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.
Somewhere between Pacific Northwest Ballet's fall 2015 production of Kiyon Gaine's Sum Stravinsky and its winter 2016 Romeo et 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."
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.
Though it was only his first season in the corps, Dylan Wald was chosen for a career-defining role last fall: the sole dancer in Jessica Lang's The Calling. His presence, control and focus were astonishing. But Wald's precise sculpting of the dance, as well as his mature port de bras, is something he carried with him throughout the repertoire this past season at Pacific Northwest Ballet.
Company: Pacific Northwest Ballet
Training: Minnesota Dance Theatre & the Dance Institute, Pacific Northwest Ballet School
Casting jackpot: Also during his first year in the corps, Wald had featured roles in Kent Stowell's Carmina Burana and Alejandro Cerrudo's Little mortal jump. One of his most demanding ballets was William Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. “It's a difficult piece—fast cardio, full of jumps," he says. “I wanted to work as hard as I could to really experience the genius of Forsythe firsthand."
Tackling Balanchine: PNB soloist Margaret Mullin attributes their recent partnering success in Balanchine's Square Dance to Wald's unqualified commitment. “We were both premiering in this piece, so teamwork was key," she says. “Dylan was in the studio first thing every day. He works hard to develop his technique, and he makes me feel like my needs come first." To get through the ballet's technical challenges, Wald says, “I try to maintain a connection with my partner and keep up my sense of humor."
What his artistic director is saying: “Dylan works after class, he takes additional classes, he does strength training—he seems to be involved with dance 24/7," says Peter Boal. “When dancers have that level of commitment, there are results."
Head games: Wald's biggest challenge is staying calm. He says he needs to constantly remind himself not to think too far in advance. “I have the least control when I'm thinking two steps ahead," he says. “Trying to stay present helps. I call it 'training the brain.' But it's also important to be okay with being nervous. I try not to be too hard on myself—it's scary at first, but the nervousness goes away."
John Maniaci, Courtesy Li
The modern choreographer/dancer builds extreme strength.
In the final moments of her piece From Grace, Li Chiao-Ping carries three dancers across the stage. At 52 years old, this Wisconsin-based dancer/choreographer is as strong as ever.
A believer in daily strength training, Li sets the bar high for both the dancers in her company, Li Chiao-Ping Dance, and her students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Regular conditioning helps her develop power for the heavy lifting, quick falls and off-balance positions she uses in her work. About 20 years ago, she codified her exercises into a cross-training program for dancers, called “Extreme Moves.”
The class begins seated on a physio ball, bouncing lightly to work on balance and alignment. Push-ups and downward-dog–like balances follow. The idea is to perform an adaptable range of progressions, from beginner movements (such as a push-up with hands on the floor and hips supported by the ball) to more advanced ones (with the body in plank position, with just the toes on the ball, for example). Li believes that working with an unstable base like the ball stresses the core and upper body, building strength more quickly.
Janson Heintz, Courtesy Li
The class then works on different kinds of inversions, such as handstands, headstands, cartwheels, shoulder stands, elbow stands, handstand forward rolls and backward rolls into handstands. (Li was a gymnast before she became a dancer.) Careful to contextualize the strengthening moves within the framework of dance, Li builds phrase-work, improvisation and choreography into the workout to remind dancers that the skills they are working on apply directly to their art.
“You can use almost anything—cans of soup, one-gallon jugs of water—for weights and resistance. A towel or bedsheet works great for strengthening the arch of the foot.”
Pre-performance soup: “Having hot soup a couple hours before a show helps me feel grounded but not too full.”
Vegetarian compromise: “Dinner is usually rice, tofu and vegetables like broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, green beans or asparagus. I am mostly vegetarian, but if I crave meat or fish, I eat it. The protein is especially important for strength training.”
Micronutrients: “I sometimes add Emergen-C to my water or tea as an extra precaution. I also eat bananas and other potassium-rich foods.”
More than fuel: “My mother gave me a more mystical sense of food. When my foot was badly injured, she prepared frog legs for me so that I could jump again.”
Justin Reiter is a monster onstage. With his exaggerated moves and outrageous riffs, the Whim W’Him dancer is barely manageable, hardly classifiable, but oh so stunning. His powerfully emotive torso conveys an urgency in the arc of each story he tells. Artistic director Olivier Wevers calls him “a beautiful creature.”
Outside the studio, Reiter likes cooking, crocheting and letter writing. “A handwritten letter is like a hug in an envelope,” he says. Photo by Bamberg Fine Arts, courtesy Whim W'Him.
Company: Whim W’Him
Hometown: Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Training: BFA in dance from the University of Minnesota
On the map: In the past five years, the versatile dancer has performed the works of over 20 choreographers everywhere from the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, to New York City’s Central Park for SummerStage. He’s been a member of Seattle’s Spectrum Dance Theatre and Minneapolis’ Shapiro & Smith Dance and Contempo Physical Dance.
A magnetic pull: “I was drawn to Whim W’Him by its inventiveness,” says Reiter. “It was bringing in amazing choreographers from all over the world, and Olivier’s sock-clad, spirally, goofy aesthetic attracted me like Mondrian to primary colors.”
Technique and conditioning boosts: Reiter has trained in non-Western dance forms, such as East Indian, West African and Afro-Brazilian dance. “I practice hot yoga every day and Gaga/improvisation weekly,” he says. “It is important for me to have a regular improvisation practice so that I’m always expanding my range.”
What he’s working on: Mindfulness, anatomical awareness and the balance between effort and ease.
What Wevers is saying: “At Justin’s audition, I was immediately drawn to his sincere, gentle manners, his strong energy and his professionalism. He works in a very intelligent way that allows him to be extremely consistent.”
Challenges on the horizon: This month, Reiter will perform in Whim W’Him’s dancer-curated program. “Out of 100 choreographer applications, we chose three artists—Maurya Kerr, Ihsan Rustem and Joshua L. Peugh—to work with,” says Reiter. “I am ferociously excited to be part of the company’s vision of the dancers being full and involved artists.”
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Frantziskonis’ current goal? To look relaxed onstage. Here, in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, courtesy PNB.
At about 5' 3", the petite Jahna Frantziskonis is a force onstage: all speed and lightness as Cupid in Don Quixote, technical and steely in Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude and emotionally vulnerable in Nacho Duato’s intense Rassemblement. But the featured Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer is on the move. This July, she joins San Francisco Ballet’s corps to be closer to family and expand her growing repertoire.
Company: San Francisco Ballet
Hometown: Tucson, Arizona
Training: Ballet Arts Tucson, Pacific Northwest Ballet School’s Professional Division
Breakout moment: Frantziskonis originated a featured role in 2013 in Twyla Tharp’s Waiting at the Station. The challenging choreography, which requires the dancer to slide across the floor in splits and, in the next moment, do a classical quadruple pirouette, was her first major role at PNB. “The whole experience was electrifying,” says Frantziskonis. “Before working with Tharp, I had held back at times, but she encouraged me to be more confident. I got to spend one-on-one time with her, and she built a lot of the material on me.”
Career highlight: This winter, Frantziskonis danced in PNB’s live stream of “Forsythe on Stage,” which reached 62 countries. She appeared in not one but two pas de deux in New Suite.
Pull of family and company: Frantziskonis’ brother is currently a student at SFB School. “He’s my best friend and before my last visit, I sent my materials in to San Francisco Ballet to take company class. I so enjoyed those classes. It was an unexpected but delightful surprise when I was offered a contract shortly after.”
