Celebrating their 25th season, OBT was originally founded by James Canfield. Who was actually known for his choreography, and was a former dancer with Joffrey. In 2003, it was handed to Christopher Stowell. (If you didn’t know who he was, he is the son of PNB’s founders: Kent Stowell and Francia Russell.) Then in the season 2013-2014 season it is taken over by Kevin Irving, who is now in is sophomore year there.
OBT has constantly gone through a lot of different phases. At it’s origins it was more on the contemporary side. The second phase under Christopher Stowell, was probably the peak of OBT. Staging of full length ballets, and acquiring numerous Balanchine rights, OBT flourished. Now, under their new director the question remains: What will happen to OBT? With the new director’s background in modern, will OBT now transition into a newer, more modern phase? OBT had a huge financial set back between 2012 and 2013, losing almost a million dollars in funding. Hoping to regain momentum, OBT’s building is quite new and quite gorgeous. (I have taken open class there numerous times, as my family spent part of their summer in Oregon. My brother, who now attends uni there, has caused me to think I will be seeing more of OBT.)
So many ballet companies miss the mark when it comes to PR and marketing but OBT has some of the best PR campaigns I have ever seen for a ballet company. Also, their website is gorgeously put together, minus their header image with a pierced ear… of all the photos to use as the first image we see… it is of a dancer’s upper back glistening in sweat and pierced ear.
Truthfully, I have never seen OBT dance. Even when they performed 20 minutes away from my house, and having three friends in the company, I decided not go. Hopefully, this will change. And I hope more people consider them to be a formidable company, and not just the smaller version of PNB.
In the repertory of classical ballets, there is one ballet that trumps them all. It isn’t number one because of the physical demands, and it is definitely not number one because of artistic merit. In fact, this ballet probably is the most unartistic for any artist. It is probably the most recognized of score of any ballet music, from variations, to even the prologue, everyone knows it. It is the beast: THE NUTCRACKER.
It is no secret that most ballet companies make money twice a year. The first is by offering summer programs from June-August. The second comes in December and seats are sold out for their annual productions of the Nutcracker. For the majority of companies, the Nutcracker runs seamless. Everyone already knows all the parts, they are just waiting for the casting. Lighting, and costuming is already done for the most part, and just rely on tweaking things here and there. For marketing and PR, it is the best time to host fundraisers since everyone is in that holiday spirit of donating money. And for the audiences, it is that timeless, almost boring tradition, that doesn’t go away.
For most young aspiring dancers, the Nutcracker was the first ballet parents ever took us to. Whether it was on VHS, directly talking about the Baryshnikov and Kirkland version, or PNB’s collaboration with Maurice Sendak. Or, the NYCB version featuring Macauly Culkin and Darci Kistler. So, for the majority of our young lives we prayed that one day we would get to dance in the Nutcracker. And then it happens… You get cast in your school’s version of the Nutcracker. You start as a child in Mother Ginger and party scene. You pray that you get picked to be Clara/Marie, and maybe you do. Then, you start to get smaller supporting roles, and finally you are in the corps of flowers and snow. By 13, you are dancing Marzipan/Mirlitons, and by 15 you are maybe Dew Drop. Next thing you know you are at a professional ballet school, and you never get to dance in Nutcracker again. Until, one day you are lucky enough to land yourself a company contract.
Five years later, after dancing professionally, you hear the music at department stores and cringe. Now you dread Nutcracker. It is the most boring of the ballets, and you dance it time and time again. If you are still a corps member you already know that you will be a party parent and in the same show you will have to dance in both snow and flowers. You hear the same corrections in flowers, “Bend more!” or “Watch your spacing.” In snow you already know that you need to move a little quicker than the music, and you watch the new apprentices and corps members struggle to keep up. Yup, it is that holiday tradition of being in a ballet company that brings dancers together.
So, what is it about this ballet that is so charismatic and is performed every season?
