January 17, 2011

New Company, New Country

A dancer with both innocence and power, Danielle Rowe has left The Australian Ballet for Houston Ballet, which she joins as a first soloist. With blessings from TAB director David McAllister, she makes her debut in HB director Stanton Welch’s Marie this month.


Born in Shepparton, Australia, Rowe joined TAB in 2001 and was named principal artist in 2008. A gifted actress, she excelled as Baroness von Rothbart in Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake. Rowe won the Walter Bourke Prize in 2009, which allowed her to join Christopher Wheeldon’s pick-up troupe, Morphoses, for the 2009–10 season.


Rowe had been considering a career move for some time. “I felt this desire to step outside of my comfort zone and be exposed to new coaches, dancers, and repertoire.” When Rowe decided to leave TAB with her partner, fellow dancer Luke Ingham, they intended to audition for companies together. Welch offered them contracts over the phone.


Formerly of TAB, Welch first noticed Rowe when making his ballet Velocity in 2003. As a corps member, she was cast among principals. “I liked the way Stanton challenged my dancing and pushed me to my physical limits,” she remembers. At HB, she looks forward to diving into new repertoire and reuniting with previous collaborators, including Wheeldon and Nicolo Fonte.


Rowe emphasizes what a difficult decision it was to leave TAB and her home country. “I’m proud to have been a member of such a wonderful company. I will miss sharing special moments with dancers who also happen to be great friends. It took me a few years to commit to the idea of uprooting and moving continents. But now that I’ve made the decision I feel excited and energized.” —Kina Poon



Lone Isaksen (1941–2010)

The Danish-born ballerina Lone Isaksen died on November 2 after a prolonged battle with cancer. A master of both classical and contemporary works, the petite and riveting Isaksen was renowned for the depth of her characterization and the artistry she invested in every role she danced. She and her husband, Lawrence Rhodes, the artistic director of the dance division at the Juilliard School, had been married for 40 years.


After initial studies at the Royal Danish Ballet and with Madam Edite Feifer Frandsen, Isaksen made her debut as a teenager with Elsa-Marianne von Rosen’s Scandinavian Ballet, dancing the Sylph in La Sylphide and in solo roles by choreographers Ivo Cramér and von Rosen. At the encouragement of Erik Bruhn, she went on to study at the Robert Joffrey Ballet School and subsequently joined the Joffrey Ballet. Joffrey created a lead role for her in Gamelan, and she moved audiences with her study of a girl tilting toward madness in Gerald Arpino’s Incubus.


But it was with the Harkness Ballet, which she joined as a principal dancer in 1964, that she hit her stride. Dancing the role of Eve opposite Rhodes as Adam in John Butler’s After Eden, she embodied guilt, frustration, and pain. When the Harkness Ballet folded in 1970, Isaksen joined Het Nationale Ballet in Amsterdam, where she danced many principal Balanchine roles. Her rendition of the Sleepwalker in La Sonnambula became legendary.


After her retirement, Isaksen became a Pilates teacher in New York. —Joseph Carman


Richard Ellis (1918–2010)

Richard Ellis was the quintessential Drosselmeyer, a quiet man with a wicked sense of humor who loved to tell stories, both onstage and off. He will be remembered by generations of children and parents whom he captivated in Ruth Page’s Chicago Nutcracker for 27 years. 


But his gift to the dance world spans a lifetime of devotion, first as soloist with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (now The Royal Ballet), performing as the Nutcracker Prince in the first production of the ballet outside Russia in 1934. In 1946 he met and married fellow Royal dancer Christine Du Boulay, with whom he founded and co-directed the Allegro School of Ballet and later the Ellis-Du Boulay School of Ballet in Chicago.


The Ellises spent 40 years inspiring countless students who went on to join companies like New York City Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet. For 12 of those years, they co-directed their own company, the Illinois Ballet, which toured the Midwest. Among their students was Lou Conte, founder of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.


“We adored them,” says former student and veteran ballet teacher Birute Barodicaite. “They were like family, and he will always be ‘Papa.’ ”


Ashley Wheater, artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet, remembers the couple’s caring warmth. “Both he and Christine were always thinking about other people,” says Wheater. “That’s why they were such great teachers.” He notes Ellis’ extraordinary preparation for the role of Drosselmeyer.


“He believed in it. Every single time he walked into the theater, his enthusiasm never waned. Each performance was as if for the first time.” 

Ellis died last November. The Joffrey’s 2010 Nutcracker was dedicated to his memory. Lynn Colburn Shapiro



Photo of Danielle Rowe by Jo Duck, Courtesy HB.