her classical repertory. Her partnerships with Tetsuya Kumakawa, Jonathon Cope, and Irek Mukhamedov guaranteed sparkling, dramatic performances.

 

Yoshida was appointed UNESCO Artist for Peace in 2004 and honored with an Order of the British Empire in 2007.

 

On April 23, Yoshida will dance Cinderella for her London farewell, and her final performance will be Juliet in Tokyo on the company’s tour to Japan this summer. It is expected that she will perform occasionally with K-Ballet (led by Kumakawa) in Japan and continue to coach young students, passing down the experience she has gleaned in her 26 years of performing. —Margaret Willis

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Kwang-Suk Choi is an elegant cavalier whose performances are highlighted by quicksilver batterie, clean finishes, and keen theatricality. When PBT’s season ends this month, the stalwart principal steps from the mists of Swan Lake into a bright future as a teacher.

 

“He’s disciplined, consistent, and a perfectionist,” says soloist Christine Schwaner, noting her gratitude for his invaluable teaching and coaching skills, especially his advice to work hard but enjoy the onstage rewards.

 

Choi, 41, joined PBT in 2002 following stints with Atlanta, Oregon, and San Jose Cleveland Ballets. The handsome, broad-shouldered South Korean has impressed with passionate and energetic performances of Swan Lake, Massine’s Gaîté Parisienne, and Petit’s Carmen, a career tour de force. At PBT, he delved into contemporary ballets by Dwight Rhoden, Derek Deane, and Twyla Tharp, shining mischievously in her Nine Sinatra Songs. Although he relished soaring through Septime Webre’s Peter Pan, his favorite role was Don Quixote’s Basilio, in which he excelled.

 

Choi says he will miss PBT’s daily work schedule but enthuses about teaching at his studio, Pittsburgh Ballet House. He advises dancers to approach retirement optimistically. “You will be pleased when it happens, and the future will be exciting.” —Karen Dacko

Deaths

 

Matt Turney (1925–2009)
A leading dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company for two decades, Matt Turney had a distinctive whimsical quality. As the Pioneer Woman in Appalachian Spring, she portrayed inner calm. In Part Real—Part Dream, she had a languid sensuous quality. In A Look at Lightning, Turney’s quicksilver movement defied the eye.

 

Turney was born in Americus, GA, and grew up in Milwaukee, where she studied with Nancy Hauser. She majored in dance at University of Wisconsin–Madison and toured with a student group. When Turney and I, a fellow graduate from Wisconsin, joined the Graham group in 1951, we were the first black dancers in the company.

 

Matt danced with many other choreographers, including Donald McKayle, Alvin Ailey, Paul Taylor, Pearl Lang, Bertram Ross, and Robert Cohan. But she found ultimate satisfaction performing with Graham. Her most challenging and rewarding experience was dancing Errand into the Maze, in which she inherited Martha’s role.

 

She enjoyed solitude and was a prodigious reader of philosophical thought. After she retired from dancing in 1972, she became a practitioner of reflexology.

 

Turney was a dancer’s dancer. “The dance poured through me as though something ancient were recurring,” she wrote in Robert Tracy’s book Goddess: Martha Graham’s Dancers Remember. “Afterwards I would ask myself was I dancing or watching or dreaming?” —Mary Hinkson

 

William Dunas (1947–2009)
Find the Transition for William Dunas, an iconic avant-garde choreographer in the early 1970s, here.

 

 

Photo of Miyako Yoshida by Johan Persson, courtesy The Royal Ballet

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Deaths

 

Ilona Copen (1940–2010)
Co-founder and director of the New York International Ballet Competition, Ilona Copen died in February. Through her passion for educating young dancers and the advancement of the arts, she left an indelible imprint on the dance world.

 

Copen studied dance at Juilliard and the Martha Graham School and performed with Jeff Duncan, among other modern choreographers. In 1983 she founded NYIBC with ballet star Igor Youskevitch. The biannual competition provides a three-week, tuition-free intensive training program to promising dancers from all over the world. They receive coaching from such ballet luminaries as Martine van Hamel and Cynthia Gregory, and modern dancers like Rachel Berman and Roxane D’Orléans Juste.

 

The list of past NYIBC winners includes Gillian Murphy (American Ballet Theatre), Sarah Lamb (Royal Ballet), Carlos Molina (Boston Ballet), and Victoria Jaiani (Joffrey Ballet). Before her death, Copen was working to reunite these alumni through an active Alumni Association.

 

“She was passionate and indefatigable—a magnificent lady,” says NYICB associate director Marcia De La Garza. “Her capacity to empower people while leading with a firm hand and a kind heart was so inspiring. Many of us have been moved to action, to effect change, because of her example.” —Abbey Stone

 

Rex Nettleford (1933­–2010)

As choreographer and co-founder of the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica, Rex Nettleford used the probing power of dance to explore a nation’s multiethnic cultural identity. Through his company, he revitalized for the stage such religious rites as the kumina, a Congo-based dance form using a flat-footed shuffle with polyrhythms in the hips, head, ribs, and arms. In the early 1960s, he was among the first to validate reggae and ska, which had been considered politically volatile. He incorporated Rastafari elements in his repertory, such as the low-set, skipping dance that hip hop has adopted as “skanking” and a Caribbean approach to musicality, in which the dancer slips into the rhythm and stresses the upbeat, not the down.

 

Born in rural Trelawny, Nettleford learned early in life to fuse his academic prowess with his passion for dance. An Oxford Rhodes Scholar in political science, he returned home from England to dance. Katherine Dunham’s technique and her anthropological curiosity about Caribbean traditions influenced his thoughtful approach. Ivy Baxter, a Jamaican choreographer and impresario, brought together Nettleford and Eddy Thomas (the co-founders of NDTC), and a young Garth Fagan, now director of Garth Fagan Dance and choreographer of The Lion King.

 

Nettleford, who died in January, became a professor, writer, cultural ambassador, and academic administrator, but his love of dance infused all his activities. “Rex’s 2003 Rhodes Centenary award—he was one of only four—debunks forever the ‘just dance, dear’ stereotype and epitomizes the intellectual capabilities of the dancer,” says Fagan. Nettleford’s repertory will be remembered for its subtle political edge, especially the image of what he  called “proud, accomplished, hard-working Caribbean men.” —Margaret Conner Hewitt

 

Tatiana Stepanova Gardner (1924–2009)
The last ballerina to receive prima status with Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, Tatiana Stepanova died in December. Born in Marseilles to Russian parents who had fled the Revolution, Stepanova was a star pupil of the legendary Olga Preobrajenska. She danced with de Basil’s Ballets Russes from 1937 until its last American performances in New York in the spring of 1947. After retiring from the stage, Stepanova taught ballet in the Boston area for a decade. She appears in the 2005 film Ballets Russes.

 

Helen Lewis (1916–2009)
Find the Transition for Helen Lewis, a pioneer of modern dance in Northern Ireland who survived the Holocaust, at www.dancemagazine.com.

 

 

Photo of Rex Nettleford by Maria LaYacona, courtesy National Gallery of Jamaica

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Retirements

 

Gavin Larsen, whose passionate commitment to Balanchine’s choreography has made her a leading interpreter of his work at Oregon Ballet Theatre, gave her farewell performance on May 2, dancing in his 1972 Duo Concertant.

 

“She’s that rare artist who combines dedication and intelligence with a poignant musical and dramatic instinct,” says Christopher Stowell, who took Larsen into the company in 2003 when he became OBT’s artistic director. “I would imagine she will remain the quintessential Sugar Plum to a generation of little girls.”

 

Her favorite roles? “All the Balanchine ballets I ever learned felt so natural,” Larsen says, naming Concerto Barocco, Serenade, and Prodigal Son. Other favorites are Helena in Stowell’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which her comic gifts came into play; the girl in Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun; and Eurydice in Kent Stowell’s Orpheus Portrait.

 

A native New Yorker, Larsen trained at the School of American Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet School. She danced with PNB, Alberta Ballet, and Suzanne Farrell Ballet before coming to Portland, which she now regards as home. She will continue to write (see “Why I Dance,” Sept. 2009) and teach at OBT’s school. She will also be children’s ballet master for OBT, a job she will relish. “It was dancing as an SAB student in The Nutcracker, Coppélia, Mid­sum­mer, and Circus Polka with New York City Ballet that made me know ballet was my calling,” she says. —Martha Ullman West

 

Yvonne Borree’s precision, clarity, and pert stage presence landed her featured roles in works by Balanchine, Peter Martins, Wheeldon, and Robbins. This month the New York City Ballet principal ends her 22-year career with a farewell performance of Balanchine’s Duo Concertant, the work that catalyzed her career in 1992 when she danced it with Mikhail Baryshnikov.

 

Borree donned her first pair of ballet slippers when she was 5 years old, inspired in large part by her mother, Susan Borree—a former dancer with Jerome Robbins’ Ballets: USA, NYCB, and American Ballet Theatre. Borree’s early training took place at the Tidewater Ballet Association in her hometown of Norfolk, VA, with summers spent at the School of American Ballet. In 1985 Borree became a full-time student at SAB and two years later was made an apprentice at NYCB. Borree rose through the ranks until she earned the title of principal in 1997. —Abbey Stone

 

On June 13, after 23 years with the company, another New York City Ballet principal, Philip Neal, takes his final bow at the David H. Koch Theater. He will dance in Balanchine’s Serenade and Who Cares?

 

Neal began dancing when he was 11 at the Richmond Ballet School in Virginia. His talent caught the eye of Edward Villella, and he was offered a summer scholarship to the School of American Ballet. Neal then went on to win a silver medal at the Prix de Lausanne in 1985 before joining NYCB’s corps in 1987. He was promoted to principal following the 1992–93 season. Often singled out for his partnering, he has danced with Wendy Whelan, Darci Kistler, and Kyra Nichols, among many others. —A.S.

 

Darci Kistler and Albert Evans also retire from NYCB this month. Their transitions will appear in future issues.

Deaths

 

Jane Sherman (1908–2010)
The youngest and last surviving Denishawn dancer, Jane Sherman was a passionate advocate for the artistic legacies of Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis.

 

Sherman’s formal dance studies began at 13, after she saw St. Denis perform Brahms Waltz and Liebestraum. Upon graduating from high school, she toured the Far East with Denishawn during 1925–26, keeping diaries that would later form the core of her award-winning book, Soaring. As a member of Denishawn, she toured with the Ziegfeld Follies in 1927–28 and then joined the first Humphrey-Weidman Company. She later performed on Broadway and danced with the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes.

 

She edited fiction for Seventeen magazine in the 1940s and wrote children’s books in the 1950s. But it was the publication of Soaring, winner of the 1975 de la Torre Bueno Prize, that launched her career as a writer about Denishawn and a stager of its dances. With the Denishawn Repertory Dancers (which she co-founded with Michelle Mathesius) and the Vanaver Caravan, she revived many long-abandoned works which were performed at Jacob’s Pillow, the Lyon Biennale Festival, and other venues. She also rehearsed Denishawn dances for the Martha Graham company and coached Cynthia Gregory in the same St. Denis solo that had first inspired Sherman to dance. Sherman’s books include The Drama of Denishawn Dance, Denishawn: The Enduring Influence, and Barton Mumaw, Dancer, which she co-wrote with Mumaw.

 

In the 1990s, Sherman and her husband, Ned Lehac, retired to the Lillian Booth Actors’ Home in New Jersey. In her last published interview, conducted around the time of her 100th birthday, she was characteristically self-deprecating about her accomplishments and her lack of formal education. “Imagine what I could have done if I had gone to college!” —Norton Owen

 

Monica Moseley (1942–2010)
Former assistant curator of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts, Monica Moseley died in January. She served as an editorial assistant at Dance Magazine from 1964–67 and was an editorial adviser as well as a contributor to the 2001 book A Core Collection in Dance. A founding member of Meredith Monk/The House, she was an unforgettable presence in Education of the Girlchild. After nearly 25 years at the Dance Division, she retired in 2005. Ever eager to share her extensive knowledge, she continued to work on various dance projects, including exhibitions mounted in the David H. Koch Theater and research for a film on Massine for La Cinémathèque de la Danse.

