AND THE OSCAR GOES TO… the top 10 ballet companies in the world

With the Oscars around the corner, it means it is time for a Ballet Education’s award season. With that about to happen, after two years of hesitantly writing a list of actual top ten companies… I have given in.

top ten ballet companies
A lot of you have asked if I could rank the top ten ballet companies in the world… And so, because I am so obliging to your requests, sure, why the hell not. I have postponed this post because a lot of things get factored in when looking at a company:

The Caliber of Dancer: where they have trained, artistic merit, technical achievements.
The Size of the Company, good things come in small packages sometimes, a lot of the times. Larger companies though employ more dancers, so from a financial or economic standpoint, that is a factor.
The Repertory, both current and old. Repertory feeds the dancer’s soul and sells tickets. Is the company innovating?
Going on tour: Is it a home company or touring company? That is a significant factor too. Touring companies have a lot of worldwide recognition, and home companies have a stable audience.
Does the company have a school that feeds the company creating a lasting relationship between the young community and the current ballet audience?
What is good ballet? That is probably the most subjective… but that can always be defined by the real question of, “What is Ballet… Today.”

So… if we look at what ballet is today, it is isn’t this rigid fairytale designed by composers and directors. It has evolved so much more than that. Nowadays, ballet is encompassed by what can be defined as neo-classic, and a lot of contemporary (as in works being done today) works. The current ballet vocabulary is expanding, and because ballet vocabulary has always set the standard for dance… Thanks to the codification of ballet in France… It has always been that way… But now, the language of dance is melding with cultural references and different genres, it is exploring new depths of music or the lack thereof, and the ability to transpire a new quality of dancing.

If by definition of the art form, classical ballet is the art of constraint.
Then neoclassical ballet would be that of the 20th century, so Balanchine, DeMille, Graham, Robbins
And if current or contemporary ballet is that of Tharp, Forsythe, Kylian, Neumeier, Wheeldon, Ramatansky, Elmo, etc
And if the future of ballet is being defined by Peck, Thatcher, Simkin and Cirio then we can classify these companies quicker.

But unfortunately, there are really only five ballet companies that set the tone of the ballet world and here is the reason why:

The Paris Opera Ballet: they set the tone for turnout and the foundations of technique. Paris Opera employs 150 dancers and takes residency between Palais Garnier and the Bastille Opera House.

The Bolshoi Ballet (or interchange it with any random Russian company that hires from Vaganova School): they set the tone for Adagio and body type. The breeding ground for Russian superstars, the feeder school to Bolshoi is BBA but the rivaled Russian companies are fed by Vaganova Academy.

The Royal Ballet: they set the tone for technical powerhouses, turns/jumps. Prix winners go there to build a name for themselves. Takes residency at the gorgeous Covent Garden.

The New York City Ballet: they set the tone for musicality, speed and new works. Residing at Lincoln Center, the only American Company that resembles and performs as much as a European home company.

Nederlands Dans Theatre: they set the tone for innovation and new ways to move. Between the first and second companies, the two employ 46 of the most fundamentally interesting dancers in the world. Originally founded by Jiri Kylian and now under the Artistic Directorship of Paul Lightfoot, this company is always pushing the edge of innovation. (A lot of you might think to switch out Nederlands Dans Theatre with Stuttgart, and you could be right. I just believe that Nederlands pushes innovation more while Stuttgart offers a more diverse repertory.)

These five companies are also ridiculously accessible these days. With Social Media being the new innovator and the new audience, ballet companies like these five are creating the trends for ballet. With repertory to die for, these companies set the look and feel of ballet, but without a doubt– these companies border between classical and neo-classical companies. I don’t see Nederlands of City Ballet attempting to take on say: The Little Humpback Horse or the full length Raymonda… There are companies who truly are classical, and their schools reflect that as well. I think that these companies have had to expand their repertory because of the demand for new works by both the dancers and the audience.