What artistic staff are saying: For PNB artistic director Peter Boal, “Jahna shows a natural talent and fearlessness in her dancing.” SFB artistic director Helgi Tomasson agrees: “Jahna is a lovely dancer with a lot of potential.” Christopher Stowell, an assistant to the artistic director and ballet master at SFB, praises her for her “beautiful, light jump and innate musicality.”
On joining SFB: “This career allows you to gain knowledge each step of the way,” she says. “SFB does a lot of touring and there are alternating reps for each season program. A dancer can be a Shade and in the same week dance Forsythe. It is a bit thrilling to be moving to a new place.”
This Pacific Northwest Ballet principal goes for a run almost every day.
Above: In Kiyon Gaines’ Sum Stravinsky. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.
As a kid, Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Maria Chapman loved sprinting, but she gave it up for ballet at age 13. She started running again only after joining PNB in 1995, when she began including running drills in her cross-training routine with former Olympian Peter Shmock.
Today, she can’t imagine not running regularly. “I try to run every day, even if it’s just 15 minutes if my schedule is tight,” Chapman says. She typically goes for a run of up to 45 minutes before morning class, taking her dog to a grassy lakefront trail. She mixes up her program to include intervals some days, faster, shorter runs on other days and occasionally slower, longer jogs. “They each offer their own benefits, and I don’t want my body getting used to one thing.” Sometimes she’ll run later, to warm up before evening rehearsals or performances.
Does she worry about repetitive-stress injuries? “I don’t really run enough to cause stress. And stretching my calves, quads, hamstrings and outside leg muscles following each run helps me avoid injury,” says Chapman. “If I were to ever feel that running was too much on my body, I would ramp down. My ballet performances are my ultimate goal, and any cross-training I do has to support that goal.”
“Running wakes me up when I’m tired and picks me up when I’m down.”—Maria Chapman
Even after surgery for a metatarsal dislocation in her mid-foot in 2009, Chapman (with her doctor’s approval) was running within two months—long before returning to ballet class. In fact, she feels that running helped her rehabilitation process. “The single-plane movement made it a good choice, easier to manage compared to ballet with its constant changes of direction,” says Chapman.
Today, running helps Chapman’s endurance. “I definitely increase my miles when I am preparing for a demanding role like Myrtha that requires a lot of stamina,” says Chapman. “I generally need at least six weeks of the increased intensity.”
But the benefits go beyond the physical perks. “Running gives me the alertness, mental ability and focus I need for dancing. It wakes me up when I’m tired and picks me up when I’m a little down. I can’t imagine not running—it makes me feel so strong.”
Her Shoes: Brooks PureFlow 3
Chapman finds they help support her high arches and 5' 6" frame. “I like minimal padding so my heel is on the same level as the ball of my foot,”
she says. “It encourages the forward-leaning type of running that I do.” It also helps to keep her from landing too hard on her heels.
Maria’s favorite conditioning exercises for running
• For lower body: Tie a Thera-Band around your calves or ankles and practice squat reps, then squat and walk side to side, paying attention to proper alignment.
• For core and inner thigh: Practice sit-ups, bridges and side planks with a ball, pillow or medium-tension resistance ring between the legs.
• For calves: Relevé on pointe 10 times turned out and 10 times in parallel, then élevé 10 times turned out and 10 times in parallel. Repeat or increase reps as needed.
Above photo: Courtesy Brooks
Prepping for class at the Spectrum Dance Theater studios
Photo by Nate Watters for DM.
Space is at a premium in the Spectrum Dance Theater studios in Seattle, but this doesn’t stop 24-year-old Shadou Mintrone from rehearsing in any available corner. She’s running her six-minute quirky, energetic solo in artistic director Donald Byrd’s Soapbox, bounding through the room with her explosive jumps and lengthy extensions.
The 5' 2" dancer accepts the challenge of being “a short, muscular girl in a world that idolizes thin, long limbs.” Nevertheless, she moves in an extraordinary way, with both steady determination and high drama. Her focus gives a strong directionality to Byrd’s ferocious choreography.
The intense work packs an emotional and physical wallop. “But that makes the choreography genuine, immediate,” says Mintrone, who is starting her third season with the company. “And then it’s all the more necessary to listen to my body.
“Emotionally, I’ve totally shifted how I think of myself as a dancer,” she continues. “All of a sudden, I feel I’m only competing with myself. Dance is about me, not about what I should be.” Still, the challenges of dancing and teaching 8 to 10 hours a day can take its toll. Dance Magazine spoke to Mintrone to find out how she stays fully charged through it all.
Waking up at least three hours before class, Mintrone prepares a big breakfast: eggs and toast with coffee and cold lemon water, oatmeal, or yogurt with fruit. She makes time to read in the morning and then dress glamorously, even when her destination is only rehearsal.
Mintrone wears makeup every day—red lipstick and plenty of mascara to open up her naturally large eyes. It wears off in rehearsal, but she doesn’t care. “I grew up idolizing Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, Ginger Rogers, and those women always had makeup on,” she says. “It makes me feel ready for the day, able to perform, able to act a character. It adds sass to my already wild style.”
At the Studio
Mintrone typically gets to the studio early to do Pilates and abdominal work before class. “It fires up my energy and gets my blood circulating,” she says. Next come isolation exercises for her head, neck, spine, and torso. She takes a daily 90-minute ballet class at Spectrum, and that’s followed by four to five hours of rehearsal.
Though she’s not one to frequent the gym—her daily activity is enough to keep her body in shape—she may tweak her regimen. “Depending on the show, I may stretch less and do more push-ups—I need biceps!” she says. “Or, maybe I need to be in runner shape, like for Byrd’s A Cruel New World/the new normal. Then I need stamina and calves!”
Over the years Mintrone developed a neuroma (a swollen nerve) in her left foot. “It’s painful in relevé, so arnica and ibuprofen are pretty regimented in my diet,” she says. “Most often I give 100 percent to my day of dancing—but other times I might sit out and stretch during grand allégro, or only do pirouettes on one side, and just relevé in passé on the other.”
Mintrone cooks at home whenever she has the time, only going out to eat for special occasions or if she’s on tour. She believes that the most nutritious foods—essential for a healthy body—are fresh, whole, and seasonal. “My weaknesses with food are absolutely genetic! I love my mother’s Italian dishes, and will always prefer a plate of pasta over anything else.” Her staples? “Tofu and mixed veggie dish for my roommate and me,” she says, “or I’ll make a really big salad with some rice dish on the side.”
Mintrone teaches ballet, jazz, and tap three to four nights a week at a nearby studio. That can mean going until 9:30 at night after a full day of dancing, which is tough on the body.
In class she wears sneakers, which gives extra support to her ankles and feet. (She removes her shoes to demonstrate specific foot actions when necessary.) She’ll occasionally join in, too: “I stretch with my classes, do relevés, and crunches,” she says. “It helps my body wind down from the intensity of rehearsal. I think if I didn’t teach at night, my muscles would be tense and achy.” And there’s another perk, too. For her, being around young dancers is a “fresh reminder that what I do is so precious and unique.”
Shadou's Stretches for Leg Length
-- Move gently into a low runner’s lunge (bending your right knee at 90-degrees and extending your left leg to the back to stretch the hip flexors).
-- Lower your left knee, and grab your left foot with your right hand.
-- Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds.
-- Repeat on other side.
