The 2019–20 season is here, and with it more performances than any one person could reasonably catch. But fear not: We polled our writers and editors and selected the 31 most promising tickets, adding up to one endlessly intriguing year of dance.
You did it: You landed the job, a spot at the pre-professional school of your dreams or at the best-of-the-best university dance program. And that first year was hard, and exhilarating. But since then, the shiny new has worn off, and the patina of the everyday has left you in a rut.
The sophomore slump hits hard. Whether it is literally your sophomore year or you have just become a mainstay within your company or school, the funk can be difficult to shake. "The 'sophomore year' is really the test of your passion for dance," says Brian T. Goonan, a psychologist who works with dancers in Houston. But with the right mind-set, you can find your groove again.
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.
Audition classes may not differ much from any other class—but directors have ways of sussing out who has what they're looking for. We spoke to three artistic directors to get their perspective from the front of the room.
Few people who are busier during the holidays than corps members of American ballet companies. December is officially Nutcracker season—a company's chance to earn a huge chunk of their revenue for the year, and a dancer's chance to go a little, ahem, nuts, waltzing and swallowing fake snow night after night for weeks on end.
But Nutcracker can also be an opportunity like no other, and for some corps members, it's the highlight of their year. Five dancers told us what helps them get through it all.
While there are more women making dance than ever before, the question still swirls: Do they have the same programming and mentoring opportunities as their male counterparts? This spring, Ballet West and the University of Southern California are choosing to tackle the question head-on, with performances and residencies that focus on female dancemakers.
Merce Cunningham would have been 99 years old today, and, as a present to the dance world, the Merce Cunningham Trust has announced a dizzying array of celebrations to unfold over the next year in honor of the groundbreaking choreographer's 2019 centennial.
"Merce liked saying he didn't want to celebrate his birthday, and yet he always enjoyed when we threw parties for him," Trevor Carlson, producer of the Merce Cunningham Centennial, said in a press release. Though the Merce Cunningham Dance Company shuttered in 2011 (two years after the choreographer's death, per his wishes), plans to celebrate his legacy range from performances to film screenings to workshops to education programs to dinner parties.
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Contrary to what her last name might suggest, Ballet West corps member Jordan Fry prefers baking as a cooking method. Her specialty? Picture-perfect cakes with flavors like banana-bourbon-butterscotch with caramel filling and toasted marshmallow frosting.
The self-professed sweets lover began her early culinary education through high school classes and YouTube videos. After a brief stint interning at a wedding cake shop in Salt Lake City, Fry started her own business, Ballerina Baker, in 2017.
One of the United States' top hopes for medaling at the Olympics this month has a secret weapon: a serious ballet background.
Figure skating champion Nathan Chen spent six years training at Ballet West as a kid. "The technique there was impeccable," the 18-year-old said in a media teleconference last week. "To have had that at a young age, it definitely helps a lot. I know where to put my arms, how to create the line, how to dance to music."
TV commentators often remark on his artistry, while dance lovers adore his elegant port de bras, épaulement and arabesque line.
Between the brutal cold and wind outside mixed with the heat that's always on blast in the studio, keeping your skin from turning dry and cracked in the winter is already hard. Add sweating in class and rehearsal every day on top of that, and it can seem nearly impossible to keep your skin in check. We asked dermatologist Dr. Marina Peredo and Ballet West's Gabrielle Salvatto for their best tips on keeping skin calm and fake-free despite the dropping temps and endless applications of stage makeup.
Here is my list of favorites from this year, some of them with video clips embedded. I've also added "lingering thoughts" about certain situations in the dance world. As usual, my choices are limited by what I have actually seen. Most of the following are world premieres.
• Andrea Miller's Stone Skipping in the Egyptian room at the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Ancient and ultra-modern at once, gaga-initiated grapplings, telling many stories of people in struggle and solidarity. The group sequence (with her company Gallim plus dancers from Juilliard) from lying on the floor with pelvis bobbing to standing, to swaying, to skipping wildly about was transcendent.
