It”s a New Year…

Hello readers! Wishing you the best this new year! 

For those of you who are students, best of luck with your summer program auditions. And for those of you who are dancers, merde for the spring season. And, for those of you who simply enjoy ballet and this blog, I hope this year brings everything you have wanted.

Where to begin… where to begin… Let’s see… Today is the one year anniversary of my dad’s passing, so I have had a lot of time to reflect. The kind of reflection that should happen more often, but life sometimes gets in the way. Recently, I was looking at my itinerary for the upcoming fashion calendar and I realized that I don’t want to be in fashion much longer. Don’t get me wrong… The perks are great, the traveling is amazing, and you are surrounded by the most beautiful of things… But, as I was sitting there reading, I realized that I would rather be working in ballet. So, this is the year I am dedicating to transition out of fashion and back into ballet, specifically public relations, marketing, communication and sales… I have put out a few resumés, so we shall see.

So, enough about me… There are some exciting things going on in the dance world right now. The first is that two principal male prodigies have started to steer the course of ballet into a new direction. The first is Daniil Simkin, the Vienna prodigy at American Ballet Theatre with his project: Intensio. This project combines high caliber ballet dancers, with headlining reputations and innovative digital media. (click here to read more) The second of the men is Jeffrey Cirio, a principal dancer with Boston Ballet. The Cirio Collective is spearheaded by this young prodigy, and basically is creating space for dancers to take movement into their own hands. Their first season premier this summer. Dancers really don’t get to explore much on their own as they have the Artistic Director’s vision to carry out… This new collective I hope will eventually grow, and will become an innovative contemporary company based out of Boston. (Click here, and like their page on Facebook).

Principal dancers around the world though seem to be creating their own spaces. They are creating their own galas, realizing that their social media presence, and name alone can sell out a theatre. Roberto Bolle, Diana Vishneva are prime examples… I wouldn’t be surprised if Maria Kotchekova soon heads her own project. Former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan has joined Dance Spirit Magazine as a featured writer/editor. Her youtube and wordpress basically exploded last year, and has landed her a spot in publishing. (I am actually surprised this didn’t happen sooner.) Dance Magazine named their 25 to watch… If you didn’t know what this list was… It basically selects dancers and choreographers from around the world, and basically dubs careers to fame… Hee Seo, Leta Biasucci and others have graced the list.

Other fun new things this year? Paris Opera Ballet under Benjamin Millepied basically has given us access to behind the scenes of Paris Opera Ballet like never before… Thank you social media.

On the downside, this year is going to be echoed with retirements… But as we are saddened to see such artists take leave, don’t fret because a new generation of ballet dancers are coming into their own and they soon will be the names everyone is talking about, if people aren’t already talking about it… So here are some predictions for 2015… Hope they come true *fingers crossed*

Misty Copeland gets promoted to Principal at American Ballet Theatre.. Seriously, I think everyone is done waiting.

NYCB’s: Lauren Lovette and Savannah Lowery make exceptional debuts and are brought to rank of principal. (I don’t know who they will knock out of the principal role, but with Wendy retired… money has to be available right?)

Justin Peck makes an even larger contribution to the world of ballet… Seriously… He is probably the one we are all watching the closest right now, especially after he premiers in the documentary about his work…

oh, and David King, takes on the world of ballet in a greater capacity than this blog. Haha.

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10 Things Ballet Students Should Have…

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

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

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

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

How to get through a summer program audition…

So, what is the secret to getting through a summer program audition?

easy answer: be good.

If you are thinking, “WTF?” Then you probably aren’t ready for a summer program. Sorry not sorry? Just kidding. But, on a more serious note, you do have to be technically sound for your age. As directors leading auditions, they do take in to consideration: body type, technical ability, work ethic, musicality which unfortunately out weighs potential and love of ballet.

So, if you are ready to audition for a summer program here are some tips:

1. Make sure you do exactly what they ask with port de bras. This includes the preparation. Just because at your school they do a different one, and it is probably engrained into your body, it doesn’t matter. You have to do exactly what they ask. Listen to key words while the teacher is giving the combination; like accent, slice, long, expand. These are qualities, subtle nuances and tips they are basically feeding you. This is what they are looking for.

2. Your audition class is not a warm up. Make sure you get there early enough to stretch, warm up, and basically do a little barre work prior to the audition. Yes, as barre during training is used to warm up and get on your leg… Audition classes are far from that. And as much as people say to just try your best, and relax, the pressure is immense. When auditions say this is just another class, they are basically lying to you because this class will determine whether or not you get in, and get a scholarship…

3. Presentation is everything. I am not talking about port de bras. I’m not talking about musicality, I am talking about what you are wearing. Find a leotard that is super flattering, make sure your tights don’t have holes, and clean up your ballet shoes.  Make sure your hair is performance quality, and a little make up wouldn’t hurt either.

4. Don’t over do it. Don’t be one of this kids in the audition who “feels” the music, and is giving us swan lake realness, or Giselle drama in class… This is dancing, not acting. There is nothing worse than an affected dancer. Directors want to see clean technique so they can mold you into what they want. You have to be pliable both physically, mentally and musically.

5. Don’t starve yourself before an audition. It doesn’t help you. Make sure the night before, or the morning before you get enough protein, and prior to the class make sure you have taken enough carbs in to get you through the class at 110%.

6. Try not to compare yourself. I mean, everyone sizes up the competition in the room, but just because she has leg up during warm up, doesn’t mean she has clean technique. Or if you see a girl obsessively stretching her feet, when she has beautiful feet, she might just only have… Beautiful feet. And definitely ignore the girl wearing the white leotard when the audition clearly asked for black leotard.

