A Classic Beauty
Kristi Capps was the corps dancer who made dancegoers snap to attention when she joined Cincinnati Ballet 12 years ago. You were quickly drawn to her pleasant proportions, preternaturally arched feet and handsome legs, and a sweet open face that seemed made to portray Juliet.
Flash forward to her lean, honed silhouette today. She still possesses an endearing innocence, but she is a far more expressive and powerful dancer. Walking serenely with her partner in the opening of Balanchine’s Chaconne, or shaping with her toned limbs a hyper-kinetic anagram in Jorma Elo’s Plan to B, Capps pulls the viewer in with her intelligence, self-awareness, and deep absorption in every role.
Promoted to principal in 2002, Capps has danced the popular classics with honor and has stretched herself in new contemporary works. Visiting choreographers, says artistic director Victoria Morgan, vie to cast Capps in their ballets. “Kristi has beautiful line and physicality,” says Morgan. “She looks great in those contemporary pieces because she can really move like an animal.”
In regional ballet there are some excellent dancers, but many tend to move on after a few seasons. Capps, 34, chose to remain in Cincinnati, and she has never stopped growing. Grit, determination, all-out hard work, and a natural impulse to be a team player have helped propel her through the company ranks to become CB’s senior ballerina.
Capps grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, and was studying piano at age 9 when she was captivated by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland on TV in The Nutcracker. She asked her parents for lessons. For a few years, her younger brother Stuart (who eventually danced with New York City Ballet and in Twyla Tharp’s Movin’ Out), and even her mother and father took classes locally. “We ended up spending every hour at the studios,” she recalls with a grin. At 14 she left home for a year’s study at the Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida. She then entered North Carolina School of the Arts as a high school sophomore, a year later than most of her classmates.
Her primary teacher was the formidable ex-NYCB ballerina Melissa Hayden, who steeped the class in Balanchine choreography. In summers, faculty member Guyla Pandi took a small group to the Hungarian State Ballet School in Budapest for lessons in Russian technique with teachers from the Kirov.
Because of those influences, says Capps, “I feel more comfortable in classical roles and in Balanchine ballets.” In contemporary works by choreographers like Luca Veggetti, she has learned to “allow myself to be off balance and see where that will take me.”
About NCSA, she says, “It was an awesome school and a tough class, which was great; it made me work. But those are hard years in anyone’s life. Your body is changing, you don’t feel good in your skin, and you are just trying to find yourself.” She went through periods of self-doubt and considered applying to college.
After graduation, with Melissa Hayden’s encouragement, Capps moved on to three happy seasons as a company member at Atlanta Ballet, then directed by former NYCB principal Robert Barnett. In 1996, when she joined Cincinnati Ballet, the company’s ballet mistress, Johanna Wilt, noted Capps’ promise and strong work ethic. “Kristi was always the first to get the combination,” says Wilt. “She is musical and she is a perfectionist.”
Capps has also sought enriching new experiences on her own. For years she used summer layoffs to study and perform in Chautauqua, New York, in the program established by former NYCB principals Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride. She blossomed amidst the camaraderie, inspiring classes, and new repertory, where she could attempt all kinds of roles, including dramatic ones.
She has also welcomed unusual opportunities. She describes as “a treasure” the 2004 Cincinnati revival of Léonide Massine’s Seventh Symphony, a Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo masterwork not seen in half a century. In the ballet’s great lamentation scene—with references to the Crucifixion—Capps recreated a grieving mother who was part of an ensemble of mourners, yet separate from it. “Human, but a kind of goddess” is the way Capps says she envisioned the character.
Even with her beautiful legs and feet and strong torso, Capps still had to overcome technical hurdles. Her hyper-extended legs, for instance, are not assets when it comes to bourrées. She has learned to relax the knees to make them appear effortless. And because of her high arches, she has learned to pull back in her toe shoes to do hops on pointe.
To dance dramatic parts “from the inside,” she has experimented and delved into research. She rents tons of dance videos when approaching a dramatic role, and she tries to rehearse without looking in the mirror. “Once you see it, you start to judge yourself and it’s not coming out real. You’re not acting through emotions, you’re watching yourself act. You have to feel it.”
