Joffrey Ballet's Big News
Today the Joffrey Ballet announced a new Nutcracker to be created by Christopher Wheeldon next year. This makes me happy because Wheeldon’s full-length story ballets have been pretty spectacular. He really knows how to collaborate with designers and composers and give story ballets a contemporary slant.
After seeing National Ballet of Canada perform his Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at the Kennedy Center, I called it beguiling. But I liked his Cinderella with San Francisco Ballet even more. In this post, I wrote that he tells the story "with a sense of enchantment and humor." And his recent Winter’s Tale with The Royal Ballet got rave reviews.
It’s time for a big, luscious story ballet made just for the Joffrey. The company celebrated its 20th year in Chicago last fall, and the old Joffrey/Arpino Nutcracker was made well before that move.
In the meantime, the company is in the midst of its Unique Voices program. Artistic director Ashley Wheater has brought together three international choreographers whose works are very visible in the U.S.: the Australian Stanton Welch, who is at the helm of Houston Ballet; James Kudelka, an iconoclast from Canada; and the Swede Alexander Ekman.
Stanton Welch’s Maninyas, made for San Francisco Ballet in 1996, will no doubt challenge the Joffrey dancers with its juicy virtuosity. In this "Choreography in Focus," Welch talks about the sexuality of the women’s shoulder movements in the ballet.
Fernando Duarte, Joanna Wozniak, Edson Barbosa, and Derrick Agnolett in The Man in Black. Photo by Cheryl Mann.
The Man in Black, made by James Kudelka for BalletMet Columbus in 2010, takes us on a very American ride: He uses tunes from Johnny Cash’s American album collection. This choreographer has such a unique way of creating mood through movement that it makes me curious to see it.
Alexander Ekman choreographs for companies all over Europe, but his works are also in the reps of Boston Ballet, Cedar Lake and Atlanta Ballet. He tends to make big, sprawling pieces that can be either charming or irritating—or both. Tulle utilizes the full company and even includes interviews with them on video. Made for the Royal Swedish ballet in 2010, it was Ekman’s first piece on pointe and it’s about the art of ballet.
Miguel Angel Blanco and April Daly in Tulle. Photo by Cheryl Mann
It will be interesting to see how these three different works reverberate with each other on this program.
The Joffrey’s Unique Voices goes till Feb. 22. For tickets, click here. And gear up for December 2016, when Wheeldon’s Nutcracker will be unveiled.
Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.
But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.