5 reasons why the Nutcracker will never go away…
Curse you Tchaikovsky! The score of Nutcracker is close to flawless in terms of musical genius. All of the music is relatable, catchy, and keeps the audience entertained.
It is magical, and is every little girl’s dream. Because it is the first ballet we ever see, it becomes engrained in us. It sparks the hope of millions of little girls to become ballet dancers.
It is short and sweet. The shortest of the classical ballets, where the story is compressed into the first act and the second act is purely about the dancing. It is probably the only ballet your dad can sit through. Most little girls can’t sit through all of Swan Lake, or even get through act I without having to use the bathroom, get bored, or fall asleep.
The test of a dancer. Dancers I think are tested a lot in the Nutcracker. Because you have so many performances, there are a lot more casting opportunities. If in a run of a regular program there may be only two or three casts. During Nutcracker, there are at least five casts, if not more. This gives the Artistic Director a chance to play around with their dancers. For an artistic director who wants to see something more dark and mysterious from a dancer, he will cast her in Arabian/Coffee. If they want to test a dancer’s stamina they put her Dew Drop. And if they want to see maturity, and ability they cast in her Sugar Plum.
It makes money! If it wasn’t for the Nutcracker, dancers wouldn’t have jobs for an entire season. So, we suck it up so we can dance all year round.
Current Season: 5 programs, and additional performances. Tour dates are unannounced.
Dancers Hired: 37
Founded in New York by masters Gerald Arpino and Robert Joffrey in 1965, the Joffrey Ballet was born. The company relocated to their now permanent home in Chicago in 1995. As Joffrey makes more appearances, and is referenced to in pop culture quite frequently, the ballet company has struggled tremendously. Despite the struggles of any ballet company the Joffrey ballet has made major contributions to the ballet world. The biggest is probably the 1995 reconstruction of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Another unique quality is that the company really doesn’t have assigned ranks which allows the Artistic Director to be free about casting. Yes, senior company members have built names for themselves, but the dancers at Joffrey are truly unique.
First Joffrey has the stunning Fabrice Calmels, if you don’t know him, he is a giant standing at 6’6”. Trained are Paris Opera, and a unique resume on top of his training, he definitely stood out when I saw him in Apollo. GORGEOUS. His height and body proportions are beyond gorgeous, and his movement quality lives up to his height. With a unique contemporary take on ballet, he is definitely a jewel of the Joffrey Ballet.
Joffrey also employs Australian Aaron Smyth who made his appearances on the competition circuit in 2012-2013. This landed him a spot at JKO, then ABT II, and then joined the Royal Ballet. Since he is a younger dancer, we have a lot to look forward too.
Kara Zimmerman, formerly with PNB and Cincinnati, Joffrey really does use her well, and has helped develop her to her full potential.
Finally, basically one of their Prima’s Victoria Jaiani, she graced the cover of Dance Magazine back in 2010. With an arabesque for days, and artistry that moves the audience time and time again. She has definitely matured with the company and has truly made herself a name in Chicago, and in the dance world.
Dancers I think that would do well at Joffrey? Auditioning for companies, or summer programs with the hopes to go year round and work your way up? I believe that dancers who would do well at the Joffrey must already have a strong background in technique. It isn’t like a school like Boston Ballet or San Francisco that gives you technique. Joffrey is more about strengthening your technique and emphasizing a certain approach to your dancing. Dancers that I think do well there are tall, athletic, and most of all flexible. With the diverse repertory Joffrey offers, potential future hires have to have versatile bodies. This allows more forgiveness in body type, meaning there isn’t a preconceived notion to the perfect ballet body type. Their company has a variety of heights, and a variety of body types. Because there really isn’t clear rankings it also allows for a more fair shot in casting. I’m not saying it is completely fair, it never is.
And just because he is so attractive, and he is beyond talented… and is 6’6″ of muscle…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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…
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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…
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:
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)
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:
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.