Morgan praises Capps’ maturity as a performer but knows that she has had to unlock an inner confidence. “Kristi has had to overcome a tendency to play down her own abilities,” notes Morgan. “The hardest part of a performance for her is the bow. She’s very, very modest.”
Capps’ curtain calls have grown warmer and more spontaneous through the years. She still seems happiest when moving swiftly to the wings with arms outstretched to bring company music director Carmon DeLeone onstage for a bow. (CB is one of the rare regional troupes that still performs with a live orchestra).
In 2001, by then a soloist, Capps filled in as a third-cast Swanilda in Kirk Peterson’s Coppélia. Dawn Kelly, who was also in the corps at the time, says, “I was taken aback at how beautiful she was even then. Being third cast never deterred her from working as hard as she could. She attacked it as if she was first-cast.”
Peterson, Cincinnati’s resident choreographer, subsequently cast Capps as Kitri in his Don Quixote. She brought surprising fire and fun to the character, as if she’d found something deep in her personality that could relate to the role.
“She’s so open,” observes Peterson. “That’s the thing a choreographer looks for—a dancer who checks their ego at the door and surrenders themselves to the process. And she’s a very sensitive artist. She has nuances that are emotionally accessible to a choreographer that are wonderful to mold.”
Dancing Don Quixote, says Capps, later enabled her to say yes when ABT star Angel Corella needed a last-minute partner to dance a Don Q suite for a gala in Spain. (He had invited Cuban soloist Adiarys Almeida, but she had visa problems and recommended Capps.)
“I hardly slept on the plane, I kept going over the choreography in my mind,” Capps remembers. “I barely had a rehearsal the night I arrived; the next morning was dress rehearsal and tech, and then the performance.” Once onstage, she says, “I was kind of beside myself. It was cool! He was concerned that I would feel comfortable. He was very generous that way. Thankfully our versions were very similar.” She returned to Spain a month later to dance in another gala organized by Corella.
Capps’ Coppélia debut proved serendipitous in her private life. Her Franz, also an 11th-hour appearance, was a newcomer by way of Colorado Ballet, Kirov-trained Dmitri Trubchanov. The two realized later that they had each formed a small crush on the other before ever being paired onstage. They eventually became off-stage life partners. Last year, on a bike trip in Europe, they became engaged.
Capps says their dance partnership has been crucial to her confidence in dramatic roles. Because of his Soviet training, “Dima can walk onstage and be a prince,” she says. “There is nothing better than dancing with him.” Their 2004 performances of Victoria Morgan’s Romeo and Juliet were a high point of the season: fiercely alive with youthful passion and heartbreak, but sufficiently distilled so that nothing was permitted to go over the top.
Last spring Capps was paired with the polished, Perm State Ballet-trained guest artist Alexei Tyukov, in Eldar Aliev’s A Thousand and One Nights, based on the classic tales of Scheherezade. As a stern potentate and his discontented queen, the pair’s dashes toward the audience, ornamental poses, and Soviet-style lifts brought pantherine excitement to the ballet. In recent seasons, she and Tyukov have performed Swan Lake and Giselle with growing rapport.
This season Capps is looking forward to dancing the local premiere of Twyla Tharp’s sizzling Sinatra Suite and other works. She is also thinking ahead to the next phase of her life. She wants to eventually teach yoga and study marine biology. (She’s spent time in Costa Rica working on sea turtle conservation.)
But until that distant point in the future, she says, “Dance has been such an essence of my life for so long that it’s hard to think of ever moving away from it.” She talks about the freedom of being onstage: “Once you hit the stage, you’re away from the mirror, the scrutiny of rehearsal. You’ve done all the preparation you can. It’s the final release. All your senses are on fire.”
Last summer she went to Russia with Trubchanov to visit his family in their tiny village. “We were picking berries. I’m one of those people who’ll pick the berries until the bucket is full. I don’t want to leave it half full. I’m like that with dancing. A performance brings everything full circle. I like taking class, I like rehearsing, but what means most is completing the circle.”
Janet Light writes about dance from Cincinnati, OH.
The connections dancers make in college are no joke. For recent alum Gabrielle Hamilton, working with guest choreographer John Heginbotham at Point Park University put her on the fast track to Broadway—not in an ensemble role, but as the lead dancer in one of this season's hottest tickets: Daniel Fish's arresting reboot of Oklahoma!
