December 26, 2007

Going West

Julianne Kepley, who spent eight years with Atlanta Ballet and subsequently joined Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet in 2002, moved on this past summer to become a soloist with San Francisco Ballet—just in time to be part of the company’s 75th- anniversary celebrations. She is a ballerina who instantly puts the audience at ease, thanks to her steely technique, electric energy, and easy adaptability to any style. Kepley brings a thoroughly modern quality to everything she dances—whether it’s the lead in Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew, the commanding housekeeper in Ashton’s A Wedding Bouquet, the combative girlfriend in Arpino’s Valentine or the object of desire in Donald Byrd’s jazzy To Know Her…, the marathon-like work in which she was the sole woman pursued by seven men. Byrd’s piece, which premiered at the Ravinia Festival outside Chicago last summer, also served as Kepley’s grand farewell to the Joffrey.

Why did she leap to the West Coast? “I’m 32, and it was now or never,” says the dancer, who praises her husband, lighting designer Scott Kepley, for being “amazingly willing to pick up his life, for the second time, to let me follow my dream.”

“One of the things I was most interested in doing—and didn’t get enough of at the Joffrey—was being involved in the creation of new works,” Kepley says. “And that’s something San Francisco is devoted to.” She admits she has had to get used to a very different kind of schedule at SFB, with months of rehearsal followed by months of performing, rather than a constant alternation between the two, as at the Joffrey. “I can’t wait to get back onstage,” she says.

When asked what she misses most about the Joffrey, she gives a quick mock cry: “My partner, my partner!”, referring to the Joffrey’s Michael Levine.

“We were a great pair,” Levine says. “Julianne is so fiery, and I am more analytical, and from the moment we first danced together in The Nutcracker it felt right.”

Kepley won’t be homesick for too long. She’ll be back in Chicago next summer—on tour with SFB.

—Hedy Weiss


David Adams (1928–2007)

When Winnipeg-born David Adams decided in his teens to become a ballet dancer, the notion of making a career of it was almost unimaginable in Canada, and for a man to do so was highly suspect. Yet the tall, handsome Adams, who died after a long illness on Oct. 24, was Canada’s first male ballet star, a charter member of its national ballet company, and a heartthrob for fans across the country.

Adams had already performed with the fledgling Winnipeg Ballet and with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet and Metropolitan Ballet (both in Britain) when National Ballet of Canada founder Celia Franca persuaded him to join her new venture in 1951. Franca, sight unseen, also hired his young wife, Lois Smith. Adams, who choreographed too, became the NBC’s first danseur noble. He was noted for his bravura style, dramatic intensity, and an athletic partnering prowess that earned him the nickname “forklift.” With Smith he formed an incandescent partnership that did much to boost the company’s popularity.

When the marriage disintegrated, Adams moved back to England—his parents were British-born—to dance with London Festival (now English National) Ballet, 1961–69, and The Royal Ballet, 1970–77, where he was artistic director of its Ballet for All touring offshoot.

Adams then resettled in Edmonton, Alberta. He became a beloved teacher, passing on his international experience to a new generation. Adams’ contribution to Canadian ballet, particularly in its pioneering era, was belatedly recognized in 2004 with his appointment as Officer of the Order of Canada.

—Michael Crabb

Lowell Smith (1951–2007)

One of Dance Theatre of Harlem’s most charismatic dancers, Lowell Smith died in October from lung cancer at age 56. Known for his masculine presence and expressive classicism, Smith brought flesh-and-blood life to such diverse roles as Stanley Kowalski in Valerie Bettis’ A Streetcar Named Desire; the preacher in Agnes de Mille’s Fall River Legend; Dysart in Domy Reiter-Soffer’s Equus: The Ballet; the Sanguinic variation in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments; and the lead in Glen Tetley’s Voluntaries.

“He could create a character that would project to the back of the house,” says Virginia Johnson, editor of Pointe magazine, who was partnered by Smith in many roles at DTH. “Being onstage with him when he danced Stanley Kowalski was like being in a gale wind force. That was something great to work against.”

Raised in Memphis, Smith attended the North Carolina School of the Arts, was awarded a scholarship with the Joffrey Ballet school, and joined DTH in 1977. In his 17 years with the company, he symbolized the bold style of theatrical ballet that Arthur Mitchell fostered in the troupe. After retiring from the stage, he became a passionate ballet teacher and choreographer. Most recently, he taught for Lula Washington in L.A. and coached Vivica Fox on the television series, Dancing with the Stars.

—Joseph Carman


Brydon Paige (1933–2007)

Vancouver-born Brydon Paige, former artistic director of the Alberta Ballet, originally wanted to be an actor. He began studying dance in his late teens only to enhance his stage movement. Paige was soon smitten, however, and switched artistic loyalties and cities in 1953 to join Montreal’s Les Ballets Chiriaeff, a television troupe that evolved into Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. Paige danced mostly character roles before becoming LGBC’s ballet master and occasional choreographer. Apart from a sojourn with the National Ballet of Guatemala, LGBC remained Paige’s home until he moved to Edmonton in 1976 to head the young and ailing Alberta Ballet. Despite its chronic financial problems, Paige managed to raise the dancing standards and choreographed several popular story ballets in the classical mode. He also nurtured emerging choreographers. By the time he left in 1988, Alberta Ballet had toured internationally and was on the way to becoming one of Canada’s most artistically vital troupes. Paige went on to choreograph and later direct a lavish arena-style touring production of Verdi’s Aïda. Until illness intervened, he was artistic director of Montreal’s Ballet Divertimento, an accredited school and choreographic center for college-level students.