Inside the latest American Ballet Theatre premiere
Liam Scarlett uses Hee Seo to demonstrate a lift. Photo by Kyle Froman.
Liam Scarlett defies all the clichés about “genius at work” and “artistic temperament.” Constructing an intimate pas de deux for American Ballet Theatre’s Hee Seo and Marcelo Gomes last fall, he conceived quietly attentive lifts and intricate steps with the cool deliberation of a mason laying bricks. The dancers, joined by the second cast’s Isabella Boylston and Cory Stearns, repeated each phrase with calm, meticulous efficiency, then waited for the next.
Marcelo Gomes and Hee Seo work through a phrase.
At age 28, Scarlett is already The Royal Ballet’s first artist in residence and a choreographer in international demand. In addition to his ABT premiere, during the 2014–15 season Scarlett created a pas de deux for New York City Ballet and a narrative one-act for The Royal, and is now working on a three-act Carmen for Norwegian National Ballet before heading to the Royal New Zealand Ballet to choreograph A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
With a Chance of Rain, Scarlett’s first work for ABT, bristled with his characteristic use of soaring Soviet-style overhead lifts and sensational partnered descents unexpected from someone who looks as innocent as a dewy, curly-headed choir boy. He set the dance for four couples to six preludes and an elegy by Sergei Rachmaninoff, whose virtuosic demands have delighted audiences and terrified performers for over a century. Company pianist Emily Wong met these challenges repeatedly.
Cory Stearns and Isabella Boylston hone the dynamics.
Occasionally, some of Scarlett’s instruction threatened to become impenetrably British: “Make this look more dextrous,” he told Gomes about a gesture. Fortunately, he demonstrated the move he meant and the intensity he wanted. Gomes, in practice clothes of clashing colors as boldly designed as a costume, matched the choreographer’s shapes. He and the other dancers worked through each phrase, again and again, as Scarlett repeated and refined every step.
Just hearing the word "improvisation" is enough to make some ballet dancers shake in their pointe shoes. But for Chantelle Pianetta, it's a practice she relishes. Depending on the weekend, you might find her gracing Bay Area stages as a principal with Menlowe Ballet or sweeping in awards at West Coast swing competitions.
She specializes in Jack and Jill events, which involve improvised swing dancing with an unexpected partner in front of a panel of judges. (Check her out in action below.) While sustaining her ballet career, over the past four years Pianetta has quickly risen from novice to champion level on the WCS international competition circuit.
Sean Dorsey was always going to be an activist. Growing up in a politically engaged, progressive family in Vancouver, British Columbia, "it was my heart's desire to create change in the world," he says. Far less certain was his future as a dancer.
Like many dancers, Dorsey fell in love with movement as a toddler. However, he didn't identify strongly with any particular gender growing up. Dorsey, who now identifies as trans, says, "I didn't see a single person like me anywhere in the modern dance world." The lack of trans role models and teachers, let alone all-gender studio facilities where he could feel safe and welcome, "meant that even in my wildest dreams, there was no room for that possibility."
It's hour three of an intense rehearsal, you're feeling mentally foggy and exhausted, and your stomach hurts. Did you know the culprit could be something as simple as dehydration?
Proper hydration helps maintain physical and mental function while you're dancing, and keeps your energy levels high. But with so many products on the market promising to help you rehydrate more effectively, how do you know when it's time to reach for more than water?