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Musing on Two of Ratmansky's Muses: Stella Abrera and Sarah Lane

Stella Abrera and Gennadi Saveliev in Seven Sonatas, PC Gene Schiavone

When it comes to ballerinas at American Ballet Theatre, Ratmansky has naturally given juicy roles to his fellow Russians. But he has also given first cast to two scintillating women who just performed the leads in his latest ballet for ABT, Souvenir d'un lieu cher. Although he choreographed it for Dutch National Ballet in 2012, this mysterious little quartet to haunting music by Tchaikovsky found a new life at the Met last week.

Sarah Lane and Alban Lendorf in Souvenir, PC Gene Schiavone

Both Stella Abrera and Sarah Lane (who just got promoted to principal) are exquisite classical stylists with a particular poignancy
around the head/neck/shoulder area. But they also have very different personalities—and Ratmansky uses their differences in Souvenir.


In this ballet Abrera seemed given to moods, perhaps because her partner Marcelo Gomes fluctuated between treating her with affection and with indifference. She wilted when he turned away from her. On the other hand, Lane's character was always open, fresh and fluid. She and her partner, Alban Lendorf, shared a certain resiliency. Both couples flowed through inventive partnering, shaded by dramatic moments, making me eager to see it again.

Stella Abrera as Princess Tea Flower in Whipped Cream, PC Gene Schiavone

Abrera and Lane were also cast as the two female leads in the season's new extravaganza, Whipped Cream. As Princess Tea Flower, Abrera had a softness that I thought might represent chamomile tea. One motif had her upper body drooping and arms swinging heavily with drowsiness. It was kind of stunning to see that kind of surrender to gravity on a ballet stage. I think Abrera is one of the few ballet dancers who can let go completely.

A contrast was provided by Lane's character, Princess Praline. Her variation powered through insanely fast and precise steps—which she aced with aplomb. This was the fastest new allegro variation I think I've ever seen. The sharpness required was akin to the bird's lethal peckings in The Golden Cockerel, last spring's spectacle.

Sarah Lane and Joseph Gorak in The Tempest, PC Marty Sohl

Back in 2009, Abrera created a role in Ratmansky's Seven Sonatas, for three couples dancing to Scarlatti. I felt that the story line was carried by Abrera. With a turn of the head she could project affection, wariness or devotion.

When Ratmansky choreographed The Tempest in 2013, he cast Lane as the young Miranda. She brought a breathy—and breath-taking—innocence to the role, providing a bright spot in that ballet.

I look forward to many more Ratmansky roles for Abrera and Lane. Their artistry is enchanting to behold.

In Memoriam
A flyer showing Alberto Alonso, Fernando Alonso, Benjamin Steinberg and Alicia Alonso. Photo courtesy the author

Alicia has died. I walked around my apartment feeling her spirit, but knowing something had changed utterly.

My father, the late conductor Benjamin Steinberg, was the first music director of the Ballet de Cuba, as it was called then. I grew up in Vedado on la Calle 1ra y doce in a building called Vista al Mar. My family lived there from 1959 to 1963. My days were filled with watching Alicia teach class, rehearse and dance. She was everything: hilarious, serious, dramatic, passionate and elegiac. You lost yourself and found yourself when you loved her.

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Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"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.

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Hansuke Yamamoto in Helgi Tomasson's Nutcracker at San Francisco Ballet, which features an exciting and respectful Chinese divertissement. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

It's Nutcracker time again: the season of sweet delights and a sparkling good time—if we're able to ignore the sour taste left behind by the outdated racial stereotypes so often portrayed in the second act.

In 2017, as a result of a growing list of letters from audience members, to New York City Ballet's ballet master in chief Peter Martins reached out to us asking for assistance on how to modify the elements of Chinese caricature in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Following that conversation, we founded the Final Bow for Yellowface pledge that states, "I love ballet as an art form, and acknowledge that to achieve a diversity amongst our artists, audiences, donors, students, volunteers, and staff, I am committed to eliminating outdated and offensive stereotypes of Asians (Yellowface) on our stages."

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Dance & Activism
Allegra Bautista in Nevertheless, by ka·nei·see | collective. Photo by Robbie Sweeny

An audience member once emailed Dallas choreographer Joshua L. Peugh, claiming his work was vulgar. It complained that he shouldn't be pushing his agenda. As the artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Peugh's recent choreography largely deals with LGBTQ issues.

"I got angry when I saw that email, wrote my angry response, deleted it, and then went back and explained to him that that's exactly why I should be making those works," says Peugh.

With the current political climate as polarized as it is, many artists today feel compelled to use their work to speak out on issues they care deeply about. But touring with a message is not for the faint of heart. From considerations about how to market the work to concerns about safety, touring to cities where, in general, that message may not be so welcome, requires companies to figure out how they'll respond to opposition.

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