So the top 10 Classical Ballet Companies in the world would be, in no particular order… Again NO PARTICULAR ORDER, before you all go crazy:

1. Paris Opera Ballet – COMPANY WEBSITE
2. National Ballet of Cuba – COMPANY WEBSITE
3. Bolshoi Ballet/ Kirov/ Mariinsky –BOLSHOI WEBSITE
4. Royal Danish- Bournonville technique- WEBSITE
5. The Australian Ballet – Website
6. Het National Ballet/Dutch National Ballet-WEBSITE
7. American Ballet Theatre- WEBSITE
8. Teatro La Scala – COMPANY WEBSITE
9. National Ballet of Canada –WEBSITE
10. The Royal Ballet – COMPANY WEBSITE

The top 5 Neo-Classical Ballet Companies would be:
1. New York City Ballet
2. Nederlands Dans Theatre
3. Stuttgart Ballet
4. San Francisco Ballet
5. Eifman Ballet
Now my personal list of top 10 companies in the world, the list that really matters:
1. New York City Ballet
2. Paris Opera Ballet
3. Bolshoi Ballet
4. Alonzo King’s LINES
5. San Francisco Ballet
6. Pacific Northwest Ballet
7. American Ballet Theatre
8. Australian Ballet
9. Dance Theatre of Harlem
10. Ballet Black

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Not Bad.

Finding YourselfAfter two hip surgeries, and not dancing in like 5 years, and gaining like 20 pounds…
Exploring Arabesque on the beach while storming…
On another note, I hope you had a good holiday weekend if you are in the US.
There were a ton of Stars and Stripes videos posted all over social media, and crazy red, white and blue costumes posted, so I didn’t feel the need to encourage it all.

company class plies redlands dance theatre
www.redlandsdancetheatre.org

love wins
#workflow
www.SocialCulture.com

COMING SOON:
THE GUIDE TO VARIATIONS

if you have questions about variations, or would like me to touch on things, let me know.

Before there was Symphony in C…

Paris Opera
Paris Opera

If you didn’t know… before there was Symphony in C, Balanchine originally choreographed it as Le Palais di Cristal for Paris Opera… Set to Bizet’s symphony in C, with costumes by Christian Lacroix… this version I like a lot better…
If you haven’t seen it yet, and before it gets taken down for copyright stuff, you can view it here… I don’t know how this guy gets his videos but they are some of the best.

The American Ballerina: the 21st century prima

The American Ballerina in the 21st century

What truly does it mean to be an American Ballerina? 
The idea of an American Ballerina isn’t far fetched at all, and actually since the cold war, America has become one of greatest manufacturers of ballet dancers.  While up until the Cold War, ballet was dominated by the Russians.  The history of ballet is funny, because as each generation of prima ballerinas comes to the forefront, they are influenced by culture, society, and what is “popular” in ballet. Today, we are blessed with the wonders of youtube and ballet in cinema, so we can see a variety of ballet dancers instantaneously. So, as a reflection of culture, we now have a true generation of American Ballerinas.

So, we have to kind of set up some conditions that define an American Ballerina:

1. Born in the United States.
2. Trained in the United States.
3. Dances with an American Company.
4. Has achieved the rank of principal dancer.
5. Has contributed to the next generation of dancers.

As we are at a time in ballet that celebrates the most innovate choreography, the most brilliant music, and the most technical phase of ballet, there are two extraordinary women that come to mind:

Tiler Peck and Lia Cirio
Ironically, neither dancer has the typical ballet body type. When we say typical we mean Russian girl body type, or Paris Opera Body type.  Additionally, the two women are completely different.  These two women though have created a new space and new ideal for dance.  Tiler Peck has created a generation of a more jazz meets Balanchine dancer making it possible for competitive studio trained dancers transition into ballet companies and schools. While, Lia Cirio has created an athletic provocative archetype of a prima ballerina. The only two things these women really have in common is really good teeth and a really great smile

The Run Down on these women:

Tiler Peck: sporadic training in the greater Los Angeles area, transitioning to School of American Ballet, joined NYCB in 2004, became a principal in 2009. Gorgeous turns, and fills the stage. First was really seen in the welcome to SAB DVD. Balanchine trained. Subtle sensitivity and sweetness in her approach to roles.
lia cirio american ballerina

Lia Cirio: random school, transitioning to CPYB, joined Boston Ballet in 2004, became a soloist in 2007, joined the Trey McIntyre project, came back to BB in 2010 to become promoted to principal. Banging hyperextension, ferocious arabesque. First major appearance in ballet: YAGP 2003. Classically trained. A body articulate conscious approach to a role.

