Fall in Love with Adi and Taras

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Issue 9

For some, dancing in a company isn’t enough. A new and growing trend in professional ballet careers is the Freelance Ballet Dancer. This isn’t an easy feat, either. You can’t just wake up one day and decide, “Hey, I am going to be a Freelance Ballerina.” It definitely doesn’t work that way. Most freelance dancers are coming from major companies, or have become Instagram-famous enough to book work for themselves. But, being a freelance dancer isn’t enough. There is the Freelance Power Couple, and Adiarys Almeida and Taras Domitro just might have figured it out. Both left major companies. Most notably, Domitro just recently left his principal contract at San Francisco Ballet. If you don’t follow them on Instagram, you probably have seen Adiarys turn like a top and Taras jump to new heights effortlessly.

The two have now partnered up and have been making their gala appearances all over the world, performing demanding repertoire but still exuding artistry. But it’t not as easy as they make it look. These two have dedicated their lives to the world of ballet, and by all accounts, they aren’t slowing down anytime soon. A Ballet Education was lucky enough to have this dynamic power couple grace the cover of our ninth issue. We think you’ll enjoy reading about what it’s like for them to be freelance artists. (To read more click here.)

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See them perform at the Golden Swan Gala hosted by A Ballet Education and the Phoenix Ballet

Shop Adi Dancewear Today!

 

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You Know it’s Nutcracker Season when…

Between the holiday Starbucks cup fiasco and preparing for Black Friday sales, the ballet world is faced with our dreaded but magical annual tradition of The Nutcracker. Every year around this time, whether it be at Starbucks, the bank or even at some retail store, I am standing around and then it comes on the speakers. That dreadful tune that ushers in the holiday season. While the majority of the world associates it with that one song from that one commercial, ballet dancers around the world hear it and immediately identify the composer, the act, the choreography and the costumes. Yes, it is the Nutcracker. Recently, I was standing in line with my pas de deux partner, and the music for Snow Pas came on. While it is one of the most beautiful pieces composes for the Nutcracker, we immediately looked at each other with fear in our eyes. Yes, fear. We had just started rehearsals with new choreography knowing that the show goes up in three weeks. We both haven’t been on stage for more than four years, and we immediately decided to order skinny lattes knowing we are about to be in white tights. So, in the tradition of Nutcracker, and in a Ballet Education’s five things…

Nutcracker Season

You Know It’s Nutcracker When…
1. You hear Nutcracker music outside of ballet and want to kill yourself.
2. 1/3 of your company is injured, or battling tendonitis but still powering through ridiculously long rehearsals that you don’t want to be in.
3. You know every part of Nutcracker, but still are forced to rehearse, clean and tech it all. In fact, you have probably danced every part of Nutcracker at some point of your life.
4. This time of the year everyone is all about the holiday cheer and festivities, but you are the most tired you have ever been. You want to crawl into a ball and die. You still have to rehearse everything else outside of Nutcracker for the upcoming season’s bills, so your mind is on overload. It is just yucky.
5. You are a boy, and its Nut season and all you want to do is be Kyra Nichols as Dewdrop. Yes, you want to be Balanchine’s infamous Dewdrop and dance the most beautiful entrances, have the most swayed back ever, and dance to the loveliest of music.

Here are some of last year’s Nutcracker Posts:
THE BEAST THAT IS THE NUTCRACKER

5 AWFUL REALITIES OF NUTCRACKER

THE NUTTINESS OF NUTCRACKER

Let the boy dance

His face was pressed against in the glass,
Fingers spread wide, tapping to the muffled sound of the music.
His mind was racing back and forth between reality, and fantasy.
Finally, the door opened and the teacher asked, “Do you want to come in?”
Looking for his mom’s approval, she nodded.
He rushed in.
And that was that.

I always wondered why my mom didn’t put me into dance earlier? From age 3-7 I would religiously watch the Baryshnikov/Kirkland Nutcracker every day, a copy that my grandma gave me. When PBS aired PNB’s Nutcracker, my Grandma recorded it, via VHS and gave it to me as well. I was addicted. I hadn’t even started dance classes yet. There are pictures of me religiously watching it. After preschool, lunch and reading, my mom would try to make me take a nap with her as I would normally get into trouble somewhere in the early afternoon. When these naps came about I would purposefully would toss and turn, and this would lead my mom to let me go to the living room and watch the Nutcracker. Somewhere between Snow and Prologue she would come out, and insist I turn it off and do something educational. I would beg, because the real dancing hadn’t started yet and the clowns hadn’t even danced. Little did I know, that one of those clowns would become a coach later on. Then in PNB’s Nutcracker, I would become obsessed with flowers and snow. Then my life happened, the Nutcracker was going to be in theaters, the NYCB version with Darci Kistler. And that is when I knew that is how I wanted to dance… The problem was, I hadn’t even started dancing yet… My sister and cousins were all in dance… But I wasn’t. Despite the fact that I had to go watch my sisters take class all the time… I hadn’t been enrolled.

My grandma giving me the Nutcracker.
My grandma giving me the Nutcracker.
Me super turned in watching the Nutcracker ... in suspenders, stripes and shoes...
Me super turned in watching the Nutcracker … in suspenders, stripes and cute shoes…

Finally, when it came to be… I wasn’t allowed to do ballet. I did boys class which included jazz and tap.
Then, finally, I knew I wanted to do ballet and I finally got my wish.  It was so late. So late. After an excellent elementary school, I went to a performing arts middle school with the condition that I keep a GPA over 3.5, stayed in the GATE program, and did other extra curricular activities. Needless to say, I wasn’t getting the training I needed. Then Center Stage came out, and I knew that I wanted that life. With the condition that I kept up all my responsibilities, I was able to quite the dance program at the middle school and go to a pre professional school. Then high school came about, and I knew I had to dance more. So, I doubled up on classes, by my freshman year of high school, I enrolled at a junior college so I could accumulate more credits.  By the age of fifteen I had finished high school, differed from colleges to make my parents happy, but I did this so I could focus on ballet.

Then while at this pre professional school, a former principal from National Ballet of Canada told me I would never be a dancer. So, it shattered my world, and I was like, “Fuck. I gave up Uni for this…”
While at the junior college, I found out they offered ballet classes late at night. And I thought, this is perfect! I can double up on my ballet training. I juggled the two back and forth and by January, I had auditions. As rejection letters and acceptance letters came, I was really confused. I had done everything right… I did everything my parents asked me, and everything my teachers asked me but I didn’t get in anywhere that I really wanted. This being SAB.

audition photo
audition photo

Then, while under the advisement of the junior college professor, she told me to consider going to a university and majoring in dance. I knew this isn’t want I wanted, but what if the world didn’t have a ballet plan for me? I was taking class at a college here in soCal and as I finished adagio at center I was walking to the side when a man tapped his finger on the glass and told me to come over. I kind of shook my head, but then the music in class stopped and the professor told me I should go out there and talk to him. I didn’t know who he was. He basically asked me a couple questions and asked if I wanted to come to his school for the summer. I had no clue who he was… It was Alonzo King of LINES Ballet. This was before LINES was everywhere. Deadlines were coming up and my parents told me I had to make decisions… So, while eating my favorite chinese food reading about all these programs, I opened my fortune cookie and it said: You will dance to a different beat.

Fortune cookies are the best.
Fortune cookies are the best.