 

 

Pictured: Gavin Larsen in Julia Adam’s Angelo. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert, courtesy OBT

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Retirements

 

In her final performance after 20 seasons with the Joffrey Ballet in May, Suzanne Lopez defined poetry and grace. Dancing Helgi Tomasson’s Valses Poeticos with partner Mauro Villanueva, she delivered a romantic tour de force that left the audience in awe. “I think this piece showcases her beautiful artistry,” says Ashley Wheater, Joffrey’s artistic director. “She possesses an innate sense of musicality. She brings many wonderful layers to everything she dances.” Known for her precise, consistent technique and pristine pointe work, Lopez brought passion to the stage with every step. The New Jersey native trained at the New Jersey School of Ballet, NYC’s Joffrey Ballet School (on scholarship), and danced one season with Joffrey II before joining the main company in 1991. Adapting naturally to the speed and stamina required of an Arpino repertory, she collected quite a list of leading roles. Some of her favorites: Juliet, Sugar Plum Fairy, Arpino’s L’Air D’Esprit, Ashton’s Birthday Variations, Tudor’s Lilac Garden, and Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane. “I realized a little later in my career that I really loved acting roles,” Lopez says. “They’re so much meatier to me.” She now teaches at various local dance schools and companies, volunteers for The Gerald Arpino Foundation (which involves setting Arpino’s ballets), and enjoys quality time with her husband, former Joffrey master carpenter Keith Prisco, and their two daughters. “I have no regrets. I worked hard for everything I got to do, but that feeling of earning it made my career even more fulfilling.” —Vicki Crain

 

Joffrey dancer Calvin Kitten, at 39, still has a grand jeté with jaw-dropping hang time. An audience favorite with impish charm, incredible speed, and gravity-defying jumps, he was most famous for his role as Fritz/Snow Prince in The Nutcracker—his first Joffrey role 19 years ago and still his favorite to perform. A California native, Kitten trained at the California Ballet School in San Diego, V. Chabukiani Tbilisi State School of Ballet Art in the Republic of Georgia, Joffrey Ballet School in NYC, and spent a year in Joffrey II before joining the main company in 1992. Then came the accolades, including two Ruth Page Awards for his roles in Balanchine’s Prodigal Son (title role) and Léonide Massine’s Parade (Chinese Conjurer). The latter also landed him on DM’s 2001 cover as a “25 to Watch.” Other standouts in his vast repertoire were Apollo, Appalachian Spring, Suite Saint-Saëns, Kettentanz, and David Parsons’ Caught. To mark his retirement, Kitten chose Balanchine’s Tarantella for his final performance in May. A last-minute program change had Kitten dancing last. “It was the longest wait ever,” says Kitten, who admits to having been nervous waiting in the wings. It didn’t show. “Once I was onstage, my feet never touched the ground. I just remember flying. I felt like a kid.” Dancing with Yumelia Garcia, he took one last bravura turn in the sassy role and had the audience at his feet. The lengthy ovation said it all. Kitten will continue dancing as a guest artist and sharing his knowledge by teaching in Utah at Ballet West and the University of Utah. “My career was more than I ever wanted. I have been so fulfilled and blessed in my dance and normal life. What more could you ask for?” —V.C.

 

Deaths

 

Tamara Grigorieva (1918–2010) A member of the Ballet Russe and former director of Ballet Estable del Teatro Colón, Tamara Grigorieva died in June. Born in Leningrad, Grigorieva was trained by the legendary Olga Preobrajenska in Paris. After briefly dancing with Balanchine’s Les Ballets 1933, she joined Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo (later the Ballet Russe) in 1933, where she performed the Nymph in Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun, and the Polovtsian Woman in Fokine’s Prince Igor. She left the company in 1944 to settle in South America, where she continued to dance as a guest ballerina with companies in Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. She became director, ballet mistress, and choreographer of Teatro Colón in 1961, a position she held for more than 20 years.

 

 

Photo of Suzanne Lopez and Mauro Villanueva in Valses Poeticos by Herbert Migdoll, Courtesy Joffrey.

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New Role

After 20 years at the helm of Spain’s Compañía Nacional de Danza, choreographer Nacho Duato assumes a new role in January as director of St. Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Theatre Ballet, formerly the Maly Ballet.

 

Over the years Duato’s ongoing conflicts with Spain’s Ministry of Culture have made headlines. Earlier in 2010 the Ministry had announced plans to change the profile of the company (whose world-class status is largely due to Duato’s dynamic choreography) to include classical and neoclassical repertoire. The choreographer, under contract until the end of July 2010, declined to reapply for the job.

 

Duato announced his new post from Moscow last July, where the CND performed for the first time at the Bolshoi Theater. It represents a radical change in image for the Mikhailovsky and for ballet in Russia. Duato faces the challenge of maintaining the classics while working with dancers who have no experience with his style or the kind of collaboration the choreographer developed with the CND dancers.

 

“I will not return to Spain ever again, at least not with the Ministry of Culture,” declared Duato in a television interview last August. “I’ve been invited to direct a company with its own theater and an orchestra, and to imbue it with my own personality. I’m ready and willing to do so.”
The Mikhailovsky Theatre Ballet is scheduled to perform in New York in June 2012. French ballet master Hervé Palito, artistic coordinator of the Compañía Nacional de Danza since 2002, will be the CND’s interim director until the Spanish Ministry of Culture chooses a new director. For the moment Duato’s choreographies remain in the CND repertoire. —Laura Kumin

Deaths

 

Jill Johnston (1929–2010)
A quintessential voice of the 1960s, Jill Johnston was the Jim Morrison of dance critics. Androgynous, trippy, untamable, she brilliantly chronicled Judson Dance Theater and other dance artists in The Village Voice. Embedded in her stream-of-consciousness style were insights about the dance revolution; for example, that the continuum of movement favored by choreographers like Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown (as opposed to the dynamic phrasing of modern dance) represented the “new demanding realism in the dance art of the Sixties.” She helped put Judson choreographers on the map.

 

In her collection Marmalade Me, she defiantly blurred the border between art and criticism. Her poetic vision and precarious mental state combined to create exquisite, packed prose. Expanded in 1998 by Wesleyan University Press, the book now includes reviews of Paul Taylor, Anna Sokolow, and Gerald Arpino, as well as the Judson rebels. This slim book is a must-read for anyone interested in American dance history.

Johnston, who died in September, grew up on Long Island, in New York. She attended American Dance Festival at Connecticut College in 1951 and ’52, and studied with José Limón. She worked in the Dance Collection when it was still at the New York Public Library’s building on 42nd Street. She started writing the “Dance Column” for the Voice in 1959; by 1968 her pieces devolved into a kind of crazed diary, rather than dance reviews.

 

Johnston also became a public figure as a lesbian feminist, causing a scandal or two. She was pals with the likes of Norman Mailer and Andy Warhol as well as Yvonne Rainer and Lucinda Childs. She wrote several other books and continued writing for Art in America. Her website at www.jilljohnston.com is still active. —Wendy Perron

 

Victor Moreno (1928–2010)
Former Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo principal dancer Victor Manuel Moreno died in August. The Argentine-born dancer began his career with Teatro Colón de Buenos Aires, where he was named a premier danseur in 1948. He joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1951. He danced with Alexandra Danilova, Lupe Serrano, and Maria Tallchief and worked with Anton Dolin, Serge Lifar, and Léonide Massine. Moreno founded several companies, including the Spanish American Ballet Company in L.A. and the Dallas Ballet Theater, and taught at numerous colleges, universities, and studios across the country. In 2007 he told the Los Angeles Times, “I used to teach company class for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and even Massine would come. He liked my technique.”

 

Raymond Serrano (1950–2010)
A former American Ballet Theatre dancer known for his character portrayals, Raymond Serrano died in July. Born in Puerto Rico, he studied ballet with his mother, Lois Kolb; at the Ballets de San Juan; and later at the School of American Ballet. After performing with the National Ballet of Washington, he joined ABT in 1975. He was beloved for his acting roles, including Drosselmeyer, Carabosse, and Madge in Erik Bruhn’s La Sylphide, and was part of the original cast of Antony Tudor’s The Leaves Are Fading. He appeared with ABT in various televised performances and can be seen in Herbert Ross’ The Turning Point. Serrano was also a company masseur for ABT, White Oak Dance Project, and Ballet Arizona and eventually opened his own practice in Manhattan. In 2002 he joined the faculty at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where his wife, former ABT dancer Christine Spizzo Serrano, is also on faculty. After leaving UNCSA in 2007, he continued to teach both in North Carolina and nationally.

 

 

Birth

Boston Ballet principals Lorna Feijóo and Nelson Madrigal welcomed their first child, Lucia Madrigal, on Sept. 14.

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Deaths

Pina Bausch (1940–2009)

One of the giants of contemporary dance, Pina Bausch has influenced artists the world over. Her astonishing imagination, insights into human behavior, and innovative choreography have attracted audiences beyond the dance field.

 

Bausch understood the depths of despair as well as the laughter of absur­dity. In the early years her men and women were locked in combat in a way that was riveting. In the last decade or so, she left the most aggressive aspects behind and surged ahead into delight and wonder. But always, her women wore glamorous gowns and long hair, the better to contrast with brash partnering or splashing water.

 

Her collaborations with designer Peter Pabst (and before him Rolf Borzik) meant every piece came with a monumental visual metaphor, be it water, a mountain of carnations, or a giant wall that collapses before the dancing begins. The choreography was always vigorous and highly individual. If she repeated phrases and interactions many times, it was because her work is partly about obsession.

 

Born in Germany, Bausch studied with Kurt Jooss in Essen’s Folkwang School, a link to prewar Ausdruckstanz. At 18 she came to the United States to attend Juilliard, where she met and danced with Paul Taylor, the Paul Sanasardo and Donya Feuer Dance Company, and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. Hungry to see dance, she would sneak into City Center at intermissions when New York City Ballet was performing. She once said about that period, “In these two years I have found myself.”

 

Returning to Germany in 1962, she danced with and then directed Jooss’ Folkwang-Ballett, and in 1973 she became director of Tanztheater Wuppertal. She created 40 full-length pieces and won many accolades, including a Dance Magazine Award in 2008. She also appeared in films by Fellini and Pedro Almodóvar.

 

Today’s vast landscape of dance and performance would be unimaginable without her.

 

In these pages last November she was quoted on her recent change of approach. “Now, since the world has so much violence, I feel shy to do something like that on the stage. So many people are full of fear, I feel like we need more strength and to believe that maybe it can be better … to not give up.” —Wendy Perron

 

Photo by Jochen Viehoff

 

Keith V. Goodman (1955–2009)

Portland dancer, choreographer, and teacher Keith V. Goodman died of a heart attack at the end of a performance on June 27. A highly respected member of the city’s downtown dance com­munity, he was also a beloved teacher who empowered countless children at Buckman Magnet School for the Arts.

 

Goodman was trained by Liz Lerman and Jan Van Dyke at Washington’s Dance Project and by various Caribbean artists. A founder of Conduit Studio Theater and director of Dance Gatherer, he danced the way he lived—with gener­osity, sweetness, and power. —Martha Ullman West

 

Michael Jackson (1958–2009)

For tributes, see page 16.

Retirements

 

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Louise Nadeau is an unforgettable ballerina, with stunning line and breathtaking emotional range. Artistic director Peter Boal called her performances “off the scale.” He also said, “Certain dancers live onstage in the moment: Nureyev was one, Louise is another.”

 

Nadeau performed leading roles in more than 80 ballets during her time at PNB, mostly under Kent Stowell and Francia Russell’s direction. Her unabashed willingness to inhabit a role drew audiences into her performances. “So much of telling a story is in the details,” says Nadeau, 45. “You can’t always be a locomotive barreling down the tracks. You need those highs and lows and not be afraid of making a fool out of yourself.”

 

Nadeau’s June 7 farewell celebrated her 19-year career with the company, 17 years as a principal. Her debut in Forsythe’s Urlicht was a transcendent moment—the result of working “together one last time in a way that both of us treasure,” says partner Olivier Wevers.

 

Nadeau’s sublime performance quality is admired by younger company members. “She has the dream facility, with extensions and feet you’d die for,” says Jessika Anspach. “But Louise also brings depth to every role, unveiling each layer like a rose blooming.”

 

Summing up, Nadeau says: “I have ended my career happily, knowing that I was truthful in my work. For 40 years, I’ve been on hyper drive.”