So what makes these two women stand out compared to say… Hee Seo or Maria Kotchekova? Well, besides the fact that both of these women aren’t born and raised in the US, they are both ridiculously Russian trained, which is gorgeous, I’m not saying that they are awful. I am saying that they fit previous archetype of what a prima ballerina is. While Hee Seo was groomed to take Julie Kent’s place, Maria Kotchekova became the standard of SFB’s short girl. While Misty Copeland has made the compelling presence and awareness of race in ballet, I don’t think her actual dancing is ground breaking. (sorry, I know I am going to hear shit for that) Then we have other leading women in the US: Carrie Imler at PNB creating the athletic look at PNB, Isabella Boylston at ABT has reinvented the Paloma Herrera, but with better arms. Maria Kowroski is like the Balanchine version of Sylvie. Wendy Whelan created the skinny fit athletic body archetype.

As these two women expand their repertory, who knows what they will create for the ballet world? It’s exciting.

In other ballet news: ABT: Paloma Herrera is getting a weird farewell with a matinee performance of Giselle, followed by Xiomara Reyes’s farewell at 7:30.  Totally getting gipped, but maybe her name just doesn’t sell seats? ABT’s PBS special AMERICAN MASTER Series was beyond gorgeous.
NYCB & SFB: have a ridiculously amount of talented people in the ranks of soloists and corps but won’t be promoted until others retire. *cough cough* hang up the pointe shoes *cough cough*
Paris Opera: Natalie Portman’s Baby Daddy is making amazing moves and changes at POB.
PNB: Please promote Leta already.
Atlanta Ballet: Had the most beautiful end to their season.
Milwaukee Ballet: Their version of Cinderella was an okay finish for the season.

Little Jessy is prepping for LA BALLET. Her go fund me is still up, any donations will go towards pointe shoes, leotards etc. http://www.gofundme.com/jessylaballet

Don’t forget to use the code SCIE15 for 15% off Eros Sportswear for Men.

The Guide to FiercenessMy guide to fierceness is almost done. Holla for a dolla!

The Best of the Best… Ballet Company Awards 2014 (2013-2014 Season)

If Ballet Companies had an awards ceremony to go to, it would be the Golden Globes. It wouldn’t be the Oscars, even if it is the most glamorous event. This is because the Oscars are voted on by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, we basically have that from the Princess Grace Awards and the Prixs for that.  If dancers were to vote on other dancers and companies, then it would be the SAGs.  The Golden Globes are voted on by the Hollywood Foreign Press, and I feel like that in itself says it all. The power of press and publicity goes a long way, not to mention that the opinions of editors dictate the content featured. But, that isn’t what makes the Golden Globes so special, it is the fact that the mission of the Hollywood Foreign Press is to make films accessible to the general public by unbiased information and reviews. So, as I compiled a list of companies worth noting this year, the list grew rather large, so I decided to make categories, just like any awards ceremony. Because ballet is constantly changing, I needed to create categories that would allow flexibility, change and innovation. So, here are the categories that I felt represented the art form as a whole, and as a reflection of a company:

So without further ado… The Envelopes Please…

Best Premiere of a new work

The New York City Ballet, in PAZ de LA JOLLA, by choreographer Justin Peck. 

(Nominees: Daphnis and Chloe, Paris Opera, Choreographed by Millpied. Lest We Forget Program from English National Ballet)

 

Best Repertory for the season.

Headed by Benjamin Millpied and Bridgette Lefevre, Paris Opera Ballet once again had a ridiculous season including: La Dame Aux Camelias/Neumeier, Dances at a Gathering/Robins, Psyche/Ramatsky, Le Park/Prelojac, Notre-Dame De Paris/Petit, the Sleeping Beauty/Nureyev, Doux Mensonges/ Kylian, Daphnis and Chloe/Millpied,Orpheus and Eurydice/ Bausch just to name a few. During the season during Onegin, Amandine Albisson received her place as an etoiles for her role in Tatiana.

(Nominees: San Francisco Ballet, the New York City Ballet, National Ballet of Canada)

 

Best reprisal of a classic work.