Being the crazy that I am, I was like THIS IS A SIGN. So, I went to LINES. And as beautiful as it was, and as glorious as it was… I knew that this isn’t how I wanted to dance. I didn’t care about what muscles moved what, I didn’t care about finesse and I didn’t care about how a plié made me feel. I knew I wanted to have long lines, and deep fourths. I wanted over crossed everything and I wanted to move fast… Every modern teacher said I was too Balanchine. Every ballet teacher said I didn’t have the body for ballet. It was really discouraging. Despite all of my kicking and dragging on at LINES I had met beautiful dancers who I still catch up with to this day. I came home discouraged, but my Grandma showed me this article about SoCal girls doing it up big. It was referring to Ashley Ellis and Misty Copeland, just coming off their spotlight awards, coca cola scholars and acceptances to ABT Studio company… So, I moved in with my grandma to train at their studio… The caliber of training was amazeballs… It was intense training… But, it was SOOOOOOO classical. Anything remotely unclassical was frowned upon, and the Balanchine was driven out. Then I went to CPYB, thinking okay, if all of the principals of NYCB have gone here… I must go, and they had a University in the same city, so I could keep going on with my education. The training was beyond exceptional, but this time… life handed me a different set of cards… I never thought I would experience racism in a ballet classroom, I never thought I would be the only asian male for miles, I never thought a lot of things would ever happen to me… and they did.  I grew up in Southern California, my parents are white, and my brothers and sisters are all from different countries. Growing up my best friend was half french half black, and my other best friend was half German half mexican. Racism was the furthest thing from my mind… So, when comments by teachers were made about me being oriental, or that I had to open my eyes bigger… I was like wtf. This was the first time race became utterly important, but it also crushed me. So, despite CPYB’s advice, I decided to go audition for companies and got in. I begged the school the company was associated with to let me come early and just be in the school so I could get out of CPYB. Dance ended but brought teaching… Teaching brought back hope for ballet for me. Watching students leave this summer to join companies, go to SAB, and other summer programs, go off to university to dance on scholarship… Makes me feel like I can really do this… which basically caused this retrospective…

Ten years later, here I am sitting down filling out company contracts, school curriculum and emailing theaters. Crazy. Right? Starting a ballet company where poverty is seen in 30 miles every direction, the average high school drop out rate is over 30%, and the only major theatre is for comedians. Insane right? No, because now I know how important it is to let someone dance. And as I start this crazy journey of starting a company I am loving it. Mostly because the dancers I have hired are beautiful people with beautiful stories and that makes them beautiful to watch.
Kelly is tall. Like really tall. And after having a pre pro scholarship at PNB, and dancing at numerous companies around the US- she was never really pushed into roles because she was so tall. Now, inspired to dance again after having kids, she is beyond gorgeous and has this ferocious tenacity, ridiculous dedication and now that she is pushing for herself she taking on roles with fire and having experienced everything she has gone through as a mom, as a tall dancer, and as a teacher she brings something extra to her dancing. Then there is Carlos, who was a student of mine, coming from the same area. Training him to get scholarship at the Rock School then continuing his education at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, he is back. After fighting his family to let him dance, he comes back gorgeous, strong and long. Jaquie was told she was never going to dance. The studio owner would tell her to her face that she would never dance. Then I came to her studio as a teacher. After pushing and stretching, and challenging her, she got into summer programs and attended. She then got a scholarship to go to University. She is going to commute back and forth to dance. Amanda did everything right in ballet. Went year round at the Rock School, spent every summer at SAB, but ballet life got to her, and she decided to become an RN. Now at a top ranked hospital in the US, she decided she missed dancing, and wanted to start again. These are just short abbreviated versions of their stories, but their stories are also just beginning. It is really that spectacular.
www.redlandsdancetheatre.org
facebook: REDLANDS DANCE THEATRE

10 Things Ballet Students Should Have…

Things that everyone should have in their dance bag, or readily available.

  1. A foot roller or stretcher.
  2. A theraband, deflated tire tube, or something else elasticy.thera band ballet mundo bailarinistico
  3. Ibprofen, icy hot, or biofreeze. Whether it is for maintenance or prevention, it is smart to just have these. From overworking in class, to muscles and joints locking up, it is always smart to be prepared.
  4. Needle and thread. There is nothing worse than your elastics snapping.
  5. Something to keep you warm: a onsie is my preference. Leg warmers, full length leg warmers, ankle warmers, shrugs etc…

    Rubia Dancewear by Boston Ballet Principal Dancer Ashley Ellis. (moderately priced for custom pieces)
    Rubia Dancewear by Boston Ballet Principal Dancer Ashley Ellis. (moderately priced for custom pieces) Click the pic above to custom order. 
  6. Extra dance clothes. Don’t want to be sweaty gross.
  7. Extra pairs of shoes, for girls always have a good sewn pair with you, just in case the ones you currently are working in die.

    PBT on Pinterest.
    PBT on Pinterest.
  8. A good book.
  9. Hair and beauty supplies, this includes a towel. I always brought face wash because I had acne problems.
  10. A notebook for corrections. I still have all of mine and are fun to look at.

Manly Ballet… 5 misconceptions about male ballet dancers

Male ballet dancers get the worst reputation… And there is a reason why…

Honestly, it comes down to tights and a dance belt and for some reason that equates to effeminate, which equates to gay. But, if you look at the spectrum of dance, ballet is probably the most manly when it comes to repertory, with the exception of Dresden SemperOpera’s version of bluebird… That one is just… well… flashy… (click here to watch the youtube video)

The roles for men in classical ballet are the following: prince, cavalier, slave, pirate, prince, cavalier, lover, prince… you get the gist. Because of these roles, the vocabulary is limited, say compared to a jazz dancer. Now, because the way the music was written, and male variations are these extremely heavy, weighted variations, the steps a male ballet dancer usually performs are… well limiting. While women are known for their pointe shoes and flexibility, male ballet dancers really only do the following (via my doodles):

male ballet drawing

So, because I have only posted twice this month (it is LA FASHION WEEK, and fashion month so my real job has been taking up a ridiculous amount of time… okay, and also it happens to be my best friends’ birthdays… so I have been traveling and such)..

Here is my 5 misconceptions about male ballet dancers:

1. Male ballet dancers are weak and frail like girls…

mmmm... Alexandre Hammoudi photographed by NYC DANCE PROJECT... he is my baby daddy....
mmmm… Alexandre Hammoudi photographed by NYC DANCE PROJECT… he is my baby daddy…. (okay that was gay.) Ken Browar & Deborah Ory for NYC Dance Project.

 

2. Male ballet dancers prance around all day… actually bro, we lift too.

Actually bro, they lift too. They usually are lifting all day.
Actually bro, they lift too. They usually are lifting all day.

3. All male ballet dancers are gay…

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Actually, we marry hot ballet girls. Tiler Peck and Robbie Fairchild, via the NYT VOWS sections. Both are principals at NYCB

4. Boys in ballet just want to be girls…

Actually, quite the opposite. No male in ballet aspires to be a girl. In fact, unless you are going to join Trock… you will never dance a girl role. Again, you really aspire to be a prince. I mean that is really the only role you can aspire too… I don’t think any boy saw Drosselmeyer and was like when I grow up I want to be that crazy loon. Do I think that boys see professional men jumping and turning, and lifting girls… yes. Do they become intoxicated by the beauty, maybe.

5. Men in ballet are not athletic.

While skateboarders do 720s using momentum v-force… men in ballet do it from a static position.

While track athletes jump hurdles that stand at 42″, ballet dancers are clearing more air while looking relaxed. (Granted track athletes are on a time constraint.)

While football boasts the manliest sport, they are still basically wearing tights…

While wrestlers are wearing less than ballet dancers and touching each other, very rarely do two men ever even touch in ballet.

