(This post has nothing really to do with ballet education.)
Emeralds. As the story goes Balanchine was inspired by the jewelers Van Cleef and Arpels. As an avid visitor to Van Cleef, I understand why he was so inspired. I am obsessed with the Balanchine ballets, probably more obsessed than I should be. But, when it comes to Jewels, I am able to reflect upon my own life and how it relates to me, and why I am the Emeralds phase of my life.
When I was a young dancer training, I hated Emeralds. I literally fell asleep the first time I went to go see it live. When I was younger, it was all about Rubies. The sexiness, the energy, and the relentless power and flexibility of the tall girl in Rubies. Like Stravinsky, when you are younger, there is this uncontrollable force that drives you: passion. As a young dancer it was about focusing on rapid turns, whacking out your battements, and being overly flexible. It was far the better choice compared to the other two. Diamonds just looked like ballet class to me, and just was pretty, and well classical.
Later, as a working dancer, I became obsessed with Diamonds. It was about the strive towards perfection. As a working dancer it starts the process of control, constraint, and restriction. It is taking everything you had learned in ballet school, and learning how to control it, finesse it, and do it with ease. Diamonds became my version of Swan Lake. It was the test of perfection within the choreography. As a young adult, that translated into my personal life. It was about being perfect, finding the perfect man, finding perfection within my life. Still, I am kind of there, but now I am transitioning to my thoughts on Emeralds…
Now, realizing that perfection is impossible, something to strive for, I have entered into a new phase of my life: Emeralds. Subtlety and romance. There is something so luxurious about Emeralds. The walking pas de trois is like strolling through the park, the variations are almost care free and relaxed. There is no rush. That is where I am at in my life right now. I know this has nothing to do with the actual story behind the ballet, but it shows how ballet can reflect life, and how audience viewers relate. Before, when I would watch ballets, I would be watching for technique, musicality, and lets be honest: dancer making mistakes. Now as I watch ballets, it is about how they relate to my life. Watching classical storybook ballets do nothing for me now. Now when I want to escape my own life and become involved in someone else’s I go to the movies and the achievements in cinema take me there.
As I have started to embark on my own ballet company and school, I have decided to let it take me wherever it takes me. I am not thinking my company and school will be anything equated to Balanchine. Far from it. But, I have taken everything I have learned in the phases of my life and implemented it into the curriculum and structure.
So, within the internal ballet dialogue in my head, as I am driving and dictating to SIRI, I was thinking that I am such a hypocrite. Here I am trying to save ballet, yet not supporting the company that is growing in my backyard. (I just purchased tickets to the full length Flames of Paris in November.) Then I started to think, how can I help Los Angeles Ballet, duh, your blog….
Location: Los Angeles, CA to be exact 11755 Exposition Boulevard Los Angeles, California 90064
Artistic Directors: Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary
Style: Balanchine meets Bournonville?
Affiliated School: Los Angeles Ballet
Annual Tuition for a trainee: $5,500-$5,900, boarding is unavailable.
Summer Program: Yes, not a lot of info on their site, check back in September.
Theatre Residence: None.
Current Season: 4 bills, touring the greater Los Angeles Area
Dancers Hired: 37
Founded in 2004, my first experience with Los Angeles Ballet was watching a girlfriend of mine perform in their 2009 season. She was dancing George Balanchine’s ‘Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2’ and Serenade. For being a young company I was impressed. I then got season tickets for the following season in which Chehon Wespi-Tschopp stole the majority of the season, then stole the show on SYTYCD. Which was sad becaus when I saw Giselle, and he was better than the title character…. Then I boycotted LA Ballet until I saw they were doing Concerto Barocco, 4 T’s, and Tchai Pas, La Valse, and Agon, their 2012-2013 season was amazing, just the exposure of Balanchine in Los Angeles in much needed. I didn’t see anything this past season until they brought back Serenade and premiered La Slyphide in one bill. So, of course I had t go. Unfortunately, the men stole the show, especially in La Slyphide, with the exception of Colleen Neary who was quite brilliant. If ballet is supposed to be woman, (which LA Ballet excels in the Balanchine Ballets), they fail at the classics, which is why I avoiding their new season. They are doing Swan Lake, Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and Director’s Choice… A Tchaikovsky Season for sure…In the Director’s Choice the full Theme and Variations will be performed. (It is always a toss up when buying tickets in Southern California because we have amazing venues that book touring companies, in October the Australian Ballet is coming with Swan Lake, the same time Los Angeles Ballet is doing Swan Lake… Which one would you pick? Then again in March Los Angeles Ballet will be doing sleeping beauty while American Ballet Theatre presents the Sleeping Beauty in Orange County.)
Questionable timing from the artistic director duo if you ask me. But the two are thriving, mirroring co-directorship success like PNB’s Kent Stowell and Francia Russell. Colleen Neary in particular I think brings a very keen eye to the company, which I think more women should assume roles as ADs. Women are detailed oriented, planners, and I think just as visionary as male ADs. (Sexism is a completely different post… but regardless of the politics, I am fond of the pairing like a good cheese and wine combo.)