What’s next? Nadeau, who has a 12-year-old daughter, will be pursuing her newest passion—landscape photography. “I still need beauty in my life.” —Gigi Berardi

New Role

On May 9, during the last weekend of the San Francisco Ballet season, Tina LeBlanc starred in a gala that concluded one of the more fulfilling performing careers in recent dance history. After a 17-year tenure in the Bay City and a decade with the Joffrey Ballet, LeBlanc departed the stage with a series of pas de deux that paired her with partners past and present—Gonzalo Garcia, Griff Braun, Davit Karapetyan, and Ruben Martin. They performed in dances by Balanchine, Tomasson, and Lubovitch, repertory she did so much to exalt during her reign in San Francisco. Filmed tributes from colleagues and a recorded interview with the ballerina spiced the dance numbers. A standing ovation, a carpet of flowers from her associates, and greetings from her two sons sent LeBlanc sailing into the next phase of her career. No surprise at the response: The public always found her one of the easiest ballerinas to love.

 

LeBlanc’s artistry energized many evenings of her farewell season. An injury had sidelined her during much of the 2008 New Works Festival, which may have led to the urgency of her perfor­mances in her announced farewell year. Lodged deepest in this observer’s mem­ory was LeBlanc’s rhythmically dazzling and sublimely musical showing in Rubies.

 

Now, at 43, LeBlanc has joined the faculty of the SFB School. Whether the caliber of unpretentious artistry exemplified by this dancer can be transmitted to a younger generation remains to be seen.

 

“It took a week to get back to real life after the gala,” says LeBlanc. “Actually, I have been teaching since I was a kid. What’s new here is working with the same group of girls and watching their progress. The challenge for me is to inspire them to keep their energy level up.”

 

LeBlanc praises the barre work of her students (ages 11–17), but she sees where they can be better. “The problem,” she says, “is getting these girls to connect everything, to instill a sense of movement. They must learn that the arms and head are as much a part of dancing as the feet.” —Allan Ulrich

New Appointment

“Not so hard on that hip isolation,” said Eduardo Vilaro as he coached his Chicago-based Luna Negra Dance Theater this past summer. “It’s subtle. Let’s get rid of seeing transitions.” Vilaro, newly appointed artistic director of New York’s Ballet Hispanico, hopes his transition will be equally seamless, opening the door between the two companies. “It’s the only way I could agree to do this,” he explains, citing plans to share choreographers, exchange ideas, and be collaborative incubators for new work. He wants to expose audiences to authentic Latin culture and develop new opportunities for Latino artists.

 

“I see myself doing more with education,” the choreographer says of his difficult decision. “Ballet Hispanico has a school and a big education component.” As a dancer under Ballet Hispanico’s founding artistic director Tina Ramirez from 1988–1996, he acknowledges that “Ballet Hispanico was a place for me to explore my identity not only as a Latino, but as an American.” Born in Havana, Cuba, Vilaro grew up in the Bronx after his family immigrated to New York. He trained at The Ailey School and the Martha Graham School of Contemp­orary Dance and received a BFA in Dance from Adelphi University. He spent the next nine years as principal dancer with Ballet Hispanico, where he also taught and implemented Ramirez’s educational outreach programming. Moving to Chicago, Vilaro founded Luna Negra in 1999. As both choreographer and artistic director, he has pioneered new work that explores the plurality of Hispanic cultures and history.

 

Ramirez, who is stepping down after nearly 40 years, advises, “He has to keep marching forward in a new way. Eduardo is charming and he has the brains to do it!” —Lynn Colburn Shapiro

Birth

Principal Julie Kent and associate artistic director Victor Barbee of ABT welcomed their second child, Josephine Violet Barbee, on June 15.

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Retirement

Known for her understated elegance, daredevil comfort in the airspace, and nuanced acting in classic story ballets, Houston Ballet principal Barbara Bears takes her final bow this month during the annual Jubilee. She will be honored with a film montage culled from her shining stage moments.

Bears trained with Victoria Leigh and James Franklin in Deerfield Beach near her hometown of Fort Lauderdale, FL. She came to Houston as a teenager in 1987. After one year in the Houston Ballet Academy (now Ben Stevenson Academy), she joined the company, rising to principal in 1995. With a career spanning two decades and two directors, Ben Stevenson and Stanton Welch, Bears witnessed firsthand the growth of the company. “I had the best of both eras in that I was there when Ben transformed this company and watched Stanton take us even further,” she says. Bears retired for a year and half after the birth of her son, Ethan, now 7. But Welch convinced Bears to return after he took the helm in 2003. About her impending retirement she says, “I knew it was the right time to retire because it feels completely different than the first time.”

During her tenure Bears worked closely with Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Christopher Bruce, and Jirí Kylián. Former principal Phillip Broomhead partnered Bears in MacMillan’s Manon and Gloria. “She’s such a trusting partner, which is what made dancing with her so magical,” says Broomhead, now a ballet master at HB. “Her freshness and sense of detail are remarkable. It was always as if she was dancing any ballet for the first time, yet she was so methodical about what she was doing.”

Welch will miss his muse. “Barbara is one of Houston’s great ballerinas—she’s part of what made this company,” he says. “She’s always been a favorite of audiences and choreographers.” Welch selected Fokine’s Dying Swan as one of Bears’ swan songs. “It’s such an iconic ballerina role and a lovely way to finish her career,” he says. Bears will also perform a solo from Welch’s Tutu, in which a dancer reflects back on her life. “It will be a revealing personal journey for Barb,” says Welch.

Bears, 38, plans to teach, coach, and enjoy time with her family. “I will miss aspects of this life,” she admits. “I am not sure I will do anything else as well or love something so much. But I have reached a point where I accomplished everything I had set out to do. I am ready to pass on the torch.” —Nancy Wozny

Deaths

Patrick Swayze (1952–2009)
After publicly fighting pancreatic cancer with a tenacity that only a dancer could muster, Patrick Swayze died in September. An actor, singer, and avid horseman, Swayze first trained in ballet, skating, and gymnastics. He began dancing in Houston under his mother, Patsy Swayze, a choreographer and director of the Houston Jazz Ballet Company. After two years of college via an athletic scholarship, he left to dance professionally. One of his first jobs was as Prince Charming in Disney on Parade—a role tailored to his good looks and Apollonian physique.
In the mid-’70s Swayze ventured to New York with his teenage sweetheart (later wife) Lisa Niemi, also a dancer. They studied at the Joffrey Ballet School and Harkness Ballet. Before a knee injury sidelined him, Swayze danced with the Eliot Feld Ballet.

In 1975 Swayze made his Broadway musical debut in Goodtime Charley. Later he performed in West Side Story and as a replacement Danny Zuko in the original run of Grease. It was that bad boy/leading man role that caught Hollywood’s eye.

The 1979 film Skatetown, U.S.A. capitalized on his amazing athletic prowess. He continued to gain supporting roles in film and television throughout the early 1980s, including a role in Francis Coppola’s The Outsiders. The 1985 mini-series North and South introduced TV audiences to his energetic sex appeal.

In 1987 Swayze’s place in dance-movie history was solidified with the sleeper hit of the summer, Dirty Dancing. He starred as Johnny Castle, a dance instructor from a working-class background struggling to prove his worth among resort-going elites. His style was a combination of tenderness and toughness. His hip-focused, strong but sultry moves had rarely been seen onscreen. The film sparked a dance phenomenon that had audiences attempting to mambo, practicing lifts in lakes, and quoting Johnny Castle one-liners for years to come.

Swayze went on to star in numerous movies, including Ghost, Road House, and Point Break, and was nominated for three Golden Globe awards. He returned to musical theater in 2003 as Billy Flynn in Chicago and made his West End debut in 2006 as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls. In 2003 he starred in the film One Last Dance, a movie written by, directed by, and co-starring his wife. It was based in part on their joint experiences as dancers in New York. In it, Swayze’s skill as a giving, caring partner is highlighted.

Swayze continued to act until shortly before his death. His latest project was The Beast, a dramatic series for A&E. —Khara Hanlon

Francis Mason (1921–2009)
Anyone who has heard Francis Mason rhapsodize about seeing Maria Tallchief in Balanchine’s Firebird (1949) understands why he devoted his adult life to dance. He was smitten—with Tallchief, with ballet, wit­h dance.

A fixture at ballet and Martha Graham concerts in NYC for decades, Mason was always the gentleman, expressing curiosity and dignity about all things dance. While a diplomat serving in England in the ’60s, he helped to persuade the U.S. government to export Balanchine and Graham to England, which in turn made both of them more celebrated artists at home.

In 1954 he collaborated with Balanchine on Balanchine’s Complete Stories of the Great Ballets, which has been reissued under various titles. In 1991 he published I Remember Balanchine, an anthology of interviews with many artists, including Tamara Geva, Edward Villella, Arthur Mitchell, Violette Verdy, and Suki Schorr. For decades he produced weekly updates on the dance world for WQXR-FM radio. He edited the indispensable journal Ballet Review, founded by Arlene Croce, from 1980 until his death.

He served on the board of the Graham company, as chair from 1974 to 1976 and again from 2000 to 2007, when he guided the company through a tumultuous period of lawsuits and reorganization.

Mason was born in Jacksonville, FL, and graduated from St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD. While in the Navy, he participated in D-Day. A lover of all of the arts, in 1948 he was taken (or rather dragged, as he has said) by a friend to the premiere of Balanchine’s Orpheus, and thus began his devotion to dance. He counted Martha Graham and George Balanchine among his lifelong friends, and his assistance to their respective companies continued long after their deaths. —Wendy Perron

Marriage

Broadway choreographer/director Kathleen Marshall married Scott Landis, a producer of her 2006 revival of The Pajama Game, in NYC in October.

 

 

Photo of Barbara Bears and Ian Casady by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy Houston Ballet

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Deaths

 

Zena Rommett (1920–2010)

Zena Rommett, the creator of the popular Floor-Barre technique, died of cancer in November. Counting Melissa Hayden, Tommy Tune, Patrick Swayze, and Judith Jamison among her students, she taught her technique at her own studio and at Steps on Broadway (see “Teacher’s Wisdom,” March 2008). As recently as August, she gave a master class at the Dance Teacher Summit, as well as a Floor-Barre certification seminar, before she was hospitalized.

 

Born Angelina Buttignol in Orsago, Italy, Rommett immigrated with her family to New York in 1925. She made her professional debut on Broadway in Seven Lively Arts in 1944, with choreography by Anton Dolin, and also performed Balanchine’s choreography in Song of Norway and de Mille’s in Paint Your Wagon.

 

As the name suggests, during Floor-Barre, the familiar exercises of ballet barre are performed lying on the floor, both turned out and in parallel. The technique aims to develop proper placement without “cheating” through gravity and tension. In 1965, Robert Joffrey invited her to teach at his American Ballet Center. (She adopted the name Rommett at his suggestion.) Three years later, she opened her own school, which remained a hub of activity through the mid-’80s (dancers like Hayden and Jamison have said that her technique was critical to their rehabilitation). She then brought her technique to Steps, where in addition to teaching, she certified Floor-Barre teachers for more than a decade. Her daughter Camille Rommett and others continue to teach her work.

 

Yvonne Patterson (1910–2010)
An original cast member of Balanchine’s Serenade, Yvonne Patterson died in November. Born in Australia, she moved to NYC in her teens. Along with her husband, the dancer/choreographer William Dollar, she was an early student at the School of American Ballet. The couple joined American Ballet, a predecessor of New York City Ballet, originating roles in works such as Balanchine’s Jeu de Cartes (1937), in which Dollar played the Joker and Patterson the Ten of Hearts. Later they performed with Le Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas and other ensembles and staged Dollar’s ballets around the world. They eventually settled in Flourtown, PA, where Dollar died in 1986. Patterson taught at the Rock School into her late 90s.

 

Murray Spalding (1944–2010)
A Washington, DC–based choreographer known for her Mandala dances, Murray Spalding died in November after complications from cancer. Her company, Murray Spalding/Mandalas, founded in 1974, has performed across the U.S. and in Mexico. She earned a BA and MFA in dance from Sarah Lawrence College, where Bessie Schönberg became her mentor. Spalding moved to NYC in 1989 and created Dancycle Project, a combination of choreography workshops and concerts that saw performances by Doug Elkins, Doug Varone, and Sally Hess. Her Mandala dances were a series of pieces based on geometric shapes and rooted in meditation. Mandala XIII will be performed in her honor in May at St. Mark’s Church in NYC.

 

Irine Fokine (1922–2010)
The niece of Michel Fokine, Irine Fokine taught thousands of students the discipline of ballet in Ridgewood, NJ. After a good 60-year run, including 52 annual s, she closed the Irine Fokine School of Ballet last summer (see “Teach– Learn Connection,” Nov.). Her students went on to dance in companies like American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Ballet West, and Boston Ballet.

