Summer Study Guide 2012: Beyond Technique

December 15, 2011

Why repertory classes are the ultimate summer bonus



It’s that time of year again: summer program audition season. Obviously, summer study provides the perfect opportunity to hone your technique, but as you think about where you’d like to go, don’t forget to consider the repertoire that intensives teach. Whether through variations classes or rehearsals for a final showing, learning repertoire allows you to take your endless hours of training beyond your technical boundaries and really dance. It also allows you to get a feel for your strengths and professional interests: Perhaps you’ll sense a visceral connection with Balanchine’s speed and attack, for instance, or discover you have a grounded, fluid movement quality perfect for Nacho Duato. As you consider your options for the summer, factor in the choreography you’ll learn and consider how it may affect your experience and ultimate goals.

Modern Maneuvering

At the Alonzo King LINES Summer Program in San Francisco, participants have a chance to sample the slinky contemporary style of artistic director Alonzo King. In addition to studying ballet, pointe, modern, improvisation, and partnering, advanced students take classes in LINES repertoire, taught by former company members.

The sense of individuality needed for King’s ballets begins in class, according to summer program director Shirin Keyani-Rose. “The students need to find their own voice. Especially with ballet technique, it often becomes so much about mimicking the technique that’s taught,” she says. “We remind students to be tuned in while they’re using their technique—that their individual voice needs to be maintained at all times.”

LINES company member Michael Montgomery remembers learning King’s ballet Koto when he attended the summer program in 2008. “I’d never moved like that before or been offered that much freedom to explore,” he says. Experiencing LINES rep also gave him a clear professional direction. “Getting a hands-on feel definitely helped solidify that LINES was the place I wanted to be.” After attending the summer program, he enrolled in the LINES BFA program at Dominican University and landed a company contract after graduation.

Regardless of whether a student connects with King’s work, stretching the uses of classical technique can be enormously educational. “It’s not like the olden days, when there was a clear distinction between ballet companies and modern companies,” says Keyani-Rose. “Now dancers need to be able to be chameleons and change from one form of dance to the other.” Learning LINES repertoire, she says, “adds another layer of richness to their dance education.”

Balanchine Basics

Like Montgomery with LINES, New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck felt NYCB was her goal after attending her first School of American Ballet’s summer program. “George Balanchine’s choreography is extremely hard, but the way it works with the music makes it kind of come naturally,” she says. “Somehow it just feels like dancing, not like technique.”

Dancers at the SAB summer course learn Balanchine excerpts during variations and pas de deux classes. “Most of those teaching the variations here were taught by Balanchine himself,” says Kay Mazzo, SAB’s co-chair of faculty. “This is still the first generation.”

Balanchine’s choreography—and the style of technique he developed—is known for its musicality, precision, and attack. “Our rep is also what we teach in class—they’re one and the same,” says Mazzo. “You don’t just go in and learn steps. You learn how to do them in the precise method that Balanchine gave us.”

During her three SAB summers, Peck remembers learning Polyhymnia’s solo from Apollo, the corps dance from Concerto Barocco, and the Gaillarde from Agon. “The steps are classical but also very intriguing,” she says. “They definitely drew me to NYCB.”

Mazzo feels that the technique and repertory style taught at SAB’s summer intensive will enable students to be more coordinated and versatile. “When you look at the whole picture, it’s about understanding every inch of your body and being in control.”

Back to the Classics

The Kirov Academy of Ballet’s summer intensive in Washington, DC, offers detailed training in the Vaganova technique and the opportunity to perform classical repertoire. (For a story on the original Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg, see p. 76.) Students can attend one or both of two three-week sessions. The first session focuses entirely on technique classes, which can then be applied to the second, or the Performance Intensive, when students learn variations and excerpts from time-honored ballets.

For the Performance Intensive, variations—from ballets like Giselle and La Fille Mal Gardée—are incorporated into a daily three-and-a-half hour technique class. These change from year to year depending on students’ abilities. “The KAB summer sessions are full of students from various backgrounds,” says Martin Fredmann, KAB’s new artistic director since July. “Each of these students must be treated as individually as possible.” Dancers learn variations and group dances in stages to ensure they are working properly, then perform during a final Demonstration Day.

Fredmann stresses that while students can gain a great deal from the repertory portion of the intensive, a grasp of Vaganova technique is essential for reaping those benefits. “The command of classical technique is a slow and precise process, as is learning any new language correctly,” he says.

A Taste of Everything

Other summer programs, like those at Boston Ballet School and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, offer a blend of repertory styles. At BBS, the repertoire reflects the classical, neoclassical, and contemporary works that the company performs. “Boston Ballet is made up of very versatile dancers,” says Margaret Tracey, director of the school. “When I look to present repertoire and variations, I make sure they’re going to cover those three areas.”

In past years, students have learned excerpts from Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15, sections of La Bayadère, contemporary choreography by faculty member Tai Jimenez, and a character piece by Alla Nikitina.

“Learning Petipa and Bournonville repertoire develops strong classical ballet technique,” says Tracey. “The Balanchine repertoire teaches speed and pushes your ability to move, and will challenge the women with their pointe work. And the contemporary work will help students take their classical foundation and explore something totally different. Our job is to educate them and expose them to what’s out there.”

Marjorie Grundvig and Dennis Marshall, directors of PBT School, have a similar approach. “We try to broaden their horizons,” says Grundvig. “We know that lots of students come from different areas and that some have maybe never had a modern class.”

Last summer, students at PBT School learned selections from Harald Lander’s Etudes, Raymonda Variations, and an original work by choreographer Viktor Plotnikov, to name a few. They even had Pilobolus-style partnering classes. “It’s not just one way with the blinders on,” says Marshall. “The more versatile you are, the more valuable you are as a dancer.”

As you hone your technical skills this summer, learning rep can help you deepen your artistic side, feel out different styles of movement, and determine what types of dance best suit you. Familiarizing yourself with a company’s style can prepare you for professional pursuits in the future—after all, this is the stuff you’ll be dancing every day. “When I ask why someone’s interested in the company and they talk about the repertoire,” says Tracey, “I know they’re looking in the right direction.”

Amy Brandt is a dancer with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and a contributing writer for
Pointe magazine.


From top: Students in
Giselle at Boston Ballet’s Summer Dance Program. Photo by Sabi Varga © vargaimages, Courtesy BB; Vaganova technique class with Marianna Lobanova at the Kirov Academy of Ballet. Photo by Paolo Galli, Courtesy KAB; Student Yuka Yamamoto in Raymonda Variations at PBT School’s final summer performance. Photo by Aimee DiAndrea, Courtesy PBT School.