7. The most important thing in an audition is to become unforgettable. In a good way. You want to make a great impression on whoever is judging the class. For example, if they give you a correction, don’t just stand there and nod, actually do the correction a few times to show you are getting it into your body. My thing was always in plies, to look supper effortless, and that moment right before you grand plie, looking the director right in the eyes slightly smiling. Tendus, well I don’t have Alessandra Ferri feet, so I would just try to do exactly what they asked. Whether it be over articulation of the foot, precise accents, over crossed, lifting to come in, the list goes on, but basically trying to do exactly what they were looking for. Then I would try to make an impression during frappes but being super precise and trying to leave the “strike” out there as long as possible. Tendus at center was another chance to make an impression because you can be super musical and elongated. Adagio was always a plus for me as a boy since leg up was easier than turning. Pirouettes I would stick to a clean triple. Definitely was not one of the boys cranking out a million turns. Then petit allegro would be another chance for me to make an impression by being super exact, hitting tight fifths every time, and then beating absurdly. Grand allegro was not my thing either, so I tried my best, and double tours, well, needless to say I would try to make them as clean as possible.

Ballet… What’s the skinny? 5 Misconceptions about women in ballet.

Photo by RJ LUNA. LINES.
Photo by RJ LUNA. LINES.

(So, after going a month without publishing a blog post, and watching how the month of November would shape up in terms of readers, a lot of people asked me to talk about body types… In specific the female body type.)

Here we go, another fun five facts about ballet: 5 misconceptions about the women in ballet.

With iconic movies like Center Stage and Black Swan, it seems that when it comes to ballet dancers, the world associates it eating disorders. Sure, as flattering as that may be, associating ballet with skinny… Well, lets just look at the reality of ballet…

1. Anorexia and Bulimia… the eating disorders. Myth. Whoever just eats a salad all day and has to dance a three act ballet must have magical muscles or some sh!t because, a salad would barely get me through rehearsal, yet alone a performance. Most professional ballet dancers are far from anorexic, they can’t be. With the amount of energy burned while dancing, if they didn’t eat… they would end up dead in the middle of a ballet performance. Now, if we are talking about students… that is a different story. It is hard for any child, male or female to be in ballet. And somewhere around age 11, everything start to build up. From ages 11-14 you are told that this is your moment to make it into a professional school. With the pressure and anxiety of parents, and teachers pushing girls into the workforce so young, bulimia becomes a way to control something… I mean their careers aren’t in their hands. In addition, their bodies are changing and when they were constantly told that is just baby fat, and it doesn’t go away… and then chests develop… well, young impressionable girls take it to the extreme… and boys for that matter. Eventually, as puberty ends, and adult bodies begin to take shape, more dancers get a control of their body and understand what foods work and don’t work for them. What makes them feel bloated and what makes them feel good and energetic. Also the reality is, dancers have to be in top condition, which means they have to have extreme muscle toning. Asking your leg to go up super high and hold it in a la second is hard, but doing that while hungry and while your muscles are deprived from the proper nutrients… good luck…

2. Ballet dancers are tall. kind of a myth. Most female ballet dancers are between 5’3″ and 5’5″, and if you dance for NYCB or older PNB… then you might be 5″7-5’9″… the majority of ballet dancers both male and female are on the shorter side. It is why tall men are celebrated, because that means tall women can be employed. What makes ballet dancers look so tall is he ability to isometrically move, and moving on the diagonal. It is like that optical illusion with a diagonal line and a horizontal line the exact same length, but asking which one is longer. It is why balanchine over crossed for the sake of aesthetic, and why efface is so flattering in arabesque. Probably why students aren’t allowed to have pictures on the diagonal.

3. Ballet girls are stuck up prudes… maybe a myth. I don’t know about you, but this idea that all ballet dancers are these wholesome ethereal creatures… I don’t know what summer programs you went to, or what year round schools you went to… buuuuut give a ballet girl the chance to get turnt… she’ll take it. Which is why I endorse not sending your kid to a professional school till sixteen, kids definitely need more supervision these days. (I work at the school district… I know.) As far as the stuck up part goes, I don’t know if it is because ballet is privileged extra curricular, I mean the costs are obscene… So, it could be that upper middle class attitude? Then again what teenager doesn’t get turnt up these days?

4. Ballerinas are black swan crazy. This might just be a little true. Everyone in ballet has to be a little OCD… I mean they are killing themselves doing the same thing over and over and over… trying to be perfect, knowing that it is impossible. That is just self punishment. Will they go kill themselves in the middle of a performance via Natalie Portman status… probably not. Will they go all Maureen on us and disappear minutes before the curtain goes up… doubtful, especially if you are the lead.

5. Ballerinas are fragile, delicate princesses. Not true. Women in ballet are just as ferocious as the men in ballet. In fact, they are probably more ferocious. Women in ballet attack performances, fearlessly and push through injury, women in ballet are fierce. If you look at their muscle tone, they are crazy ripped, and probably could fall of their bike, and still dance swan lake.

the nuttiness of nutcracker…

I have posted many posts about Nutcracker, but I am going to do a couple more before the season is over haha:

http://aballeteducation.com/2014/07/08/too-many-claras-and-every-little-girls-dream/

http://aballeteducation.com/2014/08/24/the-beast-that-is-the-nutcracker/

http://aballeteducation.com/2014/09/16/awful-realities-of-the-nutcracker/

While the Nutcracker is a holiday tradition, for dancers it might just be the ballet that pushes them over the edge.  For dancers in smaller companies, Nutcracker season means longer rehearsals, and being over used.  On any given night, a female corps dancer might go through 3 costumes changes.  Unfortunately, there really isn’t any room to complain, because Nutcracker pays the bills. For stage managers and lighting designers, Nutcracker basically runs itself. And for those in PR and Marketing, Nutcracker sells tickets on its own… unless you are pnb whose ticket sales are down, hence why they are ditching the Stowell/Sendak version and going Balanchine.