 

 

Photo of Zena Rommett by Colin Fowler

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Death


Denise Jefferson (1944–2010)

On July 17, Denise Jefferson, director of The Ailey School, died of ovarian cancer. Affectionately known as Ms. J, her warmth and megawatt smile belied the fact that she was the mastermind behind the educational juggernaut for 26 years. In that time, through the continuously burgeoning student body of The Ailey School, her influence permeated the dance world. Eighty-seven percent of current Ailey dancers trained in its school, and former students have gone on to perform with Martha Graham Dance Company, Nederlands Dans Theater, Ballett Frankfurt, Ballet Nacional de España, and on Broadway.

 

It is hard to imagine that a little brown girl with pigtails standing at Edna L. McRae’s ballet barre in Chicago would one day be awarded a scholarship to the Martha Graham Center of Contemp­orary Dance, be accepted into the Pearl Lang Dance Company, then head one of the dance world’s most prestigious educa­tional programs. But if you ever had the honor of being in Jefferson’s presence you know that, despite her birdlike stature, infectious laugh, and charm, she was stalwart in her demand for excellence, discipline, and respect for the Ailey legacy.

 

Jefferson traveled the globe offering opportunities for talented dancers to receive world-class training at The Ailey School. Students from 93 countries have participated in the program, making it a cultural ambassador of dance education. In 1998 Jefferson had the foresight to create an artistic and academic pas de deux between The Ailey School and Fordham University. The result is the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program, offering students the possibility of broadening their options in this ever-changing world.

 

Like a beautiful pearl cast into calm water, Jefferson’s knowledge, devotion, and love for dance will continue to ripple outward for generations to come. Her legacy is carried forth not only by her daughter, the choreographer Francesca Harper, but by the thousands of dancers, teachers, and choreographers she taught or mentored. —Theresa Ruth Howard

Marriages

Kathleen Breen Combes and Yury Yanowsky, both Boston Ballet principals, were married July 9 in Yanowsky’s home country of Spain.  Miami City Ballet principal soloist Didier Bramaz and soloist Callie Manning were married July 10 in Bramaz’s home country of Switzerland. National Ballet of Canada principals Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté were married July 16 in Toronto. 

 

 

Photo of Denise Jefferson and Alvin Ailey Courtesy AAADT.

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Transitions

 

Retirement

 

On June 27, Darci Kistler, Balanchine’s last ballerina, bid farewell amid mounds of flowers and confetti cascading down on the multitude assembled onstage. For her final performance she chose Balanchine’s pristine Monumentum Pro Gesualdo and Movements for Piano and Orchestra set to Stravinsky; and from Midsummer Night’s Dream Titania’s genteel comic duet with Bottom, the donkey-headed rustic with whom Kistler danced so lovingly; she finished as a movingly wistful Odette in the final act of Peter Martins’ Swan Lake. Balanchine had cast the teenage Kistler in his one-act Swan Lake, which launched her career back in 1980.

 

Born in Riverside, CA, Kistler began studying ballet seriously with Irina Kosmovska at age 12. The same year, she attended her first summer course at the School of American Ballet and joined NYCB at 15. About her first year in the company, Kistler says, “It was crazy. I remember dancing a Firebird monster and after intermission danced the Swan Queen.”

 

Becoming a principal at 18, she amassed ballerina roles at a record pace. She remembers a somber moment when Balanchine said to her, “Darci, I don’t have much time.” He died in 1983 before ever creating a ballet for her. Kistler’s zooming career then screeched to a halt when she suffered a severe ankle injury.

 

After a five year recovery process, Kistler, stronger and more mature, danced the most demanding Balanchine roles. Audiences could not get enough of her incandescent energy and glamour. She credits her teacher Stanley Williams for her comeback. Jerome Robbins, too, adored the leggy beauty, for whom he had created the sparkling Andantino duet in 1982, as well as the Gershwin Concerto.

 

During the late ’80s and ’90s, Peter Martins, whom she married in 1991, created more than 20 ballets for her. They included the lyrical Morgen, the propulsive Adams Violin Concerto, and the stylish Thou Swell. One of Kistler’s most moving interpretations was in Martins’ Valse Triste. But it’s Kistler’s shimmering Aurora in Martins’ 1991 Sleeping Beauty that may be most memorable.

 

In 1996 Kistler and Martins welcomed the birth of their daughter, Talicia.

 

Since 1994 Kistler has been teaching at SAB, and now also hopes to take up coaching. “I would absolutely love to help dancers find themselves,” she says. She still relies on the lessons learned from Balanchine, who, she says, continues to “whisper” in her ear: “Listen to the music…always be yourself…stay in the moment…and remember, dancing is in between the steps.” —Astrida Woods

 

 

Deaths

 

Jonathan Wolken (1949–2010)
In June, Jonathan Wolken, a co-founder of Pilobolus Dance Theater, died of complications from a stem-cell transplant. His works were extreme, from his electrifying blood-pumping Megawatt to Pseudopodia, a solo that challenges the dancer to roll like tumbleweed, never letting his hands touch the floor.

 

Born in Pittsburgh, Abraham Jonathan Wolken was the son of a biophysicist. In his father’s lab, he studied a sun-loving fungus that could project its own spores up to 10 feet in the air. While a philosophy major at Dartmouth College, Wolken took a dance class with Alison Chase where, along with Moses Pendleton, he was inspired to start a dance group, which he named after the fungus, Pilobolus. After graduation in 1971, Wolken and Pendleton began performing, joined in 1973 by fellow students Robby Barnett and Michael Tracy as well as Chase and Martha Clarke. Their shape-shifting works were presented in NYC and received with as much puzzlement as acclaim. Today the wildly successful company, based in Washington Depot, CT, performs worldwide in concert, on tour, and in TV commercials.

 

Wolken remained an active director through all the artistic evolutions of the company, as well as its director of development until his death. He created or co-created 46 works for Pilobolus, and also choreographed for the Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s production of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, a collaboration featured in the documentary Last Dance.

 

Dance captain Jun Kuribayashi says of working with Wolken, “Every piece he created he wanted to take you on a journey. Whether you hated it or loved it, he didn’t want the audience to leave forgetting what they saw onstage. He wanted to push the physicality and mentality of his dancers.” —Emily Macel

 

Marina Semyonova (1908–2010)

As one of the first Soviet ballerinas, Marina Timofeyevna Semyonova won acclaim for her purity of line, hovering elevation, expressive arms, and immaculate beats, jumps, and speedy turns. She was Agrippina Vaganova’s foremost pupil and Stalin’s favorite dancer. She would dance the lezghinka, a macho Georgian folk dance, up on her knuckled toes in soft boots to entertain him when invited to the Kremlin. She was adored by her audiences, and became the cherished teacher and coach of some of the Bolshoi Ballet’s top stars.

 

Born in St. Petersburg, she started dancing at 9 with an amateur group. A year later, she was admitted into the Vaganova School. Because of the civil war and deprivations that followed, she often rehearsed hungry and cold in her overcoat and felt boots in the unheated studios. Yet she proved herself a worthy student under Vaganova’s eagle eye, and at 13, made her stage debut in a school production. She graduated at 17 and was taken directly into the Maryinsky company (also known as the Kirov). She made her debut in 1926 as Odette/Odile, a role she performed for 27 years. In 1930 she joined the Bolshoi Ballet where, according to Asaf Messerer, “Semyonova sparkled and dazzled, asserting the value of classical dance.”

 

She began to teach in 1956: Among her illustrious pupils have been Maya Plisetskaya, Natalia Bess­mertnova, Ludmila Semenyaka, and Nina Ananiashvili. In The Greatest Russian Dancers, Plisetskaya remembers, “As a teacher and coach, Semyonova is equally stunning. She glitters in both fields. She is aware of all the secrets in the art of ballet. She knows everything.” Semyonova continued teaching into her 90s. —Margaret Willis

 

Kazuo Ohno (1906–2010)

Kazuo Ohno was an original. Anyone who has seen this Japanese artist perform, often in elaborate female dresses or naked except for briefs, will never forget his dancing. In one of his numerous and oddly moving curtain calls, I saw Susan Sontag run to the edge of the stage, barely able to contain her excitement. Wearing white pancake, blue eye shadow, and red lipstick on his wrinkled face, Ohno moved many viewers to tears at every concert—me and Koma included.

 

Ohno studied with the pioneers of Japanese modern dance. In 1949 he had a late dance debut at the age of 43. His collaboration with Tatsumi Hijikata and Akira Kasai (among others) gave birth to the dance style called butoh, or “dance of utter darkness.” His reputation, however, was limited to a small circle of avant-gardists until his sensational “second debut” in 1977. With the help of Hijikata as a director, Ohno performed Admiring La Argentina, in praise of the great pioneer of Spanish dance. He began his ascent as a modern dancer, beyond the specificity of butoh.

Ohno made his first international appearance at the 1980 Theater Festival in Nancy, France. In the next two decades, with his son Yoshito as a dancer and collaborator, Ohno toured to dance venues all over the world. Although he continued to perform in Japan until 2003, Ohno’s fifth New York concert, “Requiem for the 20th Century” at Japan Society in December 1999, was his last performance outside Japan. He surprised us by sending Koma for a ham sandwich and ice cream right before the show. When an audience member asked how he calmed himself down after his perfor­mance, he answered, through my translation, “I see no reason to calm down.”

 

When his health started to fail, he continued to dance in a wheelchair, vigorously moving his large, expressive hands, and crawling on his knees.

 

His final public appearance was in January 2007 at a gala celebrating his 100th birthday.

 

Ohno used to say, “I will continue to dance in my grave and over the sky.” —Eiko of Eiko & Koma

 

 

Pictured: Darci Kistler. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

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Retirements

New York City Ballet principal dancer Albert Evans retired from the stage on June 20 after 22 years of dancing with the company. With so few dancers of color rising to principal positions in ballet companies, Evans served as an inspiration for dancers of all races to follow in his footsteps. Evans was known for his wonderful movement quality, elegant and feline. He was first noticed by William Forsythe, who chose him for a lead role in his ballet Behind the China Dogs, when Evans was still a student (on full scholarship) at SAB. In the same season, Eliot Feldselected Evans for a solo in his ballet The Unanswered Question.

 

Evans became the heir apparent for many of the roles created by former NYCB star Arthur Mitchell, such as the pas de deux in Agon and Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Peter Martins capitalized on Evans’ musicality and speed in ballets such as Ash, Ecstatic Orange and Fearful Symmetries.

 

The Atlanta-born dancer has also choreographed several ballets, among them Haiku to music by John Cage for the Diamond Project.

 

He was also celebrated for his partnering skills, working with ballerinas like Wendy Whelan in ballets by Christopher Wheeldon and other prominent choreographers. In the book Round About the Ballet, Evans said, “I would say that my greatest strength is that connection I have with a partner onstage—that connection we’re trying to convey to the audience. When two dancers can give something to an audience, bring them into their performance—as opposed to presenting it, have them become a part of it. It becomes a pas de trois as opposed to just a pas de deux.” —Joseph Carman

 

Julie Tice possesses an uncanny blend of steely strength and dazzling radiance. Both qualities have been essential to her many performances of Esplanade, perhaps Paul Taylor’s most cherished piece, as she delicately tiptoes across various parts of Michael Trusnovec’s body or dive-bombs through the audacious falls and vaulting leaps.

 

Tice’s compact stature has guaranteed her a fair share of being hoisted overhead by the men of the Paul Taylor Dance Company. But her tensile power has propelled her mercilessly through memorable turns in athletic dances like Last Look. She exudes an irresistible openness, and her lighter side is on view in works such as Also Playing, in which she wears pointe shoes and hams it up.

 

Tice earned a dance degree from the University of Michigan, then moved to New York, where she promptly received a scholarship with Taylor 2. A year later, she was invited to join the main company. “Paul has given me the opportunity to explore so many sides of myself artistically. Some of my favorite roles include Esplanade, Syzygy, and Speaking in Tongues,” she notes. The dizzying pace and movement patterns in Syzygy display Tice’s knack for precision, speed, and eloquence. And there is an unshakably optimistic air about her that has elicited innocence or purity in many an otherwise dark scenario, like Banquet of Vultures.

