Just before retiring in 2015, Sylvie Guillem appeared on "HARDtalk with Zeinab Badawi," the BBC's hard-hitting interview program. Badawi told Guillem,
"Clement Crisp of the Financial Times, 14 years ago, described your dancing as vulgar."
"Yeah, well, he said that. But at the same time, when they asked Margot Fonteyn what she thought about lifting the leg like this she said, 'Well, if I could have done it, I would have done it.' "
They were discussing Guillem's signature stroke—her 180-degree leg extension à la seconde. Ballet legs had often flashed about in the higher zones between 135 and 160 degrees before. But it wasn't until the virtuoso French ballerina regularly
extended her leg beside her ear with immaculate poise in the 1980s that leg extensions for ballet dancers in classical roles reached their zenith. Traditionalists like Clement Crisp were not taken with it.
On the surface, intercontinental ballet stars David Hallberg and Natalia Osipova would seem to make unlikely partners. He's an American paragon of elegant princeliness; she's an explosive Russian powerhouse who seems to mock the laws of gravity.
But since they first danced together in 2009, they've moved audiences to tears as Romeo and Juliet, and sent chills through spines as Giselle and Albrecht. Whether at American Ballet Theatre, The Royal or the Bolshoi, each time they're together they bring out new depths in each other's artistry.
This month, American Ballet Theatre principal David Hallberg sees the first test of his directorial chops with the launch of ABT Incubator, the company's latest initiative to promote the creation of new ballets, particularly by in-house talent.
We might have gotten a little bit carried away with this year's "Season Preview"—but with the 2018–19 season packing so many buzzy shows, how could we not? Here are over two dozen tours, premieres and revivals that have us drooling.
What do Alexei Ratmansky and rising Israeli star Sharon Eyal have in common? Both have had creations partly funded by an innovative new organization: FEDORA, which was launched in 2014 as a tribute to composer Rolf Liebermann by French arts patron Jérôme-François Zieseniss to promote innovation and collaboration in ballet and opera across Europe.
Since then, this Paris-based funding organization has built a network of 80 members, most of them opera houses and companies, from 20 countries. Every year, it awards a Prize for Ballet (as well as a sister Prize for Opera) to an upcoming new production by one of these institutions, elected by a jury of professionals; the dance award, sponsored by Van Cleef & Arpels, is worth €100,000, or approximately $118,000. This year, it went to the William Forsythe–choreographed A Quiet Evening of Dance, which premieres at London's Sadler's Wells in October.
Today, American Ballet Theatre announced a new initiative to foster the development of choreography by company members and freelance dancemakers. Aptly titled ABT Incubator, the program, directed by principal David Hallberg, will give selected choreographers the opportunity to spend two weeks workshopping new dances.
"It has always been my vision to establish a process-oriented hub to explore the directions ballet can forge now and in the future," said Hallberg in a press release from the company. Interested? Here's how you can apply to participate.
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It's no secret that American Ballet Theatre's artist in residence, Alexei Ratmansky, is obsessed with the choreography of Marius Petipa. Since 2007, he has been involved in reconstructions of several of Petipa's ballets, starting with Le Corsaire for the Bolshoi and continuing through Paquita (2014), The Sleeping Beauty (2015) and Swan Lake (2016). As Ratmansky said recently, "I believe in Petipa's choreography—I admire the structure, the changes of mood, all these things that are so brilliantly clear in his choreography."
Most recently, with the dancers of ABT, he has taken on Harlequinade (originally Les Millions d'Arlequin), a comic ballet created by Petipa in his waning years at the Russian Imperial Ballet. (He was 82 by the time of the premiere in 1900.)
When an anonymous letter accused former New York City Ballet leader Peter Martins of sexual harassment last year, it felt like what had long been an open secret—the prevalence of harassment in the dance world—was finally coming to the surface. But the momentum of the #MeToo movement, at least in dance, has since died down.
Martins has retired, though an investigation did not corroborate any of the claims against him. He and former American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes, who suddenly resigned in December, were the only cases to make national headlines in the U.S. We've barely scratched the surface of the dance world's harassment problem.
Many choreographers have been defeated by Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. However, one dancemaker whose stridency, rhythmic daring and sheer inventiveness could possibly match Stravinsky's is Wayne McGregor. For his first commission from American Ballet Theatre, McGregor has taken on this earth-cracking music in AFTERITE, to premiere at ABT's Spring Gala. Also on the May 21 gala program are excerpts from Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of the comic ballet Harlequinade, the full version of which will premiere next month, and a pièce d'occasion by tapper Michelle Dorrance. May 21–26. abt.org.
