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Sprucing Up Swan Lake: Liam Scarlett Balances the Old and the New at The Royal Ballet
A new production of Swan Lake is no small undertaking—especially at The Royal Ballet, where the last one, staged by Sir Anthony Dowell, lasted 30 years. When it came to replacing it, director Kevin O'Hare opted for a British choreographer who grew up with Dowell's version: Liam Scarlett, a former first artist with and current artist in residence at The Royal Ballet, took up the challenge in tandem with designer John Macfarlane.
Set to debut this month in London, Scarlett's first staging of a 19th-century ballet aims to strike a balance between tradition and narrative coherence, with a renewed attention to character detail. "Kevin and I were both keen to keep it vey classical, to honor what Petipa and Ivanov did and then pay homage to the history of Swan Lake within The Royal Ballet," the 31-year-old says.
It's an illustrious legacy: The Royal's first production was the work of Nikolai Sergeyev, the ballet master who smuggled notations of numerous Petipa ballets out of Russia. Sir Frederick Ashton later choreographed some numbers, one of which, the Neapolitan Dance, has endured—and will live on in Scarlett's production. "I danced it a lot, and it's such a great piece—ridiculously hard," Scarlett says with a laugh.
Iconic scenes, including the white act, the Act I pas de trois and the Black Swan pas de deux, will remain more or less untouched, although Scarlett says Alexei Ratmansky's recent reconstruction of the 1895 original (for Zurich Ballet and La Scala, based on Sergeyev's notation) provided food for thought. Scarlett will choreograph the rest, including the Act I corps numbers and most of the national dances.
"I'm in essence trying to ghostwrite someone else's work," Liam Scarlett says of helming The Royal Ballet's new production of Swan Lake. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy ROH
In order to keep the story fresh, Scarlett homed in on Siegfried's character. "He's the one who takes us through the entire ballet," he says. "I tried to crack his side of the story. He's a mortal man chasing some immortal being or idea: Is Odette real? Does she represent something that's missing in his life?" Von Rothbart will be another pivotal, albeit non-dancing, role, onstage from Act I as the Queen's advisor. "There's a backstory as to why he's changed Odette, who used to be a princess—maybe he's destroyed her kingdom, and he now has the ambition to try and ruin the palace."
Six different casts will take the stage for the first run this month. For Scarlett, working with them on Swan Lake has been a welcome change of pace from making his own choreography: "I'm in essence trying to ghostwrite someone else's work, without creating something that is selfish."
The June 12 performance will be broadcast live to select cinemas in the U.S., U.K. and Europe. Visit roh.org.uk/cinemas for details.
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!)