5 Nutty Things that happen in productions of the Nutcracker:

  1. Have you ever noticed in the Balanchine Version, that music from the Sleeping Beauty is used between party and battle scene? Or the opening score of Snow is wasted on a moving bed? If you didn’t know how that happens… usually there is someone underneath crawling and spinning it around… Awkward I know. Casting sheet:

Bed:  Your name.

  1. The corps is like a well oiled machine… The corps has so many parts to dance during Nutcracker… and the fun part? They usually don’t dance the same spot twice. These girls go from party scene, to snow without being warmed up, and then dance in flowers. Usually the casting board has the act, scene, and roles, but for the corps it might go by numbers and one night you might be dancing girl one, and the next night you might be dancing girl eight. I guess it gives you some variety…
  2. Sugar Plum pas de deux might just be one of the longest pas de deuxs out there. The variation is ridiculously long, etc.
  3. Have you ever noticed that Clara and the Nutcracker in the Royal Ballet’s version must have to chug a redbull before their performance. They dance in like every variation and flowers…
  4. Finally, sometimes I watch productions of nutcracker and I am like wtf is this… random ugly costumes… non cohesive storylines… over rehearsed tired dancers… or my favorite… bringing in guest artists for the leads from major companies, because no one in your company can fill the role… or you would rather have a “name” for the sake of selling tickets.

The Boston Ballerinas

Boston Ballet sometimes gets overlooked when it comes to referencing iconic Bostonian things… What this historic New England town boasts in historic landmarks, American history, the ICA, Harvard Yard, their baseball team, and the home of the current season of Top Chef. What people forget about is their ballet company. While, New Yorkers and Bostonians have a long time rivalry, and with Boston Ballet recently making their appearance at Lincoln Center… Boston Ballet proves once again to be a standing rival against the New York Ballerinas. Not to mention ABT’s studly James Whiteside was a former principal with Boston Ballet. Now what people tend to forget is that currently, Boston Ballet boasts a roster of principals to die for. Of these principals, 9 of them I have seen dance live, and they are all mind blowing. While their men are fantastic, dynamic and to say the least were all prodigies… Their women might just be the most dynamic primas in the US.

Don’t get me wrong, there are stunning women in every company. And if this was the oscars and we were nominating for the best prima in the US, many women would dazzle us in the category. But, after a lot of thought and many hours on youtube, the women of Boston Ballet have won me over. Specifically, Kathleen Breen Combes, Lia Cirio, Ashley Ellis, Whitney Jensen and Misa Kuranaga and here is why.

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Ironically dancing the tall girl role in Rubies, she is only 5’4″ #legsfordays

Kathleen Breen Combes, she is has to be the epitome of a ballerina. Everything about her says BALLET. With legs for days, and pale skin, glowing eyes, makes her mesmorizing. She was already hailed as one of the great American Ballerinas, and I couldn’t give her enough praise. From soft romantic roles, to full length classics, to her technical rigor in Balanchine ballets. She possesses something charming that I think would inspire most young girls. As her ballet career has been followed closely from her 2003 win of The Lefkowitz Award for Special Achievement, which she won after being eliminated from the competition, to her time at Washington Ballet, to her contract with Boston Ballet and skyrocketing through the ranks, to her injury, she is everything. Standing at 5’4″ but looking 5’10” on stage, she is everything you think of a classical ballet dancer. 

Lia Cirio in Jose Martinez’s Resonance.
Lia Cirio in Jose Martinez’s Resonance.

Then there is Lia Cirio, who I think is the epitome of what a modern day ballerina is. With her fierce intensity, and ferocious attack, she gives me life. Her attention to detail, her performance quality and her well… those hyper extended legs make everything. With an arabesque for days, and her athletic physique it makes for a combination of modernity and classic ballet. While her acting skills are praised highly, her technical ability is flawless which makes for the perfect combination on stage. Her jump is for days, but matched with passion. Another ballerina with a high profiled career, Lia Cirio is definitely one who will not be forgotten. As she continually grows as an artist, pushing herself, it makes me excited for BB’s Swan Lake Reviews.

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Ken Browar & Deborah Ory for NYC Dance Project.

Ashley Ellis. Mmmm, my first memory of her was in Southern California, and I was training at South Bay Ballet. She had come to take class while still at American Ballet Theatre. Having watched videos of her, her reputation preceded her having won the Spotlight Awards. (Side note, Lia Cirio’s reputation was echoed everywhere at CPYB, but never saw her there but once, and not in class.) So, in class her beautiful legs extended into the air and I died a little. So, after stalking her while at American Ballet Theatre, I often wondered why she was never promoted… Then, she moved to Angel Corella’s company and was a soloist, but I feel like that wasn’t a fit for her. Then she came back to the states and flourished at Boston Ballet. I think everything about her dancing changed, and this new and different maturity came out in her dancing, and I fell in love all over again. She has this simple sincerity to her dancing that is ever so enchanting.

