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
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.
Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.
Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.
Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you:
Conscientious theatergoers may be familiar with The School for Scandal, The School for Wives and School of Rock. But how many are also aware of the school of Fosse?
The 1999 musical, a posthumous exploration of the choreographic career of Bob Fosse, ran for 1,093 performances, winning four Tonys and 10 nominations; employing 32 dancers; and, completely unintentionally, nurturing a generation of Broadway choreographers. You may have heard of them: Andy Blankenbuehler and Sergio Trujillo danced in the original cast, Josh Rhodes was a swing, and Christopher Gattelli replaced Trujillo when he landed choreography jobs in Massachusetts and Canada. Blankenbuehler remembers that when Trujillo left, "It was as if he was graduating."
January 16 might as well be a Broadway holiday. Three gigantic names were born on this day, in 1908, 1950 and 1980, and they represent three distinct eras of powerhouse musicals. Without them, there'd be no belting Reno Sweeney, no "Fame"-ous Lydia Grant and no rapping Alexander Hamilton. Happy birthday to these indelible superstars.
In the midst of its 20th-anniversary season, BodyVox is taking a moment to look back. The Portland, Oregon–based company presents Urban Meadow, an amalgamation of some of its most popular works, at Philadelphia's Prince Theater, Jan. 18–21. Expect whimsy, and the unexpected. bodyvox.com.
I never believe that I deserve to be happy. This reaction kicked in big time since I got a steady job. My emotions are a roller coaster: joy at the chance to perform, terror that the people in charge don't like me and resentment at not getting solo roles. I'm driving myself crazy.
—Terry, Philadelphia, PA