As dancers, we tend to find ourselves in a bubble—the dance bubble. We become consumed by our art-form, eating and breathing it every moment of our lives. Don't get me wrong, dance is incredible and deserves our admiration, dedication and even obsession. But we are also people and can contribute to the world in many different ways.
Shortly after beginning my career in dance, I started to feel like an incomplete person. It really was a dream-come-true to be a professional dancer, but I knew I was more than that.
One day, I got an invitation to a gala for the Human Rights Campaign. I couldn't afford a ticket but I figured I could volunteer for the event, so I did. I was hooked. I started helping at every HRC event I could make it to. LGBTQ advocacy became my outlet to the world outside the dance bubble.
Last week Ballet West breezed into New York City's Joyce Theater from Salt Lake City. The dancers are excellent—especially the women (what else is new). The company brought five pieces including works by Gerald Arpino, Val Caniparoli and resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte.
Arpino's last work, made in 2004, is a duet called RUTH, Ricordi per Due ("remembrance for two"). It's about a man haunted by the memory of the woman he loved. Christopher Ruud is strong and sensitive as the man, and Arolyn Williams is riveting as the ghost of his beloved.
Val Caniparoli energizes his dancers with juicy movement, and always sticks to his theme. (He doesn't ramble, and let's face it, long rambling choreography is a problem these days.) In his premiere for Ballet West, Dances for Lou, he takes on the music of Lou Harrison, a composer known for his Eastern sounds and rhythms.
This weekend, Ballet West is launching the first-ever National Choreographic Festival, bringing together companies from across the country to perform world premieres and recently acquired rep.
Can't make it to Salt Lake City? Don't fret. We're hooking you up with a livestream, where you can watch dancers from Ballet West, Sarasota Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet take company class taught by Sarasota director Iain Webb.
A breath of fresh choreographic air is coming to Salt Lake City. Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute has invited companies from across the country to join Ballet West for the first annual National Choreographic Festival, May 19–20 and 26–27. Over the course of two weekends and two different programs, premieres and recently acquired repertory will be performed in the new, state-of-the-art Eccles Theater.
Being a soloist has its perks, like bigger roles and a bigger paycheck. But it has a less glamorous side, too. Soloists take on corps roles, principal roles and everything in between. The rank comes with more pressure and a demanding schedule, which can take its toll mentally and physically. Though the promotion validates a dancer's hard work and achievements, many find themselves stuck in the rank waiting for a promotion that may or may not come.
“I know dancers have very strong feelings about it. And I see how it could be demoralizing," says Pacific Northwest Ballet artistic director Peter Boal. Focusing on the work rather than the rank is the only way to take advantage of the promotion, and use it to move forward.
Artistic directors reveal how they decide who gets the top promotion.
Isabella Boylston was promoted to principal at ABT in 2014. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT
There is one question at the ballet that might provoke more curiosity than any other: Who will be promoted to the rank of principal dancer? The answer is at times gratifying, and, at others, totally baffling. One dancer may rise quickly, while another waits 10 years for their big break. We spoke to four major artistic directors to take the mystery out of what they look for when it’s time to make the big promotion.
We’ve started a five-year partnership with William Forsythe, so I’m very deliberately shaping the company right now. I need everybody to be somebody he is going to work well with. It’s not easy to ask the same people to do Sleeping Beauty and Forsythe. But that’s when we’re relevant. That’s a ballet company of the future.
I’m definitely not old-school, where you have to sit in the corps for eight years. I just promoted Seo Hye Han [who joined the corps in 2012] to principal because I saw how well she danced the whole season, whether it was Balanchine, The Nutcracker or Odette/Odile. A good job is one thing, but this art form is about brilliance. I want to be excited.
Miami City Ballet
Going from soloist to principal is about imagination, the ability to take a role and make it your own. You’re responding to the music and the steps; you’re able to dig deep, like an actor, and you’re comfortable with bringing that out.
PC Daniel Azoulay, Courtesy MCB
Mr. B used to say that dancers are like a garden of flowers. I find that some bloom right away and then die; some bloom late and stay for a long time. You can have a really talented dancer hurt themselves, and physically or emotionally they’re never quite the same. Or you give them bigger parts and they can’t deal. But by the time they get to principal level, they should understand how to work well. The 30-year-old is going to be a lot more conscious of that than the 17-year-old.