 

At 35, she retires this month after 10 years with the troupe. She plans to teach dance and Pilates. What will she miss most about the company? “Being in the room when Paul’s creating a piece; it’s one of my favorite parts of the job. But my second most favorite is just dancing onstage with my friends.” She adds, “I can only hope that I have moved people emotionally throughout my years with the company, and that they have gone on this journey with me!” —Susan Yung

 

Orion Duckstein, with his striking bearing, played the serene shaman figure in Byzantium, as well as the snooty rogue in Offenbach Overtures. Who else could balance suavity and slapstick so expertly? We’ll find out when Duckstein, now 40, retires this month, after 11 years with the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

 

Duckstein was pursuing acting at the University of Connecticut when he discovered dance. After moving to New York, he studied dance voraciously before working with choreographers such as Margie Gillis. Airs was the first Taylor piece he saw; it was part of his audition for Taylor 2 in 1995, and retains special meaning for him. He also has performed the diabolically difficult Aureole solo that Taylor created for himself. “It’s like giving away a trusted piece of clothing to wear,” he says of the role.

 

Other demanding works have included the high-adrenaline Arden Court and the bestial, tuxedoed quartet in Cloven Kingdom. His favorite? “The role of Man of the Cloth in Speaking in Tongues. For me, that brought everything together—my acting background, movement. It was such a dramatic and physical challenge,” he says. He has also excelled in humorous roles, including dances such as Changes and Also Playing.

 

He has two children with wife and Taylor alumna Heather Berest of Berest Dance Studio in Port Washington, NY, where Duckstein will help run the business and teach. He will miss the hard work and touring with the company. And of course he’ll miss working with Taylor. “He’s brilliant at coming up with variation after variation on a theme, and tricking your eye. I’m honored to have been a part of it for so long.” —Susan Yung

 

 

Pictured: Albert Evans in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments. Photo by Paul Kolnik, © The Balanchine Trust, Courtesy NYCB.

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On April 18, Kumiko Tsuji’s farewell performance of Swan Lake brought the audience to its feet and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director Terrence Orr to his knees.

 

A flawless Odette, she was delicate but strong, fiercely protecting her captor while yearning for love and salvation. Tsuji’s supple body, articulate legs, and convincing mime enhanced a perfor­mance emanating from her artistic soul. Her Odile exuded confidence and seduced with clean footwork and effortless double fouettés.

 

“It’s been a pleasure to dance with her,” says Christopher Budzynski, her first and last Prince Siegfried. She has “fantastic musicality and a wonderful sense of dancing in the moment.”

 

The 26-year-old Tokyo native’s passion for classical ballet led her to England’s Royal Ballet School. She performed with Hong Kong Ballet and joined PBT in 2003. Her dazzling virtuosity and stellar acting facilitated her ascent from apprentice to principal. An effervescent Sugar Plum Fairy and bravura Kitri, she also enriched Aurora’s “Rose Adagio” with youthful ebullience. She devoured space in Tharp’s In the Upper Room and Dwight Rhoden’s Smoke ’n Roses but especially enjoyed working with British choreographer Derek Deane. She sparkled in his Anything Goes, and melded technical stamina with childlike awe in Alice in Wonderland.

 

“I’m proud to have attained principal rank and to have left home to pursue my career,” says Tsuji, who graced DM’s cover as a “25 to Watch” in 2008. “All I wanted to do was ballet.” She and husband Daisuke Takeuchi, who retired from PBT last year, plan to start both a studio and a family in Hokkaido, Japan.
—Karen Dacko

Deaths

Arnold Theodore Spohr (1923–2010)
Through charismatic leadership and uncompromising standards, Arnold Spohr transformed the Royal Winnipeg Ballet from a struggling prairie troupe into an acclaimed international touring company. His artistic directorship, 1958–88, is considered a golden age in the 70-year-old company’s history. Dubbed “the best-loved man in Canadian dance,” Spohr became a much honored national figure.

 

“He was an icon on so many levels,” says former RWB dancer and current artistic director André Lewis. The national government issued an official statement marking Spohr’s death in April. Flags at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre were lowered to half-mast.

 

Spohr’s passion for dance was ignited by a 1942 performance of the touring Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. He was almost 20 when he began classes with RWB founders Gweneth Lloyd and Betty Farrally. Despite the late start, he quickly became a leading dancer, admired for his partnering abilities and dramatic gifts.

 

Spohr started choreographing in 1950 but abandoned this creative avenue soon after becoming director to focus on rebuilding the foundering company. A breakthrough Jacob’s Pillow engagement in 1964 led to major tours across the U.S. and later to cities in Europe, South America, Asia, and Australia.

 

Spohr continued the RWB’s populist programming of accessible triple bills but was not afraid to challenge audiences with bold new works by Canadians Brian Macdonald and Norbert Vesak, American John Neumeier, and Argentinean Oscar Araiz. He brought one of his own teachers, the renowned Vera Volkova, as a guest to Winnipeg. As the RWB’s classical standards improved, he began to mount the classics, highlighting the qualities of Varna gold medalist Evelyn Hart.

 

Although sometimes accused of tyrannical methods—he refused to accept second best—Spohr inspired his dancers and earned their enduring respect and affection. He continued coaching and mentoring dancers into his 80s. —Michael Crabb

 

Philippe Braunschweig (1928–2010)
The founder of the Prix de Lausanne, Philippe Braunschweig, died in April. The balletomane started the world-famous Swiss ballet competition in 1973 to provide scholarships and training opportunities to talented young dancers. Past winners of the Prix include Alessandra Ferri, Diana Vishneva, Ethan Stiefel, and Carlos Acosta, among other international stars. With his wife, Elvire Krémis, a former dancer, Braunschweig oversaw the competition until the couple’s retirement in 1997. He graced the  Prix de Lausanne last January with his dignified, benevolent presence. 

 

 

Photo of Kumiko Tsuji by Rich Sofranko, Courtesy PBT.

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New Role

“Better to retire five years too early than five minutes too late,” is an adage of the ballet world that has been taken to heart by Sergei Filin, one of the Bolshoi Ballet’s greatest stars of the past two decades. Filin blended technical finesse with the strength for which the Bolshoi is known, excelling in a wider variety of styles than were easily accessible to earlier generations of Bolshoi premiers danseurs.  

At 38, he retired last fall to become artistic director of Moscow’s ballet troupe of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko company, the capital’s second opera-ballet institution. The theater was established in 1941, combining two musical theaters separately run by Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, co-founders of the influential Moscow Art Theatre.  

To put it mildly, not all has been smooth sailing at the Stanislavsky in recent years. Ballet director Dmitri Briantsev was murdered in Prague in 2004, succeeded by Bolshoi great Mikhail Lavrovsky. Its theater in Moscow, which incorporates parts of a mansion that was burned in the Moscow conflagration of 1812, has seen more damage by fire followed by subsequent renovation over the past several years.

Filin’s qualifications for a vibrant second act have never been in doubt. “I think he can be a really good coach,” Elena Tchernichova told me from Moscow in the spring of 2007, when she was rehearsing Filin in Don Quixote opposite guest artist Diana Vishneva.

 

“I know it will be hard for me to stop dancing,” Filin told Dance Europe.  There is no question, however, that Filin leaves performing with his reputation untarnished. Last February he guested at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with the State Ballet of Georgia, whose director, Nina Ananiashvili, has been a frequent partner of his at the Bolshoi and on guest tours. In June 2007 their Giselle in New Haven with her company was memorable, a beautifully synchronized closing snapshot of their long partnership. — Joel Lobenthal

Deaths

Gerald Arpino (1923–2008)

Artistic director emeritus of the Joffrey Ballet, Gerald Arpino, died in Chicago in October. He was 85.

He and Robert Joffrey founded the company in 1956. He shared Joffrey’s vision of forming an American ballet company devoted to reviving seminal early 20th-century masterpieces and showcasing contemporary works by American choreographers.

Originally one of the company’s leading dancers, Arpino devoted all his energies to choreographing after a severe back injury early on. His prolific contribution gave the company an identifiable aesthetic and a theatrical sense of energy that has lasted to the present.

His first ballet, Ropes, in 1961, employed ingenious manipulation by six men of the sole female dancer, suspended high above the stage in an ever-changing tangle of ropes. Viva Vivaldi, his 1965 ballet, became the company’s signature piece until he eclipsed himself by creating Trinity in 1970. This powerful “love-rock” ballet was performed across the U.S., in London, and the Soviet Union, bringing crowds to their feet, and converting people who normally were not enamored of ballet into fans. His battle-of-the-sexes duet, Valentine, in 1971, followed in later years by the rhapsodic Suite Saint-Saëns, the sensuous Light Rain, and the elegiac Round of Angels, all helped shape the image of the company. His ballets were known for their speedy footwork, fleeting criss-crossing entrances and exits, and their athleticism, all sprinkled with an attractive veneer of show-biz savvy. In all, he created 49 works for the Joffrey.

Having worked with Gerry (he later changed the spelling to Jerry) for 13 years as a member of the company in the ’60s and ’70s, I can attest to the indelible imprint he placed on Joffrey dancers. He was intense, funny, caustic, and passionate in the studio.

Gerry was not always articulate in creating movement, relying, more often than not, on the dancers to bring his ideas and images to fruition. While this was frustrating for those who wanted to be told what to do, it stimulated others and prompted them to become part of the creative experience.

 

I knew I was saying goodbye to Gerry when, in 2006, the year of the Joffrey’s 50th anniversary, Gary Chryst and I were invited back to perform with the company in Chicago. He was so happy to see us! He wanted only the best for all his “babies.” We shall miss him. —Christian Holder

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Transitions

New Company, New Country
A dancer with both innocence and power, Danielle Rowe has left The Australian Ballet for Houston Ballet, which she joins as a first soloist. With blessings from TAB director David McAllister, she makes her debut in HB director Stanton Welch’s Marie this month.

 

Born in Shepparton, Australia, Rowe joined TAB in 2001 and was named principal artist in 2008. A gifted actress, she excelled as Baroness von Rothbart in Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake. Rowe won the Walter Bourke Prize in 2009, which allowed her to join Christopher Wheeldon’s pick-up troupe, Morphoses, for the 2009–10 season.

 

Rowe had been considering a career move for some time. “I felt this desire to step outside of my comfort zone and be exposed to new coaches, dancers, and repertoire.” When Rowe decided to leave TAB with her partner, fellow dancer Luke Ingham, they intended to audition for companies together. Welch offered them contracts over the phone.

 

Formerly of TAB, Welch first noticed Rowe when making his ballet Velocity in 2003. As a corps member, she was cast among principals. “I liked the way Stanton challenged my dancing and pushed me to my physical limits,” she remembers. At HB, she looks forward to diving into new repertoire and reuniting with previous collaborators, including Wheeldon and Nicolo Fonte.

 

Rowe emphasizes what a difficult decision it was to leave TAB and her home country. “I’m proud to have been a member of such a wonderful company. I will miss sharing special moments with dancers who also happen to be great friends. It took me a few years to commit to the idea of uprooting and moving continents. But now that I’ve made the decision I feel excited and energized.” —Kina Poon

 

 

Deaths
Lone Isaksen (1941–2010)

The Danish-born ballerina Lone Isaksen died on November 2 after a prolonged battle with cancer. A master of both classical and contemporary works, the petite and riveting Isaksen was renowned for the depth of her characterization and the artistry she invested in every role she danced. She and her husband, Lawrence Rhodes, the artistic director of the dance division at the Juilliard School, had been married for 40 years.

 

After initial studies at the Royal Danish Ballet and with Madam Edite Feifer Frandsen, Isaksen made her debut as a teenager with Elsa-Marianne von Rosen’s Scandinavian Ballet, dancing the Sylph in La Sylphide and in solo roles by choreographers Ivo Cramér and von Rosen. At the encouragement of Erik Bruhn, she went on to study at the Robert Joffrey Ballet School and subsequently joined the Joffrey Ballet. Joffrey created a lead role for her in Gamelan, and she moved audiences with her study of a girl tilting toward madness in Gerald Arpino’s Incubus.

 

But it was with the Harkness Ballet, which she joined as a principal dancer in 1964, that she hit her stride. Dancing the role of Eve opposite Rhodes as Adam in John Butler’s After Eden, she embodied guilt, frustration, and pain. When the Harkness Ballet folded in 1970, Isaksen joined Het Nationale Ballet in Amsterdam, where she danced many principal Balanchine roles. Her rendition of the Sleepwalker in La Sonnambula became legendary.

 

After her retirement, Isaksen became a Pilates teacher in New York. —Joseph Carman

 

Richard Ellis (1918–2010)
Richard Ellis was the quintessential Drosselmeyer, a quiet man with a wicked sense of humor who loved to tell stories, both onstage and off. He will be remembered by generations of children and parents whom he captivated in Ruth Page’s Chicago Nutcracker for 27 years. 

