Sometimes, change happens all at once. Last year, The Juilliard School, one of the country's top conservatories for music, dance and drama, got not one new leader but three.
Damian Woetzel, a former star at New York City Ballet, took the reins as Juilliard's new president, the first in the institution's history to come from the field of dance. (The previous six have been musicians.) Evan Yionoulis was named director of drama. And Alicia Graf Mack, an exemplary dancer at both the Dance Theatre of Harlem and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, became Juilliard's incoming director of dance—the first African American, and, at 39, the youngest person to ever take up the position.
General director of Spoleto Festival USA since 1995 and, for two decades (1998-2017), the director of the Lincoln Center Festival, Nigel Redden has an internationalist's point of view on the arts—expansive, curious, informed by the cultural wealth that the world has to offer.
He is the son of an American diplomat and grew up moving from place to place—Cyprus, Israel, Canada, Italy—until eventually setting of for Yale to study Art History. After visiting the Spoleto festival in Italy as a young man, and working there while he was still an undergraduate, he very quickly realized what he wanted to: direct festivals. And that's what he has done for most of the last quarter century.
Usually, it takes new recruits a few seasons to make their mark at the Paul Taylor Dance Company. But Taylor wasted no time in honing in on the talents of Alex Clayton. Only a few months after Clayton joined in June 2017, Taylor created an exciting solo for him in his new Concertiana, filled with explosive leaps and quick footwork. Clayton was also featured in new works by Doug Varone and Bryan Arias. At 5' 6" he may be compact, but onstage he fills the space with a thrilling sense of attack.
Tucked into a recent article in The New York Times about an upcoming schedule-change at the Metropolitan Opera, was a small bombshell: To accommodate the opera's plans, American Ballet Theatre, with whom it shares the house, will "reduce its Met season to five weeks from the current eight" starting in 2021. The news was dropped casually, practically as an aside.
Maybe it shouldn't come as such a surprise. No regular ABT attendee can have failed to notice that, in recent seasons, there have been performances that were significantly under-sold. This happened even in the case of enduringly popular works like Giselle. Only Misty Copeland or the occasional visitor—Natalia Osipova, say—can fill that cavernous, almost 4,000-seat monolith.
(To be fair, the opera has the same problem; in May of 2017 it was reported to have attained only 67% of potential box office receipts.)
Diana Vishneva has had a very big year. In 2017, she retired from American Ballet Theatre, performing Onegin with the company one last time, accompanied by her longtime partner Marcelo Gomes. Then, in September, she opened a ballet studio in her home city of St. Petersburg called CONTEXT Pro. Soon after, she marked the fifth edition of her festival of contemporary dance, CONTEXT, with two weeks of performances, workshops and talks in Moscow and St. Petersburg. But the biggest event came several months later, with the birth of her first child. (As she points out with some satisfaction, the timing was perfect—she didn't have to cancel a single engagement.)
The pregnancy allowed Vishneva to step back from an international career that has kept her constantly on the move for the better part of the last two decades. The ballet world receded from her consciousness, but not for long. We spoke in New York, where she resides part of the year, just as she was gearing up for the first of a series of performances and projects. The day after our chat, her son would turn 100 days old.
Choreographers are no more immortal than anyone else. So, wisely, single-choreographer modern dance companies have increasingly opted to address the issue of planning for the future—a future without their founders—before the crisis comes.
The solutions have been many. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company decided to shut down but preserve a Trust, which licenses his dances and holds regular workshops. Paul Taylor Dance Company has begun commissioning new works from other choreographers, even as Taylor continues to make dances. Tanztheater Wuppertal has been touring Pina Bausch's works for almost a decade, and is only now looking to outside choreographers.
The Mark Morris Dance Group has come up with a very different approach, as idiosyncratic as Mark Morris himself.
There is no big mystery to why Russell Janzen is often cast in princely parts at New York City Ballet, roles like the cavalier in Diamonds and The Nutcracker, Siegfried in Swan Lake, and the man who partners the "first violin" in the slow movement of Concerto Barocco. His dancing is pristine, and he's tall enough for the tallest ballerinas; he's also handsome, and, most importantly, he's a generous and sensitive partner.
Which is not to say that Janzen is dull or recessive. You want to know what he's thinking whenever he's onstage; one of his greatest assets is an ability to draw you into his world, quietly, engrossingly. He always looks like he's acting out a story in his mind.
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When the former Miami City Ballet principal Patricia Delgado retired last spring, at age 34, she had made few plans for the future. She knew she was moving to New York City to be with her boyfriend of several years (now fiancé), the extremely busy young choreographer Justin Peck. And she knew she wanted to keep dancing, though going to college was another option she was considering.
But that was about all she had set.
It's no secret that American Ballet Theatre's artist in residence, Alexei Ratmansky, is obsessed with the choreography of Marius Petipa. Since 2007, he has been involved in reconstructions of several of Petipa's ballets, starting with Le Corsaire for the Bolshoi and continuing through Paquita (2014), The Sleeping Beauty (2015) and Swan Lake (2016). As Ratmansky said recently, "I believe in Petipa's choreography—I admire the structure, the changes of mood, all these things that are so brilliantly clear in his choreography."
Most recently, with the dancers of ABT, he has taken on Harlequinade (originally Les Millions d'Arlequin), a comic ballet created by Petipa in his waning years at the Russian Imperial Ballet. (He was 82 by the time of the premiere in 1900.)
For 17 years, James Samson has been the model Paul Taylor dancer. There is something fundamentally decent about his stage persona. He's a tall dancer—six feet—but never imposes himself. He's muscular, but gentle. And when he moves, it is his humanity that shines through, even more than his technique.