If I had it my way, everyone would dance in Freeds. Period. Because we are a free enterprise country, there are hundreds of different pointe shoes now available. Each brand has their own series of pointe shoes, and each pointe shoe has a “different personality” to accommodate a dancer’s needs. One of those needs is money… Pointe shoes don’t come cheap, and as a result, the Gaynor Minden was born…
Some call it the cheater shoe, some call it flat out ugly, and some are for it because their feet are so good. Professionals around the world of adapted to Gaynors and the company didn’t waste anytime by capitalizing on that. Premiering with Gillian Murphy of ABT, and the release of the Ballet Companion, snagging dancer.com and using well known principal dancers as their ads… Gaynor Minden INC knew what they were doing. As a business, they are successful. The bigger question, is how do we look at Gaynors? Should students be allowed to wear Gaynors? Should more pointe shoe companies offer indestructible shoes regardless of compromising the look of the shoe?
(Please Comment Below)
an interview with Eliza Gaynor Minden. (click here)
a funny commentary via the youtube:
Nike Arc Angel, a dummy design by a graphic artist, but interesting concept…
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
The Rise of Asians… well specifically South Korea… As the 2014 USA IBC medalists were announced, it seemed that Korea, again… made a strong appearance. Taking the senior men’s gold, silver, women’s bronze, and senior couple award, you may wonder where are they all coming from? Last year at VARNA, South Korea swept the top prizes as well… And you are like… what are they feeding them in Korea, besides rice?
So, ballet is relatively new in South Korea, and it seems they are always at major international ballet competitions with multiple entries. Here is why, particularly for men… In South Korea, like other countries, but I am not aware of other countries standards… Every male has to serve two years in the army upon completion of their lower education, somewhere between 17-20. So, if you are a ballet dancer, those are some prime years… The only way for a Korean male to not serve is to win a gold or silver medal at an international ballet competition, which means they have to be super talented, super dedicated, and super diligent. I am not sure if other countries like Israel, I know they require EVERYONE to serve, has exceptions… If anyone knows… that would be cool.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all about Korean Pride, and that whole sha-bang, but the reality is they are literally competing for their careers, their lives, etc. A boy dedicating his whole life to ballet will be forced to stop, wear boots and stomp around for two years if he doesn’t win a competition. (I am not saying let them win every competition, but I am saying it is nice to see that these men will have futures in ballet.)
somewhere around 6:30 she talks about it, but the whole video is interesting.
It is sad to say that this is my first substantial post, a reality check for those who are starting to enter the world of dance. Unfortunately, or fortunately the world of dance has become over-saturated with dancers. This means there are too many dancers and not enough jobs. It seems that when a young girl goes to see the Nutcracker, they instantly want to be Clara or the Sugar Plum Fairy, and so the first seed of ballet is planted into their hearts. This is a great desire and passion, and I think it is very important to expose all children, male or female, to music, dance and art. So then, parents enroll their students at a dance studio, and by age thirteen when the child realizes they really want to be a dancer, it is most likely too late.
Too Many Claras…. Now, it is funny as Clara in the Nutcracker is the main character, or the heroine, but in most versions she doesn’t dance at all. Reality is, Sugar Plum Fairy is the one you want to be. Problem? There are just too many Claras… Unfortunately in the world of ballet, the Sugar Plum Fairy Pas De Deux is reserved for principals and if you are in a regional company, it is usually danced by one or maybe two casts. There are usually 4-6 girls cast as Clara, as a way to sell tickets… What parent doesn’t want to say, “My daughter is Clara in the Nutcracker.” Sooo, let us do the math…. If the role of Clara goes to a girl age 9-13 who shows outstanding promise and great acting abilities, and there are six of them, when those girls become 22-28 who will get cast as Sugar Plum? The reality is harsh… But, when you do become a Sugar Plum, it is totally worth it.