 

But his gift to the dance world spans a lifetime of devotion, first as soloist with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (now The Royal Ballet), performing as the Nutcracker Prince in the first production of the ballet outside Russia in 1934. In 1946 he met and married fellow Royal dancer Christine Du Boulay, with whom he founded and co-directed the Allegro School of Ballet and later the Ellis-Du Boulay School of Ballet in Chicago.

 

The Ellises spent 40 years inspiring countless students who went on to join companies like New York City Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet. For 12 of those years, they co-directed their own company, the Illinois Ballet, which toured the Midwest. Among their students was Lou Conte, founder of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

 

“We adored them,” says former student and veteran ballet teacher Birute Barodicaite. “They were like family, and he will always be ‘Papa.’ ”

 

Ashley Wheater, artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet, remembers the couple’s caring warmth. “Both he and Christine were always thinking about other people,” says Wheater. “That’s why they were such great teachers.” He notes Ellis’ extraordinary preparation for the role of Drosselmeyer.

 

“He believed in it. Every single time he walked into the theater, his enthusiasm never waned. Each performance was as if for the first time.” 
Ellis died last November. The Joffrey’s 2010 Nutcracker was dedicated to his memory. Lynn Colburn Shapiro

 

 

Photo of Danielle Rowe by Jo Duck, Courtesy HB.

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Transitions

With her sweeping lines, improbably arched feet, eloquent port de bras, and dramatic intention behind every step, Alessandra Ferri breathed life into ballet. She made her indelible mark on the ballet repertory and inspired audiences and fellow dancers alike. She joined American Ballet Theatre in 1985, and on June 23, she will take her final bow as Juliet, the role probably most associated with her passion and abandon.

“I wanted to leave with a lovely memory of my feeling of dancing,” says Ferri, whose final performance will be in Tokyo in August. “I’ve been lucky enough to have a long career, an early career. I love dance too much to have a bad feeling about it.”

Ferri was offered the position of director of La Scala Ballet, but needs time away from dancing before considering any moves: “I need to reassess myself in a new phase of life.”

Born in Milan, Ferri joined ABT after dancing to acclaim with The Royal Ballet. Outstanding in Romantic ballets like Giselle, Ferri also became a box office draw (frequently partnered by Julio Bocca) with her Anna Magnani-like verismo style in dramatic works like MacMillan’s Manon and Romeo and Juliet and Cranko’s Onegin and The Taming of the Shrew.

Ferri feels that Juliet, a role that is in her blood, is the right choice for her retirement performance. “My debut with ABT was as Juliet,” she says. “It has meant a lot to me throughout my whole career. I think it makes a complete circle.” During the Met season, Ferri will also dance Desdemona in Lar Lubovitch’s Othello and the lead in Manon.

“Alessandra represents that caliber of artist that is so believable, you’re not sure if you’ve witnessed an actor dancing or a dancer acting” says ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie. “All dancers strive to perfect their technique as a means to open up their expression. Alessandra’s example as a total artist is what we all look at with pride and admiration.” —Joe Carman

Deaths

Jeanette Ordman (1935–2007)
Dancer, choreographer, and the creator of Bat-Dor Dance Company, Jeannette Ordman died in February at 73. Born in South Africa, she studied ballet in Johannesburg, and at the Royal Academy of Dance in London.

In 1965, Ordman joined a small ballet company in Haifa, Israel. She quickly moved to Tel-Aviv and began teaching ballet. Ordman was the first teacher to bring the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) to Israel, and drew students from all over Israel.

Batsheva de Rothschild invited Ordman to teach ballet but Ordman’s classical ballet discipline raised tension with the company’s modern dancers. Yet a growing bond between de Rothschild and Ordman resulted in the creation of the Bat-Dor Company in 1967. The company’s signature was a fusion between classical ballet and modern dance.

During the 1970s and 80s Bat-Dor was considered one of the most important dance companies in Israel. “Until she opened her school and dance company there was very little professional dance in Israel,” says Igal Perry, the former Bat-Dor dancer who founded Peridance in NYC. “People believed that professional skills only exist abroad.”

Among the choreographers Ordman invited to work with Bat-Dor were Paul Taylor, Antony Tudor, and Alvin Ailey. “It was very difficult working with her,” says Perry, “but that was only because she never gave up on her values.” —Dr. Henia Rottenberg

Ann Barzel (1905–2007)
Harboring a huge appetite for dance in her tiny frame, for eight decades Ann Barzel documented dance through her writing, lectures, and filming. Chicago was Barzel’s home base for many of her 101 years. She was the moving force behind the Ballet Guild of Chicago, reviewed for two of the city’s newspapers, and left her vast dance collection to the Newberry Library. She also taught math in Chicago’s public schools.

Barzel, who studied ballet with Adolph Bolm and modern with Doris Humphrey, performed with the Chicago Opera Ballet and Bernice Holmes’ ballet group. As a writer and researcher, Barzel focused on technique, explaining the mechanics of dance to her readers and assembling a history of dance teaching in America for the scholarly Dance Index. She wrote for Dance Magazine as early as 1937, and remained a Senior Advising Editor when she was no longer writing. Copies of her historic films are archived at the Newberry and the NY Public Library for the Performing Art. Barzel’s footage is included in recent documentaries on the Ballets Russes troupes and Cuba’s ballet festival. —George Jackson

Hortense Kooluris (1914-2007)

The last remaining of second-generation Isadora Duncan dancers, Hortense Kooluris died in February. Born in Brooklyn, she studied at Esther Robbins’ ballet studio, and later with Duncan disciple Anita Zahn. After Irma Duncan’s touring company from the Soviet Union was deported, Kooluris was chosen to complete the tour with Isadora’s sister. As a teenager, she performed with Irma’s group from 1930–1933.

In 1939, Kooluris headlined “A Duncanian Evening” and became a subject of the photographer Arnold Genthe. An image of her won first prize at the New York Word’s Fair as the “modern woman most closely resembling Madonnas painted by old masters.”

Kooluris continued to dance and teach—from an Arthur Murray Dance Studio in NJ, to demonstrating Duncan technique worldwide at an ancient Greek theatre and in Tokyo, where she danced with Kazuo Ohno. Her students include noted Duncan dancers Lori Belilove and Jeanne Bresciani.
She and Julia Levien (see “Transitions,” Dec.) founded the Isadora Duncan Centenary Dance Company in 1977. In 2001, she wrote that she wanted to be remembered as “One of the chosen ones to live and die in Isadora’s beautiful art.” —Emily Macel

Electronic Tap Dancer Alfred Desio died in February at 74. He worked with Jerome Robbins, Jack Cole, Peter Gennaro, Donald McKayle, and Michael Bennett and performed in many Broadway productions, including West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof. Desio’s Tap-Tronics, an invention that allows tap dancers to play electronic instruments using the sound of the taps, appeared in Gregory Hines’ Tap. Desio was associate director of Los Angeles Dancers and Choreographers, a coalition of his company, Zapped Taps, and his wife’s modern dance company, Louise Reichlin & Dancers. —E.M.

Broadway dancer Vilma Ebsen died in March at the age of 96. Ebsen danced along side her brother Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies) and Hollywood Musical sweetheart Eleanor Powell in the film Broadway Melody of 1936. She graced the Broadway stage with her brother in the musical Whoopee! and in the revue Flying Colors. —Rachel Leigh Dolan

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Transitions

Merce Cunningham (1919–2009)

 

He blasted open the rules of concert dance. He pried choreography away from narrative to make dance his subject matter. He exploded the stage space so that there were “no fixed points.” And most shockingly, he divorced dance from music, forcing the audience to look and listen more intently and come up with their own “meaning.”

 

Growing up in Centralia, Washington, Merce Cunningham learned vaudeville-style numbers from Maude Barrett and later studied with Bonnie Bird at the Cornish School in Seattle. In 1939 he attended the Bennington School of the Dance, which was at Mills College that year. There he made his first dances in Louis Horst’s composition class (although he disagreed with Horst’s theme-and-variations approach) and also met Martha Graham. In his five years with her company (1939–45), he created several roles, most notably the fervent Revivalist in Appalachian Spring. Ultimately he distrusted the emotionalism of her style and set about making dances that celebrate “the appetite to move” rather than serve a story.

 

Cunningham was an unforgettable dancer: serene in Septet, bizarre in Changeling, and wildly agitated when he thrashed around inside a plastic bag in Place. Always he had a wit and an animal alertness. With his natural light jump, he leavened the earthiness of early modern dance.

 

He gave his first solo concerts in 1944 with music by John Cage, whom he had met at the Cornish School. Profoundly influenced by the composer, he took Cage’s idea that any sound could be music and applied it to movement and dance. He sometimes made decisions based on the I Ching (the ancient Chinese Book of Changes) or dice-tossing rather than personal preference. Gus Solomons jr, who danced with him in the ’60s, says, “I remember thinking that what he was imagining was physically impossible. But we’d try and usually find that it was indeed possible, just nothing we’d ever thought of attempting before.”

 

Cunningham started the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in 1953 and opened his school in 1959. The 1964 world tour put the company on the map, partly because of their big success in London. Always embracing new technologies, Cunningham pioneered dance for video in the ’70s; LifeForms software (now DanceForms) as a choreographic aid in the ’90s; and, recently, iPods for the audience. In all he made about 150 works, collaborating with a wide range of composers from Cage, David Tudor, and Takehisa Kosugi to Radiohead and Sigur Rós.

 

One of his many innovations was to present “events” rather than finished pieces. These performances drew material from existing choreography, chipping away at the convention of a beginning, middle, and end. They allowed a stream of movement to gush forth, with Cunningham’s innate sense of structure keeping us guessing what would come next.

 

Cunningham’s dances are an acquired taste. To this day there are those who are angered by the loud music or puzzled by the lack of story. However, even skeptics often feel they are witnessing something unique. In 1985 Cunningham told NPR, “One only has to get one’s mind out of the way about deciding that something is good or bad, and allow for different kinds of things to take place, so that I’m constantly on the point of discovering what I don’t know about rather than repeating what I do know about.”

 

Cunningham created works of bracing energy, alarming chaos, or quiet beauty. Countless choreographers have been influenced by him. But more than that, he changed the landscape of dance globally. He broke away from modern dance so completely that a new term had to be coined, and now we have postmodern dance.

 

 

Photo by Penny Brogden, DM Archives.

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Transitions

Retirements
In 1993 Larissa Ponomarenko made an unforgettable debut with Boston Ballet as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, slipping and hitting the floor moments after her second-act entrance. Then she got up and, for the next 18 years, astonished audiences with her dancing. She’s been one of the most extraordinary artists in Boston Ballet’s nearly 50-year history. Now she’s retiring from the stage and entering a second career as one of the company’s ballet masters.
Born in Ukraine, Ponomarenko graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia, and arrived at Boston Ballet with her husband, dancer and now choreo­g­rapher Viktor Plotnikov, via Missis­sip­pi Ballet and Tulsa Ballet. She came as a principal, and from the beginning, it was clear there was nothing she couldn’t do. You’d have expected her Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake to be sublime, and they were, but she was also hilarious in Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew; down and dirty in Tharp’s Waterbaby Bagatelles; and the muse for Jorma Elo’s Brake the Eyes and Le Sacre du Printemps.
It’s difficult for her to single out a favorite role. “I always liked ballets that demanded technique and artistry beyond the athletic balances and 32 fouettés,” she says. “Working on and performing roles like Tatiana in Cranko’s Onegin, Marguerite in Val Caniparoli’s Lady of the Camellias, and Madama Butterfly in Stanton Welch’s Madame Butterfly was always very fulfilling.”
But she’s excited about the next stage of her career as a ballet master. As she told Dance Magazine in “Long May They Reign” (Jan. 2010), “I’m pretty good at analyzing why things work in a ballet. I work with a mirror, almost like a sculptor with stone and a chisel, in slow motion, going from pose to pose.” Looking back at her career, she says, “I was fortunate to have extraordinary teachers, mentors, and colleagues who greatly contributed to my personal and professional growth. In the next chapter of my life, I am looking forward to passing on my knowledge and passion, and hopefully inspiring a young generation of artists.”­—Jeffrey Gantz

Shila Tirabassi, who epitomized Stephen Petronio’s muscular, elegant choreography for 10 years, has retired from the company at 33. With her lush movement and striking presence, she delineates the bold lines and explosive moves of Petronio’s choreography. Petronio, she says, “cherishes the dancers’ individuality and not only respects our choices, but is curious about them. He pushes the edges and never takes the easy path, so the challenge kept me hungry all those years. He is a creative genius when it comes to movement invention.”
Of the numerous Petronio works she has danced, she says, “My favorite is The Rite Part, danced to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring—specifically, the virgin sacrifice solo that closes the piece. It was very challenging physically, and the music is such a masterpiece that the driving force behind it gave me a huge rush.” She has put to good use the training she received at The Juilliard School. After she gradu­ated, she danced with Ballet Hispanico and Cunningham’s Repertory Understudy Group (among others) prior to joining Petronio.
Tirabassi’s plans include moving to Florida to help run the family restaurant, opened by her grandmother and run by her father for 35 years. She hopes to open her own yoga/Pilates studio adjacent to the restaurant (she credits Career Transition For Dancers as a vital resource). In preparation, she has trained in those disciplines as well as Thai yoga massage, restorative yoga, and prenatal fitness. But her magnetic, cool presence will be missed in Petronio’s annual seasons. —Susan Yung

Birth
Houston Ballet principal Mireille Hassenboehler and her husband, Robert Patman, welcomed their first child, Theodore “Teddy” Ambrose Patman, on April 29.