While soccer players are drilling for foot speed, ballet dancers are are drilling for foot speed at a faster pace, and in exact positions.

While regular guys are at the gym lifting and taking selfies, male ballet dancers are lifting women for 8 hours without straining their necks, and making ugly faces and grunting.

While hockey players are gliding down the ice, well… that is just a hard one to find a comparison.

While baseball players are coordinating catches, male ballet dancers are coordinating catching women.

And finally, while joe schmo is sitting eating a pizza and drinking a beer… well,

male ballet dancers are probably doing the same thing… unless they are about to do a ballet in white tights.

mens ballet guide

Arabesque.

 

The Position That Makes Ballet, well ballet…

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Sara Michelle Murawski’s, a soloist at Slovak National Ballet, super famous arabesque picture that probably one of the first pictures that made dancers addicted to instagram.

Contemporary Dancers have the tilt, jazz dancers have the layout, but ballet dancers have arabesque.

For those of you who are auditioning for the first time, the reason why everyone asks for an arabesque picture is for the following reasons: arabesque is one of the hardest positions to make in ballet, and it shows your turn out, flexibility, hyperextension and feet in on photo without hating yourself. If ballet auditions asked for, say…ecarte derrière… no one would audition… ever.

Now, there is a great debate of what arabesque technique is correct, or where it actually comes from, but should we really get into all of that mess? Maybe, just little bit. Just generalizing some things about companies that have a very specific type of arabesque.

Royal Ballet, the Ashton Arabesque is this super classical, dreamy position that requires the following: a hypermobile back, beautifully arched feet, and rarely is placed above 90 degrees. In addition, I think the artists of the Royal Ballet are the only ones that don’t let the supporting leg turn in. Their turn out is bangin. The arms are always super relaxed, and rarely go above their faces. Ultimate restraint. (Royal Ballet’s arabesque line isn’t the RAD line. I don’t believe in the RAD method, so I am not going to talk about it.)

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Plus, who doesn’t love some Sarah Lamb on any given day? Ironically, she is an American, with Russian training, dancing a Jerome Robbin’s piece set on NYCB, but staged on Royal Ballet.

The Russians have their own arabesque line as well. They are known for their incredible height and stretch. Besides the majority of women coming out of Vaganova school are beasts, their primas have create this unique fragile but stretched arm position. Standing leg is turned in.

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For the sake of irony, the super stunning Uliana Lopatkina, a Russian Dancing a Balanchine piece set on Bolshoi.

Then we have the super “classical” arabesque which is the mish mosh of cecchetti, vaganova and french… which is now lumped into the category of classical:

ballet pose

Perfect turn out, not so hyper mobile, lifted up and forward, relaxed elbow, and spatula hands… just kidding, just a soft middle finger down…

Then we have the Balanchine Arabesque, which isn’t really a change in the principals of arabesque, but more of the arm and hand positions.

ashley boulder

Ashley Bouder and Jonathan Stafford in Tchai Pas. Ironically, everyone calls their hands the claw… or that they are really wristy, but Russians are more…  aka the super stunning and talented force Evgenia Obraztsova

evgenia obraztsova

And then finally, there is the Paris Opera Arabesque… which is basically like the impossible arabesque. Which is only possible if you are well… given everything and trained at Paris Opera.

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Another Irony, Paris Opera is the home of ballet, and here we have the Sylvie Guillem in a contemporary work. I have never really understood the Paris Opera arabesque besides it looking beyond perfect. David Hallberg who trained at POB has one of those arabesque that are beyond pulled up. A lot of the etoiles of paris opera have these super raised hips.

Another note… we gag on arabesque pictures on IG and tumblr, but the reality is… do we ever see these massive arabesques on stage… unless you are russian… Or Dark Angel in Serenade? I think the “style” of arabesque also comes from the role you are doing, the tempo of music, etc.

Now, here are some things that are really difficult for young dancers when it comes to arabesque…

Higher isn’t always better.

Being Square is in reference that both pelvic bones are on the same level of space.

Tilting your hip is really just for side extension.

Things regardless of what “style” of arabesque you are doing…

Your spinal chord can’t be compromised…

You either have a hyper mobile back and hips or you don’t.

Regardless of the arm placement, the torso doesn’t twist…

My favorite motto when teaching: when in doubt, turn out.

Finding what arabesque works on your body is really important as well. If you look at the women of NYCB, none of them have the same arabesque line. You have to find what looks best on your body… for anything in ballet, but especially for arabesque. As you develop into an artist you find your stride in arabesque, and what looks best on your body type. Arm placement, stretch, reach, quality… Those are the things that really distinguish an arabesque. No two professional arabesques are the same. When training, it might be a different story, but because no body is alike, the technique looks different on everyone.

 

A List of Farewells…

Many of the principals we have come to love and adore, or have forgotten about have announced their retirements this year. This morning, Carla Korbes announced her retirement from PNB. Her stunning career has been plagued with injuries, but her collaborations with Peter Boal have definitely paid off, and have have been celebrated.

Other principals to retire are NYCB’s beloved Wendy Whelan, and ABT’s Paloma Herrera both set to retire in October. Julie Kent is going to be retiring in the Spring Season. There are plenty of others who should retire, haha, but that is neither here nor there. The point is that these three women have made huge contributions to the world of ballet, and as they leave, they are making room for a stunning new set of leading ladies to take center stage.

5 things we learned from Center Stage

1. Jodi Sawyer. What we felt like in ballet class. 

“You need to concentrate on your turn out… from the hip.”
“Turn out Jodi, from the hips.”

“Late out of that turn Jodi, you are trying too hard.”

With our awful turn out, and okay feet, but our passion, we could equate ourselves to Margot Fonteyn and still get a job.

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2. Eva Rodriguez. We all wanted to be Eva Rodriguez, that bad ass ballerina who gives awesome motivational speeches. In reality we were all probably Maureen, complete bun heads. With her witty one liners, and ferocious gum swallowing, we all wanted to be that girl.

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3. Maureen.  Is that what people really thought of us behind our backs? We also learned anorexia isn’t cute, so you should just go to college instead.

4. Emily. “Her pas de deux partner is going to need a crane.” and Anna. “It’s Gelsey Kirkland’s old part.” We learned don’t take the fruit tart from the cater waiter, and preppy girls get cast.

5. Not all boys in ballet are gay, even if they look it. And those who are, happen to be fabulous and have stage names.

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Jazz class makes you feel better when you are lost in life, plus it is overly sexualized and you will meet a cute guy.

Julie Kent seems to be in every ballet movie. She can also spot front (coda in stars and stripes).

Janie Taylor on camera is gorgeous. 

Half of SAB/NYCB was used as fillers… 

Ethan Stiefel is really skinny.

Stab at Darci Kistler…. a prima marrying the artistic director.

Let go of your center in renversé.

Swan Lake Realness

If Nutcracker was your first exposure to ballet, then Swan Lake is the ballet that determines if you really want to be a ballerina. Every school stages some abridged version, even if it is just act II. Every company uses the full length Swan Lake to boast the company’s size, artistic merit, and strength. Swan Lake is just one of those ballets that everyone knows. Now, this upcoming season every company seems to be staging their full length Swan Lake, so may the battle of the swans begin.

And for those who are dancing swan lake, or have danced it, there are a few things that happen when getting ready for swan lake.

1. Swan Lake Realness: You know you are about to do Swan Lake when all of the port de bras at barre and centre combinations look very swan-like. You know the kind: the over dramatic, wrist-y, back-using, exhausting port de bras. Adagios at centre seem a little longer, and people are yelling at you to get your legs higher. No one wants to be the swan that stands out because their arabesque is low. 