-- Return to a low runner’s lunge, right leg bent, left leg straight back.
-- Staying low to the ground, rotate to the left to open your hips. Make sure to keep your right bent knee over your toes and your left leg straight. Your left foot will flex.
-- Gently slide into a center split.
-- To complete the exercise, return to the lunge position, straighten your right leg, and return to standing. Repeat on other side.
Gigi Berardi is a Dance Magazine contributing editor.
40 years of PNB
Pacific Northwest Ballet is celebrating its 40th anniversary with six world premieres, tours, and the return of nearly a dozen former PNB dancers to the stage. Guest appearances by Patricia Barker, Louise Nadeau, Jeffrey Stanton, Olivier Wevers, and others can be considered a validation of what artistic director Peter Boal is doing—and vice versa. For Barker, now artistic director of Grand Rapids Ballet, “To be on the Seattle stage once again was like coming home for the holidays. It was filled with joyful memories, and a sense of proud accomplishment to be part of the continued good work.”
At left: Carla Körbes of PNB rehearsing Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette. Photo © Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.
This season the company tours to Spoleto, Victoria, Las Vegas—and to New York City with the full company for the first time in 17 years. The New York engagement at City Center includes Apollo, staged by artistic director Peter Boal, and Concerto Barocco and Agon, staged by Francia Russell. The company also dances Jean-Christophe Maillot’s mesmerizing Roméo et Juliette. Music director Emil de Cou will conduct the 60-member PNB orchestra.
“An important part of our identity remains Balanchine,” says Boal. “From founding artistic forces Janet Reed and then Melissa Hayden to the 28-year tenure of Francia Russell and Kent Stowell—who continue to stage works here—the Balanchine repertory continues to build.” Of PNB’s 40 Balanchine ballets, Boal has acquired nine.
But he also has added the work of more than 20 choreographers new to the company. And with two-thirds of the dancers having been hired by Boal since his arrival seven years ago, PNB is most certainly a different company. In guiding PNB, “It’s been important for me to experiment with choreography,” says Boal. “Could we do [David] Parsons’ Caught and also act in Roméo et Juliette or sing in West Side Story? This is how I find out who the company is and then lead the company to what they could be tomorrow.”
Last season in Jardí Tancat, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Kylee Kitchens displayed her dynamic flexibility in a touchingly vulnerable performance. Tightly clasped hands and fully stretched arms conveyed the sense of struggle and urgency in Nacho Duato’s emotional piece. It is a ballet the 30-year-old Kitchens has been wanting to dance since she first joined the company over a decade ago. It took perhaps just as long for the dancer to develop the strength needed to perform it.
Throughout her initial training at Westside School of Ballet in California and then at the PNB School, Kitchens’ flexibility and slender physique had its advantages. The corps member (who will be promoted to soloist in January) has just the right willowy look for classical and neoclassical ballet. However, to support that delicate frame, she has had to work continually to build and tone muscle. Easily noticeable in company class, she is the dancer early to the studio, practicing pliés with her elastic band wrapped mid-thigh.
Taking It Slow
For Kitchens, as for most dancers, technique class is fundamental to being able to dance a variety of styles, “from classical story ballets to the less formal, less contained neoclassical rep,” she says. “It’s like taking your daily vitamins. It can be an elusive thing, because there is always something that could be stronger or could be done better.”
In class, Kitchens’ placement is solid. At the barre, she maintains the natural curves of her torso even when extending her leg to the back. At the end of exercises, she adds an extra balance, just to check her alignment. Adagio is a favorite part of class; slowing down, Kitchens says, helps her to get centered. “In adagio, placement is first and foremost—thinking about not turning out from my knee, consciously using my rotators, my hips. This is where your workday begins, and adagio helps you stay centered in everything you do.”
Kitchens’ pre-class ritual involves exercises gleaned from treatment for minor injuries such as sprained ankles, some hip impingement last season, and the occasional torn muscle. Most of the exercises address weak areas in hips, thighs, and core (see sidebar). In addition, every morning and night she ices areas vulnerable to strain, such as the muscles around her knees. Kitchens also enjoys therapeutic activities like baths with Epsom salts and acupuncture, which she uses “not just when I’m injured but also to keep my body in balance.”
In terms of nutritional routines, Kitchens begins her morning with an energy-packed breakfast. This might be a light smoothie (a favorite is vanilla yogurt with banana, peanut butter, and chocolate protein powder); scrambled egg whites with spinach, avocado, and mozzarella; or warm multi-grain cereals. She avoids processed foods, soda, and sugar. Always well supplied with vegetables, nuts, and fruit, she maintains her energy by eating small amounts throughout the day (in addition to lunch and dinner) and staying well-hydrated.
For recreational exercise, Kitchens takes regular hikes with her husband and dogs. During breaks in the season, she does yoga to maintain strength and flexibility. The breathing patterns she practices in yoga also help onstage. “For me, the best way to calm my thoughts is to take deep breaths and say to myself, ‘My body is strong. Relax and enjoy the moment.’ ”
Just as essential as daily warm-ups and technique class is strengthening the will. “To stay healthy in dance,” Kitchens says, “you have to know how to keep yourself motivated and not base your self-worth on, say, casting. Most of my opportunities have come within the past three years— I’ve been hopeful and patient.”
“There are certainly a lot of stresses in this roller coaster career,” she adds. “But you need to stay positive, content with what and how much you are dancing. Any experience onstage gives you more confidence—being strong onstage is how you grow as an artist.”
Gigi Berardi is a Seattle-based writer and is the book review editor for Journal of Dance Medicine & Science.
Kitchens in Balanchine’s Serenade. Photo by ©Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB, ©Balanchine Trust.
Glutes, Rotators, and Core—Oh My!
Kylee Kitchens’ morning routine starts before class with a circuit of exercises using Thera-Bands. Begin with a low-resistance band, wrapped around both calves (well above the ankle) and tied in a knot. The band should be tight enough so that there is moderate resistance. The following exercises are done facing and holding the barre with both hands.
• Plié in a comfortable second position. With a neutral pelvis, knees continuously bent, engage hip muscles (glutes and rotators), lift heels into a forced arch, and lower. Repeat 10 times, and rest.
• With legs straight in parallel, side-step about 12 inches to the right, stepping out with the right foot and bringing the left to meet it, for 10–15 steps. Keep core and glutes engaged. Repeat in the other direction. Maintain tension in the band as you step out (abduction) and as you slowly bring the trailing leg in (adduction).
• Begin with feet in parallel. Tighten your core and external rotators while slowly extending the right leg into a slightly turned-out 45-degree arabesque, then return to parallel and lower the leg. Repeat 10 times to the right, then do the same with the left.
January 14–16, 2011
Reviewed by Gigi Berardi
Photo: Andrew Bartee & Vincent Lopez in Olivier Wever's Monster. Photo by Kim & Adam Bamberg, courtesy Wevers.
For Whim W’Him’s second season, artistic director Olivier Wevers delivered an appealing mix of serious message and nimble, fluid movement. The company consists of dancers on loan from Spectrum Dance Theater (Ty Alexander Cheng, Kylie Lewallen, and Vincent Michael Lopez), Pacific Northwest Ballet (Chalnessa Eames, Andrew Bartee, Lucien Postlewaite, and Wevers), and Houston Ballet (Melody Herrera). The three-piece program, titled “Shadows, Raincoats, & Monsters,” used imaginative perspectives to create unpredictable and striking movement.