In Memoriam
Garry Reigenborn (1952–2011)
A veteran dancer with the Lucinda Childs Dance Company and a Cunningham master teacher, Garry Reigenborn died in March. A University of Utah graduate, Reigenborn performed with Andrew deGroat before joining Childs’ company in 1981. He worked with avant-garde theater director Robert Wilson, a frequent collaborator with both deGroat and Childs, on several pieces, including revivals of Einstein on the Beach. In his later years with Childs, he set her work on new company members and served as assistant to the choreographer. In the ’90s, he taught at the Cunningham Studio and abroad, and joined the Bard College faculty in 1998. He performed with Childs as recently as 2000. In 2006, he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and relocated from New York to Colorado. g

 

Larissa Ponomarenko in Swan Lake. Shila Tirabassi. Top: Gene Schiavone, Courtesy BB; Bottom: Sarah Silver, Courtesy Petronio.

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Retirements
For 17 years at Pacific Northwest Ballet, principal Jeffrey Stanton was the go-to dancer for anything jazzy, like Susan Stroman’s showy TAKE FIVE…More or Less or Kent Stowell’s Silver Lining. At PNB, and for five years prior to that at San Francisco Ballet, Stanton’s range was impressive—from the debonair hero of The Merry Widow to modernist icon in Agon.

 

Stanton is known for his steadiness and ease—the smooth mambo sailor in Fancy Free and the suave lover in In the Night—yet the hoofer in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue was one of his favorite  roles. In this month’s Encore program, which celebrates the eight dancers leaving PNB, including Olivier Wevers (below) and Ariana Lallone (see next month’s “Transitions”), the 40-year-old dancer gives his farewell performance.

 

Stanton was an attentive partner as well as a thrilling dancer. “Sharing the stage with him was a true pleasure,” says PNB’s Carla Körbes. “You felt cared for and you felt a real connection.” Noelani Pantastico, now with Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, calls him a gracious partner whose sense of humor brought out the best in the company.

 

Now, Stanton has his eye on a ballet master spot, but he’s also considering some teaching, perhaps in the PNB School. One thing’s for certain: A devoted audience eagerly anticipates what his next move will be. —Gigi Berardi

 

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Olivier Wevers gave his final performances last April with confidence and grace. Over his 22-year career, the Belgian Wevers became well known for his brilliant dancing in Balanchine favorites like Midsummer Night’s Dream, Agon, and The Four Temperaments. He was an elegant prince in Ronald Hynd’s Sleeping Beauty and a shocking friar in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette.

 

Wevers also imbued character into works by Nacho Duato, Nicolo Fonte, William Forsythe, and Mark Morris. 

 

Evelyn Hart from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, where Wevers danced for five years, noticed his dramatic range—as well as his “overwhelmingly creative nature.” Partners at PNB referred to his “magnetism in performance” and his “fast wit and good humor.”  For choreographer Val Caniparoli, “Wevers is a choreographer’s dream—a dancer who speaks up and has a say in the creative process. Onstage, his characterization is so complete, there’s not a lot of difference between a story ballet and an abstract ballet—the lithe dancer transforms himself completely.”

 

Wevers is already something of a choreographic force, spurred by commissions from PNB, as well as other companies. He is fast realizing his longtime desire to be an impresario of sorts. His company Whim W’Him, a 2011 “25 to Watch,” made its international debut in April, and this month he premieres a new work at home. It looks like the company, now with its residence status at Seattle’s Intiman Theatre, will be a powerful vehicle for his creative voice. —G. B.

 

In Memoriam
Matteo (1919–2011)

Named one of the first 100 Irreplaceable Dance Treasures by the Dance Heritage Coalition in 2000, Matteo was a teacher and performer of ethnic dance for decades.

Matteo Marcellus Vittucci was born into an Italian-American family in upstate New York. Even as a teenager, he instructed neighborhood children in make-believe Spanish or Egyptian dances, and later directed a folk dance group while studying anthropology at Cornell.

During a four-year stint with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, he saw a demonstration by La Meri and found his true calling. He followed her to Jacob’s Pillow in 1951 as both student and performer. As the story goes, dance critic Walter Terry created a new stage name when, writing on deadline, he couldn’t remember Matteo’s surname.

After receiving his master’s degree in dance education from Springfield College in Massachusetts, Matteo teamed up with the well-known Spanish dancer Carola Goya in 1954, and they married in 1974. They toured widely and were a fixture at Jacob’s Pillow from the beginning of their partnership until 1972. Matteo also headed the ethnic department of New York’s High School of Performing Arts from its inception in the 1950s. He molded his students into a company that performed at the United Nations in 1971, positioning dance as an international language. His book The Language of Spanish Dance was published in 1990.

Matteo’s deep desire to teach never abated. A few weeks before his death on March 24, he instructed a visitor how to “smile with your eyes” and extolled the benefits of this positive approach to life. —Norton Owen

 

 

Jeffrey Stanton in Forsythe’s In the middle, somewhat elevated. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

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Retirements
Oregon Ballet Theatre principal Anne Mueller says farewell to the stage in Nicolo Fonte’s Left Unsaid, Trey McIntyre’s Speak, and Christopher Stowell’s Eyes on You on May 1. These ballets showcase the technical versatility, musicality, and wit Mueller has exhibited in her 15 years with OBT.

 

“I love those roles,” Mueller says, “but my all-time favorite is Rite of Spring.” Small wonder: In OBT artistic director Stowell’s 2009 version, he made her the central figure with choreography that amplifies her angular physicality and her talent for emotional expression. “She is incapable of dancing like anyone other than herself,” says Stowell.

 

McIntyre calls her dancing “all elegance and chutzpah. You get the feeling she could charm world leaders and fix a crankshaft, all with the same port de bras.”

 

At 36, Mueller, whose training included Washington Ballet School and Alabama School of Fine Arts, feels ready to leave the stage, but not OBT. She will continue to serve as artistic coordinator of the company, teach at the School of OBT, and nurture her budding choreographic career (she was one of the dancemakers in March’s “Stravinsky Project”).

 

Mueller’s talent for administration came into play in 2004 in the founding of the Trey McIntyre Project, in which she also danced. “It could only have been Anne,” McIntyre says of his former managing director, “because so few people have the guts, resourcefulness, and smarts to make something from nothing.” —Martha Ullman West

 

Annmaria Mazzini is one of Paul Taylor’s fiercest dancers, eliciting gasps in Esplanade’s hurtling floor slides and airborne leaps. This fearless athleticism is balanced by her heartfelt renditions of dramatic roles, plus a delicacy and an uncommon generosity. After 12 years with Paul Taylor Dance Company, she retires this summer.

 

Among her favorite roles of the 60 Taylor dances in which she has appeared is The Girl in Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal). “The dance had a very palpable, mystical spirit—wonderfully creepy, and so sad. But I always felt so protected within it, like it was safe to live fully in that strange world for as long as the music played.” In PTDC’s recent New York City Center season, she reprised her powerful solo as a broken streetwalker in Black Tuesday, which Taylor created for her, and received a shower of bouquets for it.

 

Mazzini, 38, began dancing at 12 in Allentown, PA, with an eye toward musical theater. She attended Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, where she became interested in Taylor’s choreography. She began studying at the Taylor school the summer before her senior year; she joined Taylor 2 in 1995 and the main company in 1999. With her disarming smile and unbounded energy, she quickly became a crowd favorite—no small task in Taylor’s long line of outstanding dancers.

 

In addition to her dancing career, Mazzini has been creating her own line of jewelry since 2006, which she will expand after leaving the company. She has osteoarthritis in her hip, requiring surgery, which will hopefully free her of the pain she has endured. “Dance will continue to be a big part of my identity as an artist, but I am redefining what that means to me,” she says. “I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time at home too—being away from my cats was the only thing I didn’t like about touring.” While her cats will benefit, audiences will miss her luminous presence onstage. —Susan Yung

 

Death
Jerry Ames (1930–2011)

A tap dancer known for his graceful style who founded his own company in the 1970s, Jerry Ames died in February. The lifelong New Yorker studied with noted tapper Paul Draper and came to prominence as a featured player in “Tap Happening” (later “Tap Happening: The Hoofers”) in 1969. The recurring jam session showcased the most celebrated hoofers of the day, including Rhythm Red, Jimmy Slyde, and Chuck Green (Ames was the only white dancer), and helped tap dance to regain its footing as a popular dance form. He founded the Jerry Ames Dance Company in 1976, with the aim of performing a variety of rhythmic styles. According to Constance Vallis-Hill’s Tap Dancing America: A Cultural History, Ames said at the company’s debut performance, “We’re trying to show that tap is not limited. We do a waltz duet, an American Irish jig, jazz, and ‘mood espagnole.’ ” Ames co-wrote The Book of Tap: Recovering America’s Long Lost Dance (1977) and appeared in the documentary  (1980). He received a Flo-Bert Award for outstanding achievement in tap in 2006. —Kina Poon

 

 

Anne Mueller, with Brian Simcoe, in Stowell’s Tolstoy’s Waltz. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert, Courtesy OBT

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Transitions

New Role
David Leventhal, who recently retired from performing with Mark Morris Dance Group after 14 years, dances with an alchemical blend of precision, muscularity, and intelligence. These qualities all shone through in one of his favorite roles, the Lark in Morris’ sublime L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. Leventhal has also cherished dancing the lead in The Hard Nut opposite his wife, Lauren Grant. Even in checkerboard pants, the part of the Nutcracker Prince gave Leventhal the chance to show off his superbly elegant line.

 

Leventhal, 37, grew up in Newton, MA, where he figure-skated before studying at the Boston Ballet School at the age of 8. He hit a wall at 13 and took a break from dancing, eventually becoming editor of his high school newspaper. He attended Brown University, where he started taking modern dance classes. “I realized that I had been brainwashed into thinking that modern was only for people who couldn’t do ballet,” he says. Leventhal earned a 2010 Bessie Award in performance to cap off his illustrious run with MMDG.

 

Leventhal will continue to perform with the company as a guest artist, but he is well into the next phase of his career. As the program manager and one of the founding teachers of the Dance for PD program, a collaboration between MMDG and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group, he oversees a curriculum that includes teaching people with Parkinson’s and training teachers from around the world. “There’s enormous satisfaction from using dance and music to improve the lives of those with a chronic condition,” he says. At Mark Morris Dance Center, he also teaches intermediate/advanced modern and an all-boys class, like the one that lured him to dance to begin with. —Susan Yung

 

Death
Lois Smith (1929–2011)

The National Ballet of Canada’s first leading ballerina, Lois Smith, died in January. Smith grew up in a British immigrant family in Vancouver and couldn’t afford to take ballet regularly until age 15. Despite the late start, she became a founding member of NBC in 1951.

 

Smith and then-husband David Adams (“Transitions,” Jan. 2008) forged a high-profile partnership that dazzled audiences during NBC’s first decade. Dubbed “Mr. and Mrs. Ballet” by the media, they danced across North America and on television. As a prima ballerina of distinct refinement and sophistication, Smith helped to establish NBC’s reputation as a credible classical company.

 

“She was beautiful, elegant, serene, and so feminine,” recalls NBC artistic director Karen Kain, who as a young girl first saw Smith dance in 1959. “She became an inspiration to me throughout my ballet school years.”