2. You know you are getting ready to do Swan Lake when you start dieting two weeks before and start eating clean. This is because Swan Lake is a white ballet, which means everything shows, and the neurosis of ballet dancers are a little intense. Kale becomes your best friend.

3. You are rehearsing a million different roles, in a million different places/spots because you have to double up in all acts, and in all casts. Which means, your body is hurting more than usual. Rehearsals seem to be a lot longer, and the ballet masters/mistresses seem to be way more picky than usual. Swan Lake isn’t like Nutcracker, so you don’t dance it every year, so you don’t already know all the parts unless you have been with the company for ten seasons. (You might be thinking, why aren’t we doing Balanchine’s version…)

4. Swan Lake is totally happening in your school or company if the artistic staff is a little crazier than usual. Swan Lake is really expensive to stage and perform which means ticket sales need to be sold out. Which means PR photos must be perfect, and reflect the choices in casting. It is quite daunting, which puts more pressure on the dancers. No one wants to get let go over Swan Lake or not perform Swan Lake.

5. You know you are a swan if you are going through pointe shoes a quicker than normal. Swan Lake is very pointe intensive, so it seems that you are killing more shoes during rehearsals. 

Here are some funny things about casting:

You know you are Odette if you have everything. (You know you are not going to get a chance to even learn Odette if you don’t have everything… I mean come on… You don’t have 32 double fouettés for black swan, and your leg isn’t to your ear in extensions… You aren’t getting cast, despite your beautiful artistry.)

You know you are a baby swan if you are one of the shortest girls in the company.

You know that in act III you are going to be doing some awful character dance. 

If you are a male, and you aren’t cast as the prince, the jester, or Rothbart, you won’t be dancing real ballet. You will be standing around most rehearsals while the female dancers around you are dying. You might learn a new hobby during Swan Lake time.

When casting goes up you pray that you aren’t dancing in all four acts.

You are emotionally drained by the end of a run through because in the first act you are dancing the pas de trois being sweet and lovely. In act 2 you are a tormented swan. In act 3 you are being cheerful in the mazurka, and in act 4 you are back to being a swan.

Your back attitude and arabesque are everything, and one side might become ridiculously stronger than the other.

You know you are dancing Swan Lake if you are thinking: Why? 

It may have been every little girl’s dream to be Odette, but unless you are Odette, the ballet has nothing to do with you. Now you are now going to endure 3 hours of pain, test your stamina, and mental capacity which makes you wonder why you wanted to do Swan Lake so badly in the first place.

 

Baby Ballerinas, and the costs of being one.

This one is for all of the parents who has a child starting out in ballet. (I have gotten a lot of e-mails asking a lot of really good questions, and I have been trying to individually reply but it has gotten to be too much. I am going to try lumping it all into one post, kind of.) So, your child is in ballet, and you don’t want to go all dance moms on your kid, or be that stage mom at the studio. Here is some advice, so you don’t overwhelm school owners, teachers, and your child. This is all my opinion once again, so here we go.

For children under the age of 5, there really is no reason to have your child in ballet class everyday. There is also no reason to have your child in private lessons unless your child has scoliosis or flat feet. Then private attention is needed, and you might want to consult with doctors for orthotics to help correct, and prevent long term problems. In addition, you should let your child do jazz, tap and hip hop for fun. Jazz teaches a young dancer tenacity, aka Tiler Peck is a good example. Hip hop teaches a dancer to be daring and good at free styling. Tap teaches a kid how to understand music, and the process of building and deconstructing music. This is also good because they will stretch a lot more, and flexibility in the back, hips and legs matters in the long run. There isn’t really a reason to have your kid in competition at that young of an age, unless you are in it for the fun of it all. With that being said, competition is expensive and you have be prepared to pay for all of that. More importantly, if your child wants to be a ballet dancer, it might just be more expensive than college… Well it is, and this is why.

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Children between 6-9 should be in ballet class at least once a day. This isn’t because we are crazy, it is about discipline, and the start of muscle memory and the shaping of the muscles. Children are growing like crazy and need sleep, so it isn’t smart to have to them in hour and half classes. One hour a day three-five days a week is a great start. They have to build an entire ballet vocabulary, know the etiquette of a ballet class, and most importantly they have to thrive in the environment. Discipline is built, and this is when you see kids really starting to excel. (Wait for it, the money hasn’t really started yet. So before you go out and buy your child a million cute leotards, and a pay for expensive dance bags… Wait.)

First Position's Aran Bell, now with ABT Studio Company at CPYB.
First Position’s Aran Bell, now with ABT Studio Company at CPYB with Ashley Miller.

Then, from the ages of 10-13 the real journey begins. Pointe shoes are introduced. And your child should be dancing at least four days a week in an hour and half class a day. On top of that, they should be training either in pre pointe or pointe at least twice a week. They should be cross training in yoga, pilates, and constantly stretching. If you don’t know a lot about pointe here it goes. Pointe shoes (Freed Classics) run about $70.00 a pair. Your child will probably go through a pair every month, maybe not at first, but it will start. This is when teachers will start to find and nit pick at your child and this is when private lessons are a good thing. Because starting now your child should be going away for summers. Yup, you should be sending your kid off to a summer program every summer, this means they will be gone between 4-7 weeks. What does this mean? Money. First auditions run between $25-35 dollars class.

Rachel Neville Photography, click the image to read her guide to audition photos. She is one of the best audition photographers based in NYC and beautifully elaborates on photos.
Rachel Neville Photography, click the image to read her guide to audition photos. She is one of the best audition photographers based in NYC and beautifully elaborates on photos.

Most kids audition between 4-8 places a season. Just like college, you have your first picks, back ups, and safety nets, of course hoping for scholarships. Audition photos will run you anywhere between 3-6 hundred dollars depending on where you are at, and who is taking the photo. Don’t be cheap, because a photo can make or break an acceptance, and can help get a scholarship. Teachers who are holding the auditions will see thousands of kids a season, and it isn’t till they are back at their office looking at audition pictures, waiting for that picture to remind them and think, “Oh that is the girl with the pretty feet from Atlanta.” Yup, so now your child has gotten into a summer program and it will cost you anywhere between 5-10k depending on the program, traveling expenses etc. 

So, lets do some math… Lowballing it, it will take you about $8,000 a summer to send your kid away. (That is including leotards, pointe shoes, tights, traveling expenses etc.) If your kid goes to a summer program at 12 or 13 and you are expected to go away every summer till 18, you are no looking at about $56,000 in just summer expenses. This isn’t including year round tuition, leotards, and pointe shoes for during the year. We aren’t done…

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Students and San Francisco Ballet School, photo by Erik Tomasson. Click the image above to visit SFB’s site.

From the ages of 15-18, your child should be at a pre-professional school attached or school associated with company. So, your home studio’s tuition was low, now multiply that by 4, and add room and board. Oh no, we are so not done. Now that your child is a pre-professional school, she will probably be going through pointe shoes a pair a week. Then, you now have to start saving for company auditions. Company auditions vary in price, most are free. But, the problem is getting to these companies. You can do the normal cattle calls in NYC, which you need pictures for, but the big expense will be traveling expenses (flights, hotel rooms, etc). Most companies only hold auditions in two or three cities outside of their own, unlike summer programs. This means your child will get to see the US and the World just by auditioning. 