I do think about looks. You need a leggy Swan Lake, “Diamonds” pas de deux, adagio dancer. You also need someone with the speed, accuracy and technical brilliance for Kitri or Square Dance. You look for those types, but you don’t always get them.
Photo courtesy Ballet West
I think the biggest thing is, Can this person lead an entire show? Can they own the entire stage? And can they do it consistently and in many different roles? Some people, like Beckanne Sisk and Chase O’Connell, walk fresh out of school and have it. Most people grow into it.
When I arrived, Emily Adams was very quiet, and seemed to cling to the back of the studio. Over the years she started moving forward, not aggressively, but just owning her technique. Each assignment she was given she gave 1,000 percent of herself. All of a sudden everybody started noticing her. Audience members were asking me when I hired her.
I think when it takes a long time, it’s easier for the person to appreciate where they are in the work. You should always be asking, What is my next step? Whether that’s a new ballet or your 400th Sugar Plum, you can never go on automatic, and the most successful dancers recognize that. I need people who aren’t afraid to work hard and be vulnerable.
PC Jim Lafferty
It sounds cheesy, but it’s like Spider-Man: With great talent comes great responsibility. It’s not just the capacity to turn and jump, but the way you turn, the way you jump. It’s about work ethic, how fast you learn, how musical you are, how open you are to new things, how willing you are to let people see who you are in a very raw way.
I want people who can transform onstage. For instance, new principal Lillian DiPiazza is a very sweet girl, but when she did Siren in Prodigal Son she came out as a femme fatale—she was such a force.
I was made a principal at 19, but I don’t know if I was completely mature. You have to be careful as an artistic director. If you promote someone too soon and they don’t have a strong sense of who they are, their accomplishments can go to their head. If someone waits too long, they lose hope, and they lose that spark.
At the end of the day we’re doing this for the audience, so yes, there’s an element of star power. What you cast, who you cast—it’s with the audience in mind. But you also have to guide them to new things, whether that’s ballets or dancers.
Kristin Schwab is a writer in New York City.
A King Re-Gendered
Setterfield in Lear. Photo by Patrick Moore, courtesy NYLA.
Play King Lear? Valda Setterfield has done so many other things that when she turned 79, she felt ripe for the challenge. At the request of Irish maverick choreographer John Scott, she played (and danced) the plagued king in Ireland two years ago, and now, at 81, she reprises the role in Lear at New York Live Arts. Setterfield, who has performed duets with Merce Cunningham, David Gordon and Mikhail Baryshnikov, will draw on her early training in theater and mime. “She really becomes Lear,” says Scott. “Her performance is utterly believable, with an almost primal honesty.” Naturally, Lear’s three daughters will be played by male dancers. Feb. 17–20. newyorklivearts.org.
Heroes in the Heartland
MADCO’s Lindsay Hawkins and Brandon Fink. Photo by Steve Truesdell, courtesy Dance St Louis.
ST. LOUIS For Black History Month, the enterprising Dance St. Louis has paired three major choreographers with local groups to honor the city’s legendary black heroes. Bebe Miller has choreographed a tribute to Miles Davis for MADCO, the company in residence at University of Missouri–St. Louis. San Francisco’s Robert Moses has created a work for local repertory group The Big Muddy Dance Company, inspired by Rev. Cleophus Robinson, a well-known gospel singer and preacher. Cleveland’s Dianne McIntyre has made a large group work based on the poems of Maya Angelou. Her cast features three former Ailey stars, now living in St. Louis: Antonio Douthit-Boyd and Kirven Douthit-Boyd (who are married) and Alicia Graf Mack. Feb. 26–27, Touhill Performing Arts Center. dancestlouis.org.
Love Is in the Air
Ansa Deguchi and Brian Simcoe of OBT. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert, Courtesy OBT.