 

Smith performed all the major classics—she was partnered by Erik Bruhn in his version of Swan Lake—but was also much acclaimed in 20th-century works, particularly as Caroline in Tudor’s Lilac Garden.

 

Smith remained with NBC until chronic injury compelled her to retire in 1969. She then opened her own school in Toronto, which she later integrated into the Performing Arts Program of George Brown College. Smith, who also choreographed for opera and television, directed the school until returning to British Columbia in 1988. She remained active in the dance community until the effects of Alzheimer’s took their inescapable toll.
—Michael Crabb

 

 

David Leventhal in Mozart Dances. Photo by Stephanie Berger, courtesy MMDG.

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Transitions

 

 

 

 

Retirement

 

Jirí Kylián redefined ballet on an international scale. His choreography melded gorgeously crafted phrases with off-kilter partnering and decidedly human interactions. He built his reputation on a company of exquisite technicians, dancers who are precise, musical, and gifted in a range of vocabularies. Kylián’s trademarks were elegant lines, dramatic flair, and quirky moments that reminded us of his dancers’ humanness. After 36 years with Nederlands Dans Theater, he bid farewell in October, presenting his last choreographic work, Mémoires d’Oubliettes.

 

NDT has become virtually synonymous with Kylián’s name and ideas. Under his guidance, the company became a three-tiered organization: NDT, the main company; NDT 2 for dancers younger than 23; and NDT 3 for artists over 40. He fostered an environment of living and breathing creativity. In 2004 Kylián stepped down as director to become chief choreographer and artistic adviser. His last choreographic work was inspired by his observation that “the facts of life are never just the facts of life. They are all open to interpretations, modification, adjustments, or fantasies.”

 

But the home he built for dance in The Hague is a concrete fact: the Lucent Danstheater, headquarters of NDT, was designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas in 1987. It has become a hotspot for artists and audiences who enjoy Kylián’s sinewy, rigorous aesthetic.

 

In an interview published in Dance Magazine in 1994, Kylián recalled his favorite teacher at the Prague Conservatory, Zora Semberova: “This lady was a teacher who would say to you, ‘I’m sorry I cannot walk you through the door. All I can do is open the door for you; you have to do the walking.’ ”

 

Kylián extended this gesture to countless artists, including Jim Vincent, NDT’s new director (see “Dance Matters,” Nov.). His ballets remain in the repertories of companies like American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and NDT. Last year he served as a Rolex Mentor to Jason Akira Somma.
—Kate Mattingly

Death

 

Marion Coles (1915–2009)
A lifelong chorus line and tap dancer with a vibrant stage presence, Marion Coles died in November.

 

Born in Harlem, Coles was introduced to dance through trips to the Savoy Ballroom with her mother. She began her career by competing in Lindy Hop and swing competitions and then performed with Silas Green from New Orleans, an African American variety show that toured the South. In 1936 Coles joined the Apollo Theater’s Number One Chorus Line (and was a leader in a dancers’ strike that led to establishing the American Guild of Variety Artists). In the ’30s and ’40s she also danced with the bands of Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Count Basie.

 

In the ’80s, Coles joined Jane Goldberg’s Changing Times Tap Company. Then, along with several other chorus-line veterans, she formed the Silver Belles. They performed around the country for two decades and were the subject of a 2005 documentary, Been Rich All My Life. An active teacher, Coles gave master classes at NYU, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Tulane University, and Queens College, where she received an honorary doctorate in 2002.

 

Marion was married to tap legend Charles “Honi” Coles, who died in 1992.
—Emily Macel

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Transitions

Going West

Julianne Kepley, who spent eight years with Atlanta Ballet and subsequently joined Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet in 2002, moved on this past summer to become a soloist with San Francisco Ballet—just in time to be part of the company’s 75th- anniversary celebrations. She is a ballerina who instantly puts the audience at ease, thanks to her steely technique, electric energy, and easy adaptability to any style. Kepley brings a thoroughly modern quality to everything she dances—whether it’s the lead in Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew, the commanding housekeeper in Ashton’s A Wedding Bouquet, the combative girlfriend in Arpino’s Valentine or the object of desire in Donald Byrd’s jazzy To Know Her…, the marathon-like work in which she was the sole woman pursued by seven men. Byrd’s piece, which premiered at the Ravinia Festival outside Chicago last summer, also served as Kepley’s grand farewell to the Joffrey.

Why did she leap to the West Coast? “I’m 32, and it was now or never,” says the dancer, who praises her husband, lighting designer Scott Kepley, for being “amazingly willing to pick up his life, for the second time, to let me follow my dream.”

“One of the things I was most interested in doing—and didn’t get enough of at the Joffrey—was being involved in the creation of new works,” Kepley says. “And that’s something San Francisco is devoted to.” She admits she has had to get used to a very different kind of schedule at SFB, with months of rehearsal followed by months of performing, rather than a constant alternation between the two, as at the Joffrey. “I can’t wait to get back onstage,” she says.

When asked what she misses most about the Joffrey, she gives a quick mock cry: “My partner, my partner!”, referring to the Joffrey’s Michael Levine.
“We were a great pair,” Levine says. “Julianne is so fiery, and I am more analytical, and from the moment we first danced together in The Nutcracker it felt right.”

Kepley won’t be homesick for too long. She’ll be back in Chicago next summer—on tour with SFB.

—Hedy Weiss

DEATHS

David Adams (1928–2007)

When Winnipeg-born David Adams decided in his teens to become a ballet dancer, the notion of making a career of it was almost unimaginable in Canada, and for a man to do so was highly suspect. Yet the tall, handsome Adams, who died after a long illness on Oct. 24, was Canada’s first male ballet star, a charter member of its national ballet company, and a heartthrob for fans across the country.

Adams had already performed with the fledgling Winnipeg Ballet and with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet and Metropolitan Ballet (both in Britain) when National Ballet of Canada founder Celia Franca persuaded him to join her new venture in 1951. Franca, sight unseen, also hired his young wife, Lois Smith. Adams, who choreographed too, became the NBC’s first danseur noble. He was noted for his bravura style, dramatic intensity, and an athletic partnering prowess that earned him the nickname “forklift.” With Smith he formed an incandescent partnership that did much to boost the company’s popularity.

When the marriage disintegrated, Adams moved back to England—his parents were British-born—to dance with London Festival (now English National) Ballet, 1961–69, and The Royal Ballet, 1970–77, where he was artistic director of its Ballet for All touring offshoot.

Adams then resettled in Edmonton, Alberta. He became a beloved teacher, passing on his international experience to a new generation. Adams’ contribution to Canadian ballet, particularly in its pioneering era, was belatedly recognized in 2004 with his appointment as Officer of the Order of Canada.

—Michael Crabb

Lowell Smith (1951–2007)

One of Dance Theatre of Harlem’s most charismatic dancers, Lowell Smith died in October from lung cancer at age 56. Known for his masculine presence and expressive classicism, Smith brought flesh-and-blood life to such diverse roles as Stanley Kowalski in Valerie Bettis’ A Streetcar Named Desire; the preacher in Agnes de Mille’s Fall River Legend; Dysart in Domy Reiter-Soffer’s Equus: The Ballet; the Sanguinic variation in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments; and the lead in Glen Tetley’s Voluntaries.

“He could create a character that would project to the back of the house,” says Virginia Johnson, editor of Pointe magazine, who was partnered by Smith in many roles at DTH. “Being onstage with him when he danced Stanley Kowalski was like being in a gale wind force. That was something great to work against.”

Raised in Memphis, Smith attended the North Carolina School of the Arts, was awarded a scholarship with the Joffrey Ballet school, and joined DTH in 1977. In his 17 years with the company, he symbolized the bold style of theatrical ballet that Arthur Mitchell fostered in the troupe. After retiring from the stage, he became a passionate ballet teacher and choreographer. Most recently, he taught for Lula Washington in L.A. and coached Vivica Fox on the television series, Dancing with the Stars.

—Joseph Carman

 

Brydon Paige (1933–2007)

Vancouver-born Brydon Paige, former artistic director of the Alberta Ballet, originally wanted to be an actor. He began studying dance in his late teens only to enhance his stage movement. Paige was soon smitten, however, and switched artistic loyalties and cities in 1953 to join Montreal’s Les Ballets Chiriaeff, a television troupe that evolved into Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. Paige danced mostly character roles before becoming LGBC’s ballet master and occasional choreographer. Apart from a sojourn with the National Ballet of Guatemala, LGBC remained Paige’s home until he moved to Edmonton in 1976 to head the young and ailing Alberta Ballet. Despite its chronic financial problems, Paige managed to raise the dancing standards and choreographed several popular story ballets in the classical mode. He also nurtured emerging choreographers. By the time he left in 1988, Alberta Ballet had toured internationally and was on the way to becoming one of Canada’s most artistically vital troupes. Paige went on to choreograph and later direct a lavish arena-style touring production of Verdi’s Aïda. Until illness intervened, he was artistic director of Montreal’s Ballet Divertimento, an accredited school and choreographic center for college-level students.

—M.C.

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Transitions

RETIREMENT

Jock Soto
Jock Soto, whose final performance with New York City Ballet is June 19th, has danced myriad roles since joining the company in 1981. His repertoire includes ballets by Balanchine and  Robbins. Many choreographers have created roles on him, including Peter Martins, Christopher Wheeldon, Lynne Taylor-Corbett, and Kevin O’Day. Soto has appeared on Broadway in Ziegfeld Follies (choreographed by Wheeldon), and teaches partnering and men’s class at the School of American Ballet. A 2003 Dance Magazine Award recipient, he co-wrote Our Meals with former NYCB dancer Heather Watts, published by Riverhead Books in 1997.
     There are only a few dancers who have a kind of generosity which distinguishes not only their artistry but who they are. They keep a focus on the larger picture, becoming anchors of integrity not only to the choreography, but to their colleagues. Jock Soto has defined this kind of integrity with his work at the New York City Ballet for 24 years.
     A pioneer in the art of partnering, Jock has cultivated his skill to an unparalleled level of expertise. Like a great magician, he is a master of illusion. His performances are seamless miracles that blend brute strength with silken sensitivity tailored to the lines and needs of his ballerinas, each of whom he presents as if she were a rare and exotic orchid.
     To his fans in the audience, Jock is a charismatic master, the last of Balanchine’s chosen men. He is one of the special ones, a powerful presence of dark, refined elegance. As one of his many partners, I can say that dancing with him has been the experience of a lifetime. He has taken us to a purer form of the dance, allowing us to feel the glide of angels and giving us each a small taste of heaven.
              —Wendy Whelan, NYCB principal dancer

DEATHS

Victor Castelli
(1952–2005)
Victor Castelli, an expressive soloist with NYCB who later became a ballet master with the company, died at the age of 52 on February 8 from complications due to liver cancer. A favorite of both Robbins and Balanchine, he created the jaunty solo role in the “Gigue” section of Balanchine’s Mozartiana. Castelli also excelled as the doomed Poet in La Sonnambula, as the easy-going “green boy” in Dances at a Gathering, and as the frustrated Door in Variations pour une Porte et un Soupir.
     Jean-Pierre Frohlich, a fellow NYCB ballet master and a close friend of Castelli’s, recalls the dancer’s joi de vivre, as well as his elegance, beautifully elongated lines, and patience. “One of my strongest memories is watching him learn Prodigal Son from Balanchine,” said Frohlich. “It was fascinating, because Balanchine explained everything to him. Near the end, when he is leaning against the table, Balanchine used to say, ‘Think of Jesus Christ on the cross.’ ”
     A dancer whom Robbins relied on to experiment with his choreography, Castelli later became a valuable assistant to the choreographer, working with him on Jerome Robbins’ Broadway and traveling to the Paris Opéra Ballet to stage Robbins’ works there. Castelli was appointed ballet master in 1990, when he retired from dancing. “He was always true to the creator, to get the look that the creator wanted,” said Frohlich. After Robbins’ death, Castelli served on the advisory committee of the Robbins Rights Trust. New York City Ballet dedicated its February 13 performance of Mozartiana to the memory of Castelli.—Joseph Carman


William Lawrence Boyette

William Lawrence Boyette, dancer, teacher, and Denver dance pioneer, died in March at the age of 80. Boyette performed with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. Then, in 1959, he founded the Ballet Arts Center in Denver and later the Foundation for Public Education in Ballet Arts (now called Ballet Arts Theatre). In addition he opened the Ballet Arts Boulder Studio and taught and choreographed at the University of Colorado until 1991.

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