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Whitney Jensen… So young, so talented… We know her from well, everywhere. From her win of the hope award at the YAGP at 11, to her win at Varna… she was definitely one to watch and well… it paid off. From a very young age she showed control and constraint, as some young dancers get into the moment and whack everything… But she has always been in control. Known for her technical ability to turn… and turn, she is beyond exotic in the face but has come into her own. As she has grown at Boston Ballet her unique charisma has grown to be intoxicating, always leaving you wanting more.

w-misa-kuranaga

So, a while ago… a friend of mine was going to Harvard and said he had just saw the sleeping beauty and one of the faeries stole the spotlight. I assumed it was going to be Lilac, but when he said canary… I asked how could a 30 second variation steal prologue? He said her name is Something Kamamasdfadf something. Now, everyone knows her name. Finding the perfect partner in Jeffrey Cirio, Misa Kuranaga has grown to flourish in everything. From her graduation performance at School of American Ballet, to growing with Boston Ballet, she has become everything. With her luscious turn out, gracious technical ability, ridiculously precise musicality, and her understanding of character roles, she becomes a different dancer in every role all while giving us arabesque.

So, that sums up these dynamic women who I can’t give enough praise to. Merde as they take on Swan Lake!!

The Life Cycle of a Ballet Dancer…

The life of a ballet dancer is frail and delicate, just like a butterfly. A butterfly’s lifespan is usually about a year, and within that year they have come and gone. It is sad, but true. The longevity of a ballet dancer is very short, and like the butterfly it happens in four phases.

1. The Egg. It is where it all begins. Somewhere in the world, you saw someone dance and something manifested inside of you to become a dancer. Or, you were forced into ballet classes and the music became a part of your life. Regardless, you were probably a turned in little girl, prancing up and down pretending to be a butterfly at some point in your dancing. They are the best videos to watch, I mean even Wendy Whelan was a bumble bee. Whatever you were, something started this transformation and after a little while you enter the next phase…

2. The Caterpillar. As a serious ballet student now, you are slowly inching your way through, class after class, year after year. We spend our time traveling across the US from one school to the next, one summer program after another. Hoping and praying that you will find the right school, attached to a company, for you to settle into. As a caterpillar, or student you feel hopeless. That the world of ballet is so big and vast, and that the hopes of you becoming this stunning butterfly seems far, far away. The hours you spend in front of the mirror being hypercritical on yourself, and taking a mental beat down makes the journey seem impossible. You see others around you getting eaten alive, and forgotten. Others are quitting and just giving up on the journey. Then there are others who get injured and they are taken out of the process, but you still keep persevering. And once you are exhausted, once you are about to collapse, a change inside you happens.

3. The Chrysalis, the cocoon. You find yourself at a professional school, and there you will spend the next few years training harder than ever, knowing that once you make it to the other side, there is a whole future out there. You realize that there are 20 other kids with the same dream, at the same school, but you know that if you work hard enough, if you push further, that you will have that much more of a chance. Once you are in a pre professional, professional division, trainee, second company or apprentice, it only seems like moments before you are going to be a butterfly… While you are hidden away, while you are so inside yourself, something mentally now happens. The stress of becoming an adult sets in, and you realize, your journey is really just beginning. You now have to break through the cocoon you cherished and worked so hard to protect. You have to break through company auditions, a year end performance, where it seems that your entire life is going to depend on. While not everyone is cut out to break through, somehow you manage to and become:

4. A Butterfly. Yup, it finally happens. You join a company, and you and your kaleidoscope (a group of butterflies) are set to take on the world. But, as butterfly’s lifespan is short, so are the career spans of ballet dancers. You have worked so hard, and now you have to work even harder. Not just for yourself, but you have to work harder because now everyone is counting on your work ethic. Your colleagues, your family are dropping out left and right due to injury, or they aren’t hired back. And you now are worried the same might happen to you. It is beyond stressful. All you want to do is focus on your dancing but the real world is constantly throwing jabs. As you are killing yourself in the corps, you hope that soon your artistic director will take notice of you and give you the chance to become a soloist. Take on the roles you have been dreaming of since a child. Yup, that sounds about right, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, the road to become a dancer seems hopeless and impossible. And once you do make it, it seems almost impossible to get promoted. With the physical strain your body has endured you think, god I hope I get promoted before my knee blows, or some other random injury creeps in. With a career so short, why are dancers so underpaid? Dancers justify their low pay by saying, “well, I get to do what I love.” Keep telling yourself that. As companies are trying to transition dancers into college, and university, or careers after… The reality is, dancers are faced with either staying in the corps, or making their way into college. Dancers get certified in pilates, or will start teaching to supplement their income. Unless you are at a huge company, the reality is dancers are horribly underpaid. Unlike Europe, dance is not supported by the state. Ballet companies are supported through small grants, and individual donations which is why it is important for ballet to get the exposure it deserves.

While you can’t buy a dancer for $100,000 and keep it hanging on your wall, you can invest in the future of ballet, so that a company can become a family heirloom. Recently, Lily Cole (one of my favorite models) posted a video on IG of her backstage watching Carlos Acosta and Natalia Opsiova take their curtain call for Manon. This made me realize that ballet just might be the center of the arts, but the most underfunded. Ballet is the combination of the geniuses behind music, choreography, lighting and set design, costume design, and the finesse of the human body. So, again, why is it so under supported? Is it because tickets are expensive? That artistic director’s might be getting more than you think? Who knows? So, if you are reading this, and wondering why your child might not have a career, it is because there is no funding. So, if you want to make sure your child will have a place to dance, make sure you are supporting your local company. This could be volunteering, donating money, or as simple as buying a ticket to a performance.

Some of the ugly truths about ballet… and then some.