Monsters was perhaps the most provocative piece, with its rants on homophobia, addiction, and relationships. Wevers commissioned Seattle rap artist RA Scion to write lyrics woven into the musical soundtrack. The chilling poetry sets both mood and movement.
The piece consists of three duets, each packing an emotional punch: Bartee and Lopez’s poignant romp on society’s exclusiveness, Lewallen and Cheng’s grotesque statement on addiction, and Postlewaite and Herrera’s tender yet passive-aggressive partnering, replete with stylized violence. The dancers move like compasses in the stark, fluorescent lighting, supported by partners and etching with extended limbs the perimeter of some safe circle, beyond which they are seen as monsters.
Wevers’ This Is Not a Raincoat, features dramatic undercurves and overcurves alternating with a calm looseness. Dancers wear socks, as in Monsters, to allow them to scoot easily across the floor. The title is borrowed from the Magritte painting (ceci n’est pas une pipe) and conveys a similar image of the guarded self. Dancers walk en masse, raincoats rustling, shoulders retracting. At one point, the cluster unravels, and you can clearly see the individuals. Bartee never looked better, and all the dancers have a light, jaunty stance. In one fine moment, Eames (who is partnered by Cheng) gestures, suspended in mid-air, and the rest sympathetically respond with similar moves. In another telling passage, dancers move to a voice-over of neonatal and child-like sounds, finally building up to their fully revealed selves.
In Cylindrical Shadows, guest choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa presents breathy moves punctuated with classical riffs as emphasized in the pointe work of ballerinas Eames and Herrera. The contact improvisation–like movement, and especially the lifts, suggest something about the precariousness of life. Postlewaite and Herrera dance a reverential duet, before Postlewaite expires (alluding to a sudden-death incident, which inspired the piece).
These riveting dancers—and Wevers, who also dances in Shadows—are master storytellers. Together with Wevers’ newest pieces, this work proves that Whim W’Him has much to offer. No doubt the next stage in the company’s evolution will be a multi-program season, in part made possible with its new resident status at the Intiman.
Thoughts on this review? Email your comments, questions, opinions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A city where artists and dancers spur each other on
Throughout Seattle thrives a vibrant, innovative, and inclusive dance community in which visual and performance art boundaries are blurred. The city teems with artists of all sorts: music, fashion, theatrical, visual. Perhaps the same factors of setting and culture that have made its music world-renowned have also fed its dance scene. Seattle attracts outstanding performers, maintains high professional standards, and draws enthusiastic audiences for all kinds of endeavors.
Some might say that dancers have always had a strong presence in Seattle. Merce Cunningham was a student at Cornish College of the Arts in the late 1930s and formed his historic partnership with composer John Cage there. In the 1940s, Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino studied ballet with famed Seattle teacher Mary Ann Wells. Ann Reinking studied with Marian and Lara Ladre (whose Seattle school had a 50-year run), Mark Morris received his early dance training in Seattle, and then came Bill Evans in 1976. Evans’ energy drew other performers to Seattle like Christian Swenson, Wade Madsen, and Llory Wilson. Serious artists like Pat Graney emerged to advocate for new work, especially by and for women. Around the same time, The Pacific Northwest Dance Association was transitioning to a larger Pacific Northwest Ballet.
The flow of dance artists into Seattle continues. Former New York City Ballet principal Stephanie Saland, who came to Seattle in 1993, teaches her own blend of ballet and somatic practice. Donald Byrd has led Spectrum Dance Theater since 2002. Peter Boal took the helm of Pacific Northwest Ballet from longtime artistic directors Kent Stowell and Francia Russell in 2005.
Today, a new generation of dancers is rising and partnerships proliferate—as with KT Niehoff’s collaborative project, Lingo. Amy O’Neal and composer Zeke Keeble combine to form Locust. The intrepid O’Neal splinters off (under the name AmyO/tinyrage) for even riskier ventures—fusing hip hop with strong visual components. The humanist choreographer Mary Sheldon Scott and composer Jarrad Powell (of Scott/Powell Performance) have mentored many of the new generation, like Beth Graczyk, Jim Kent, Corrie Befort, and Ellie Sandstrom. And so the cultural threads continue.
Some Key Players
Visionary (and workaholic), Donald Byrd shook up Seattle when he came to take over Spectrum Dance Theater. Byrd is known for his raw work and unflinchingly difficult themes. He pushes his dancers mightily—especially since he demands neoclassical skills but with unconventional bodies. He also nurtures nascent choreographers. And he’s persuasive; he even had hyper-busy Boal dancing in his piece for the Men in Dance festival this past fall.
Since Peter Boal became artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle’s leading ballet company and one of the country’s best, he has added dozens of premieres and commissions to the repertoire. Boal has been educating audiences as much as anything else—and it’s working. Attendance for both PNB’s mixed repertoire and story ballet programs is now way up.
Most would say Pat Graney’s 30 years of producing work crowns her as Seattle’s contemporary dance diva. Her evening-length pieces and her social activism—notably her Prison Project—have earned numerous awards. Her early dances, Sax House and Jesus Loves the Little Cowgirls, challenged gender stereotypes and put dance with a lesbian sensibility on the map.
The ultra-flexible, classically trained Zoe Scofield collaborates with visual artist Juniper Shuey as zoe/juniper. She creates hyperkinetic movement that is altogether eccentric and beautiful. This summer she’ll perform at Jacob’s Pillow and return to Bates Dance Festival in Maine.
Born and raised in Seattle, Catherine Cabeen, formerly with Bill T. Jones and the Martha Graham Dance Company, promotes interdisciplinary collaboration as a form of public scholarship. She performs widely, recently in New York (she still performs with Richard Move) and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Olivier Wevers’ new company Whim W’Him epitomizes Seattle’s blurring of boundaries between classical and contemporary sensibilities, thus attracting wider audiences. (See “25 to Watch,” page 42.) Whim W’Him is now the official dance company at the Intiman Theatre in Seattle (much as Seattle Dance Project, another stellar company started by former PNB dancers—Julie Tobiason and Timothy Lynch—is the resident company of the ACT Theatre).
Marie Chong’s ARC Dance has been around since 1999, with repertoire by artists such as Penny Hutchinson (formerly with Mark Morris Dance Group) and PNB’s Kiyon Gaines.
Spaces & Funding
One reason why artists stay in Seattle is affordable space. It’s relatively easy to create work and self-produce here. With help from King County’s cultural services (4Culture and related grant programs), dollars are currently available to fund new work. However, as in other cities, few dancers actually are paid commensurate with their skills and experience.
On the Boards (OtB) has been the main presenter of contemporary dance in Seattle since 1978. Its two series, 12 Minutes Max and Northwest New Works, give opportunities for emerging artists with new ideas. OtB takes risks and supports some of the most exciting performing arts anywhere. This season includes Catherine Cabeen’s Into the Void, Crystal Pite/Kidd Pivot’s astonishing Dark Matters, and a rock musical by Dayna Hanson (a co-founder of 33 Fainting Spells). OtB also brings in artists from around the world, plays to capacity audiences, and stimulates the local scene. Artistic director Lane Czaplinski is branching out to provide online audiences with high-quality video of its edgy performances.
A recent fundraising campaign tapped into Seattle’s love of dance to help save Velocity Dance Center from closing. Founded by former Pat Graney dancers Michele Miller and KT Niehoff, Velocity houses studios (with daily classes) and performance space. Velocity has helped make Seattle a hot spot for experimental dance. Its SCUBA program, a four-way partnership with venues in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis, sponsors local artists and groups such as Salt Horse, Locust, and Amelia Reeber and puts them on a multi-city tour.
