San Francisco Ballet’s The Little Mermaid

San Francisco Ballet’s

The Little Mermaid

APRIL 19, 2019
Tamara Sparkles

Watching Yuan Yuan Tan perform “The Little Mermaid” is something that I will remember for a long time. She exudes the vibrant mystique that you want to believe in when it comes to the dark sorted tale of unrequited love that is Hans Christian Andersen’s original fable.

Ms. Tan’s port de bras simply surpass any visual expectation. They are surreal. She is lifted and tossed by her men of the ocean, and you honestly believe that she IS the ethereal underwater creature that she is portraying. With a flawless, undulating wave and a supple back, she truly transforms into the naive, beautiful mermaid we are all sympathizing with as she visits the Sea Witch to exchange her tail, and her voice for a love that can never exist. There are moments where Ms. Tan makes the romantic tragedy so real you can feel it in your bones; this is both through the beautiful choreography of John Neumeier and her stellar exploration of this character. Yuan Yuan Tan is unmatched in this ballet. It truly belongs to her.

Aaron Robinson was perfectly playful to the beautiful Mermaid with his gorgeous romantic movement and festive innocent flirtations. His lines and communications of the love of both the Princess (the stunning Sasha DeSola) and The Little Mermaid were clear and thoughtful. Also, his jumps are solidly clean and delicious.

Sasha DeSola is the consummate Princess. She is effortless. Her technique is clear and precise, and her sense of royalty seems inherent. When she appears on deck in her hot pink jumpsuit, so flirtatious, so young and in love…She is everything. You are watching only her. It is easy to feel sympathy for the Little Mermaid up against such a formidable romantic rival.

My favorite moments of John Neumeier’s beautifully epic ballet lie with the Poet (Ulrik Birkkjaer) and the Sea Witch (Wei Wang). The Poet, Ulrik Birkkjaer leads us through this story with beauty and grace dancing seamlessly under the water, on the ship, and in the heavens. He knows what is happening, what is about to happen and our heart breaks with his as the story unfolds. Ulrik is strong and filled with depth. He blends in as the Poet and yet cannot be ignored when on stage. He is a storyteller.
Wei Wang, as the Sea Witch is incredible. You want to see him as the villain, but it’s nearly impossible because his dancing is so extraordinary. He embodies the regal eel-like creature that strikes a deal with The Little Mermaid that eventually turns so dark.

There is a moment at the end, where the Little Mermaid and The Poet are lifted into the night sky on a platform of stars, it is worthy of all of our tears for all of our loves that were never returned. Congratulations to everyone at San Francisco Ballet on a beautiful run of this majestic ballet.

The Little Mermaid: Yuan Yuan Tan
Prince / Edvard: Aaron Robison
Poet / Hans Christian Andersen: Ulrik Birkkjaer
Princess / Henriette: Sasha De Sola
Sea Witch: Wei Wang

http://www.sfballet.org
Photos courtesy of San Francisco Ballet, ©Erik Tomasson

Tamara Sparkles

Contributor | San Francisco

Tamara is a California native with a passion and understanding for dance education that stems from 30 years of teaching experience. She is available for private coaching in the Bay the area.

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A WEEK IN BALLET…

Cover photo: Our cover girl Jillian Davis and her partner Andrew Brader of Complexions dancing in Phoenix Ballet‘s Golden Swan Gala, performing Dwight Rhoden’s Amazing Grace. Photo by Alexandra Rose/ VOGUE IMAGES. (Click here to read more about Jillian Davis)

jillian davis andrew brader complexions

A week in ballet… haven’t done one of these in a while, but I didn’t have much else to say, well I did, but it would probably just create more controversy and would rather not have one of those weeks. Over the past two weeks I have been experiencing crazy things in my personal life including a major car accident (I was a passenger in a Lyft), coming home to Charleston, the ups and downs of dating and the struggles of finding inspiration for A Ballet Education. I did find inspiration in moss, so I created the April Tracker, now available for purchase.

APRIL 2018

So, what has been going on in Ballet?

St. PETERSBURGADC IBC in St. Petersburg Florida has started. Some say, this is a good warm up for what is going to happen at the YAGP finals in New York City. But the reality, this competition garners a lot more credit than people give it. The competition itself is outline in a previous issue by Wesliegh Dichter. (Click here to read). To get the gist, you aren’t judged just on performance, but you are judged on class, compulsory classical and contemporary variations, and performance. Then all of the scores are averaged together to present the winners. Don’t forget to watch their live stream!

SAN FRANCISCO- San Francisco Ballet has announced their new promotions for the upcoming season… All three are men. Wei Wang has been promoted to Principal, and Ben Fremantle and Lonnie Weeks have both been pulled from the corps to be soloists.

SALT LAKE CITY- Ballet West has announced their 18/19 season with their strongest PR campaign ever. If you didn’t catch it in Issue 10… The season will include Jewels, Swan Lake, Onegin and Beauty and the Beast for their second company and school.

ballet west a ballet education

SEATTLE– Today Pacific Northwest Ballet wrapped up Director’s Choice in Seattle and the 2018-2019 Season looks like it is going to be spectacular. They open their season with Jerome Robbins Festival followed by all new works. The Sleeping Beauty, Director’s Choice, Midsummer Night’s Dream and Themes ad Variations will all be mounted… They also have branded each program pretty great.