While some of you readers who stumble upon my blog call me sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, racist and other words … Let us set the record straight about ballet, and the art that we so love and adore…

sexism
1: prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially :  discrimination against women
2behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex
Discrimination based on sex… while, I don’t know about you but ballet is very sexist… The roles in ballet that are very set; the mannerisms are very set, and the story lines are all heterosexual. While one commenter did point out that if someone had any misconceptions or preconceived notions about ballet they should go see one (which I agree with)… the reality is to see a ballet in middle america is kind of difficult, quite expensive, and what would they be seeing on stage. Oh that’s right, all story ballets are sexist. Men are doing bravura jumps and turns, while women are being delicate and soft.
misogynist
noun
a person who hates, dislikes, mistrusts, ormistreats women.
If ballet is woman, according to Balanchine, well I don’t even know where this sentence is going because I can’t begin to fathom how that one applies to me. But, as a fashion editor, and as a gay man, not sure how that works out. In the world of ballet, I wouldn’t call it misogyny, but the reality is that all of the women in the classical works are helpless, or die, or need saving of some sort. Maybe Raymonda is more along the lines of of heroic role in ballet for women.
Homophobic 
:  irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals
As a gay man, I must hate everyone like me, and myself. I don’t know of a ballet that endorses homosexuality besides the Matthew Bourne ballets, but those are standards. (To clarify, the blog post about male ballet dancers was titled: 5 Misconceptions. So, while all of you gay men were offended… the reality is NOT ALL MALE BALLET DANCERS ARE GAY.) Not to mention the entire Tony winning musical, and movie Billy Elliot is basically all about homophobia in ballet… So to say and I quote from a comment that I didn’t publish, “To say that men (male) ballet dancers have a reputation of being gay is absurd.” Well… I don’t know what utopian society you live in, but the majority of people don’t.
Racist
:  a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
Ballet, is probably one of the most discriminatory of all the art forms. Hence why Misty Copeland is getting so much publicity. The reality is there is a lack of ethnic dancers, and type casting happens. Not to mention the roles in Nutcracker which I explained in another blog. Or why Russians still use blackface… It doesn’t get any more racist than that… Not to mention that racism that happens within the art form itself, like casting… You can count on your hands the number of Black Principal dancers in Major Ballet Companies. If there wasn’t racism within ballet, we wouldn’t need Ballet Black, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, or Dance Theatre of Harlem. So, before you go pointing the finger saying I am racist, take a step back, and look at you, look at the company you dance in and count the ratio of whites/passable white to ethnic.
There is one thing I won’t tolerate being called and that is racist. Every year when Nutcracker came I was cast in Chinese… When I was at CPYB I was called Oriental, and that isn’t one of my most fond memories. And being in huge ballet school like CPYB where there were 4 asian students, and one black student was not fun either. Especially because I grew up in a very low income, very ethnically diverse, amazing community neighborhood. Not to mention I am adopted from Korea, by white parents and I have brothers and sisters from India, Bangledesh, Korea, Africa, and so on… I do not like being called a racist when the university I went to had a racist demonstration and every mirror had a sign that said you can’t wash the race off your skin, which the protest was started by dancers… So, before going around writing on someone’s blog that they are racist… get your facts straight.
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So, while everyone is judging my blog, I would like everyone to take a moment and think what you are doing to change ballet…. What are you doing besides dancing to contribute to the greater good and image of ballet. While Misty Copeland is taking one for the team, while Hee Seo continually has to prove herself among the principals at ABT, while I drive around and dictate to Siri about misconceptions about male ballet dancers… What are you doing?
If you aren’t doing anything to change the way the world views ballet, or how casting and promotions happen, you aren’t helping. While you are in the theatre, or in the studio working, when is the last time you decided to volunteer at a boys and girls club and teach free ballet classes to equalize racial equality in ballet? When is the last time, you as a male ballet dancer, went to go teach a free class so kids can see a male ballet dancer? I follow a lot of people on IG, and stalk people when I can’t sleep, so while you are on breaks and vacationing through Europe and Australia…. I am teaching free summer camps at title one schools in Southern California. And when I have free time, I am teaching at numerous title one schools, and giving workshops on how to go about in the world of dance and using education as a vessel to a part of the art form.
Now that I have defended myself, I am going to shed some light on some more taboo things about ballet…
Frail and weak… As I said that it is a common misconception about ballet that men are viewed as frail and weak like girls… I was slammed for that… But, ironically in Giselle Act II, the whole purpose is to look ghostly, ethereal and frail… In addition, second act Swan Lake calls for vulnerability, not to mention she is incapable of saving herself… Sleeping Beauty act II calls for the dream scene when she is basically begging the prince to come find her and save her. Cinderella is basically a servant needing a man to save her from poverty… So… the ballets in which we are portraying aren’t saying a lot either. Isn’t that the problem with most fairytales today and modern day feminists. I wonder what Mayim Bialik would say about the story lines of ballet? LOL.
Now, if we are going to talk about other taboo things… We can talk about weight, and body type and the severe ideal that artistic director’s promote. Which I have talked about numerous times through out this blog… Artistic Directors… they hold the power to change ballet, but they don’t. They aren’t changing the body type of ballet, and in fact they are just making it worse. They aren’t changing the racial demographics because they are lazy and don’t want to give out scholarships to a smaller children and nurture their students. They would rather scholarship prix winners to make their school look better and hope that they will eventually feed into the company. Currently, of the standing major ballet companies’ artistic directors I can really only applaud Peter Boal, and Tamara Rojo for changing the image of a company. I can not sing enough praises to those two. I raved about the two of them in other posts.
Not to mention that the majority of ADs are men… So, before you go around throwing the finger at me… shouldn’t you be looking at the source? Everyone blames or calls the modern day body type in ballet the “balanchine” body type… but everyone else endorsed it. If ADs were truly concerned about the image of ballet, then wouldn’t they change it?
With all this being said, I truly do hope that before you comment on my blog, or on facebook or other social media… I hope you are coming from the right place and making an education accusation. You can’t win over everyone, on another note- I would like to thank the 70,000+ viewers of my Manly Ballet… 5 misconceptions about male ballet dancers. And I would like to thank hitting over 1 million readers in 4 months. I appreciate it all.