What does this mean? Most parents don’t take the time to research ballet, ballet studios or how the ballet world really works. FACT: A dance studio is not the same as a dance school and is not the same as a performing arts school and is not the same as a ballet school.
A Dance Studio is a recreational place to dance, which means you are there for exercise, exposure to music and the idea of technique.
A Dance School is a recreational place to dance with higher performance expectancy. A dance school usually can also be called a competition studio, or a performance studio. This is where technique matters, but not to the extent of creating a career. This is more for commercial dance route, the Hollywood route, and the scholarships to a UDA college route.
A Performing Arts School is a place for children to develop the fine/performing arts to a greater extent. Most kids in these schools aren’t just out to be ballet dancers, but instead they are also on their way to become a triple threat. BROADWAY BOUND. Performing arts schools usually offer more than just ballet, but modern, contemporary, voice lessons, acting lessons, and so forth.
A Ballet School is a place for children to studio pure ballet. Regardless of the pedagogy, it is completely ballet based, and the emphasis is only on ballet technique with supplemented curriculum of modern, contemporary and occasionally jazz.
So, the best way to insure your child’s future in dance is to make sure you are at the right school for your child. There is nothing wrong with any of these schools, or approaches to dance, but they will basically be the deciding factor of how your child will be received in dance.
So, your daughter was Clara?
Insuring your child has the best chance he or she may need in BALLET. You want to be a good parent, but you don’t know what to do? You think oh, is it even possible? Is my child good enough? Ballet dancers don’t make that much (which is a lie, it just depends where you get a job, like any career). This is not an endorsement to any school in particular, please just go with the scenario. There are few jobs for ballerinas these days, and it seems one of the only ways to get noticed is to go to a legit ballet competition…. True and False… The reality is that those who go to these huge international competitions and do well are on the fast track to become principal dancers AKA sugarplum fairies. BUT, that doesn’t mean that your child isn’t going to make it. There are hundreds of companies that hold tons of ranks, and so your child just might be a snowflake, or a divertissement. Now, it is more important to decide how your child is going to get there… that is when the school your child is at should be evaluated.
So, I told myself no more blogs. You have enough already, and they are already difficult to manage.(Yellow Like Asian) Then, I reminded myself I don’t have a free blog, and I don’t have a wordpress. This was enough to convince me to go for it. This blog is to educate aspiring dancers, audience go-ers, parents and other dancers on what is, and what is happening in the ballet world… AKA it is me ranting and raving about ballet.
As any first blog post, I should introduce myself. My name is David (personal site), and I LOVE BALLET. No, I am not some crazed fan, or gay man with some over the top extravagant lifestyle. In fact, I do have some legitimacy here. I grew up dancing ballet, and not just at a some dolly dinkle studio in podunk America. I actually went through the entire ballet process, and become a professional ballet dancer. In addition, I have taught ballet, and other genres of dance on many different levels across the United States. Finally, my entire curriculum for teaching is based off Cassa Pancho’s All Things Black and Beautiful and the Balanchine Aesthetic. Finally, I am embarking on starting my own ballet company, Redlands Dance Theatre, click here for more info.
I’m not sure where this blog is going to go, but I can tell you what it isn’t going to be:
1. It isn’t going to be me bitching and complaining companies I dislike in general. (Trust and believe there are a lot I dislike)
2. It is definitely not going to be advice to get into a company. (A Guide… maybe)
3. It probably won’t be a blog slamming eating disorders, cocaine and drinking. (Not that I condone those things.)
4. It is not going to be me sitting on a high horse and just saying things for the sake of saying things… That is why we have artistic directors, haha that was a joke. I will give explanations and so forth.
5. I will not be associated with youtub-ing, posting on IG, or even tweeting… I already have too many to manage.
Now, I can tell you what I want the blog to be:
INFORMATIVE, an education.
INSPIRATIONAL, a future.
INSIGHTFUL, a perspective.
INTRIGUING, a personality.
(If you can’t tell, I totally do PR and Marketing.)