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In February the Stuttgart Ballet celebrated its 50th birthday with a three-week festival involving the whole company, its John Cranko School, guest companies, and returning alumni. We asked Dance Magazine’s newest Advisory Board member, Evan McKie, to report from his vantage point as a principal dancer with the company.
Monica Mason made a good point when she asked, “What would ballet be today without Stuttgart?” The Royal Ballet’s artistic director was one of the 21,000 guests at the Stuttgart Ballet’s 50th Anniversary (Mega) Festival this February, just as her great predecessor, Ninette de Valois, had attended one of Stuttgart’s first festivals in 1962. Neither de Valois, nor her young friend John Cranko, could have known then that Clive Barnes would one day praise the company as a “ballet miracle.” Opera-ballet has been around in Stuttgart for centuries, but it was Cranko who built the company that has contributed so famously to today’s ballet world
Stuttgart, now led by Reid Anderson, offers dancers and audiences a whole lot: constant new work from fascinating artists (Mauro Bigonzetti, Wayne McGregor, Marco Goecke, and Christian Spuck all created their first large-scale works here) and a plentiful catalogue of homespun gems: Cranko’s Onegin, MacMillan’s Song of the Earth and Requiem, and Neumeier’s Lady of the Camellias to name a few.
Many guests stayed for all 27 events, including mixed programs, full-length ballets, and even a directors’ conference. In two galas, over 200 alumni and international guests gathered onstage for heartwarming curtain calls. “If these walls could talk,’’ we often think to ourselves…well for this festival, they did!
I was moved when I met the humble Jirí Kylián, who had arrived and begun his choreographic journey here just before Cranko’s untimely death. I danced his Return to a Strange Land, a piece that suited the wonderfully nostalgic feeling of this festival. Two great Stuttgart stars from the U.S., Richard Cragun and Ray Barra, were among my favorite guests. I didn’t want these contagious personalities, who had created starring roles in Cranko ballets like Romeo, Onegin, and Taming of the Shrew, to leave.
It was refreshing to be reminded that stars of yesteryear often fumbled while creating some beautifully complex work. Marcia Haydée and Egon Madsen reminisced about mishaps while laughing uncontrollably. Haydée told us that Cranko once told her and Cragun to remember the exact intensity and picture of a particular second just before they both had a serious tumble in rehearsal and then re-created that moment in a Shrew pas de deux.
After Cranko’s sudden death in 1973, the company mourned, but new generations grew up around his Stuttgart family. With Haydée as ballerina and mother figure, choreographers from Béjart to the American Glen Tetley (who briefly directed) created stunning works.
Neumeier, Kylián, and Forsythe were all part of the generation that grew from within the troupe. Their pieces at the festival were an amazing mix: Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet touched my heart in Nijinsky; Kathryn Bennetts’ Royal Ballet of Flanders (she too is an alumna) blew out my retinas in Forsythe’s philosophical Impressing the Czar, which contains In the middle, somewhat elevated; and the agility of Nederlands Dans Theater II in Kylián’s 27'52'' and Gods and Dogs made me want to be onstage with them.
At the end of the festival we were exhausted yet jolted with the energy of friendship. A unique glimpse into Stuttgart’s brilliant past was invigorating and made us so grateful for its artistically abundant soil. I can’t think of a better way to dance into its fertile future.
Evan McKie (center) with Nikolay Godunov and Alicia Amatriain in Jirí Kylián’s Return to a Strange Land. Photo courtesy Stuttgart.
Bales of hay, black umbrellas, bicycles—this Midsummer Night's Dream would be unrecognizable to the Bard. Alexander Ekman's full-length, inspired by Scandinavian solstice traditions and set to music by Mikael Karlsson, is a madcap celebration of the longest day of the year, when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural is said to be at its thinnest. The Joffrey Ballet's performances mark the seductively surreal work's North American premiere. April 25–May 6. joffrey.org.
"There's an ancient energy in Fana's movement, a deep and trusted knowing," says Jeff, director of the Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. "Because I witnessed the raw humanity of his dancer's souls, I wanted my dancers to have that experience."
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
In his final bow at New York City Ballet, during what should have been a heroic conclusion to a celebrated ballet career, Robert Fairchild slipped and fell. His reaction? To lie down flat on his back like he meant to do it. Then start cracking up at himself.
"He's such a ham," says his sister Megan Fairchild, with a laugh. "He's really good at selling whatever his body is doing that day. He'll turn a moment that I would totally go home and cry about into something where the audience is like, 'That's the most amazing thing ever!' "
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
Have a scroll through Agnes Muljadi's Instagram feed (@artsyagnes), and you'll notice that in between her ballet shots is a curated mix of lifestyle pics. So what exactly sets her apart from the other influencers you follow? Muljadi has made a conscious effort to only feature natural beauty products, sustainable fashion and vegan foods. With over 500k followers, her social strategy (and commitment to making ethical choices) is clearly a hit. Ahead, learn why Muljadi switched to a vegan lifestyle, and the surprising way it's helped her dance career.
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.