This award goes to the Bolshoi Ballet in their rendition of Balanchine’s Jewels. With sets designed by Alyona Pikalova, Costumes by Elena Zaitseva and lighting by Maxim Fomchenkov, this production hands down belongs to them. Their rendition of Jewels is probably the best I have ever seen. This also won Olga Smirnova Prix Benois de la danse.

(Nominees: Houston Ballet’s Modern Masters, Queensland Ballet’s MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, Teatro La Scala for Serata Petit)

 

Technical Excellence from a company.

Amidst the craziness of the circus, Hamburg Ballet featuring Alina Cojocaru, the Hamburg Ballet’s strength shown through. Lilliom was performed in Orange County this February making their North American premiere, the world premiere was in 2011. John Neumeier’s choreography was not only innovating but showcased a ballet revolving around a man without having a million show off pirouettes. Not only was the work modern and innovative, but the entire companies’ classical background showed through and through, all seven scenes and a prologue.

(Nominees: National Ballet of Cuba, Vienna State Ballet, Dresdon Semproper Ballet)

 

Best Costuming for a performance 

This award goes to The Australian Ballet’s new production of Cinderella. The costumes and sets were designed by Jérôme Kaplan. The new production was choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky to the original Prokofiev Score.

 

Best Collaboration

Dutch National Ballet stole fashion week during the SS2014 Paris shows with their collaboration with Viktor & Rolf in Haute Couture. In addition, Dutch National Ballet has comprised numerous collaborations through out the 2013-2014 season like their premiere of the Tempest that included amazing collaborators, and their new moves program, and Dutch Doubles. Four choreographers were paired with four world-famous Dutch artists: fashion designers, photographers and musicians.

(Damian Woetzel, Artistic Director of the Vail International Dance Festival, Julia Adam’s for the Boathouse Project, )

 

Most Innovative Company.

San Francisco Ballet’s season took it home. While contemporary companies create new works constantly, innovation has to be supported with stability and diversity. San Francisco Ballet definitely hit it out of the park with Giselle, Wheeldon’s Cinderella, Ratmansky’s Trilogy, Borderlands by McGregor, Wheeldon’s Ghosts, and the premiere of a Liam Scarlett ballet, and a premiere from and Possokhov. Not to mention they threw in Balanchine, Robins for giggles. San Francisco Ballet also has continued their relationship Hamburg Ballet by hosting them as a part of their season.

(Tu Dance, Hamburg Ballet, Complexions, Eifman Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Prelojac)

 

Most Inspiring Company.

English National Ballet, headed by Tamara Rojo might just be the most inspiring ballet company in the world right now. With their previous innovations, despite their financial downfalls, the English National Ballet had an amazing season. Most noted I think was their performance at Glastonbury, which was breathtaking. It was a piece from their Lest We Forget program. You can actually watch the video online. Then they stunned audiences again at their Emerging Artists Competition with contemporary solos to die for. Raging reviews for not only the winners, but all of the competitors this past season.

(Miami City Ballet under Lourdes Lopez, Royal Ballet of Flanders )

 

Company Contribution to the World of Arts.

In the province of Dresdon it seems a lot is happening in dance, but this award goes to the Forsythe Company. Founded in 2005, after Ballett Frankfurt closed, this company has create new works that hope to survive for the next generation of artists. In addition, William Forsythe will be joining the faculty at University of Southern California in the fall of 2015. He is not the artistic director of the Forsythe Company. But, this international group of dancers has created and performed tremendously. As in the middle, somewhat elevated has survived hopefully this next crop of choreographers will be nurtured accordingly to contribute to ballet’s repertory.

(Ballet Black, the New York City Ballet because of Justin Peck)

 

New or Returning Presence to the International Ballet Community, 

The Korean National Ballet might just be joining the rest of the newer asian companies on the rise. Like National Ballet of China, Ballet Philippines and Hong Kong Ballet, Asian companies are on the rise. The Korean National Ballet is headed by former Stuttgart Principal Kang Sue Jin, and she is leading them artistic merits. With the way education is structured in Korea, it is surprising to find out that everyone in their company is a college graduate and didn’t join the company until their early 20’s, versus say other companies that hire 16-18 year olds. Their rosters are filled with tons of international dance winners, in fact 9-10 company members have medaled at an international dance competition.

