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The Sweetest Choreography Gig You've Probably Never Considered
For many choreographers, opera is a mysterious world. Though operas often employ concert dance choreographers, they operate on an entirely different scale than most dance productions, and pose new challenges for dancemakers. Here's what you need to know to tackle your first production.
How Do I Get Hired?
Seán Curran working on The Daughter of The Regiment, Photo by Ken Howard, Courtesy Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
Getting your start as an opera choreographer is often a matter of connections and luck. Jessica Lang, who has directed and choreographed for the Glimmerglass Opera Festival and choreographed Aida for San Francisco Opera and Washington National Opera, was recommended to director Francesca Zambello, who hired her for subsequent productions. Seán Curran, whose credits include Salome at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Roméo et Juliette at the Metropolitan Opera, was recommended to a director by a costume designer. "I just met a young Juilliard graduate who is about to choreograph his first opera, because the director liked his dancing and took a risk on him," Curran says. He recommends approaching a director you admire, and dancing in operas if possible.
How Does Dance Function Within an Opera?
Dance can push the story forward in opera, or be just for fun. Photo by Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
"There are operas where dance pushes the narrative forward, and others where dance is a divertissement," says Curran. "Sometimes dance is used as part of a character. That's one of the ways a choreographer can be useful to a director: clarifying movement as human behavior."
The amount of dance and the style can vary widely between productions. "In a period piece, you might need to know about historic dance," Curran says. "If it's set in the future, you have to come up with something new."
What's the Process Like?
Seán Curran always comes to opera rehearsals very prepared. Photo by Ken Howard, Courtesy Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
The major artistic difference for concert dance choreographers coming to opera is the presence of a director. Curran suggests arriving to rehearsal very prepared. "I listen to the music 100 times. If there's a book, I read it, and I'll watch other versions to see how choreographers have problem-solved," he says. "You need plans A, B, C and maybe D, and you have to be able to change them because the director may want something different."
Lang stays focused on the director's vision, the story and the music, reiterating that the director, not the choreographer, is in charge. But it's okay to ask the costume designer what the dancers will be wearing, or talk to the technical staff about the floor. "I make sure that the team understands certain ideas could pose a problem for dancing," Lang says.
What's the Timeline?
Operas have longer rehearsal periods than most choreographers will be used to. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Choreographers will need to adjust to the extended timeline—usually around a month of rehearsals, plus tech time—of a much more elaborate production. Huge sets and dozens of cast members can mean operas have extensive technical rehearsals. For concert choreographers used to running through cues right before they perform, this might be a welcome change. Budgets are bigger too. "The cost of a wig could pay the salary for one of the dancers in my company," Curran jokes.
How Are Dancers Hired?
Curran looks for dancers who can act. Photo by Ken Howard, Courtesy Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
Regional productions often want to use local dancers so that they don't have to fly people in or pay a per diem, says Curran. During auditions, Curran teaches a contemporary class and may ask to see the dancers do a bit of acting. "You need dancers who are idea-driven, who know they're not the star," he says.
What's It Like to Work with Singers?
Singers and dancers perform together in Rusalka. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Curran attends as many non-dance rehearsals as possible and works to build trust with singers, who, he says, tend to be anti-dance. "If I can convince a singer that in addition to vocal projection, they can have physical projection, I know I'll get more out of them." He also works to understand when the singer needs to "park and bark," that is, stand and sing during parts that require tremendous breath control.
What Can I Learn?
Curran wishes more dancers would see opera. Photo by Ken Howard, Courtesy Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
Working within the parameters of a plot-driven show might be a new experience for concert dance choreographers. "When I first came to opera, I had my love of showbiz and my postmodern-choreographer's toolbox," Curran says. "But then I started learning about narrative, character and text. It also helped me think like a musician." He wishes more dancers would see opera, and learn from it. "There's so much to understand," he says. "The theatricality, the scale and grandeur. It's nourishing."
New York City Ballet is celebrating the Jerome Robbins Centennial with twenty (20!) ballets. The great American choreographer died in 1998, so very few of today's dancers have actually worked with him. There are plenty of stories about how demanding (at times brutally so) he could be in rehearsal. But Peter Boal has written about Robbins in a more balanced, loving way. In this post he writes about how Robbins' crystal clear imagery helped him approach a role with clarity and purpose.
Who says you need fancy equipment to make a festival-worthy dance film? Right now, two New York City–based dance film festivals are calling for aspiring filmmakers to show their stuff—and you don't need anything more cumbersome than a smartphone to get in on the action.
Here's everything you need to know about how to submit:
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
We all know that the general population's knowledge of ballet is sometimes...a bit skewed. (See: people touching their fingertips to the top of their head, and Kendall Jenner hopping around at the barre.)
Would your average Joe know how to do ballet's most basic step: a plié? Or, more to the point, even know what it is?
SELF decided to find out.
When Lisset Santander bourréed onstage as Myrtha in BalletMet's Giselle this past February, her consummate portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis was marked by steely grace and litheness. The former Cuban National Ballet dancer had defected to the U.S. at 21, and after two years with the Ohio company, she's now closer to the dance career she says she always wanted: one of limitless possibilities.
For 17 years, James Samson has been the model Paul Taylor dancer. There is something fundamentally decent about his stage persona. He's a tall dancer—six feet—but never imposes himself. He's muscular, but gentle. And when he moves, it is his humanity that shines through, even more than his technique.
But all dancing careers come to an end, and James Samson's is no exception; now 43, he'll be retiring in August, after a final performance at the Teatro Romano in Verona, where he'll be dancing in Cloven Kingdom, Piazzolla Caldera and Promethean Fire.
The wait for Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of Petipa's Harlequinade is almost over! But if you can't wait until American Ballet Theatre officially debuts the ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House on June 6, we've got you covered. ABT brought the Harlequinade characters to life (and to the Alder Mansion in Yonkers, NY) in a short film by Ezra Hurwitz, and it's a guaranteed to make you laugh.
When an anonymous letter accused former New York City Ballet leader Peter Martins of sexual harassment last year, it felt like what had long been an open secret—the prevalence of harassment in the dance world—was finally coming to the surface. But the momentum of the #MeToo movement, at least in dance, has since died down.
Martins has retired, though an investigation did not corroborate any of the claims against him. He and former American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes, who suddenly resigned in December, were the only cases to make national headlines in the U.S. We've barely scratched the surface of the dance world's harassment problem.
Many choreographers have been defeated by Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. However, one dancemaker whose stridency, rhythmic daring and sheer inventiveness could possibly match Stravinsky's is Wayne McGregor. For his first commission from American Ballet Theatre, McGregor has taken on this earth-cracking music in AFTERITE, to premiere at ABT's Spring Gala. Also on the May 21 gala program are excerpts from Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of the comic ballet Harlequinade, the full version of which will premiere next month, and a pièce d'occasion by tapper Michelle Dorrance. May 21–26. abt.org.
If diamonds are a girl's best friend, it's safe to say that faux-diamond earrings are a dancer's best friend. A fixture onstage at just about every competition weekend, these blinged-out baubles are also the surest sign that recital season is upon us again. And what better way to get into the sparkly spirit than by drooling over these 5 diamonds in the rough? (Sorry not sorry!)