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Dance Matters: Striking Gold
In February the Stuttgart Ballet celebrated its 50th birthday with a three-week festival involving the whole company, its John Cranko School, guest companies, and returning alumni. We asked Dance Magazine's newest Advisory Board member, Evan McKie, to report from his vantage point as a principal dancer with the company.
Monica Mason made a good point when she asked, “What would ballet be today without Stuttgart?" The Royal Ballet's artistic director was one of the 21,000 guests at the Stuttgart Ballet's 50th Anniversary (Mega) Festival this February, just as her great predecessor, Ninette de Valois, had attended one of Stuttgart's first festivals in 1962. Neither de Valois, nor her young friend John Cranko, could have known then that Clive Barnes would one day praise the company as a “ballet miracle." Opera-ballet has been around in Stuttgart for centuries, but it was Cranko who built the company that has contributed so famously to today's ballet world.
Stuttgart, now led by Reid Anderson, offers dancers and audiences a whole lot: constant new work from fascinating artists (Mauro Bigonzetti, Wayne McGregor, Marco Goecke, and Christian Spuck all created their first large-scale works here) and a plentiful catalogue of homespun gems: Cranko's Onegin, MacMillan's Song of the Earth and Requiem, and Neumeier's Lady of the Camellias to name a few.
Many guests stayed for all 27 events, including mixed programs, full-length ballets, and even a directors' conference. In two galas, over 200 alumni and international guests gathered onstage for heartwarming curtain calls. “If these walls could talk,'' we often think to ourselves…well for this festival, they did!
I was moved when I met the humble Jirí Kylián, who had arrived and begun his choreographic journey here just before Cranko's untimely death. I danced his Return to a Strange Land, a piece that suited the wonderfully nostalgic feeling of this festival. Two great Stuttgart stars from the U.S., Richard Cragun and Ray Barra, were among my favorite guests. I didn't want these contagious personalities, who had created starring roles in Cranko ballets like Romeo, Onegin, and Taming of the Shrew, to leave.
It was refreshing to be reminded that stars of yesteryear often fumbled while creating some beautifully complex work. Marcia Haydée and Egon Madsen reminisced about mishaps while laughing uncontrollably. Haydée told us that Cranko once told her and Cragun to remember the exact intensity and picture of a particular second just before they both had a serious tumble in rehearsal and then re-created that moment in a Shrew pas de deux.
After Cranko's sudden death in 1973, the company mourned, but new generations grew up around his Stuttgart family. With Haydée as ballerina and mother figure, choreographers from Béjart to the American Glen Tetley (who briefly directed) created stunning works.
Neumeier, Kylián, and Forsythe were all part of the generation that grew from within the troupe. Their pieces at the festival were an amazing mix: Neumeier's Hamburg Ballet touched my heart in Nijinsky; Kathryn Bennetts' Royal Ballet of Flanders (she too is an alumna) blew out my retinas in Forsythe's philosophical Impressing the Czar, which contains In the middle, somewhat elevated; and the agility of Nederlands Dans Theater II in Kylián's 27'52'' and Gods and Dogs made me want to be onstage with them.
At the end of the festival we were exhausted yet jolted with the energy of friendship. A unique glimpse into Stuttgart's brilliant past was invigorating and made us so grateful for its artistically abundant soil. I can't think of a better way to dance into its fertile future.
One of the biggest myths about ballet dancers is that they don't eat. While we all know that, yes, there are those who do struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, most healthy dancers love food—and eat plenty of it to fuel their busy schedules.
Luckily for us, they're not afraid to show it:
Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
What does a superstar like Carlos Acosta do after bidding farewell to his career in classical ballet? In Acosta's case, he returns to his native country, Cuba, to funnel his fame, connections and prodigious energies back into the dance scene that formed him. Because of its top-notch, state-supported training programs and popular embrace of the art of dance, Cuba is brimming with talented dancers. What it has been short on, until recently, are opportunities outside of the mainstream companies, as well as access to a more international repertoire. That is changing now, and, with the creation of Acosta Danza, launched in 2016, Acosta is determined to open the doors even wider to new ideas and audiences.
There's so much more to the dance world than making and performing dances. Arts administrators do everything from raising money to managing companies to building new audiences. With the growing number of arts administration programs in colleges, dancers have an opportunity to position themselves for a multifaceted career on- or offstage—and to bring their unique perspective as artists to administrative work.
While Solange was busy helping big sis Beyoncé give Coachella its best performances of all time, an equally compelling project was quietly circulating on Instagram:
New York City Ballet continues its first year without Peter Martins at the helm as our spring season opens tonight.
When he retired at the start of the new year, we plunged headfirst into unknown, murky waters. Who would the new director be? When would we know? Would we dancers get some say in the decision? Who would oversee the Balanchine ballets? Who would be in charge of casting? Would a new director bring along huge upheaval? Could some of us be out of a job?
In the world of ballet, Arcadian Broad is a one-stop shop: He'll come up with a story, compose its music, choreograph the movement and dance it himself. But then Broad has always been a master of versatility. As a teenager he juggled school, dance and—after the departure of his father—financial responsibility. It was Broad's income from dancing that kept his family afloat. Fast-forward six years and things are far more stable. Broad now lives on his own in an apartment, but you can usually find him in the studio.
Bales of hay, black umbrellas, bicycles—this Midsummer Night's Dream would be unrecognizable to the Bard. Alexander Ekman's full-length, inspired by Scandinavian solstice traditions and set to music by Mikael Karlsson, is a madcap celebration of the longest day of the year, when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural is said to be at its thinnest. The Joffrey Ballet's performances mark the seductively surreal work's North American premiere. April 25–May 6. joffrey.org.