So, the company itself. The company has six unique principals, which I have all seen dance, but of the principals two are beyond exceptional: Allynne Noelle and Zheng Hua Li. I probably could watch them dance post modern and be entertained, if you knew me you would understand the humor. Allynne brings this vivacious charisma to the stage while Zheng Hua Li has the most subtle, amazing, deep plié. Of the soloists Alexander Castillo shows a lot of promise, his physique is gorgeous on stage as well.
But what I love the most are their women in the corps: Britta Lazenga was stunning in Serenade and couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. Katherine Cowgill has a stoic, aristocratic way of dancing which reminds me of old school ballet. Kate Highstrete has legs for days with subtlety. (I love me a good subtle dancer.) Katherine Revels and Chloe Sherman also were stunning with a young unique charm in Serenade. In the corps excitement comes with their new hires. They brought on Jasmine Perry, who was made popular from TEEN VOGUE’s STRICTLY BALLET, and is also the only African American female in the company. They also hired freshly out of SAB Samuel Akins, who is another young African American. As a side commentary, I applaud LA Ballet’s racial diversity, since other companies, with ridiculous budgets still will not hire black dancers. (I won’t name them, even though I should.) It is always exciting when young companies hire straight from school dancers because it is a make it break it moment for these dancers. Both are exceptionally talented, and because full length classical ballets offer numerous roles, I hope they get cast in a lot. (Then again, it could also be disastrous as they are straight from SAB and will be dancing classical ballet.) Young dancers keep ballet alive, as they are the new talent that will eventually replace older talent. Their careers are new and fresh, which might bring some excitement, naivety, and that tenacity you develop in school.
Five reasons why you should see Los Angeles Ballet this season if you are in the area:
As ballet dancers, as artists, as humans, we need to support the arts in any capacity. So, why not save the money and not go to Starbucks or out drinking and go to the ballet? You get to still dress up, and if you are single you might meet someone great. Since most of us gays drop hundreds if not thousands of dollars in liquor in West Hollywood, why not spend the money on something that is actually helping our community?
Because Los Angeles Ballet is a new company, you never know what is going to happen. There are no preconceived notions and you can make an opinion for yourself.
Sleeping Beauty this year is going to be a world premiere for Colleen Neary and Thordal Christiensen which means their version of Sleeping Beauty might be more entertaining than most. I mean the reality is, we have sat through a lot of boring versions… This one is going to be new, so I have high hopes.
Theme and Variations! If you are fan of NYCB and can’t get to NYC, LA Ballet will be doing Theme and Variations, a Balanchine Ballet. If you aren’t familiar with Theme and Variations, it is a beautiful ballet that really tests the entire company. Also it opens with the most beautiful walking tendus…. Talk about needing good feet.
Finally, you might run into me. That is a pretty darn good reason if you ask me.
Have you ever gone to an audition, and you are sizing up the competition before the class begins? It doesn’t even have to be an audition, it can just be an open class. As you look around, you start to size dancers up by “look”. Instantly, you can spot those dancers. Balanchine trained dancers. Even before barre starts, even before the first piano chord is played and you take your first plié, you can tell… You can spot Balanchine boys pretty easily: the white socks and white ballet shoes on black tights with a white shirt. You can usually spot Balanchine girls by their high buns, or the Balanchine bun (it is like a hybrid bun/ french twist). Once the music starts, then you can really tell who trained Balanchine, here are some of the “giveaways”… and if you trained Balanchine, you might get a giggle…
So, you know you trained Balanchine if…
1. Your hands are remotely “claw” shaped. This could be the modified CPYB hand, or the hands that come from Ballet Austin (kind of a more contemporary relaxed version). You know you came from SAB if you are really all about the “claw” and broken wrist. Yup, just by the hands you can tell.
2. Your tendus are over crossed and you automatically assume the accent is in or down.
3. You don’t use elaborate port de bras during barre combinations. During port de bras and cambré you roll through your spine instead of a straight back.
4. Your developpés happen in one count, or less, but this idea can be applied to grand pliés, or anything for that matter.
5. When coming out of a relevé you emphasize the pressing of the heels down.
So, that was just barre… Center (Centre)
You know you trained Balanchine if…
1. The obvious… Pirouette off of a straight back leg, and for fun you try to turn from a ridiculously large, deep, exaggerated fourth.
2. You are awesome at petite allegro.
3. In assemblé you bring the supporting leg to the working leg, and in jetés your coupe happens instantly- and you might bend a little for show…
4. In your saut de chat.. your back leg is probably higher than your front. During grand allegro you probably travel the furthest…
5. You over cross everything… including port de bras.
6. You know you came from SAB if you have Suki Schorer’s voice in your head saying, “no, AND one.”
(And as a side comment: Balanchine dancers are my favorite to watch, and I think the Balanchine Aesthetic… since that is what it is now being called instead of technique… is gorgeous. Insert European remarks here…)
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:
Jewels is a full-length ballet in 3 Acts demonstrating companystamina. 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.)
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).
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.
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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
Mauro Bigonzetti’s Reflections Project for Bolshoi