Joburg Ballet (South Arica), Dance Theatre of Harlem, Pacific Northwest Ballet



 

Creating ten categories that reflect the nature of ballet companies, not individuals, was rather difficult.  The size of the company, the theatre residency, and location would not effect the final outcomes. Here is information on how I graded companies: I only looked at the 2013-2014 performance season, individual dancers within the company, and artistic achievement based on reviews and press releases. Social media did not influence the choices. It seriously has taken a month to compile information, read reviews, and watch as much as I could. So, without categories my list would be: The New York City Ballet, Paris Opera, Bolshoi, Hamburg, the Australian Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, English National Ballet, the Forsythe Company, Korean National Ballet.

I was not going to single out dancers, because there are other numerous prestigious dance awards out there that grade artistic merit. As European Ballerina’s pray for Prima Assoluta, Paris Opera dancers pray for Etoiles, people hope for the Princess Grace Awards or the Benois… The list goes on. But notably last season: Ogla Smirnova, James Whiteside, Evgenia Obrazsova, Hee Seo, Tiler Peck, and Sara Mearns all had pretty amazing seasons on the international stages. As Olga Smirnova isn’t even a principal yet, and Hee Seo just got her promotion last season they are two women to definitely watch. Evgenia Obraztsova makes her way next to other Russian powerhouses: Svetlana Zakharova, and Natalia Osipiva, Polina Semionova, and Diana Vishneva. Balanchine ballerinas Tiler Peck and Sara Mearns are both competing I think to be the star at NYCB. Both are crazy different in approach, body type and musicality, but watching them dance is addicting. Both have literally grown up on stage. James Whiteside definitely gets to be next to Roberto Bolle and Daniil Simkin at ABT, but rightfully so, he is stud on stage…  This year, I haven’t really seen any men that steal my heart… Well actually, the men of English National Ballet’s Emerging Artists were pretty amazing.

Also, as I just finished writing this I realized Royal Ballet didn’t really make anything… Truth me told I wasn’t impressed with their season, and because my anger at the Royal Ballet this blog was originally started… So…. Haha.

The Big Ten (international schools)

If this was college football, well it isn’t. Haha. This is bigger than college football, this is ballet. Like football there are ten schools that everyone wants to get into. The only thing bigger than the school you get into, is the company you might dance for as an end result. In comparison, these are the Ivies of the ballet world, and you do have to have top marks to get in. Who are we kidding, you have to have everything to get in… Like the Ivy League list… there are three schools that will always compete for number one in the world. International, and probably the most historical, they are the prestigious Paris Opera Ballet School, the Vaganova School, and the Royal Ballet School. It is hard to say which one of these schools is actually the best, because they are completely different styles, and create very different dancers. 1. Paris Opera Ballet School or to be accurate, Ecole de l’Opera National de Paris, is actually the oldest. The school itself is impossible to get into, and because they are state subsidized like most companies, they can be extremely picky on who they take. Not only is the training ridiculous, but it is based on a points system, and only top marks move on. Now, the bigger question… Why don’t we see a lot of French dancers in the US? The answer is simple, they were made to dance for Paris Opera, and if they don’t get in, they usually don’t want to dance for another company…. Or if they do, it is usually a cutting edge ballet company with a contemporary flare. Paris Opera Dancers can be spotted a mile away for their impeccable control of turn out, their specific style of arms (very relaxed), and their calm attack to ballet.

paris opera ballet boys

2. The Vaganova School… The fact that a style is named after them, or pedagogy, it should say something. Like Paris Opera everything is based on the rigorous challenge of first getting in. At the entrance exams not only is the child looked at, but radiographs of their bones, and their parents’ bodies are taken into consideration. This is to guess height, hip width, etc. The school itself is notarious via youtube for broadcasting their graduating class exams, in which students perform the most ridiculous barre and center combinations you will ever see. Regardless, go Russia. This can be seen because it seems that in Russia, everyone has beyond 180 turn out, ridiculous extensions, the soft arabesque arm and most importantly they have the most glorious necklines.