Festivals & Events
Seattleites love their festivals. Velocity’s summer program Strictly Seattle is a three-week dance immersion (see “Summer Study” section, page 102). Cyrus Khambatta’s Beyond the Threshold International Dance Festival showcases a changing lineup of companies and curators with both U.S. and international work. The popular Against the Grain/Men in Dance festival started by Richard Jessup presents dance performed and choreographed by men (mostly). The Chop Shop: Bodies of Work is a contemporary dance festival in Greater Seattle run by StoneDance Productions. The well-attended Seattle Festival of Dance Improvisation, organized by Dance Art Group, runs each summer and features well-known artists such as Miguel Gutierrez and Bebe Miller, as well as local talent.
Many companies make hefty educational and outreach efforts. Particularly effective has been Seattle Theatre Group with its annual Dance This, a summer dance and performance intensive for young artists from diverse communities, often featuring another Seattle mainstay, Sonia Dawkins/Prism Dance Theatre.
Merging with Academia
The status of dance in Seattle has a lot to do with its links to higher education. Dancers in their prime come to the University of Washington’s MFA program, direct from demanding seasons with top companies—in fact, a minimum of eight years of professional experience is required for admission. Former program director Hannah Wiley’s Chamber Dance Company performs works of historical note and boasts some of the most well-trained dancers in the city. Both Wiley and program director Betsy Cooper teach popular ballet classes, as does Cornish College’s Kitty Daniels. Companies founded or co-founded by Cornish graduates include d9 Dance Collective, Better Biscuit Dance Company, Locust, and Salt Horse. Notable alums include William Whitener (artistic director of Kansas City Ballet) and Holley Farmer (of Come Fly Away fame). Mark Haim, a former artist-in-residence at the University of Washington known for his analytical, pattern-oriented approach to movement, still teaches and choreographs.
Clearly, in Seattle, numerous strong voices percolate to create a fresh dance scene. Dancers mine the treasure trove of the city’s rich arts community for its collaborative work. They share vision, embrace crossover, and build audiences that appreciate it all.
Gigi Berardi is a DM contributing editor and author of Finding Balance: Fitness, Training, and Health for a Lifetime in Dance.
Pictured: Catherine Cabeen in her Into the Void. Photo by Michaela Leslie-Rule and Phill Cabeen, Courtesy Cabeen.
ACT Theatre’s Dorothy S. Bullitt Cabaret
April 22–May 15, 2010
Reviewed by Gigi Berardi
Clockwise from top left: KT Niehoff, Bianca Cabrera, Kelly Sullivan, and Ricki Mason. Photo by Kevin Kauer, courtesy Lingo.
Lingo’s daring A Glimmer of Hope or Skin or Light, conceived and directed by artistic director KT Niehoff, is the culminating piece of a collaboration with Seattle’s ACT Theatre and the Seattle Art Museum. Three earlier components were performed throughout Seattle over the past few months, beginning in February. I saw Glimmer close to the end of its three-week run, in a sold-out house still intimate enough for the throngs of viewers to wander through the club-type venue.
Glimmer’s cabaret mood is created with the strident but stirring melodies of the live band (Ivory in Ice World), an original taped score by Scott Colburn, and the theater itself: a seatless cabaret with wide descending staircases, balconies, colonnades, and small tiled dance floors. Reportedly, Niehoff was looking for a “potent environment,” and it would be hard to imagine one more so.
Niehoff and dancer Ricki Mason devised the overall costume design. The “coven” of main dancers —Mason, Bianca Cabrera, Michael Rioux, and Aaron Swartzman—and lead “showgirl” Kelly Sullivan wore white brocades decorated with feathers and tulle; Sullivan sported an audacious white headpiece with shimmering tentacles. Ben Delacreme created the garish, Carnivale-like makeup.
One of the first duets is a lusty romp between Mason and Cabrera, their bodies completely interlocked like a puzzle of convex and concave shapes. At one poignant moment, a dancer’s face rests in the arch of another’s foot. Cabrera’s extreme facial contortions are direct, vital, and scary.
Cabrera, Mason, and the self-absorbed Sullivan are like the wildest yogis, capable of great feats of strength but agile in their tangos and steamy danse apache. The men (Rioux and Swartzman) offer something different in their wrestling—an interplay of ego and alter ego, asking small questions, rather than the larger ones posed by the women.
The seven showgirls (Sruti Desai, Jill Leversee, Morgan Nutt, Erin Simons, Violette Tucker, Kate Wallich, and Hendri Walujo) accent the production both as chorus and gatekeepers, slithering through the audience and whispering erotically to keep everyone alert—and out of the dancers’ way. They counter the robotic movement of the coven with smoother, rhythmic phrases, as if to say, “Touch! Desire! Risk!”
With its iconic showgirls and needy lovers, Glimmer offers beams of hope, pushing the boundaries of relationships and personal desires with an almost unbearable tension—which resolves itself at the end through the full-frontal nude antics of several of the dancers. The garish pantomime is only occasionally too busy. Otherwise, it’s a raucous, daunting thing. Were that theater-vérité was as provocative—and unforgettable.
Carla Körbes in costume for Jean-Christophe Malliot's Roméo et Juliette. Photo by Matthew Karas.
At one moment in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette, in an act of supreme trust, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Carla Körbes flings herself backwards into the arms of Romeo. This is a turning point in the ballet—and crystallizes Körbes’ interpretation of Juliet as jubilant and transcendent. Gone was any shadow of her previous back injury, which had delayed her debut as Juliet for 18 months. What emerged was a sensuous dancer with exceptional line and an expressive upper body. Composed and fearless, Körbes breathed life into Maillot’s vocabulary of adolescent love. Such performances have lifted her into the top tier of principals at PNB.
This has been a long road for the 28-year-old Körbes, beginning years ago in Brazil when she was a child. Early on, teachers noticed that there was something different about the way Körbes danced: her charm, her ease onstage, her resolve, but also her sense of humor and uncanny ability to draw in an audience. Shortly after arriving at Porto Alegre’s Ballet Vera Bublitz school in 1993, she was placed in the most advanced class—an achievement her family considered well worth the hour-and-a-half commute from her home village of São Leopoldo. Soon, she was performing soloist roles, including a full-length Don Q at age 14.
About that time Bublitz brought in New York City Ballet’s Peter Boal to partner its most talented student. Boal danced Apollo with Körbes, and was convinced that he had found a treasure deserving of a wider audience. “Sometimes choreographers, whether they are alive or dead, reveal themselves to dancers—as Balanchine did with Carla,” says Boal. “The pas de deux we did was seamless. She was intuitive about every aspect of it.”
In 1996 Körbes left Brazil to attend the School of American Ballet—a daunting step for a 15-year-old who knew no English and had difficulty with the pace of SAB classes. “But I was a sponge,” says Körbes in lightly accented English. “Being so far away from home, it was important to me to be accepted by my teachers.”
There were plenty of corrections: using more turnout from the hip, relaxing her hands and fingers, learning a different technique for turns, and trying more complicated jumps. But she took correction well and had an intuitive sense of rhythm (“I’ve never really been a counter!”). She zealously guarded any time she could spend in the studio. The hard work paid off—with lead roles in the end-of-year workshop and a year’s tuition funded by Alexandra Danilova so she could continue at the school.