Arabesque.

 

The Position That Makes Ballet, well ballet…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Higher isn’t always better.

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

Tilting your hip is really just for side extension.

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

Your spinal chord can’t be compromised…

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

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

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

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

 

Raymonda… wtf

Seriously, wtf. In the world of ballet, there are tons of ballets that have been forgotten: the Pharaoh’s Daughter, Harlequinade, Les Saisons, and Le Daible Amoureux/Satanella (most noted for the Carnival de Venice Pas de deux). Regarldess, ballets become irrelevant, and forgotten about, maybe snippets and excerpts survive. Then there is Raymonda… Raymonda is the gigantic beast of a ballet. Longer than the full length Sleeping Beauty, the full length Raymonda consists of 3 acts and 4 scenes, and apotheosis. No wonder why it died, who could sit through all of that? Not to mention, that it kills the ballerina… She has four/five variations, depending on the production. No only does she have an absurd task of carrying an entire ballet, but her plethora of variations are some of the most difficult variations ever.

In Act 1, she has two variations. The first is the pizzicato variation which is light, charming but still rather difficult with all of the hops on pointe. Then in the same act she is challenged with the vision variation involving a long piece of fabric.

Then in Act 2 she has the pas d’action variation she has to conquer the “big” variation. This is the adagio variation that many girls use for competition because of the control a ballerina has to have. Seriously… if you don’t know what I am talking about go watch it via youtube. She then has another variation in the later scene of the act that has a bunch of dazzling turns, and a punch of entrechatquatres on pointe… Yeah, if that wasn’t enough…

Then in Act 3 she has her clapping variation, which kind of requires the ballerina to have good feet. The variation mainly consists of bourres and some feisty passes, but I mean after all of that dancing what else can you do on pointe…  Yeah it is kind of insane.

The variations are difficult enough, but there is quite a bit of dancing for the other leads as well. Raymonda is like this huge hodge podge of everything in classical ballet. Most people really only the pas de dix, or the Balanchine version that uses the same music for a corps and one couple. And thank god, there is are so many character dances. I have never seen it full length but own two different DVD versions, and every time I try to sit down and watch it all the way through… I fall asleep.

So, what is so special about Raymonda, and why do young girls still do the variations on the international competition stage? Well, I am glad you asked… Well, you didn’t… But I think what makes these variations special is that they are a part of a bigger picture.  As Swan Lake challenges the ballerina to be dynamic in two ways, Raymonda challenges the ballerina in five ways. Additionally, each variation is quite challenging, not because there are 5, but because each variation is exceptionally long compared to most variations. In the 3rd act variation, Raymonda now has a sense of maturity, authority and because the majority of the variation is bourres the ballerina has to be enchanting. In the big variation of act 2, the ballerina has to posses a weightless quality that is effortless and charming. Not to mention we all want to see leg up!

Also, in the supporting role of Henriette, 3 masterful variations are presented as well. In act one a long difficult and delicate variation is presented. In act 2, a sultry and provocative variation is delivered. And finally, in the third a playful spritely variation is executed.

Redlands Dance Theatre

Hello Readers, Fans, Haters and General Public…

I appreciate all of the support I have gotten from you all. And now, I am here to ask a small favor of you. I am in the process of opening up a ballet company and school in the Inland Empire, where I live… And I need your help… We all know ballet is expensive, and that ballet companies have a huge turn over, but I believe I truly do know ballet, and understand the world of ballet today. I think a lot of you would agree with me since you are following my blog… Regardless, if you could please share the information below on your social media, e-mail blasting your contacts, and so forth, I would greatly and humbly appreciate it.

Redlands Dance Theatre is a ballet school and company that is going to be opened by David King. If you are interested in supporting this ballet company and school please check out our campaign and website!

Currently, we hold our non profit EIN, and in the process/waiting for our 501(c)(3)

http://www.gofundme.com/e69zbk

www.RedlandsDanceTheatre.org

Thank you again for all of the love,

David King

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.

Awful Realities of the Nutcracker

Sugar Plums: 5 Awful Realities of the Nutcracker

(The list of 5 Reasons why the Nutcracker won’t ever go away can be found by clicking here.)

Sugared plums are probably one of the nastiest tasting confections known to mankind, but the reality is they are beautiful. They possess a kind of quality fit for a ballet. And just like the ballet, Nutcracker is probably one of the nastiest, politically incorrect ballets. But, we still take our kids year after year anyways… I don’t know if Balanchine purposefully tried to avoid the racism by renaming the variations, but somehow racism it still made made its way into the choreography of the ballet. As a strong believer that dance/ballet is a reflection of humanity, it scares me that we have not evolved passed racial stereotypes. So, in honor of all of the Nutcracker stuff that is going around… 5 Awful Realities of the Nutcracker.