CPYB-presents-GB-The-Nutcra
Daniela Aldrich, CPYB and SAB Alumna in George Balanchine’s the Nutcracker. Click the image above to go hear Daniela’s Story with Balancing Pointe or download the podcast.

This is also in the best case scenario that your child doesn’t need extra privates, your child gets injured and has to see a specialist, or they are having chronic pains and have to see a PT. 

Now, your kid is 18, but we still are done…

Most 18-20 year olds don’t even land full company contracts. Maybe paid apprenticeships, or small stipend second company jobs. For the next two years their income money will fluctuate and might still need help with bills. Since they aren’t in a school, dorms are usually not an option so you are looking at rent, utilities etc. And, well, we still aren’t done. This scenario, which was the normal scenario for a long time is changing, because more and more kids are making appearances at the YAGP and other international competitions. (See my guide to ballet competitions here.)

National Ballet of Canada's YOU Dance Apprentices . Miyoko Koyasu. Trygve Cumpston. Photos by Sian Richards.
National Ballet of Canada’s YOU Dance Apprentices . Miyoko Koyasu. Trygve Cumpston. Photos by Sian Richards. (Click Image above to got NBS)

So, before you go out and buy your child the most expensive dance bag, and tons of crazy leotards, thing of the long run, just in case. The plus side is, if your child is talented, and doesn’t get a job, he or she will easily get a scholarship to go to a dance college. Downside, ballet is extremely expensive in the US since it is not state supported, but this gives every dancer a fair shot at becoming a dancer, if money permits it. The opposing argument is that in most countries you only become a dancer if you are selected based off of body type.

These are the financial costs of ballet, this isn’t just the emotional, physical or mental costs of ballet. The stakes are high there too. And none of this guarantees your son or daughter a job in ballet. Unfortunately, no one is ever guaranteed anything in life, but there are ways to give your child a fighting chance in ballet.

Create a safe and healthy environment at home. This means finding the balance between ballet and “real life.” Dance isn’t everything and for most it will be a short lived career, so making friends, going to prom and seeing a movie is important. Additionally, the balance between rest, dance, and school is just as important.

Give your child the best education possible. This means finding the best schools in your area, even if that means you have to commute a little longer. Start saving in advance, just in case, and if your child doesn’t go to a summer program, you now have vacation money. 

Be educated, don’t be overbearing. It is more important for you to understand ballet than watch your child’s every move in class. Ballet technique is based on a slow process, that happens everyday, little by little. It isn’t like one private later they will have 32 double fouettés. Education will also help you have conversations with your child about ballet. For example companies, body types, natural facility, and possible careers. Just because VOGUE pushes SAB doesn’t mean everyone is meant to go to SAB. 

Students at Walnut Hill, click the image above to visit their school's site.
Students at Walnut Hill, click the image above to visit their school’s site.

Exposure. Making sure your child sees good ballet is important. Yes, youtube is great, but going to a ballet performance is even better. Videos highlight principals not the entire cast. Kids should see an entire company, so they understand all of the different parts of a company. Not everyone is going to be a prima… (article here)

Loving it. What makes or breaks a dancer in the adolescent years, if that phase isn’t awkward enough, imagine living through it in tights and leotard… Bodies change, mentalities change, and they will either fall deeply in love with ballet, or they will do it for the sake of doing it. It is most important to remind your child that if they don’t love it, they shouldn’t do it. Also, if they just love ballet but don’t want to become ballet dancers, then maybe it isn’t necessary to push your child to go to PNB or Royal Ballet School.

Finally, my last advice to all parents: GIVE YOUR KIDS A FIGHTING A CHANCE! So many dancers don’t end up becoming professionals because the lack of training, and the lack of support at home. Ballet takes 130% commitment, and if your child is willing to do all that, plus their chores, homework and family duties, then let your child have a chance in ballet. Find the best schools, the best teachers, and find a way to make it happen for your child. Drive the extra 30 minutes to the better school, talk to your child’s regular school to see if they can get out of PE since they are dancing 20+ hours a day, and if they can’t, get a doctor to sign a note saying they aren’t allowed to run… Fight for your child. They only get one body, so you have to do everything you can to protect it. Also yes, costs are high, but if your child is talented, there is always someway to work something out with a school to find a way for your child to dance.  

Saving Ballet

Ballet is dying. There is no other way to say it nicely, but it is an art form that reached its peak in 2000 or so. A part of tradition, perfected with time and science, mastered by the souls that evoked the deepest emotions, ballet represents the best of culture. It is no wonder why photographers, and prior to photography, fine artists (painters, illustrators etc) love to capture dancers. Nowadays, it seems everyone is capturing dancers via social media, and it just might save ballet.

Ballet & Fashion

It isn’t a surprise that the two go hand in hand. What designer doesn’t love a women with long limbs, elegance that comes naturally, and a sophistication in the simplicity of tights and a leotard. In edition, what designer isn’t inspired going to the ballet? The theaters, the lighting, the music, the costumes, the collaboration of it all to capture a mood, it is quite grandiose. It is why Vogue always leaves space for dancers, it is why ballet comes up in multiple collections a season, and it is why stylists always pay tribute to the Ballets Russes. (Okay, I was kind of obligated to somehow relate dance & fashion since I work in fashion, but now moving on to my main point…)

Ballet, Photography and Social Media 

There are the big names of dance photography: Gene Schiavone, Marty Sohl, Lois Greenfield, and Rosalie O’connor.  Now, I have always questioned whether or not they are good photographers, no offense, but here is why. As a fashion editor, it is my job to look through a photographer’s film and decide what photos are good, what photos are bad, what sells product, what is relatable and so on…. As I look at the older generation of dance photographers, who have carved their own path in the world, i wonder if the photos are genuinely good because they know ballet and can capture the height of a jump? Or are they good because of the subject matter, and the name that is associated with the image… Regardless, the photos are breathtaking and show off the best of the best in ballet… But there are new comers to the world of dance photography who I believe might just save ballet…

Why?

Ballet has always been for those who have…. It has always been a hoity-toity, white as a lilly, satin glove kind of affair. These photographers who have graciously created stunning images, and have shared it across social media might just be making ballet more accessible. What does that mean? It means, people are really starting to talk ballet again, and seats might just be filling up again. These photographers have started projects under work under the names of:

Ballet Zaida (Oliver Endahl), The Ballerina Project (Dane Shitagi), NYC Dance Project (Ken Browar), Travis Magee, RJ Muna

Other dance photographers who have taken a more classic approach, either studio or stage: Erin Baiano, Rachel NevilleChris Peddecord,  Brian Mengini 

These amazing photographers have collaborated with some of the most amazing ballet dancers to create art. 

In edition, dancers have decided to take the public behind the scenes and showcase the intimate moments of their lives both on stage and off stage: Daniil Simkin (IG: daniil), and Maria Kochetkova (IG: balletrusse).

Now both Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, and other various magazines have published their list of the most stunning photos on IG of ballet… The reality is, they probably just hashtagged and searched… Ironically most of the pictures were of Misty Copeland (nothing against her, #justsayin)… As these photos were not fully credited, just credited to the accounts who published them, despite whether or not having the rights to the photos…. I guess publicity is good no matter what for ballet. 