But all dancing careers come to an end, and James Samson's is no exception; now 43, he'll be retiring in August, after a final performance at the Teatro Romano in Verona, where he'll be dancing in Cloven Kingdom, Piazzolla Caldera and Promethean Fire.
What does a superstar like Carlos Acosta do after bidding farewell to his career in classical ballet? In Acosta's case, he returns to his native country, Cuba, to funnel his fame, connections and prodigious energies back into the dance scene that formed him. Because of its top-notch, state-supported training programs and popular embrace of the art of dance, Cuba is brimming with talented dancers. What it has been short on, until recently, are opportunities outside of the mainstream companies, as well as access to a more international repertoire. That is changing now, and, with the creation of Acosta Danza, launched in 2016, Acosta is determined to open the doors even wider to new ideas and audiences.
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
It came as a big surprise last fall to learn that Lincoln Center Festival would cease to exist, effectively immediately. The announcement came on the heels of a summer featuring one of the festival's biggest triumphs: four days of performances in which Paris Opéra Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet and New York City Ballet danced Balanchine's Jewels side by side. What other New York institution could pull off such a thing?
Big Hollywood movies featuring dance are few and far between, so curiosity about the thriller Red Sparrow, opening Friday and starring Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian ballerina-turned-spy, is understandably at a high pitch. The production, which also stars Jeremy Irons, includes not one but four familiar dance names: Sergei Polunin, the enfant terrible of the ballet world, plays Lawrence's ballet partner; Justin Peck choreographed all the dance sequences; Kurt Froman, former New York City Ballet dancer, trained Lawrence; and American Ballet Theatre's Isabella Boylston performs as Lawrence's dance double.
How'd you get involved in Red Sparrow?
Justin Peck, who choreographed the movie, reached out to me. I've never done anything like that. And any chance to work with Justin...
Sarah Haarmann stands out without trying to. There is a precision and lack of affectation in her dancing that is very Merce Cunningham. Her movement quality is sharp and clear; her stage presence utterly focused. It's no wonder she caught Mark Morris' eye. Even though she still considers herself "very much the new girl" at Mark Morris Dance Group (she became a full-time member in August 2017), in a recent performance of Layla and Majnun, Haarmann seemed completely in her element.
Company: Mark Morris Dance Group
Hometown: Macungie, Pennsylvania
Training: Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts and Marymount Manhattan College
When it was announced last fall that 2017 would be The Suzanne Farrell Ballet's final season, the news rippled through the American ballet community. Farrell, who for many represents the embodiment of George Balanchine's '60s and '70s style, had been producing lucid, emotionally connected performances of his works annually at The Kennedy Center since 2001. In that time, dozens of dancers took time away from their home companies to perform with her troupe and benefit from Farrell's coaching. "The dancers tell me they feel different" after working with her, Farrell says, because "I worked with Mr. Balanchine so closely that I know things other people don't."
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.
Every soloist hopes and prays for the moment when their director offers that first big lead role. For American Ballet Theatre's Christine Shevchenko, it happened last November when artistic director Kevin McKenzie informed her that the following spring she'd dance the role of Kitri at the Metropolitan Opera House.
After three years as a soloist, she felt ready. Shevchenko was particularly glad that her first lead with ABT would be in Don Quixote. She'd won competitions with the third-act variation as a kid back at The Rock School for Dance Education. A few years ago, she danced the full ballet in Ukraine, the country where she was born, with the Donetsk Ballet. Plus, it's a fun ballet, she told me a few weeks before the debut. The whole cast is rooting for you, she says, clapping along, snapping their fingers.
Gemma Bond's intelligence—and knack for detail—never fails to shine through her dancing. It makes sense, then, that the American Ballet Theatre corps members is also a budding choreographer. After making works for ABT's Innovation Initiative and New York Theatre Ballet, as well as for her own pickup ensemble, her name is beginning to pop up with increasing frequency in ballet circles. She just made her first work for Atlanta Ballet, and was invited to take part in a festival at New York City's Joyce Theater. Next season she will create a work for The Washington Ballet. Her latest piece will be unveiled during a festival organized by fellow ABT dancer Isabella Boylston in Sun Valley, Idaho, August 22–24.
How did you get the Ballet Sun Valley commission?
Isabella has put together a wonderful program for the festival and wanted to do one new work. She has always come to see everything I've done; she's hugely supportive. She just said, "I want you to do this."
What is the idea behind the ballet?
There is this solar eclipse happening in Sun Valley on August 21, and we decided to use that as inspiration. There are two groups of dancers; Marcelo Gomes is the leader of one group and Isabella is the leader of the other. I call them the sun and moon. Judd Greenstein wrote the score. It's really about gravity and the tension and suspense that happens when everyone is there waiting for the eclipse to happen. It seems to take forever and then it happens and it's gone.
Some careers come together so organically that the dancer barely has time to take stock of how she got to where she is. That's how it was for Betsy McBride, at least until 2015.
Born in Coppell, a suburb of Dallas, McBride began taking ballet at her local school at age 3. At 14, she attended a summer intensive at the school affiliated with Texas Ballet Theater. Within a few weeks, McBride was offered a year-round place at the school with the tantalizing prospect of being hired by the company. Which is exactly what happened just a few months later. And there she stayed, eventually performing some of the most desirable roles in TBT's repertoire: Juliet, Odette/Odile, Aurora, the glamorous soloist in Balanchine's "Rubies," the title character in Ronald Hynd's The Merry Widow.