U.S. AND ABROAD The ultimate tale of love that knows no boundaries, Romeo and Juliet is a timeless (albeit tragic) Valentine’s ballet. And there’s a version out there for everyone this month: The reigning classics by John Cranko, at Ballet West (Feb. 12–20, Capitol Theatre, Salt Lake City), and Kenneth MacMillan, at Birmingham Royal Ballet (Feb. 24–27, Birmingham Hippodrome, Birmingham, UK); the charming regional remakes, including Malcolm Burn’s at Richmond Ballet (Feb. 12–14, Carpenter Theatre, Richmond, VA) and James Canfield’s for Oregon Ballet Theatre (Feb. 27–March 5, Keller Auditorium, Portland, OR); and the contemporary departures of Jean-Christophe Maillot at Pacific Northwest Ballet (Feb. 5–14, McCaw Hall, Seattle), and Edwaard Liang at Tulsa Ballet (Feb. 12–14, Tulsa Performing Arts Center, Tulsa, OK). balletwest.org, brb.org.uk, richmondballet.com, obt.org, pnb.org and tulsaballet.org.
Tell Me a Story
New and notable narratives taking the stage this month
Justin Peck. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
Justin Peck’s The Most Incredible Thing
New York City Ballet
Peck is taking on his first-ever narrative ballet, based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale about a young man who dreams up a crazy clock to win a contest. His cast will include more than 50 dancers, including students from the School of American Ballet. Feb. 2, 6, 9–11, David H. Koch Theater, NYC. nycballet.com.
Robert Hill’s The Firebird
Artistic director Robert Hill is tackling the famous story ballet that marked the beginning of Stravinsky’s collaboration with the Ballets Russes. Feb. 5–7, Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Orlando, FL. orlandoballet.org.
Choré. Photo by Alice Blangero, courtesy LBDMC.
Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Choré
Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo
A ballet with Broadway’s flair for sets and costumes, this work is making its U.S. premiere at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA. Feb. 12–13. scfta.org.
Pink at Milwaukee Ballet. Photo by Rachel Malehorn, courtesy MB.
Michael Pink’s Dorian Gray
The company’s artistic director adapts Oscar Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which shocked critics and readers when it was published in 1891 because of its hedonistic themes. Feb. 12–21, Pabst Theater, Milwaukee. milwaukeeballet.org.
New Christopher Wheeldon Ballet
The Royal Ballet
John Singer Sargent’s sexually suggestive painting Madame X shocked the world when it was unveiled in 1884—so much that he chose to repaint the falling strap on the dress of the woman in the portrait. Now, The Royal’s artist in residence is turning it into a ballet. Feb. 12–19, March 10–11, Royal Opera House Main Stage, London. roh.org.uk.
After spending so much of her day in the studio, Ballet West principal Arolyn Williams prefers to head outside once it's time to cross-train: “There's just something about having the wind in your face, watching the light change—it fills you up in a way that a gym just can't."
Two or three times a week, she runs up to five miles in a nearby park. “I hated running in high school," she admits. But, inspired by her marathon-runner mom, she took it up a few years ago to work more cardio into her routine. “As I got better, I started to feel like it wasn't work, it was fun," she says. “When it's good, you feel like you're just floating." She came to enjoy it more than the elliptical or bike, where she sometimes had to set the resistance so high to get her heart rate up that she'd just tire out her legs. Today, she feels the push-off action of the feet in running has helped her improve the speed of her petit allégro. And—in combination with her twice-weekly Pilates and Gyrotonic sessions—the parallel motion has helped her avoid overuse injuries. “It's a good counterpoint to all the turning out we do," she says.
What she loves doing most, though, is hiking, a passion she's had since growing up in Western Massachusetts. “I feel so lucky I ended up at Ballet West because, not only is it a great company, but we are so close to these amazing mountains. And mountains are definitely my happy place."
She's careful to wear strong boots and to bring hiking poles to keep weight off her joints if she's going for a long hike or will be navigating steep terrain. Although hiking at altitude provides a healthy challenge for her endurance, she mostly does it for the “magical moments," like when a herd of mountain goats crosses her path. One day, she hopes to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail (both are over 2,000 miles). “After I'm done dancing, obviously!"
IN HIS FIRST GO at a romantic role, Houston Ballet’s Joseph Walsh dove deep into the delirium of love. He’d been cast opposite Sara Webb in Manon, and danced as though every muscle in his body was longing for her. Then, as soon as bows finished opening night, the first person he ran into in the green room was Webb’s husband.
