The inimitable Alicia Alonso, now 97, remains at the helm of Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Photo by Leysis Quesada, Courtesy BNC
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
Seth Orza in William Forsythe's in the middle, somewhat elevated. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.
Somewhere between Pacific Northwest Ballet's fall 2015 production of Kiyon Gaine's Sum Stravinsky and its winter 2016 Romeoet Juliette, Seth Orza completely changed his look: from a strong, commanding presence to a lanky, impetuous boy.
"For Romeo, I wanted to seem more youthful," says Orza. "I'm 6 feet, and I wanted to lose about 10 pounds."
Tiler Peck and Joaquin De Luz in Dances at a Gathering. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB
All dancers work hard to hone technical skills and master thrilling moves. Musical dancers, however, offer something more. Their daring play with rhythm and their completely present reactions to the score make for bold performances that are mesmerizing to watch.
But how can performers learn to let music drive the dance? We asked some of today's most musical dancers how they do it.
It's been a year and a half since Carla Körbes retired from Pacific Northwest Ballet. In that time, Körbes has marked several life passages: a move to Los Angeles, a sumptuous wedding to photographer Patrick Fraser and the birth of their son, Rafael. She also became the associate artistic director of Los Angeles Dance Project at the invitation of Benjamin Millepied, who tasked her with helping to execute his artistic vision at LADP while he was also director of dance at the Paris Opéra Ballet. She returned to dancing last year as a guest artist in Vail, Washington, DC, and New York City, and marked her first appearance onstage with LADP in December, performing Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain with company member Morgan Lugo.
How has your experience of leaving the super-structured life of a PNB principal treated you? Have you enjoyed that uncertainty, or do you find yourself gravitating toward more-structured projects?
The certainty at PNB was attractive: You have very specific schedules, you know what you're getting paid. But I needed a change from the regularity of so many different programs in a performing season. I was stuck in a schedule that was hard on my body. Now, I teach, coach and perform. I am making my own structure, and the flexibility allows me to juggle much better being a working mom.
What attracted you to LADP?
The year I was retiring, I saw longtime friend and dance partner James Fayette after a performance in Los Angeles. I told him that I was trying to figure out what to do, and I soon got a call from Ben. It felt like a perfect opportunity. My husband lives in L.A.—and now it's my home.
Your role as associate artistic director has involved teaching at LADP and its affiliated school, The Colburn Dance Academy, coaching and dancing. What do you enjoy most about your work?
Most appealing to me is the group of dancers. They are young, and have a vocabulary different than what I am used to. Dancing for me is about awareness and involvement, and it's what I work on with the dancers. They're responsive—and hungry to grow as artists. Plus, I like being in an environment that's small enough so as not to be overwhelming. Directing a large company would be a huge commitment! I'm fortunate that I can still dance. I do some guesting, but I also am excited about dancing here in L.A.—my situation feels like a little piece of heaven.
What are some of the memorable guest performances you've done recently?
At the Kennedy Center in DC, I shared the stage with so many different artists, like Damian Woetzel and Heather Watts—it was thrilling. For Vail Dance Festival's New York City performances, I got another chance to take two masterpieces, Martha Graham's Lamentation and Balanchine's Élégie, and develop new interpretations.
What's next for you?
We shall see. I love being a mama, and since the baby was born, I have chosen to stay home rather than go on tour with the dancers. Still, being onstage for me is magical. I've traveled to Vail and NYC to perform, but those are shorter trips than going on a three-month tour of France! I thought I couldn't retire from a big company if I didn't know what the next thing would be, but I'm okay with the uncertainty. The dances I do now are really like a meditation for me.