As some of the most beautiful ballet photos were not on that list… either way here are some of my favorites via the IG. (Our IG is @aBalletEducation)

Victor Mateos Arellano in Resin, photo by RJ Muna
Victor Mateos Arellano in Resin, photo by RJ Muna
Ballet Zaida photographing Madison Keesler
Ballet Zaida photographing Madison Keesler
Australian Ballet Jubilee | Will Davidson | Vogue Australia November 2012
Australian Ballet Jubilee | Will Davidson | Vogue Australia November 2012
Ramon Gaitan, photographed by Alexandra Rose for Social Culture
Ramon Gaitan, photographed by Alexandra Rose for Social Culture
David Hallberg in Once upon a dance for Fashion Muse
David Hallberg in Once upon a dance for Fashion Muse
Photographer Erwin Olaf, Dutch National Ballet
Photographer Erwin Olaf, Dutch National Ballet
Photo by: Ian Gavan of Ellie Sharpe of the English National Ballet prepare in the wings during a dress rehearsal of Swan Lake at the Coliseum on August 3, 2012 in London, England.
Photo by: Ian Gavan of Ellie Sharpe of the English National Ballet prepare in the wings during a dress rehearsal of Swan Lake at the Coliseum on August 3, 2012 in London, England.
Unknown.
Unknown.

Now with all the hype with bad commercials like Free People and good commercials like Under Armor and Lexus… Here is one of the first ballet commercials featuring dancers from National Ballet of Korea for Levis:

 

 

In Ballet, Feet are Everything…

feet are everything

In ballet, feet are everything. You either have good feet (banana feet), or bad feet… biscuits. Yeah, there are average feet, but the reality is, a ballet dancer with a good foot seems to get noticed more. The better the arch, the higher the relevé. The better the wing, the prettier the line. When you are younger your teachers tell you, that you have to have a strong arch and beautiful feet to do pointe…. What they don’t tell you is the price that you will have to pay in the long run. I recently came across a photo of a ballet dancer’s feet, and I thought the image was so beautiful. The damage that pointe does to a dancer’s feet is permanent, causing more problems in old age. It is insane that women spend anywhere between 6-10 hours in toe shoes.

With all of the Misty Copeland hype about dancers are athletes, I decided that I would approach dance as something completely different… The price for beauty.

So, if all of you ballerinas out there could, take a photo of your feet and post it on twitter or IG and hashtag #aballeteducation or #thepriceforbeauty that would be fantastic. 

a ballet education feet

You know you are a ballet dancer if…

you know you are a ballet dancer if a ballet education

This isn’t your list of childhood dance problems, like missing prom, or missing football games to be at the studio. The fact that you stand turned out, or when picking up something from the ground you open into penche… Yes, that list I am sure is important, but the reality is, that list seems quite petty once you are a professional. Another funny list of random things we probably spend way too much time thinking about.

You know you are a ballet dancer if…

1. You have a tattoo in the most obscure place on your body. For some it may be right behind the ear, or on your ankle placed just so that your pointe ribbons hide it. Ooh, or the occasional male tattoo on your side, but low enough be hidden by a dance belt or tights. Or, you just are craving ink but for the sake of casting… you are waiting.

2. With the amount of money spent on pointe shoes, your closet could be full of Christian Louboutins… Or Monolos, or for those who are into the classic turn of shoe fashion: Jimmy Choos. Or, you equate the money you spend on regular items to the cost of pointe shoes. 

3. You don’t get a dating life. The majority of dates have to be squeezed in between rehearsals, performances, traveling and pilates. As a result, even though we say we are never going to date a dancer, you end up marrying your best friend in the company.

4. On your off time, or in between seasons you are traveling for other dancers’ weddings. And you think about putting on heels, and think that pointe shoes are more comfortable, or “why aren’t high heel arches higher to support my foot?”

5. When at the grocery store you aren’t counting calories, you are actually putting everything in your basket because everything sounds good after a long day dancing. 

6. The majority of your instagram photos are inside the studio, at the theatre, or traveling to a performance. 

7. When going on vacation you pick a place that has absolutely no ballet around, or if it does you go take a class, or see a performance.

8. Flipping through Pointe Magazine is like a Year Book, and you say, “Oh I went to school with her, or we did Boston Ballet’s Summer Program of 01′ together.”

9. Your friends are your family, and your real family stays in contact with you via facebook or skype. 

10. When people ask you if you could go back in time either say the Diaghilev Era or the Balanchine Era to work with the most brilliant artists of their time. 

And finally, you REALLY know you are a ballet dancer if.. 

It is no longer about turn out, extension and turns, but it is about contributing to history and passing down an visually oral tradition of art. Yeah, that was kind of deep. But, the reality is that you have made it, and yes you are working on the above, and hoping to be promoted, but you are now part of an art form that is passed down orally from teacher to dancer, and visually embraced by society. Regardless of how society views ballet as a whole, or what pop culture portrays ballet as, the real inner workings of ballet are yours to keep. Each step, each performance, each moment is something that can never be recreated or relived, just passed on to the next year of dancers.

There has to be something beautiful in the lack of longevity of a dance career, or else we wouldn’t do it. There is something more captivating in the studios and on the stage than the rest of the world, or else we would leave these spaces. And ballet has to be something greater than art because it is a life you live everyday. 

 

Want extension? Tilt your hips!

Controversy. 

Everyone wants gorgeous extensions, and we all youtube and watch the most beautiful extensions happen around the world. We idolize Sylvie Guillem, and Svetlana Zakharova. Now the problem? In ballet class some teachers say keep your hip down, keep your hips square, keep blah blah blah blah blah… It goes on and on and on… In an ideal world, the hip should be down, the reality? No one really keeps their hips down in developpe side. It is like this secret no one really talks about.

The one and only Sylvie... TOOOOTAL hip up
The one and only Sylvie… TOOOOTAL hip up
Students at the JKO school in NYC.
Students at the JKO school in NYC.

IrinaDvorovenkoJunkDuet1

Svetlana... total hip up... Vaganova School and principal at Bolshoi.
Svetlana… total hip up… Vaganova School and principal at Bolshoi.

So, embrace it. This doesn’t mean get all wonky in your posture, in fact it means you have to be more focused on your torso and upper body so you don’t look all caddy-wompus. So, after careful examination and talk with numerous ballet teachers, we have decided that the correction: Keep your hip down and square is correct. The correction should also include, tilt your hips directly side, in second, and that is what makes the leg go higher, as if your pelvis is in center straddle. So, this means no gripping from behind, or some crazy lifted twerkin booty out, just simply take your hips and tilt them side.

As you all will be going crazy, and probably writing me hate mail… Examine the body’s anatomy, and ask yourself, why do you say hip down? Is it because someone told you to, or some old russian teacher from god knows when said so? Reality check.  That isn’t teaching, that is passing on information and it is like playing telephone, that game we played as kids. The reality is that extensions are required to be a dancer, so you have to look at each students’ body and see if they have the natural facility to developpe without compromising the hips. Very rarely have I seen bodies with the facility to do so.

With that being said, time to get legs up.

Ballet Competitions

With movies like First Position, and with youtube broadcasts, ballet competitions seem to be popping up all over the place. More kids want to compete, and the stress level is on… (Read this post about that.) Ballet competitions are great exposure, they are great for scholarships, and they are great performance opportunities… but that is not the ONLY route to become a ballet dancer. The majority of dancers who make it into companies don’t compete, and those who do compete, on the international competition circuit are probably on the fast track to become principal dancers, most of them being prodigies. (Diana Vishneva, Maria Kochetkova, Marcelo Gomes, Julie Kent, actually half of the ABT roster has won a competition, like Royal Ballet vs NYCB dancers, none of them really did the competition circuit.) 

There are numerous ballet competitions: YAGP, Prix de Lausanne, IBC USA, VARNA, Helsinki IBC, Moscow Ballet Competition Capetown IBC, the list goes on and on. Regardless, these competitions are way to see kids in and out of the classroom. Most auditions only allow directors to see you in class, your work ethic, your facility, the competitions allow directors to see what you can do with that, and how artistic you are.