  1. Behold the glory of second act… Or the racism that is the second act. As progressive as dancers are, we still allow racist movements within the ballets. Chinese is ridiculous, and Arabian is hyper sexualized when in modern day reality, women are oppressed. Does anyone even know why Spanish is called hot chocolate? Hot chocolate was “invented” by the Aztecs and Mayans. Yup, there is a lot of racism. Not to mention the male glory of Russian, and the exuding of machismo testosterone.
  2. The entirety of Nutcracker is basically based on a psychological complex: projecting fantasies on to doll, Drosselmeier is just creepy in general and her parents don’t play a role in her life.
  3. Am I the only one who is concerned that flowers is not a confection? In the second act, a lot of versions have tried avoiding the race card by renaming the variations after confections, except waltz…
  4. Nutcracker really does not make sense. Yeah, I said it. The two act ballet really could be summed up into one act, but the fantasy of act 2 gets the best of us. Sometimes I feel like we should actually just cut the entire first act except snow, and turn act 1 into a shorter abridged prologue… Dads would be happier if act 1 was shorter.
  5. Finally, it always astounds me that the casting of Nutcracker. Nutcracker has to be the most politically incorrect ballet when it comes to casting. I guess for all white companies, it really doesn’t matter, but for those who are asian will probably always get cast as chinese, and for those who are ethnic, spanish… It is sad. I remember one time we were doing Balanchine’s version of Nutcracker and one of my best friends and I were in the same cast… (he is black) and the two of us were pointed out that we dance spanish corps the best and I quote, “They aren’t even European. He is oriental.” As she pointed at me. That day was the day I decided that I truly would have to dance ten times harder to even be noticed for my dancing.

As Nutcracker rehearsals are around the corner, I wonder what other racist things will be said to impressionable children?

Stay tuned for the 5 best Nutcracker productions.

The Craziness that is Giselle

Most ballets can be summed up in one word.

Swan Lake: Dramatic

Corsaire: Pirates

La Bayadere: Sexy

Nutcracker: Whimsical

and then there is Giselle: Tragedy.

Giselle is the ultimate tragedy. It is the ballet of a love scorn woman and the fiery that comes to haunt cheating men. The story of Giselle is summed up in two short sweet acts that showcase a ballerina in all her glory. In Act 1 Giselle comes out as a wide eyed, beautiful and naive girl. By the end of Act 1 she is going crazy, which in this scene, it will make or break the performance. Yes, we all care about the ballerina’s hops on pointe in her first act variation, and we live for her extensions in the second act, but we really just care about her mad scene. Then in second act, she is revealed as a willie, and is now just an afterthought. As second act progresses, it is more womanly, and in control. The ballerina dancing must now be spirit like, floating across the stage, mournful in the beginning, angered by Alberecht’s visit, and then sorrowful to his downfall. Yup, a whole lot going on for such a short performance. It is crazy to think of how we have compacted it, but if Giselle was any longer it would be boring.

So, here are 5 things that make a good Giselle:

  1. Don’t over do it. That painful face is painful to watch.
  2. Please have good feet, and high extensions, because if you don’t… second act isn’t really that great.
  3. When going mad, make sure your hair looks good down. Sometimes, it looks like it is still wet from hair spray, or it doesn’t come undone well. Please practice. If your hair is thin, use extensions. Hair should not be dead.
  4. Make sure your bourres are seamless in the second act entrance. There is nothing more exhausting to watch than bad bourres.
  5. Don’t look constipated in second act.

In retrospect, Giselle is really easy to mess up.

Alessandra Ferri, this ballet just might truly belong to you….

Company Profile: Ballet Austin

Ballet Austin,  http://www.balletaustin.org

Location: Downtown Austin Texas, The Butler Dance Education Center

501 West 3rd Street Austin, TX  78701

Artistic Director: Stephen Mills

Current Season: 5 playbills including the Fire Bird, The Nutcracker, Belle Redux/ A Tale of Beauty and the Beast, Director’s Choice, Swan Lake

Theatre Residence: None, but performs at the Long Center

Dancers Hired: 21, Ballet Austin also has a second company for apprentices. A lot of ballet companies use second companies as fillers for their main company’s season and, to test dancers as the transition from student to teacher. Ballet Austin employs 10 dancers.

Budget: Unknown. But Ballet Austin does boast a numerous amount of corporate sponsors and underwriters. Financially, Ballet Austin just might be one of the more fiscally responsible companies around.

Affiliated School: Ballet Austin Academy

Annual Tuition: $3,600

Summer Program: yes.

Ballet Austin has been charming audiences for 57 years. Most people don’t really know Ballet Austin as the classical type, as their strong suit comes in contemporary and new works. I think their biggest break through was their Light Project, in fact it was so inspiring, I auditioned for them. I auditioned in January at the company auditions and was offered a traineeship, and a full ride to the summer program.

Unfortunately, after arriving in Texas, within the first week of being there, I realized that Ballet Austin was not for me. It wasn’t because the program was bad, in fact that program had amazing faculty. I was actually quite fond of taking class with Michelle Martin, I was not fond of the guest faculty but that was my opinion. I think I was just not a fan of Texas. I actually think of the group of trainees that I was with, no one actually joined Ballet Austin. I know Ashley Jackson went to join LINES after the summer, and Scott went to Statestreet. I want to say that Brian went to Ballet Met, or some other midwest company. And so on… But that doesn’t mean Ballet Austin isn’t good.