Three years later, she received the Mae L. Wien Award for Outstanding Promise, and joined the corps of NYCB in 2000. The following year, Peter Martins selected her as the Janice Levin Dancer honoree, also an award for potential. While still in the corps, she danced featured roles in works by Balanchine, Feld, and Preljocaj, and originated roles in ballets by Wheeldon and Richard Tanner. In 2005, she was promoted to soloist. She managed all this despite suffering a severe midfoot fracture early on at SAB, and being plagued with minor injuries. “Some seasons,” recalls Körbes, “I didn’t even dance corps parts.”
One of her favorite roles was the playful Titania in Balanchine’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was noted by Time Out New York as one of the top 10 performances of 2001. But doubts got the better of the young dancer and continued throughout her New York career. “I had an obsession about fitting in,” says Körbes. “I wanted to have Peter Martins look at me and say something about my ‘perfect’ body. But somehow I never felt good enough, and all those feelings were overshadowing the art of what I was doing.”
Körbes’ last year at NYCB was especially hard. “All I could think about was, ‘Am I thin enough?’ I felt that my legs were too big, and I didn’t look like the other women in the company. The dancer in me was dying, and even the Carla I wanted to be was fading away. It was hard for me to enjoy myself onstage.”
In Boal’s view, Körbes was underutilized at NYCB. “With over 100 dancers, more than a dozen ballerinas, and hungry soloists, there was a long line for roles Carla would have been well suited for,” says Boal. “She learned fast, but she’d be fourth cast, or an injury would prevent her from performing.”
Körbes remembers talking with Boal about their first meeting, how she seemed completely fearless then. “Peter reminded me that as a kid in Brazil I could do anything, but at NYCB I grew to believe that I was bad at everything,” says Körbes. “That’s what’s hard about ballet: You build a belief system and it can crush you.”
When Boal became artistic director of PNB in 2005, he invited Körbes to follow him—thus providing PNB with a versatile and arresting soloist. As a new import to PNB, Körbes was named a 2006 Dance Magazine “25 to Watch.”
The gutsiness she had at 14 as Kitri in Don Q—could she find it again, 10 years later? Under Boal’s encouragement and PNB coach Elaine Bauer’s careful attention, and with partners such as Stanko Milov, she did. Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake was the ballet that launched her career as a principal. In it, she danced an ethereal Odette and a cunning Odile, confident and dramatic.
“I think that ballet showed the best of our partnership,” says Milov. “She’s a very sensitive dancer with a special kind of emotional availability. That unguarded manner will help her to continue to grow as an artist.”
Principal Jeffrey Stanton, another of Körbes’ partners, gives her credit for handling the shift to a smaller company well. “When she first arrived and Boal was the new director, we were all wondering who was Peter’s star...will she be a diva,” says Stanton. “But she was very relaxed.” Körbes is a quick study, acknowledges Stanton, and one who is very present as a partner. “She’s so grateful to her partners,” says Stanton.
At PNB, Körbes relishes playing with the details of a role—the nuances and the musicality. She attributes her growth to the many coaches she has had there—from Mimi Paul to Violette Verdy. “They are all like little bricks of information to make a house,” says Körbes. “In Portuguese, it’s called ‘tijolo,’ or little bricks.”
Even though PNB feels comfortable for Körbes, it’s still not home in Brazil. “I miss my family,” says Körbes. “But my parents also left home at an early age, so we respect each others’ decisions to follow our dreams in life.” Körbes’ family travels to the U.S. for special occasions, like her Odette/Odile performances.
Despite Körbes’ resolute focus on her work, she has built a life for herself outside of ballet. In Seattle, she lives with her boyfriend, and a little toy fox terrier named Bella (acquired in her NYCB days). She’s a part-time student at Seattle University in PNB’s Second Stage program (aimed to help dancers with career transitions). Körbes also finds time to go samba or salsa dancing at the Spectrum Dance Theater studios or at a friend’s house. “It feeds my soul at another level,” she says. “It takes me back to my roots.”
After five years at PNB, Körbes has come to terms with perfectionism. “It is just part of the ballet world,” she says. “But I can now find a better balance between my struggles and my freedom to be a true artist, a carefree dancer.” Talking with the spirited and confident dancer, it’s difficult to imagine the years she spent plagued by body issues.
For Körbes, repertory is food, and she has been fed well. Last year alone, she danced principal roles in over a dozen ballets, from Kent Stowell’s Swan Lake and “Diamonds” from Balanchine’s Jewels to Wheeldon’s Carousel (A Dance) and Robbins’ West Side Story Suite, where she sizzled with Latina energy as Anita. She has also originated leading roles in works by Twyla Tharp and Benjamin Millepied. “Every now and then, I see that 14-year-old from Brazil in all of these new roles, and there’s nothing artificial about her,” says Boal. “She’s still a vessel for any choreography or music that comes her way.”
The versatile ballerina will again be tested this season. A highlight is the role of Aurora in Ronald Hynd’s Sleeping Beauty (Feb. 4–14), which she will no doubt fulfill with both grace and stamina. At PNB, Körbes commands a huge array of roles. There, she is royalty—and, for now, she is reigning supreme.
Gigi Berardi is a contributing writer for Dance Magazine and an assistant editor for the Journal of Dance Medicine and Science.
A brief visit to the Beausoleil studios of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo today suggested a professional environment that many dancers can only dream of—in the magnificent, spacious studios, called “L’Atelier” (an area adjacent to Monte Carlo, proper). The name itself is revealing (“The Workshop”), and here artistic director Jean-Christophe Maillot choreographs new works and dancers train to hone their technique.
Today “L’Atelier” was quiet—as all the dancers were on tour in Germany. Nonetheless, the director’s motto of “Living well” fills the space, from the dancers’ spa (saunas and jacuzzi), chaise lounge area on the roof (with full sea view), and laundry facilities, to the in-house café exclusively for the dancers. Four Rolex clocks had just been donated to the studios, one of which hung prominently in the café.
The company has serious funding from the Monegasque government—no donor dinners or parties with the paparazzi needed—this is a company beholden to no one. Except Jean-Christophe Maillot, and of course their patron, HRH the Princess of Hanover (Princess Caroline).
What looks to me as the downside of the company is the huge amount of touring—this season (October 08 through July 09) the company toured throughout France, and in Tokyo, Serbia, Spain, UK, Israel, and Italy. All dancers go on tour, even though just a handful may be dancing at any one time. Nevertheless, the company has flourished under the 10 year-plus reign of Jean- Christophe Maillot, and next year, the touring will slow down some as the company prepares for Ballets Russes heritage festivals (in December–January 2010, March–April, and in July).
Enter Noelani Pantastico, who is finding her way in Monte Carlo. Pantastico, who’s been with Les Ballets de Monte Carlo for seven months, has joined the ranks of a growing list of American dancers emigrating to companies abroad (see Dance Magazine, “From Dance to Danse,” January 2009, or online as European Dreamin’). Other Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers have preceded her—Lisa Apple and Anne Derieux, for example.
Pantastico had a dream of a season last year with PNB. But with Monte Carlo, she’s getting her wish—to dive into the choreography of one master dance maker—Maillot. So far, she’s performed La Belle (Maillot’s Sleeping Beauty), in Japan in February and Juliette in Italy in December. More recently, Ms. Pantastico has worked with Nicolo Fonte and Matjash Mrozewski for their new premieres this July in Monte Carlo. That’s a lot for the new girl on the block.
