Pop Culture

Wayne McGregor Has Stepped Away from the CATS Movie

The Broadway revival of CATS. Photo by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy DKC/O&M

It looks like Wayne McGregor won't be dancing at the Jellicle Ball after all.

According to Deadline, the British choreographer has stepped away from the upcoming film adaptation of CATS after scheduling conflicts with The Royal Ballet arose. Though principal dancers Francesca Hayward and Steven McRae are taking brief hiatuses from performing with The Royal to allow for their filming obligations, we're guessing that the full-length McGregor is working on for the company (the first part of which is slated to premiere July 2019 in Los Angeles) needed to take priority.

And who is stepping in to replace him? None other than Tony Award–winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler.


Andy Blankenbuehler. Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The Broadway veteran is an exceptionally safe bet for this project: He choreographed the Broadway revival of CATS in 2016, which means he's already intimately familiar with the musical's characters and aesthetic—a must when stepping into a production that's already filming. Will we see Blankenbuehler further update the late Gillian Lynne's choreography as he did (somewhat controversially) for the revival?

On the one hand, we're disappointed that we won't get to see McGregor's vision for Victoria, Mr. Mistoffelees or Rum Tum Tugger. On the other, we're beyond excited that audiences who didn't make it to the Broadway revival will get to see what Blankenbuehler brought to the table. And as psyched as we were to see Hayward and McRae showcase their expertise in McGregor's idiosyncratic movement style, we're more than a little enchanted by the thought of seeing what they do under Blankenbuehler's direction.

News
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

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Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.

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Sara Mearns in the gym. Photo by Kyle Froman.

New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.

"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "

She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.

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In Memoriam
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

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