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.
Love them or not, reviews are part of the ecology of being a dancemaker. Critical writing can validate, illuminate or sometimes get in the way of an artist's creative process. We spoke with five choreographers about their relationship to reviews.
Troy Schumacher is on a roll. The 31-year-old was recently promoted to soloist after almost 12 years with New York City Ballet, but that's nothing compared to what he has going on this month. Over the course of a few weeks he will premiere two ballets of his own creation: his third work for NYCB (Sept. 28) and another for the ensemble he founded back in 2010, BalletCollective (Oct. 25), using colleagues from NYCB, including his wife, Ashley Laracey. We spoke with him just as he was gearing up for this choreographic marathon.
What is it like working on commissions while planning for your own company's season?
I'm loving being so busy, working on multiple projects, all extremely different from each other. It's like when you're dancing a lot of ballets at once, and you're warm, both physically and mentally. You can get back into rehearsals and performances much more easily.
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.
The NYC-based choreographer is gaining momentum.
The commissions keep coming for Gabrielle Lamb, a dancer of stunning clarity who illuminates the smallest details—qualities she brings to the dances she makes, too. This past year, the NYC-based dance artist won choreographic competitions at Milwaukee Ballet and Western Michigan University, and was named one of three finalists who will compete at Ballet Austin—the resulting works will premiere next year. A Savannah native who trained at the Boston Ballet School, Lamb danced with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal for nine years and with Morphoses under all three directors. Also a filmmaker and animator, she continues to perform with Pontus Lidberg Dance and others. This month, Lamb premieres her second piece for Philly’s BalletX. In August, a week before flying to Ballet Memphis to set one of her works, she spoke with associate editor Kina Poon.
How did you become interested in choreography?
From the time I was 5, I was putting on shows and designing costumes. But I stopped because choreography isn’t really part of intense ballet training. I was actually afraid to do it for a long time.
I felt intimidated. Somehow the courage that I had when I was a little kid, ballet training kind of wiped that out. When I went to Montreal to join Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, there were so many creative people, and most of the people who were really gung ho about choreography were guys. I felt myself sort of shrinking into myself, afraid I wouldn’t stand up beside them. But as time went on, I got over it and started daring. You just have to jump in.
Why do you think there are so few female ballet choreographers?
I actually feel like there are a lot of us in my generation. Maybe the line is whether you use pointe shoes or not. Thus far I haven’t. There have been some requests that I’m trying to figure out how to deal with.
Somebody recently said something interesting to me: that men in ballet are already outsiders. You’ve had to make a decision to be different. So I think it’s easier to take that step towards creating something of your own. Whereas for a woman, ballet is a very conformist thing to do—being pretty, following instructions, staying in line.
Do you find being an active dancer in other people’s work and then making your own difficult?
No. In a way I need it—well, I’m not always going to have the option, but it helps me to not go to the same patterns all the time and also to experience ways other people construct their work. You do have to be careful. I think about choreographers I worked with in Montreal who had worked with other choreographers that I knew and I would see—it’s just inevitable that we influence each other’s work. The trick is to go as far into it as you can, so it’s not just stealing something from the surface.
Which choreographers influence you?
Of people whose work I got to dance: Shen Wei, Mats Ek, and also Pontus, for partnering especially, had the greatest impact on my dancing. As far as people whose work I have yet to dance: Crystal Pite and Pina Bausch would be the two big ones.
Right: BalletX in Lamb's Stations of Mercury. By Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy BalletX.
Tell me about your new piece for BalletX.
I read a book recently that had someone making a choice at a pivotal moment and then you got to follow the line of her life in either case—it alternated chapters between option A, option B. I don’t know what form it will take in dance, but I like the idea of exploring alternate realities.
Did you use all of the BalletX dancers in your last piece?
I used everybody, but some of them were only in the second cast. That was the first time I ever had to not use everybody, and to make the choice was a real struggle for me. When I have to pick somebody after one day, I might be missing out on so much. I’ve found that, a lot of times, the people whose dancing doesn’t strike me in the beginning somehow have the most distinct moments in the piece. I was proud that both casts were so strong. It was a relief to me because I’ve been not chosen so many times in my own career that I guess I couldn’t bear it to do it to somebody else.
There’s so much more to be taken from a performing career than movement quality.
I’m really conscious of how I treat dancers. People tell me, You just need to toughen up and not worry about what the dancers think. And it’s like, Well, yes and no. There are people that take sadistic pleasure in undermining your confidence, who make you think that you can’t or you’re not good at something. With me, some people will get used more than others, but I want to be able to find something special about every person that I work with. Of course the end product that the audience sees is the priority, but it’s possible for us to have a good time making it, too.