The role of Harlequin in Marius Petipa's comic ballet Harlequinade is one American Ballet Theatre dancer Gabe Stone Shayer knows quite well. He first performed a variation of the role when he was just nine years old. Today, he explores commedia dell'arte in Alexei Ratmansky's new take on the ballet, premiering at the Metropolitan Opera House this June.
We stepped into a rehearsal of Harlequinade with Shayer and fellow ABT dancer Cassandra Trenary for our "In The Studio" series:
As a kid, I often had trouble getting any words out the way I really wanted to. I developed a fantasy where I could find each character from each story I read within myself, and use them to communicate. I was always "Evan," but embodying different characters broadened the way I could connect with people. I felt that each character was like an instrument and that communicating effectively required the whole orchestra.
Then, when I was 8, I saw John Cranko's Onegin. I hadn't known that dance could develop characters in a way that would resonate so strongly. It was the first ballet that made me want to dive into this life of expressing the human condition through the body. The role of Onegin ended up following me through my career, and it taught me to rely on my humanness.
Last week we wrote about how choreographer Alexei Ratmansky set off a Facebook firestorm with a post proclaiming that "there is no such thing as equality in ballet" when it comes to gender roles. Coming from one of today's foremost choreographers in ballet, his words unsurprisingly drew hundreds of heated reactions.
And maybe that was part of the point.
And if that statement rubs you the wrong way—particularly coming from a highly acclaimed white male choreographer—you're not alone.
On Sunday, American Ballet Theatre artist in residence and international ballet choreographer Alexei Ratmansky posted this on his Facebook page:
Obviously, there's a lot to unpack here. And many of the comments did the unpacking for us:
This Saturday night, New York City Ballet principal Rebecca Krohn is performing for the last time, in Balanchine's Stravinsky Violin Concerto. After 19 years at the company, she's transitioning into a ballet master role. As she told Playbill, she's incredibly grateful for the coaching she's received during her career, and now she wants to give back to the next generation.
In a company filled with buzzed-about stars, Krohn can sometimes fly under the radar. But then you'll see her in certain roles—particularly in Balanchine's "leotard ballets" —and she'll completely win you over with her bright, charming presence. Here are a few of the reasons we're going to miss her.
For Dance Magazine's 90th anniversary issue, we wanted to celebrate the movers, shakers and changemakers who are having the biggest impact on our field right now. There were so many to choose from! But with the help of dozens of writers, artists and administrators working in dance, the Dance Magazine staff whittled the list down to those we felt are making the most difference right now.
Click through the links below to find out why they made our list.
In the last five years, Alexei Ratmansky has made seventeen ballets for nine different companies in five countries. These include an abstract ballet set to Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, an interpretation of Plato's Symposium set to Leonard Bernstein, reconstructions of three Petipa ballets based early twentieth-century notations, a re-imagined Baiser de la Fée, and an exploration of Soviet themes set to Shostakovich. Not all have been successful (his version of The Tempest was a bit of a flop), but there's no question that he is the most prolific ballet choreographer, and possibly the most wide-ranging one, working today.
Ratmansky has made danced storytelling, and mime, feel vibrant again. He is as comfortable with farce and pastiche as he as he is with deep subjects, as conversant in irony as he is in sincerity. He has made us reconsider our assumptions about ballets we thought we knew, like Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. He has reinvigorated classical technique, pushing for a fuller and more articulate use of the body. Perhaps most remarkable of all has been his effect on dancers; he teases new qualities out of them them, making them more interesting, complex performers. As the Miami City Ballet dancer Renan Cerdero recently put it: "he changes people."
On Friday, The New York Times posted an article to its website titled "A Conversation With 3 Choreographers Who Reinvigorated Ballet," a joint interview with Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky. It's a delightful conversation at first, veering from process to style to musical choices—delightful, that is, until a question about the dearth of female choreographers in classical ballet arose.
Screenshot via nytimes.com
These responses range from sort-of-passable (Peck at least acknowledges the need for systemic changes) to worrisome (Wheeldon's apparent bafflement) to troubling (Nijinska? Seriously?). In a word, problematic.
Each year, the Benois de la Danse selects the best male and female ballet dancer and a top choreographer from an impressive group of international artists. But just because it draws on a worldwide talent pool doesn't mean the names are all unrecognizable. This year's Moscow-based awards highlight the performances of many Dance Magazine favorites—and no less than three former cover stars. Plus, American Ballet Theatre received a nomination in each of the three categories.
Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo in Ratmansky's The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.
Every time I step into the Metropolitan Opera House, I have this wild daydream about how great it would be to run past security and snoop around backstage.
Well, lucky me—and you! The Wall Street Journal's new virtual reality series is taking readers on a visual journey backstage at the Met. American Ballet Theatre soloist Sarah Lane, who played Aurora in Alexei Ratmansky's The Sleeping Beauty, is your guide. There's footage of her in the studio, onstage, in the dressing room and in the wings.
The best part? It's in 3D, filmed with a 360-degree camera, which gives you that fly-on-the-wall feeling. On your computer, you can click and drag to watch Lane perform a manege around you, and take a look at her dressing room. But if you want to feel super stealth, I suggest getting out your smartphone or tablet—all you have to do is tilt your screen to explore.
Myles Thatcher in the studio. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.
A New Ballet Voice
This season, budding dancemaker Myles Thatcher had the opportunity to be mentored by one of the world’s greatest classical choreographers. Alexei Ratmansky chose the San Francisco Ballet corps member for the Rolex Mentor & Protégé Arts Initiative, taking him under his choreographic wing, so to speak. Now Thatcher will premiere a ballet with six couples set to Bach. It’s his first for SFB’s main season, on a program with works by none other than William Forsythe and Hans van Manen. Select dates Feb. 24–March 7. sfballet.org.
Choreographer Asher Lev. Photo Courtesy Chop Shop.
A popular festival in the Seattle area, Chop Shop: Bodies of Work, offers a refreshing lineup of contemporary dance from the region and beyond. This year includes the Bay Area’s Alex Ketley, Gabrielle Revlock from Philly and Seattle’s Stone Dance Collective, led by Eva Stone, the mastermind behind Chop Shop. International entries include Donald Sales, from Vancouver, and Asher Lev, from Belgium/Israel. Several choreographers will also give master classes, with scholarships available to pre-professionals. Feb. 14–15, Theatre at Meydenbauer. chopshopdance.org.
Ballet Memphis in Gabrielle Lamb’s Manifold. Photo by Andrea Zucker, Courtesy Ballet Memphis.
Four Choreographers, One Work
It’s an ambitious project: Gather four choreographers from different dance worlds, ask each to create something that speaks to their identity, then link them together and make one cohesive performance. Ballet Memphis’ I Am will include the voices of Reggie Wilson, Gabrielle Lamb, Julia Adam and Steven McMahon in I Am A Man, I Am A Woman, I Am A Child and closing with I Am, respectively. Each piece will be inspired by the theme of civil rights struggles in America.
“Part of my quest is building a ballet company that looks like our community,” says artistic director Dorothy Gunther Pugh. “If you look at our culture, women, children and people of color are still not fully valued. I want the work we create to have value in other people’s lives. That we realize that ballet is part of the world—not the world.” Feb. 20–22 at Playhouse on the Square. balletmemphis.org.
Yumiko Takeshima and Raphaël Coumes-Marquet in David Dawson’s Giselle. Photo by Costin Radu, Courtesy Semperoper Ballet.
A Modern Take on an Old Tale
Novels, films and operas have captured the tragic love story Tristan + Isolde. This month, Semperoper Ballet dances a new ballet version by David Dawson, whose work has become a staple of many European repertoires. This isn’t the abstract choreographer’s first narrative, though. Dawson, who credits his years dancing for William Forsythe as his most influential, created an unconventional but well received Giselle for the company in 2008. (And it’s on this year’s rep list, as well, with performances in April). Select dates Feb. 15–26 at the Semperoper in Dresden. semperoper.de.
Eve Schulte and Kelly Vittetoe in Nicolas Lincoln’s Semi-Detached. Photo by V.P. Virtucio, Courtesy James Sewell Ballet.
Two Styles, Fused
James Sewell Ballet, known for exploring the possibilities of what ballet can be, has commissioned a work from New York City postmodern darling Joanna Kotze. Her new work will take its ideas from what’s lost in translation—between conversations, cultures and the ballet-vs.-modern-dance division. Also on the bill: Works by Houston’s Jane Weiner and Minnesota choreographers Lance Hardin and Amy Earnest, as well as a new piece by company dancer Nicolas Lincoln. Feb. 6–15, The Cowles Center. thecowlescenter.org.