Maria Kochetkova insists she is not a perfectionist, but from today’s rehearsal, you would never know it.
Her assignment this morning is the Don Quixote grand pas de deux. Her partner is San Francisco Ballet fellow principal Joan Boada, and the mood is subdued, but intense. Kochetkova quietly stretches on the floor in an airy studio in the SFB Association Building. Ballet master Ricardo Bustamante flips on the music; Boada steps on Kochetkova’s toe. She squeals like a kitten, but recovers and runs through the first steps with feline assurance. Still, the dancers aren’t connecting the way they should in this duet. And in her variation, Kochetkova has trouble turning and brandishing Kitri’s fan at the same time. She tries it again, and again, and, somehow, it all comes together.
No purrs of satisfaction, though. “I will probably never get it perfect,” says Kochetkova after the rehearsal. She is small, but exquisitely proportioned. Her face suggests an almost childlike youthfulness that belies her 24 years. The fan incident gnaws at her. “I think that I am clumsy in real life. I don’t worry about fouettés. I worry about the little things, taking somebody’s hand or manipulating the fan. You probably need to be Spanish. It will come with experience.”
Despite today’s fan troubles, since Kochetkova arrived at SFB in the summer of 2007 she has learned quickly, and garnered attention nearly as fast. No new ballerina in memory has left such a deep impression on the company’s audiences in such a short time. The first Russian-trained and born dancer hired by artistic director Helgi Tomasson in several years, Kochetkova found herself deep into a contemporary repertory that she had never considered in her young career.
Although she doubled her assignments in her first season, it wasn’t all new to her. Yes, there was a single Giselle last winter that generated buzz for its lyrical vulnerability. There was the grand pas de deux in Tomasson’s Nutcracker, which was recorded for airing on PBS this December. And there was her hummingbird flight across the stage in Mark Morris’ Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes. But it was the SFB New Works Festival and premieres by Yuri Possokhov, Christopher Wheeldon, and Jorma Elo that thrust Kochetkova into the spotlight last season. Wheeldon’s romantic reverie on the duet form heralded a mistress of liquid phrasing. Elo’s slashing deconstruction of classicism revealed the ferocious grit behind the angelic face. In every appearance, Kochetkova moved within an aura, eager and pliant, that distinguished her from her accomplished colleagues. Some might call that aura style. Kochetkova attributes that quality to persistence.
“Since I was 10, I had to work hard to get everything,” she says. “Nothing came easy to me. I knew there would be no help from other people.”
The Moscow-born child would have preferred to spend her time at gymnastics or ice skating when, at the urging of her mother, she was admitted to the Moscow Ballet School, the affiliated academy of the Bolshoi Ballet.
“I had no desire to dance, yet I remember my mother saying that when you are 15 or 16, you will have to stop gymnastics,” Kochetkova says. “But, if you go to ballet school, you can continue much longer.”
Mother was right.
“Ballet became a trap, a special world. There is no way back out of it,” she recalls. “You dance, you rehearse, you live only to do it another day.”
Among her teachers at the school, Kochetkova recalls former Bolshoi star Sofia Golovkina most vividly. “She gave one of the best classes in history,” she says. “They were hard, the discipline was perfect. I would shake with fear during the first five minutes. You would never know what Golovkina’s mood would be. One day, it would be ‘Very good, girls,’ and the next, it would be ‘Disaster.’ The classes are much more relaxed here in America.”
Kochetkova left the Bolshoi’s school at 18 without an offer from the company, and, in the new post-Soviet world, she looked West for opportunity. So she entered the turbulent world of international ballet competitions. She says that she wasn’t so much looking for a job as attempting to complete her education in dance. Between 2001 and 2005, she garnered a shelf full of medals—the gold at Rieti, Seoul, and Luxembourg, the silver at Lausanne and Varna, the bronze at Moscow. She remembers the kindness of the great dancer Vyacheslav Gordeyev, who was then running the Moscow Ballet School.
“He sent me to Lausanne and paid for everything. He said, ‘I know you can do it.’ He gave me confidence. He believed in me from the beginning.”
Kochetkova maintains a candid outlook about competitions. “Some people say they are bad,” she notes. “For me at that time, it was the only chance to dance. I didn’t have a choice. The competitions motivated me. They kept me going.”
She expresses pride in noting that she did it mostly by herself. “I didn’t have a coach for the Prix de Lausanne,” Kochetkova says, who trained for the competition during her final year at the Moscow Academy. “I prepared the variations on my own in the evenings at school. It’s hard for me to judge my own strengths and weaknesses, but, in retrospect, I think I became a lot more confident after taking part in competitions. “
In fact, those performances (many of which have been abundantly preserved on YouTube) secured Kochetkova contracts with both The Royal Ballet and English National Ballet. Ross Stretton hired her for the Royal. It was an unhappy, but instructive apprenticeship.
“What did I know about companies outside Russia and how they worked? I was so inexperienced,” Kochetkova says. “But when somebody holds you back, you realize how much you want to do something. Unfortunately, I wasn’t dancing much at the Royal. My dad said that I needed to suffer a bit and then I would be OK.”
Kochetkova’s contract was not renewed when Monica Mason succeeded Stretton. But, then, Matz Skoog invited her to join ENB. “It wasn’t as snobbish or bound to tradition as the Royal. And everybody was given the opportunity to dance,” she notes. At ENB, too, she extended her repertory, tackling ballets by David Dawson and Hans van Manen.