“That was awkward!” Walsh jokes.
Creating onstage chemistry comes with many awkward moments—such as kissing your coworker. But when done well, a romantic pas de deux can be the most powerful moment in a ballet. How do dancers build the kind of connection that feels real enough to move an audience? Six top performers share their secrets.
Establishing eye contact is the biggest thing—it’s all in the eyes. From the first moment of the first rehearsal we need to learn how to look at one another. It helps us breathe in the music together. That’s a big deal. And it happens before we know the steps. We can mess up the choreography, but the character, the feeling, needs to be believable from the get-go. Even in an abstract piece without a story, we still need that connection.
Left: Jaiani with Fabrice Calmels in After the Rain. Photo by Herbert Migdoll, Courtesy Joffrey.
The National Ballet of Canada
I danced the John Cranko Romeo and Juliet with Guillaume Côté before we were married. It would be years before we even dated, but there was a chemistry between us. In fact, my first stage kiss was with him. It’s funny, in the beginning you wonder, Do we mark the kiss? But by the time you perform, it’s second nature. Although we weren’t romantically involved then, it gave us the chance to get to know each other. Now, dancing Ratmansky’s Romeo and Juliet as husband and wife just feels so natural. We can take more risks. But the challenge is remembering what it was like when we didn’t know each other, and the feeling of that first meeting.
Right: Ogden with Guillaume Côté in Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Johan Persson, Courtesy NBoC.
When I find out who I’m paired with, the first thing I do is spend more time with her. Whether it’s chatting before class, having lunch or a drink after rehearsal, I need to know what makes her happy, how her personality works. Inside the studio, there’s a lot of talking—I need to know what she’s thinking so we’re on the same page. I also have to work out all the technical kinks so they are second nature, get my grips exact and then I’m free to be in love onstage. In Don Q, for example, my partner Sayaka Ohtaki and I looked for places to connect. Whether it was a wink, a smile or a kiss, we found as many ways to flirt with each other as possible. In fact, as a gay man, ballet is the only place I ever kiss a girl!
Above: Mattingly with Sayaka Ohtaki in Don Quixote. Photo by Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West.
Pacific Northwest Ballet
I might watch DVDs and do some studying on my own, but ultimately that chemistry is created together in the studio. I need to be able to play off of my partner. In my first Cinderella with Lucien Postlewaite, we had the kind of relationship where I could feel him even when I could not see him. I remember getting chills when, as the Prince, he looked at me for the first time onstage.
Honestly I wish my husband, Le Yin, a former PNB principal, would get a bit more jealous watching me with another dancer! Instead, while I was rehearsing Juliet recently, he gave me a critique on a kiss, telling me my head should be tilted in a different way.
Right: Foster with Lucien Postlewaite in Cinderella. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.
The Royal Ballet
It’s amazing how much you get to know a person by dancing a pas de deux—what you discover through working together, sharing ideas and thoughts on the ballet. I’m lucky that I often get to dance with my husband, Thiago Soares. But when we work with other people, we learn a lot that we can share later when dancing together again. Whomever you’re paired with, both dancers need to open themselves up and trust each other. When they are ready to become one person, the magic happens.
Left: Nuñez with Thiago Soares in Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Dee Conway, Courtesy Royal Opera House.
That first rehearsal together is always like a first date. I know immediately if there is a connection. I remember doing Sleeping Beauty with Joseph Walsh; it was the first time for both of us in those roles. We were both nervous, but we had that connection, so we eventually got there. For my first Romeo and Juliet with Ian Casady, I remember how hard we laughed after our first try at a kiss. We weren’t sure how to tilt our heads, how far to lean in or how many counts to hold the kiss. We had to choreograph it, but still be authentic about it. Really, we should know how to do this from real life!
It does change a relationship with a company member when you have danced a romantic role. I just saw Joe, whom I haven’t partnered with in a while, and I told him, “I miss you.”
Above: González with Joseph Walsh in La Bayadère. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.
Nancy Wozny frequently contributes to Dance Magazine and Pointe.