How do you know if a ballet competition is right for you? you really don’t know. If you don’t like the pressure of competition, then it is probably not right for you. If you thrive off of competition and perfecting a variation, then it might be a great environment for you. If you want to go for the experience then it might be great, but just know that it is costly.

Ballet competitions are expensive. Here is the problem, when training for a competition, a lot of young dancers cut back on technique classes so their parents can afford the privates, the choreographers, the studio rentals, the travel expenses, the costumes, etc. Unfortunately, that isn’t really how it should be done. If you are thinking about competing, you should wait a year and get as strong as you can, and allow your parents to save money. Maybe you can do extra chores around the house.

What to expect at a ballet competition. If you have ever done the audition circuit for summer programs, companies etc, take that environment and multiply it by 10. A ballet competition is that much more stressful, because you have to prove yourself in less than a minute. In edition, you are facing elimination rounds. Like that Prix de Laussane, just because you fly to Switzerland, that doesn’t mean you are going to perform. You have to make it through all of the classes. You are also not just competing within a region, most every ballet competition is international, which means you are competing against the entire world, and usually with top students from very prestigious schools who are wanting jobs, apprenticeships, and the chance to transfer to a different international school. 

Misconceptions: You don’t have to do a million pirouettes to go and win. You don’t have to have an extension to your ear, few dancers do. All you have to do is be clean, strong. Know your body’s turnout and limitations and how to work with them. You have to know how to be solid, strong and confident. Most importantly you have to know how to use what you have. In the video above, she does not have AMAZING Alessandra Ferri feet, her turn out is okay, the most she does is a double pirouette, and her arabesque line is clean, refined and placed. Nothing is forced, there is no doubt behind her technique, no hesitation in her attack, and her musicality is on. Her artistry is pretty, and in Shades it is more about the technique than the artistry, as there is no story to develop behind the pas de trois, but she is young… Artistry comes, it is a process. How is a 15 year old supposed to know how to portray emotions she has never even experienced? Again, this goes back to being clean, strong, confident, and fearless.

Suggestions… The amount of pressure a dancer in training is already immense, so I always think, why add more stress by doing a competition. Now, if your dream is to go to JKO school, or Royal Ballet, and you are technically ready, and a clean dancer, then it might be a great chance to get a scholarship. Just remember winning isn’t everything. I did a whole post in it and linked it above. The reality is, ballet competitions allow for ONE winner and ONE winner only. Yes, people will be given scholarships, but I always encourage students to go the normal company route: train at your school, go to a summer program, train at your school to get better, go to a summer program on scholarship, get asked to stay year round, work your butt off, get asked to stay on as a trainee, land an apprenticeship, and get promoted into the company (or audition elsewhere). You don’t always have to jump the gun and hope to compete and land a job. You don’t have to compete and spend thousands of dollars for a scholarship, when you can get one just by doing the summer course audition (max $35 dollars and gas), and proving yourself during that time to get asked to stay year round. 

The Measure of a Ballet Company…

No one really knows how to measure one ballet company against another, and there really isn’t a science to it. I can tell you that if you are going to measure a ballet company by funding, well be prepared for a crazy awakening. If you are going to measure a company based on principals, then that is just biased. Measuring a ballet company based on performances, repertory and touring… Maybe that is a more legit claim, but even then how can you compare an international ballet company that is supported by the state, versus American companies that have to fundraise a lot of their budg? My list of international ballet schools has created quite the controversy, and my blog itself has turned into a whirlwind of expectations, rivalries, and debates. So, as many of you have written to me and for me to rank the top ballet companies… I am sadly going to have to inform you that I can’t, simply on the basis that every company is different and has an extremely different repertory.

Swan Lake used to be the measure of a ballet company, but with everyone re staging their own versions it is hard to compare, and Swan Lake allows insane tricks and music alterations to accommodate turns.

So how do I measure a ballet company the playing field has to be fair, so if we are ranking large ballet companies here is how I compare them: The Balanchine Trust. Yup. Balanchine wins again. Specifically, I use Jewels. If you aren’t familiar with the ballet, you will be. Jewels is popping up in company repertories all over, and here is why:

Paris Opera Ballet in Diamonds
Paris Opera Ballet in Diamonds
  • Jewels is a full-length ballet in 3 Acts demonstrating company stamina. The difference between a full-length ballet and a smaller 1 act ballet is the ability to fill an evening with one mood, one presentation, and once chance to be evaluated as whole. (Jewels runs 81 minutes without intermissions.) Unlike presenting numerous works in an evening, the mood changes from piece to piece, and the reviewer and audience will have separate opinions of each. Jewels allows for both. (Yes, Swan Lake is 4 acts, but no one really pays attention to Act 1, the only thing good in the first act is pas de trois and even that is hard to get through.)
  • There are no tricks. One of the nice things about the Balanchine Trust is that the choreography is preserved. While dancers take artistic freedom, the steps and music does not change. The music is never altered, and the choreography doesn’t allow tricks. For those who are daring to speed up the turns in Rubies, good luck. The music is already fast enough. (We all know that the black swan coda is the test of tricks, and we all know white swan pas de deux is how high can you get your leg these days.)
  • In order to dance the full-length Jewels, you will need 66 dancers. For most companies, that is basically the entire company, give or take. Not only is this going to show the grandiose size of a company, but the Balanchine ballets let the corps really dance. Like REALLY dance.  Now, there are numerous leads, pas de deuxs, demi-soloists, and so on in Jewels. Never have I seen a dancer double up in an act. (Swan Lake tests 1 dancer, Odette/Odile, Jewels tests an entire company.) In addition not only does each variation, pas and act portray something completely different, they all cohesively collect to make the full evening pristine, exciting and glamorous. (The ballet itself was inspired by the jewels at Van Cleef and Arpels.)
NYCB in Rubies
NYCB in Rubies
  • When a company presents Jewels, they don’t just present one ballet, but they present three very different styles of ballet. In one evening you will get your sylphide, giselle, romantic ballet fix in Emeralds (music by Gabriel Faure). You will get your sassy but avant garde, seductive yet charming ballet fix in Rubies (music by Igor Stravinsky). You will get your platter tutu- Swan Lake, and corps intensive La Bayadere fix in Diamonds (music by Tchaikovsky).
bolshoi ballet in emeralds
Bolshoi Ballet in Emeralds
  • You get to see the company. In Emeralds you will see a corps of 10 that rigorously dances, two pas de deuxs, and a pas de trois. In Rubies you will see a fun pas de deux, and a leggy sassy soloist and corps of 8 women and 4 men who deliver a scintillating performance woven between the leads. Finally in Diamonds you will see one of most breath taking pas de deuxs, 4 demi-soloist couples, and an additional 12 couples. If that doesn’t test a company, I don’t know what does.

With that all being said, when we used to compare swan lakes, we now are starting to compare Jewels. With Bolshoi constantly broadcasting their take on Jewels with a more modern backdrop, to Boston Ballet‘s 2014 staging with necklace-like back drops, to Paris Opera’s costume designs by the fabulous Christian Lacroix… it seems that companies are now using Jewels as the ballet to compare companies. It is hard to compare swan lakes, but easy to compare Odettes… It is easy to compare Jewels since it doesn’t change, but hard to judge the leads. Because there is no story, each lead develops their own artistic take to create the mood of the night. Jewels has become so prominent among international companies like Royal Ballet who in 2008 won two Laurence Olivier awards.