Then, on an impulse, she sent a DVD of her dancing to Tomasson ,and he invited her to fly over for an audition. She was encouraged to do so by Christopher Wheeldon at the Bolshoi, where she was taking class and he was creating a ballet. Wheeldon had been working for several years at SFB, both making and reviving dances, and he sensed that Kochetkova might fit in on the West Coast.
Tomasson was captivated by her. “Masha is a beautiful dancer, she had so much potential. She came out, joined a class, and it was just the right fit,” he says. “She is petite and a good partner for Joan, who made her feel immediately at ease.” He also praises her attitude. “She is curious; she wants to experience different kinds of choreography. It may take another year or two before she finds her niche.”
Last season, Tomasson created a part for her in his On a Theme of Paganini, and she will attempt her first Odette/Odile in his new production of Swan Lake in February. This will be a testing year for Kochetkova, as she embraces several movement styles. She will dance in Possokhov’s new work, as well as revivals of Forsythe’s In the middle, somewhat elevated (“not the biggest part, but still…”), Balanchine’s “Emeralds,” and, “maybe,” she says, his Stravinsky Violin Concerto.
Last season, Kochetkova learned her first Balanchine, Divertimento No. 15, and she admits that his choreography still gives her trouble. “I have to count and count,” she says. “In some places, it’s so slow, and then, it’s so fast. “We just don’t train that way in Russia. But, I will do more. I think that dancing new ballets has had a positive influence on my technique.”
In everything, she will have Tomasson’s support. “Helgi pulls a performance out of me,” she says. “He’ll say to do it this way, then try it that way. He gives me confidence. I need that.”
Kochetkova is still feeling her way into her first American company. Her impressions are positive. “Dancers here are much friendlier than in Europe, more open. SFB works so hard. They don’t get as much rehearsal time as European companies, but it’s very concentrated. There is less tradition in America, but I feel there is more freedom here.”
Kochetkova offers a study in contradictory impulses. She is so self-critical that she squirms when she watches herself in the PBS Nutcracker. At the same time, she is a canny careerist, having created a website and a blog. She says that www.mariakochetkova.com was the idea of her husband, British-born filmmaker Edward King, who has moved from London to San Francisco to be with her. Fans are invited to add comments on the website about her performances. Don’t think that Kochetkova is vain or insecure.
“I like the fact that people can leave feedback on my website,” she says. “Of course, my Mum is the best judge of my dancing. She always tells me just what she thinks.” So much for critics.
Allan Ulrich is a Dance Magazine senior advising editor and chief critic for www.voiceofdance.com.
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.
So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
What is an acceptable request from a choreographer in terms of nudity? On the first day of shooting All That Jazz in the 1970s, Bob Fosse asked us men to remove everything but our jock straps and the women to remove their tops. His rationale was to shock us in order to build character, and it felt disloyal to refuse. Would this behavior be considered okay today?
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?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
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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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.
A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."
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.
Cloud & Victory gets dancers. The dancewear brand's social media drools over Roberto Bolle's abs, sets classical variations to Beyoncé and moans over Mondays and long adagios. And it all comes from the mind of founder Tan Li Min, the boss lady who takes on everything from designs to inventory to shipping orders.
Known simply (and affectionately) to the brand's 41K Instagram followers as Min, she's used her wry, winking sense of humor to give the Singapore-based C&V international cachet.
She recently spoke with Dance Magazine about building the brand, overcoming insecurity and using pizza as inspiration.
The Ballet Memphis New American Dance Residency, which welcomes selected choreographers for its inaugural iteration next week, goes a step beyond granting space, time and dancers for the development of new work.
This is huge news, so we'll get straight to it:
We now (finally!) know who'll be appearing onscreen alongside Ariana DeBose and the other previously announced leads in Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story, choreographed by Justin Peck. Unsurprisingly, the Sharks/Jets cast list includes some of the best dancers in the industry.
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.
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
At six feet tall, Jesse Obremski dances as though he's investigating each movement for the first time. His quiet transitional moments are as astounding as his long lines, bounding jumps and seamless floorwork. Add in his versatility and work ethic, and it's clear why he's an invaluable asset to New York City choreographers. Currently a freelance artist with multiple contemporary groups, including Gibney Dance Company and Limón Dance Company, Obremski also choreographs for his recently formed troupe, Obremski/Works.
Last night at Parsons Dance's 2019 gala, the company celebrated one of our own: DanceMedia owner Frederic M. Seegal.
In a speech, artistic director David Parsons said that he wanted to honor Seegal for the way he devotes his energy to supporting premier art organizations, "making sure that the arts are part of who we are," he said.
It's a bit of an understatement to say that Bob Fosse was challenging to work with. He was irritable, inappropriate and often clashed with his collaborators in front of all his dancers. Fosse/Verdon, which premieres on FX tonight, doesn't sugarcoat any of this.
But for Sasha Hutchings, who danced in the first episode's rendition of "Big Spender," the mood on set was quite opposite from the one that Fosse created. Hutchings had already worked with choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who she calls "a dancer's dream," director Tommy Kail and music director Alex Lacamoire as a original cast member in Hamilton, and she says the collaborators' calm energy made the experience a pleasant one for the dancers.
"Television can be really stressful," she says. "There's so many moving parts and everyone has to work in sync. With Tommy, Andy and Lac I never felt the stress of that as a performer."