In a telephone conversation last week, Pantastico mentioned that, early on, some of the dancers in the company would come up to her and ask how she felt about performing less (referring to her season with Pacific Northwest Ballet last year, with a lot of exposure in new roles). But for the ballerina, this is just part of “starting over.” In Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, there is some rank and hierarchy, but the lines are often blurred with ensemble work. Apparently, it’s a big team effort to make Jean-Christophe happy, and there is little room for ego. What is clear, from even casual conversations at the studios today, is that the coaching, mentoring, and especially the creative process of dance-making is alive and well with Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. Even Diaghilev himself would be proud.
Danzainfiera (see my earlier blog) finished in grand style in February with memorable performances by Italian artists:
• Former Martha Graham Dance Company member Adria Ferrali, who danced an eerie pas de deux with herself, slipping her hands and arms into the sleeves of a hanging coat and creating believable characters.
• European Thersicore Company (di Monique Pepi), which performed Pepi’s very breathy Nocturna, hitting every balance just right.
• Atzewi Dance Company, which previewed a piece with seven dancers affixed to chairs, but reading their daily newspapers in every odd position imaginable.
• ARKE dance company, which wowed audiences as 21st-century sylphs, but in gauze-like floor-length gowns, and with ethereal expressions and moves; the company was clever enough to feature its Lorenzo Pagano with his impressive phrasing in several pieces.
A highlight for me was interviewing Italian ballet legend Luciana Savignano, prima ballerina of La Scala and muse of Maurice Béjart, who created numerous ballets for her; and watching Italian dance diva Rossella Brescia (who in the evening gala performed a steamy pas de deux with Jose Perez) teach a jazz class. There were 30 paid students in the class, but 100 of us were watching from two studio windows. All around me I could hear people murmuring, “Ah, c’e La Brescia” with recognition and awe.
That dance is everywhere in Italy can be seen, for example, in the image of giant paper Maché dancers at Carnavale in Viareggio, or with mannequins in dance poses in storefront displays in Firenze. It is even well represented in The National Museum of Cinema in Torino. Housed in the Mole Antonelliana, at one time known as the tallest brick building in Europe, it includes exhibits such as the current Rudolph Valentino: the Seduction of the Myth (through May 24), as well as miles of playbills and film clips. To me, the most impressive work was in the history of cinematography displays, which included early Italian film footage of dancers from the late 1800s, representing the avante garde collaboration of artists and scientists of the day.
One of Florence's biggest dance events, danzainfiera, offers four full days of performances, classes, auditions, and competitions for every kind of dance imaginable. There are some clear favorites, though—hip hop, show dance, and tango reign supreme. But, for my money, I'll take some of the terrific contemporary ballet that is so gutsy and in your face, you're exhausted watching, even after one performance.
I'm talking, specifically, about RBR, a dance company founded in 1998 by Cristiano Fagiolo. It's based in Verona, Italy and makes frequent appearances at competitions and exhibitions such as danzainfiera.
The wildly popular company (last night at the gala, I could hear my neighbors murmuring, Che bravi! Che bravi! How terrific! How clever!) captured everyone's attention with its etch-a-sketch kind of choreography (from Statuaria), which emphasizes the dramatic line and extreme flexibility of the seven women and two men dancers. Their playful timing makes it look like they slowly pour themselves into extreme classical lines.
Also performing at the gala were Botega, Enzo Celli's nationally-known company of dancers, athletes, and acrobats known for its body-popping antics and FlamenQueVive, which performed music and dance with Andalusian themes and of wildly varying tempi.
For the under 14s (or so), you can find High School Musical 3's Jemma McKenzie-Brown (who played Tiara Gold) saying a few words in Italian and dancing some or see l'Antonino or la Simonetta of the popular I Ragazzi Di Amici television show singing and dancing (although I noticed the house was half full for I Ragazzi).
For those looking for more classical art, you can stop by the temporary ballet studios of the Ballet School of Teatro alla Scala, no less, and watch classes held by ballet master Frederic Olivieri, or you can observe demonstrations by RAD (Royal Academy of Dancing) masters.
There's also a dizzying amount and variety of dancewear and literature, performances by dance schools, and meetings with prominent figures from the dance and arts world. The four days costs 25 Euros (about $30 U.S.) and is held at the historic Fortezza da Basso in the beautiful city of Florence.
Danzainfiera is a major dance scene, for sure, and a bit trying to figure out what's happening when (even for a moderately-acceptable Italian speaker such as myself), but it's worth the effort. For more, see www.danzainfiera.it
Pat Graney Company
December 4–21, 2008
Seattle City Light Building, Seattle
Reviewed by Gigi Berardi
Photo by Tim Summers, courtesy
Pat Graney Company. Trinidad Martinez in Graney's
"sometimes charming, sometimes haunting" House of Mind.
In House of Mind, Pat Graney once again uses memory and consciousness as her muse. The piece is really two works of art: a multi-media installation that's a mind-boggling array of art, and a dance performance. Graney has transformed a converted 5,000-square-foot warehouse to great effect, using bleached white sand and alternating hot air blasts in a maze of sometimes charming, sometimes haunting rooms.
For part one of the event, the audience is invited to wander through walls of books and stacks of packing envelopes before viewing the actual installation. The effect is surreal, as if Graney conjured up the scene on the spot, inviting longtime collaborator Amy Denio to join her in producing a riveting soundtrack. Denio added her own intriguing compositions such as Celtic tunes and vocals and a guitar solo, plus theme music from old game shows and poignant interviews with Graney's mother (who has Alzheimer's disease), as well as interviews with Graney herself.
Installation and set designer David Traylor guided the effort, together with designers of every sort, like Nanette Acosta with Stella Rose St. Clair, who engineered six giant taffeta-textured dresses suspended from the ceiling. A wall of over 100,000 mother of pearl buttons has streams of water running over these traditional trading objects. Graney has added reams of her father's typed police reports from the 1950s and an array of gold-painted high-heeled shoes, arranged so that each shoe is visible. The most eerie display, however, is a solid gray room, which represents her father's study. Here the walls, rugs, books, and empty picture frames are all cast in the same emotionless gray.
Graney allows the audience to tour the installation for a half hour before the performance and view artifacts in the performance space itself. This includes a 20- by 12-foot wall of 3500 miniatures and almost as many tiny cubicles carved into it, along with bits and pieces from a 1950s home, including a bubble-filled bathtub featuring installation bather Kristina Dillard.
The gutsy and versatile ensemble includes standout Graney dancer Michelle de la Vega; newcomer Trinidad Martinez, who, together with de la Vega, carries much of the piece; Sara Jinks; and Jody Kuehner and Jenny Peterson. They sleep in kitchen drawers and even dance around the room with them, perform headstands on chairs or balance precariously on their rims. The chairs, in a sense, are the anchors of the piece, where a lot of Graney's motifs are performed. The dancers stretch, cringe, take regimented stances, and try to hold onto a routine, with lots of pacing in tight skirts and high heels—maybe it's a way of remembering. There is also an inconsolable sadness about the ensemble, a life interrupted by some tragedy. Clearly, memory loss is a terrible impoverishment.
At the end of the piece, all coalesce around the dining room, and then move on. One dancer goes to sleep on the dining room table, another curls up on the catwalk, another paces back and forth. Time disappears into sameness. How can we even know what we know––for the image becomes the memory—and which came first? This unforgettable piece, not surprisingly, had a long run of almost three weeks in Seattle, with a number of second and third shows added. Audiences can see this audacious piece in either Houston, playing now through February 7, or in New York City, presented by DTW on Governors Island in June.