In fact Ballet Austin is amazing. Especially for those dancers who prefer the look and feel of contemporary ballet. Anne Marie Melendez and Paul Michael Bloodgood definitely are Ballet Austin’s charming couple. They are married, but they both possess numerous talents and bring them all to their dancing and the dance community. Orland Julius Canova possess a Balanchine flare, and brings a genuine quality to the stage. The company has definitely aged together, most of the company seems to be around the same age, and actually balancing family and personal life. Like all ballet companies do,  I am excited to see the turnover at Ballet Austin and what the next crop of Ballet Austin dancers will bring. I think Stephen Mills definitely has a way of creating his dancers, which possess a very unique look. In comparison to the other Texas companies, I definitely prefer Ballet Austin the most.

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The Ballet that Inspired Innovation… Serenade

There is a ballet, a ballet that replaced the dramatic downfalls of the heroines of Petipa. A ballet that stole Swan Lake’s lighting, and the romantic tutus from Giselle, set to the most perfect score,and  created by the genius of Balanchine, he named it: SERENADE. The house lights fade into blackness, and the grandiose score of strings play. If the music wasn’t inspiring enough, the curtain fades away and reveals the iconic classic Balanchine women. As each generation has added to their own take like any good ballet leaves room for speed, extension, turns, musicality, one thing has not changed. Innovation.

I recognize that Serenade has now been replaced by Jewels and Symphony in C. Those ballets showcase the entire company, including the men. Serenade showcases the women, dazzling women. Seventeen women that are not restricted by corsets, that aren’t dictated by story lines and dramatic downfalls. As Serenade is enriched with stories of success, and myths behind the movements and is standard of the romantic Balanchine Ballets, no one ever discusses the power of innovation behind it that has inspired millions of dancers. As the famous quote goes: Ballet is woman; Serenade truly exudes the power and identity of women working together to achieve something.

Serenade is basically the feminist of ballet. As men don’t play a major role, and there is no need for saving, Serenade embraces the power of women who can move to music. As Serenade has uplifted women since the NYCB revival, it is ironic that there aren’t that many Artistic Directors who are women… #justsaying

Anytime Serenade is on a playbill near me, I have to go see it. Every time I discover something new. Recently, I saw Los Angeles Ballet do it, and even though there wasn’t a live symphony, the power in the first note took me back through a million memories, and a dozen performances, and a handful of personal performances. Watching the women of Los Angeles Ballet was captivating, and truthfully… It made me fall back in love with ballet. Shortly after that performance, I started this blog.

Finally, I believe it is ballets job, well the job of any art form to reflect society, humanity, and rise above life itself… claiming an immortality that will last forever… Serenade has done that over the past 10 years. Serenade has truly has made a place next to Giselle, the Nutcracker, and the Sleeping Beauty.

Your petit allegro is awful…

Petit Allegro is neglected at most smaller schools in the US. It seems to be tossed aside, or never really done right. Either the tempo is too slow, or they just don’t teach their students the importance of petit allegro. The above picture is why. There are so many “ballet dictionaries” out there that teachers use to reference… and that is what they give. I honestly don’t know how this even got into a book, or how it even looks like a glissade…. but someone published it and put their name to it. *smh*

5 things to help you improve your petit allegro.

1. Close fifth every time. There aren’t very many steps in petit allegro that don’t close 5th, and without closing into a tight clean fifth, you aren’t really doing ballet. #justsayin

2. Stop putting the weight in the back of your foot, in petit allegro you have to be the most forward. By putting your weight forward, that is how you counter balance with your heels… the idea of pressing down and getting the most stretch in your achilles.

3. Carefully plan where you are going to accent in the music. You are able to play with the music a lot in petit allegro if you decide to move faster. Most students don’t realize that petit allegro is fun, flirty, and sassy. It is the one time you can really add some personality without looking over the top dramatic, or jazzarina whack a leg…

4. Your teacher probably doesn’t give good petit allegros, and is hurting you in the long run. Petit allegro makes or break an audition a lot of the times. Everyone focuses on adagio and grand allegro, and pirouettes… Everyone seems to forget, you have to move fast as well… So find a new studio. Okay, or not. But, you might want to ask your teachers why there isn’t an emphasis on it… Challenge how they think, an teach. Most teachers get lazy when it comes to petit allegro. I love petit allegro, so I focus a lot on it.

5. Eat more oatmeal, it makes you smarter so you can think faster… lol. It is what I tell my kids all the time…

The Beast that is the Nutcracker…

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.

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PNB’s infamous Peacock. I probably prefer this variation more than the Balanchine one.

 

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?

hong kong ballet waltz of the flowers

5 reasons why the Nutcracker will never go away…

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 
  5. 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. 

5 things we learned from Center Stage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Janie Taylor on camera is gorgeous. 

Half of SAB/NYCB was used as fillers… 

Ethan Stiefel is really skinny.

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

Let go of your center in renversé.

Company Profile: the Los Angeles Ballet

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….

Los Angeles Ballet (Click Here)

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

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Kate Highstrete & Christopher Revels in George Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments“. Photo: Reed Hutchinson

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.)

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Chloe Sherman & Robert Mulvey in Christopher Stowell’s Cipher; Photo: Reed Hutchinson

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.

Allynne Noelle & Ulrik Birkkjær in “Agon”. Photo: Reed Hutchinson
Allynne Noelle & Ulrik Birkkjær in “Agon”. Photo: Reed Hutchinson

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. 

Katherine Cowgill & Zheng Hua Li in 'Swan Lake'. Photo: Reed Hutchinson
Katherine Cowgill & Zheng Hua Li in ‘Swan Lake’. Photo: Reed Hutchinson

Five reasons why you should see Los Angeles Ballet this season if you are in the area:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Finally, you might run into me. That is a pretty darn good reason if you ask me.