We caught up with Hamilton about starring in the show's dream ballet and her delightfully bizarre pre-show ritual.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Last Friday, through an appeal to an independent arbitrator, the American Guild of Musical Artists successfully reinstated NYCB principals Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro, previously fired for allegedly circulating sexually explicit texts containing nude photos.
AGMA opposed Ramasar and Catazaro's terminations in order to prevent the setting of a dangerous precedent that would allow dancers to be fired under less understandable consequences. But we cannot allow future cases to dictate the way we handle this situation—particularly a union committed to "doing everything in [its] power to ensure you have a respectful environment in which to work."
But according to the H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory, one in every three dancers in New York City lives under the poverty line, and may lack the resources to purchase the ingredients they need to make nutritious meals.
Not to mention the fact that dancers are busy, and often running around from class to rehearsal to performance to side hustle, grabbing whatever they can get to eat on-the-go.
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
Get Dance Magazine in your inbox
I have a commitment, a romance, a love affair with dance, with the feeling that happens when the music and the steps so perfectly align and I can't help but get chills. That feeling when my partner and I are dancing as one, when everyone onstage feels the same heartbeat, when it's just me alone in my bedroom.
You can see them in "Fosse/Verdon" episode one. Michelle Williams, playing Gwen Verdon, wears them with a cool, retro, forest-green jumpsuit. Tucked beneath a mop top of tousled Gwen Verdon locks, Williams sports a pair of discreet and tasteful onyx drop-earrings—the dancer's favorites. Verdon wore them all her adult life, according to her daughter Nicole Fosse, a co-executive producer of the FX series that puts a spotlight on a great woman of American dance.
"I have very little memory of my mother wearing other earrings. They were her Gwen Verdon earrings," says Fosse, speaking by phone from her home in Vermont. "She's wearing them in 99 percent of the pictures of her performing."
Four years of lectures, exams and classes can feel like a lifetime for college dancers who have their sights set on performing. So when a professional opportunity comes knocking, it can be tempting to step away from your academics. But there are a few things to consider before putting your education on hold.
We've all been there: You see the craziest/most beautiful/oddest/wildest clip of a dance on Facebook and you simply have to see more.
But do you actually get yourself to the theater and sit through a 90-minute performance? The consensus, at this point, typically seems to be: No.
There is no clear correlation between a company's social media campaigns and how many seats they fill in the theater. That doesn't mean social media isn't, of course, vital. It simply means that "social media campaigns operating without other marketing campaigns don't cut it," says Rob Bailis, associate director of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. "But campaigns without social media are far worse off."
Since the project was first announced toward the end of 2017, we've been extremely curious about Yuli. The film, based on Carlos Acosta's memoir No Way Home, promised as much dancing as biography, with Acosta appearing as himself and dance sequences featuring his eponymous Cuba-based company Acosta Danza. Add in filmmaking power couple Icíar Bollaín (director) and Paul Laverty (screenwriter), and you have a recipe for a dance film unlike anything else we've seen recently.
One of the country's top arbitrators has decided to reinstate Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro to New York City Ballet. The former principals were fired last fall for "inappropriate communications," namely graphic text messages.
The dancers' union, American Guild of Musical Artists, fought the termination, arguing that the firings were unjust since they related entirely to non-work activity. After a careful review of the facts, an independent arbitrator determined that while the company was justified in disciplining the two men, suspension was the appropriate action and termination took it too far.
A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.
This is all within the first 10 minutes of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a 1944 ballet about three sailors frolicking on shore leave during World War II, beloved by many and still regularly performed (especially during the last year, since 2018 was the centennial celebration of Robbins's birth). Critic Edwin Denby, after the premiere with Ballet Theatre, called it "a remarkable comedy piece" and "a direct, manly piece."
When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.
So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.
What is an acceptable request from a choreographer in terms of nudity? On the first day of shooting All That Jazz in the 1970s, Bob Fosse asked us men to remove everything but our jock straps and the women to remove their tops. His rationale was to shock us in order to build character, and it felt disloyal to refuse. Would this behavior be considered okay today?
As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
So where can companies find the money?
Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.
A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."
One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.
The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.