On the Rise: Clara Blanco
In the highly competitive upper echelons of the ballet world, what Clara Blanco did several years ago is almost unheard of.
In 2006, the San Francisco Ballet corps member quit the company and headed for England’s Birmingham Royal Ballet. A year later, she was eager, if not desperate, to return to San Francisco. These defections, more often than not, are considered rebuffs to the company that has been deserted. “Once they’re gone, they’re gone,” seems to be the prevailing philosophy. But after a heartfelt request, SFB artistic director Helgi Tomasson took Blanco back in time for the 75th anniversary season’s New Works Festival, and her career has flourished ever since.
A wanderer no longer, Blanco returned a wiser person. “I think Helgi understood how I felt,” said the dancer in a break between rehearsals for Swan Lake and John Neumeier’s Little Mermaid at the SFB Association Building. “Since I returned, I have been given a lot of assignments, and I have learned what I really want from dancing. I’m in a better place now.”
Critics and audiences have noticed that evolution in Blanco’s performing style and the frequency of her solo appearances. She was part of the cast that has made Christopher Wheeldon’s luminous Within the Golden Hour such a calling-card for the company (it went on the SFB tour to China this fall) and choreographer Yuri Possokhov has tapped Blanco for all of his most recent works. She takes pride in Tomasson’s praise for her Dancing Doll in his Nutcracker, although her fine-boned features have adorned that ballet’s Grand Pas de Deux as well.
Ballet master Anita Paciotti remembers that performance as a defining moment in Blanco’s progress. “Clara showed a real understanding of the classical style. Her port de bras is exquisite. We all often use Clara as the example of just how the arms, neck, and head should look on a certain step.”
But the recent assignment that means most to Blanco is Nora in Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House. Her polish and dramatic projection as the playwright’s “doll” heroine who finally rebels made her a formidable onstage presence, despite her 5'2" height. “Now I love the roles that require characterization,” she said. “When I was younger, I was always afraid of them. I was shy about parts that could not be expressed through the steps alone.”
Blanco explains her reticence by her background, in which pure classicism ruled. A native of Valladolid, Spain, she started dance lessons at 6, deciding at 9 that ballet would be her career. At 12, she persuaded her mother that she should enroll in Maria de Avila’s Estudio de Danza in Zaragoza, and they moved there. It was a life changer.
“I never saw anyone as dedicated as Maria,” Blanco recalled. “I remember going to the studio and never knowing when I was going to leave. She would spend three, four, five hours in a class. We forgot about eating. Maria gave all her knowledge. Her teaching was so pure. If something didn’t work, she would take you into a corner and practice until it did. And I was even more of a perfectionist than her.” (De Avila has furnished SFB with some of its finest male dancers in recent years, including Gonzalo Garcia and Ruben Martin; Blanco was the first SFB woman to come from the school.)
A performance at the 1999 Prix de Lausanne won Blanco an SFB School scholarship. Tomasson offered her a corps contract in 2001. She knew she had chosen wisely after rehearsing the fairies’ entrance in Sleeping Beauty with the formidable Russian teacher Irina Jacobson.
“An amazing woman. She was so particular in every detail, and yet so generous in sharing her wisdom,” said Blanco. “In the first rehearsal, an entire hour was spent on walking on from offstage. But that’s the kind of attention you need in a school.”
The Birmingham year did afford Blanco the opportunity to perform in major ballets by Ashton and MacMillan, who are rarely represented in SFB’s repertory. But she hated the weather in the English city (“I think it rained 300 days that year”) and the touring, and wasn’t prepared for the rigid casting system. (“You are not permitted to do roles until dancers with more seniority have performed them first.”)
So Blanco is not inclined to stray again, especially in light of her assignments for the 2010 season. She has been cast as the ballerina in Fokine’s Petrouchka, the company’s belated centennial tribute to Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. “The ballerina doll is a role that requires a lot of work from me,” she said. “This is an old ballet and it has a very specific style that recent creations do not possess.”
And she’s keen on performing in an upcoming Wheeldon premiere, Ghosts, and also The Little Mermaid. “I love it. It’s so European, so Neumeier. We have nothing like it here.” While Blanco sighs about her modest height, she has coped admirably; and when paired with a diminutive, stylish partner, like Gennadi Nedvigin, their admirers easily adjust.
Now 26, Blanco hopes this may be the season when everyone takes notice. Ask her what she thinks she’ll be doing a decade down the line and she cites two former company principals she admires.