vaganova school boys arabesque

3. The Royal Ballet School, conveniently and beautifully located at Covent Garden. (Well truth be told all of the schools mentioned above are housed at the most glamorous places in the city.) Royal Ballet also has their particular style and thought process behind ballet, don’t confuse this with RAD (Royal Academy of Dance). The Royal Ballet school is known to recruit students from the YAGP, VARNA, IBC, the Prix de Lusanne and so forth. Usually, if a dancer enters the school from a big competition win, they end up in the company. One of the prizes at the Prix de Lusanne happens to be a company spot at Royal Ballet. Royal ballet is known for softer and subtle arms, romantic like arabesque placement, and meatier legs compared to the the two prior. royal ballet school graduating class

Now… are has an American School taken place number 4? Nope, I think not.

4. The Rest of the Russian Schools, take place number 4. This includes Bolshoi State Academy and St. Petersberg academy. Russia has definitely turned out powerhouses and they are proud of it. We should be thankful to them, and be more grateful that they don’t all come over to the US and audition for jobs, because then everyone would be unemployed. Hahah.

5. CPYB, if you don’t know what that stands for it is because they aren’t attached to a company. It stands for the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Headed and founded by Marcia Del Weary, CPYB seems to have the most active principals from a school in the US. The training is impeccable, and anyone can go. If you have a young son or daughter, send them there for a summer. They don’t audition. They accept everyone and turn everyone into a powerhouse dancer. Look at a lot of current American Ballerina’s bios… They are probably from CPYB…

6. School of American Ballet, or the notorious SAB. Founded by Balanchine, and the school of New York City Ballet, this might be argued as one of the hardest schools to get into. And they are known for one thing, the Balanchine Aesthetic. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the school, like Vaganova, Royal and Paris Opera, there is a very specific style. How can you spot an Balanchine or SAB dancer? Their hands (the claw), their crazy turn out, the way they take their bow (they break to 3/4 pointe and turn in), and their aggressive attack on musicality. Most of the dancers from School of American Ballet will find a job in another Balanchine like company.

7. NBS, Canada’s National Ballet School, the feeder school to National Ballet of Canada. Housed at the newly remodeled Celia Franca Center, NBS is known for creating extremely artistic and articulate dancers. What is really nice about this school is their Post-Secondary education program. This program is for dancers who have already graduated from school but need that one or two years of refinement, strengthening, and preparation for company life. In the US we call it second companies, but in reality a second company is a free corps. This is an actual program for dancers to utilize.

8. The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, also known as JKO. It is a newer school compared to the rest. In fact it was founded in 2004. It is the school to American Ballet Theatre and headed by Franco De Vita. This school is ridiculously known for their bravura dancers. Like most American schools now, the emphasis on turns and jumps are stressed here. The JKO school partnered with ABT’s Misty Copeland have started Project Plie, a program to help young minorities get the training they need to succeed in the dance world.

9. San Francisco Ballet School, so it was a toss up between the following schools because each are incredible: San Francisco Ballet School, Pacific Northwest Ballet School, and Boston Ballet School. Each one is extremely unique and satisfying for any young dancer. It is also convenient that they are spread across the US. You might be thinking, well if you are going to group those schools you should also at Houston Ballet Academy, Miami City Ballet School, and maybe even Orlando Ballet School…. Wrong. You probably are thinking they are on the same level because their companies are on that same middle field. You are quite wrong. Their schools are incredibly different, and San Francisco, Boston and PNB are known for creating extraordinary dancers. Their dancers all are usually very classically based, with a touch of Balanchine in moderation. These schools push their kids extremely hard, and if they don’t join the company the actively seek work for them at other companies. ????????

10. Again, I have to lump these schools into a group because I like to call them the flashy schools. The Rock School for Dance Education and the Joffrey Ballet School. Both of these schools are very public and active in seeking students through the media. In addition, they strive for competitive edges in the ballet world. The Rock School probably has the most competitors at the YAGP, and usually they finish well. Joffrey actively seeks multi-faceted, and genre-versatile dancers into their school. So, there it is…. my Top Ten (ish) ballet schools in the world. I was going to include Denmark’s because of the Bournonville style, but realistically, the school doesn’t produce as many dancers as the others. I judge a school by the dancers they produce, the technique that they teach, and how many of their students go on to get jobs. That is the important thing here…