American dancers have trained and performed in Europe for years, but recently there’s been a surge of migration among young ballet hopefuls. The job situation is good, and the possibility of working with master choreographers like Jirí Kylián, William Forsythe, and John Neumeier, is a big draw. The appeal is huge: a chance to live and work in a different culture, to perform a varied repertory with contemporary European choreographers, and to work for a good salary with full benefits. But is it at a cost? What do American dancers give up when they take the leap across the pond?
For former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Noelani Pantastico, now a recent émigré to Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, the opportunity to follow artistic director Jean-Christophe Maillot and repeat her stunning success as Juliet (which she debuted with PNB last year) in Europe was the chance of a lifetime. “A lot of people think Maillot stole me or that I was unhappy with PNB,” says Pantastico, 28. “But my main motivation for leaving was to feel growth as a dancer and as a human being.” The choreographer chose Pantastico to perform the heroine role on opening night of the Monte Carlo’s Les Nuits de la Danse. Pantastico, who joined the company as a soloist, refers to her first month in Monaco as “magical,” and that opening night in July as a dream come true.
For Casey Herd, another former principal at PNB, a query to the Dutch National Ballet led to him taking classes and guesting in the company’s Sleeping Beauty. Says the 31-year old Herd: “I considered dancing in Europe many times before. Then I heard that DNB was looking for tall principals.” Eventually he was offered a principal contract in the 80-member DNB. “There will be a lot of expectations,” says Herd, “but I needed the challenge of stepping outside my comfort zone.”
Pantastico and Herd describe both the pull and push of making such a move: the excitement of a new working environment and culture, plus the opportunity to move beyond the complacency that sometimes comes with being in one city for a while. It’s something with which their former artistic director, Peter Boal, could empathize. He was struck with the same wanderlust 20 years ago when working at New York City Ballet. He spread his wings in France for three months with Ballet du Nord, and says he became a stronger dancer for it. In fact it was Boal who opened the door to DNB for Herd.
Claudia Schreiber’s opportunity to dance with the Norwegian National Ballet happened “by chance,” she says. She heard good reports on how artistic director Espen Giljane was building an exciting repertory and expanding the company with international dancers. She and a fellow dancer at Carolina Ballet auditioned in Oslo.
“From the first combination in class to the rehearsals I observed, people were very focused and also clearly supportive of one another,” says Schreiber, 27. “I was convinced that this would be a great place to grow artistically.” Months later, when Schreiber unexpectedly received an e-mail saying ‘Greetings from Norway,’ she jumped at the chance to work for Espen and the company.
“It’s been even more exhilarating and satisfying than I had hoped,” says Schreiber. “The challenge to delve deeper into the material is part of every class and rehearsal.” And she feels inspired by the new, ultra-modern and sleek Oslo Opera House.
Prince Credell, formerly of Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, joined Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève last summer. He was attracted to the company because of its diverse repertory and central location, the better to be exposed to the wider European dance scene. But it wasn’t easy getting there. Credell, 26, whose dazzling dancing earned him an “On the Rise” (Aug. ’04), had to go through an open audition. “They don’t give the dancer a feel for what the company is like,” he says. “In the beginning the open auditions were fun and exciting, but they are very, very difficult at times.”
Still, Credell feels that the audition process was worth the chance of getting a position with job security. Typically, contracts are yearlong with benefits, including retirement and paid vacations. Salaries are similar, if not slightly higher, even given the cost of living in Europe versus the United States. Some companies also pay for language classes for the new recruits.
An easier route to breaking into a company is to get some exposure to it before. Although Pantastico had performed as the lead in Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette in Seattle, she nevertheless auditioned for a position when the company toured the U.S. This allowed her to “see and be seen” by other company members. Later, during the annual spring layoff from PNB, she went to Monte Carlo and took classes.
Ashley Ellis was a corps member of American Ballet Theatre when she heard that one of the company’s stars, Angel Corella, was forming his own nationally subsidized group in Spain. The possibility to dance in Corella Ballet Castilla y Leon “sounded like an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, even though I first thought it was too far away,” says Ellis. “Still, it is quite an exciting experience, to be a part of something so new. After being here for one year, it now feels a lot like home.”
A Different Way to Work
Many of the dancers moving to Europe are looking for a challenge, and perhaps a different way of working. Pantastico says she was searching for a point of view, for a single artistic vision. “I think Maillot’s choreography is a good fit for me,” she says. “I’m cherishing my time in the studio—I’ve always craved more of it. I find that dancers discover themselves and what they are capable of while being coached. I wonder if working in a slower and more deliberate way will prolong my performing career.”
Garrett Anderson and Courtney Wright of San Francisco Ballet wanted to experience the food, language, and history of a different culture. “I had heard people talk about an American and a European way of dancing and was interested in what those differences might be,” says Anderson. “We’re in a bubble over here with so few European choreographers.” The husband-and-wife team, Anderson a soloist and Wright a corps member, scheduled an audition tour with several companies. “In order to leave this great company,” says Wright, “the choice had to be a careful one.”
Anderson and Wright took company class with Royal Ballet of Flanders in Antwerp and found the dancers and director Kathryn Bennetts (a former Forsythe dancer) welcoming. “Flanders seemed a good fit,” says Anderson. “The dancers were artistically aware, and we were excited about the direction the company was heading.”
Wright, 28, joined the RBF as soloist and Anderson, 27, as first soloist last summer. For the couple, Flanders offered an ideal setting—more of a workshop experience with choreographers. Although they’ll miss the ambitious programming at San Francisco Ballet, Flanders will give them the opportunity to let the work sink in.
Another husband-and-wife team from SFB, Felipe Diaz and Marisa Lopez, have been with Dutch National Ballet for 10 years, more than half of that time as soloists (Lopez was promoted to principal in 2007). Both were on tour in Europe with the San Francisco Ballet when Lopez, 32, was offered a job by then director Wayne Eagling. Diaz, 34, auditioned a few months later and received an offer to join as well. Says Diaz: “For my body and muscle tone, I have enjoyed the training much more in Europe than in America. I like consistently being onstage as opposed to an intense, concentrated period and a long lay off. And I have had less injuries.” They have contracts until they reach 38 (though they must be renewed anually) and a career transition program, which the government pays half of, they can tap into after 10 years with the company.
Finding One’s Place
Pantastico headed for Monaco with some reservations. “I can’t focus on what I’m giving up—all the great repertory at PNB. For me now, I’m more focused on how I’m working. My motto is ‘Never look back, only forward.’ ”
Lopez, of the Dutch National Ballet, talks about missing an “American energy.” “I love when the choreographer brings a smart, efficient drive into the studio,” she says. “I miss that healthy energy; it’s infectious.” She also misses family and friends. “It’s a big decision to move to another continent,” she says. “I think if I had gone to Europe straightaway after graduation, I would have been lost personally and professionally.”
Even though Europe is now home for these dancers, adapting to another culture can be a challenge. Yet each is finding a place in dance that includes meaningful work, good working conditions, and respect as artists. Leaving premier American dance companies is risky business—but so far, it looks like the choice has been a good one. Time will tell.
Gigi Berardi, author of Finding Balance: Fitness and Training for a Lifetime in Dance, will be speaking and writing on dance from Europe this winter.