“I think of Muriel Maffre or Tina LeBlanc. The dancers in their 30s have all the pains, but they also have all the knowledge to compensate for the pains. Ten years from now,” said Blanco, “I’ll be dancing at my peak.”
Allan Ulrich is a Dance Magazine senior advising editor.
Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB
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"I have very little memory of my mother wearing other earrings. They were her Gwen Verdon earrings," says Fosse, speaking by phone from her home in Vermont. "She's wearing them in 99 percent of the pictures of her performing."
Four years of lectures, exams and classes can feel like a lifetime for college dancers who have their sights set on performing. So when a professional opportunity comes knocking, it can be tempting to step away from your academics. But there are a few things to consider before putting your education on hold.
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Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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We've all been there: You see the craziest/most beautiful/oddest/wildest clip of a dance on Facebook and you simply have to see more.
But do you actually get yourself to the theater and sit through a 90-minute performance? The consensus, at this point, typically seems to be: No.
There is no clear correlation between a company's social media campaigns and how many seats they fill in the theater. That doesn't mean social media isn't, of course, vital. It simply means that "social media campaigns operating without other marketing campaigns don't cut it," says Rob Bailis, associate director of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. "But campaigns without social media are far worse off."
Since the project was first announced toward the end of 2017, we've been extremely curious about Yuli. The film, based on Carlos Acosta's memoir No Way Home, promised as much dancing as biography, with Acosta appearing as himself and dance sequences featuring his eponymous Cuba-based company Acosta Danza. Add in filmmaking power couple Icíar Bollaín (director) and Paul Laverty (screenwriter), and you have a recipe for a dance film unlike anything else we've seen recently.
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A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.
This is all within the first 10 minutes of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a 1944 ballet about three sailors frolicking on shore leave during World War II, beloved by many and still regularly performed (especially during the last year, since 2018 was the centennial celebration of Robbins's birth). Critic Edwin Denby, after the premiere with Ballet Theatre, called it "a remarkable comedy piece" and "a direct, manly piece."
When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.
Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.
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As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
So where can companies find the money?
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
When American Ballet Theatre announced yesterday that it would be adding Jane Eyre to its stable of narrative full-lengths, the English nerds in the DM offices (read: most of us) got pretty excited. Cathy Marston's adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's classic novel was created for England's Northern Ballet in 2016, and, based on the clips that have made their way online, it seems like a perfect fit for ABT's Met Opera season.
It also got us thinking about what other classic novels we'd love to see adapted into ballets—but then we realized just how many there already are. From Russian epics to beloved children's books, here are 10 of our favorites that have already made the leap from page to stage. (Special shoutout to Northern Ballet, the undisputed MVP of turning literature into live performance.)
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.
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One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.
The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.
When George Balanchine's full-length Don Quixote premiered in 1965, critics and audiences alike viewed the ballet as a failure. Elaborate scenery and costumes framed mawkish mime passages, like one in which the ballerina washed the Don's feet and dried them with her hair. Its revival in 2005 by Suzanne Farrell, the ballerina on whom it was made and to whom Balanchine left the work, did little to alter its reputation.
Yet at New York City Center's Balanchine festival last fall, some regretted its absence.
"I'd want to see Balanchine's Don Quixote," says Apollinaire Scherr, dance critic for the Financial Times. "It was a labor of love on his part, and a love letter as well. And you want to know what that looks like in his work."
Even great choreographers make mistakes. Sometimes they fail on a grand scale, like Don Quixote; other times it may be a minor misstep. Experiment and risk help choreographers grow, but what happens when a choreographer of stature misfires? Should the work remain in the repertory? And what about a work that fails on some levels but not others?
After the horrific March 15 terrorist attacks at two New Zealand mosques, the music and arts community sprang into action to plan a way to help victims and their families. A series of resulting concerts, titled "You Are Us/Aroha Nui," will take place in New Zealand (April 13 and 17), Jersey City, New Jersey (April 17) and Los Angeles (April 18). Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Our People, Our City Fund, which was established by the Christchurch Foundation to aid those affected by the attacks.
Throughout 2019, the Merce Cunningham Trust continues a global celebration that will be one of the largest tributes to a dance artist ever. Under the umbrella of the Merce Cunningham Centennial are classes and workshops, film screenings and festivals, art exhibitions and symposia, and revivals and premieres of original works inspired by the dancemaker's ideas. The fever peaks on April 16, which would have been the pioneering choreographer's 100th birthday, with Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, featuring a total of 75 dancers in three performances live-streamed from London, Los Angeles and New York City.