 

Type Casting … pt 1

ballet-jewels-31
George Balanchine, Suzanne Farrell, Patricia McBride, Violet Verdy, & Mimi Paul “Jewels”

So, when it comes to ballets I think there are always pre conceived notions as type casting, at the Artistic Director’s discretion (may or may not be a bad thing). For example if you look at a ballet there are always different spots for different types of ballerinas. 

In Balanchine’s Serenade we have three spots… Waltz Girl, Russian Girl, and Dark Angel

In Sleeping Beauty we have three spots… Aurora, Lilac Fairy, and Bluebird

In Don Q we have three spots… Kitri/Dulcinea, Cupid, and Queen of the Dryads

In Bayadere we really only have two… Gamzatti and Nikiya

Balanchine’s Jewels it is mapped out as three very different castings of girls… 

Nutcracker has…. well depends on the version, I will go off Balanchine’s since it is my favorite: Sugar Plum, Dew Drop, and Arabian

the list goes on… So here is how I see the types of Primas being developed.

First we have the romantic ballerinas, usually average in height, but they all possess this crazy lyricism and musicality. They are always so subtle, and quite pleasant to watch. I also feel like they have really beautiful feet, well proportioned lines, and kind of that “old school” ballet feel. These women are constantly being cast in Giselle, Dark Angel in Serenade, Onegin, and of course Juliet.  

ABT's Hee Seo and David Hallberg in Onegin.
ABT’s Hee Seo and David Hallberg in Onegin.

Then we have the ferocious primas. These women are spicy, they are super playful and kind of on the shorter side, no? I mean Russian Girl in Serenade I feel is always cast as a short girl with a lot of fire… Ashley Bouder. Technically precise and offer a lot of pazazz when on stage these women are addicting, and passionate. These girls are the Kitris, the Esmeraldas, Paquitas and the pas de deux from Rubies….  

Powerhouse and standing at 5', Maria Kochetkova in Helgi Tomasson's Trio. (San Francisco Ballet)
Powerhouse and standing at 5′, Maria Kochetkova in Helgi Tomasson’s Trio. (San Francisco Ballet)

And finally we have our swans, the women who are elegant, and overall have mastered being a ballerina… can’t figure out how to phrase it… These women seem to be cast as Odette/Odile, Waltz girl in Serenade, Grand Pas Classique or Balanchine’s Sylvia. I guess you could say that these women are what most people think of when it comes to ballet: Olga Smirnova, what a beast.  These girls have a flare for drama and do well in roles like Nikiya or Manon. 

Olga Smirnova in Bayadere
Olga Smirnova in Bayadere

I don’t think one is better than another, it just points out that a company’s ranks must be filled with diverse principals as the repertory demands it. If we all danced the same, it would be quite boring. And, what is great about full ballets versus pieces, is I think it shows off a dancer’s versatility as an entire story builds, thus the character changes. Do I think it takes 4 acts to do this? No, in fact to be honest a lot of full length ballets are very tiring to get through. Do I think that it can be done in 5 minutes? Sure, but it is less time to fall in love with a character. Can a dancer be all three, yup. Do I think directors make choices and type cast, therefore their legacy is left in a stereotype? Sure do. There are hundreds of ballerinas past and present who have already been type cast, as one of the following, I doubt we will ever see them transition into other roles. Will we see Ashley Bouder do Waltz Girl in Serenade? Or Uliana Lopatkina in Don Q?

Peter Boal of PNB, challenging Carla Korbes in different roles after she left City Ballet was genius.  I remember when VOGUE did a spread on Ashley Bouder and Carla Korbes, and how differently contrasted they were upon graduation of SAB and entering NYCB.  For example, do I think Peter Martins would have cast her in Agon, maybe not so much. Do I think she would have ever danced Don Q, nope. Regardless, her change was good and with Peter Boal casting she has made her mark as a leading lady of ballet. 

Ashley Bouder and Carla Korbes in VOGUE
Ashley Bouder and Carla Korbes in VOGUE

The Race for Balanchine’s Spot in History… replacing Mr. B

replacing balanchine

The 20th Century had George Balanchine, among other great choreographers (You may start reaming me now for using Balanchine as my choreographer of the 20th Century…) But since Balanchine, Massine, and the Diaghilev/ Ballets Russes eras… Who has filled their shoes? Who will be the next choreographer to go down in history and have a repertory that will survive generations. In retrospect, as NYCB has no dancer currently dancing who ever danced for Balanchine, officially closing an era, and hoping that the repertory lives on… I move on to my point… Who, in 50 years will we be able to see their ballets/works that were created for this generation of dancers. John Cranko has Onegin, which will probably live forever. Sir Kenneth Macmillan has his set of ballets, all stemming from restaged versions… which still prove to be box office hits, as Queensland Ballet banked 1.1 Million in box office sales this week off of his dreamy version of Romeo and Juliet. (Literally, this week) Antony Tudor has his ballets… but more specifically La Dame aux camélias The Jerome Robins ballets will live forever, I hope. Jiří Kylián has a works, but his legacy of Petite Mort seems to be the survivor. The Forsythe ballets, in the Middle, Somewhat Elevated is a ballet that a million dancers dream about performing… A more recent choreographer John Neumeier has a plethora of works, but I think his stand out is the Little Mermaid. (honorable mention to Robert Joffrey, and Peter Martins’ ballets will live on through NYCB, though I really haven’t found one I am lovin… especially after that Romeo+Juliet disaster…) There are probably a few more that fit into that category of choreographers… But, what I am more excited about is the slew of choreographers right now who are building a very extensive repertory around the world. 🙂

There are the front runners…

Former director of the Bolshoi (good starting point if you ask me), Alexei Ratmansky.

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Benjamin Millepied, mentored by Jerome Robbins, former principal at NYCB, and now director of dance for Paris Opera Ballet… not bad…. (Natalie Portman’s baby daddy…okay, husband)

Then there is the ever popular Christopher Wheeldon, who won a gold medal at the Prix de Lausanne, was a soloist for NYCB. His ever popular works are growing and growing, his full length ballets are always so beautiful and so thoughtful.

The Movement Explorers

lines ballet repertory

Power duo Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson have made a cozy little spot for themselves in the contemporary world, but I also think have very strong ballets. Alonzo King would fit into this category too… but I don’t really see any other companies performing his repertory, granted most of them can only be performed with asian warriors, african tribal drummers, and beautifully mastered props/sets. (By the way, most of my favorite works are contemporary works.)

And two very unexpected, very young talents….

Justin Peck has created gorgeous ballets for NYCB, and he is definitely on the rise for becoming a stand out choreographer, and he is still a soloist at NYCB, so young and just named resident choreographer… The only other person who has held that title at NYCB is Christopher Wheeldon.

On the west coast, Myles Thatcher at San Francisco Ballet, a corps member seems to be making a splash in the ballet world as well with his choreography for SFB’s student showcases. Again another very young, very talented man. Liam Scott for ABT is about to do another world premier for their new season.

There is also the rise of the choreographers coming from PNB.

I am sure I left off a million other names both current and past, and future…. but these are who I am excited for. It is exciting and scary at the same time to think that the direction of ballet is changing so fast, and so rapidly. What category of a ballet once was the Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, joined by Rodeo, Serenade and Afternoon of the Faun, has now been joined by in the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, Petit Mort, and Bolero. See I added De Mille and Roland Petit, Nureyev and others… Now the question is, whose repertory will be so vast and diverse, as well as survive generations?

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Mauro Bigonzetti’s Reflections Project for Bolshoi