LONDONThe Royal Ballet is to stage an all female production by Aleta Collins. This is a big deal as it wasn’t until 2017 that a female choreographer has been invited to create work for the Royal Ballet. Since 1999. This is one of many new PR stunts Royal Ballet is doing… they have partnered with Erdem for Chris Wheeldon’s Corybantic Games.

SOUTH BRISBANE, QUEENSLAND The Queensland Ballet is going to be getting a major do-over/ make over. News of their new state supported 10 million dollar expansion plan is going underway. Their new building is going t one a state-of-the-art ballet center designed by Conrad Gargett. Queensland Ballet is in the middle of their production of La Bayadere, which is developed quite well, with better storytelling during the colonization of India. It was done by Greg Horsman. (They just need better costumes… though I do like their shades… It is done in crop tops to look more authentic.)

BOSTONBoston Ballet has announced three exciting tours starting in June 2018 at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglwood in August, and for the first time, Boston Ballet will be going to Paris to perform at the iconic Theatre des Champs-Elysees in April 2019. They will be taking a contemporary bill including Forsythes Pas/Parts 2018, a world premiere, and Jiri Kylian’s Wings of Wax.

Time to Audition… Summer Intensives 2018… What to do?

Summer Intensives Ballet 2018

Summer Intensives seem far off into next year, but as we all know, the auditions are just around the corner. In fact, most registrations open tomorrow, December 1, 2018. Don’t freak out, if you haven’t given a thought to summer intensives because you are focused on surviving Nutcracker, and prepping for YAGP, you aren’t alone. It seems that the ballet season for students is becoming more intense and more demanding every year. If you are a parent who is overwhelmed, check out some of the Summer Intensive/Program posts.


Every year A Ballet Education receives hundreds of emails asking questions like, “What Summer Intensive should my student go to? Where is the best Summer Intensive? How can I afford a summer course?” And the list goes on… So this year, as we start our summer program series, we should talk about what is happening in ballet.

The demand for ballet training is high and the demand for ballet celebrity is even higher.   We have created the social media ballerina, brand ambassadors, baby ballerinas and the quest for perfection has intensified. Exposure has become everything, but it always has been. Summer Intensives or Summer Programs used to be 5 weeks of intense training and a chance to be seen by ballet companies and prestigious schools in hopes to be asked to stay for the year. Now, companies and schools are recruiting off of Instagram and other Social Media Networks. Young dancers are becoming brand ambassadors at the age of nine, and most are becoming entrepreneurs by sixteen. More and more people are starting to think that Summer Intensives are a waste of money, and really just a chance for ballet schools/companies to make money. Especially, since most are using the YAGP and Social Media as a chance to audition for multiple schools in a weekend instead of driving around every weekend for an hour and a half audition… Unfortunately, this is half true. With the demand for ballet technique at an all time high, and the demand for ballet technique, turnout and body type also at an all time intensity… it makes us wonder if going to a summer program is even worth it. And the answer is simple… Go where you are wanted!

There seems to be three types of summer programs now:

  1. The Company Route: these summer programs are designed the more traditional way. They are used to recruit students into their year-round school/trainee programs and eventually feed into the company. These programs are usually attached to major companies and the dancers that are going to these programs are already strong and technically efficient.
  2. The Training Route: these summer programs are designed to get through grueling days of intense training. Programs like these enforce heavy technique, repertoire, pas de deux, and more.
  3. The Fun/Recreational Route: these programs are designed for the serious ballet dancer, but not looking to go professional.

To answer a lot of questions… I don’t know what program is right for your child because I haven’t seen your child dance. I don’t know their learning habits or their strengths and weaknesses. But here is what I do know about going into the 2018 Summer/Competition Season. As a reminder, this summer the USA IBC takes places in Jackson from June 10-23 which could put a damper on your Summer Intensive plans. Most SI’s require you attend the full session and most start that last week. Additionally, it also means a lot of competitive ballet schools will be missing teachers that week because of the competition.

But, this year here are some of the best Summer Intensive Recommendations based on recommendations from colleague, how my own students have progressed, and who is getting asked to stay for the year and feed into companies. Additionally, received information from Companies on acceptance rates to the year-round school and scholarships:
(Here is last year’s list)

  1. San Francisco Ballet School’s Summer Intensive (San Francisco, CA) program is broken up into two amazing sessions. The first being for the intermediate dancer (3 Weeks), and the second for the Advanced/Pre-Pro division (4 Weeks). San Francisco Ballet School’s Summer Intensive always produces strong results. SFB’s SI offers everything from strict Vaganova training to Balanchine Repertoire to Contemporary…
    You must audition for these two programs and registration opens December 1, 2018…. Which is why I am publishing this today…  Pre-register to save money.
    Don’t miss out and check the audition schedule here
    Why you should go to this Summer Intensive? Because it feeds San Francisco Ballet…Here’s a quote from San Francisco Ballet School Director Patrick Armand. “San Francisco Ballet School offers a full summer intensive program with a complete curriculum and distinguished faculty. We attract the highest caliber of talented male and female students from around the globe; more than 60% of the Company members in San Francisco Ballet trained in the School.”

     

  2. Paris Opera Ballet School is a newer program, but arguably POBS offers some of the best training in the world, if not the best classical ballet training. If you aren’t familiar with what makes French Ballet so popular, it is the dancer’s body’s ability to digest turnout and technique while remaining effortless. (website)
  3. Houston Ballet School‘s Summer Intensive (Houston, TX) is growing fast and strong. It has always been one of the most reputable SI’s out there, but with HBA’s social media campaigns, it is truly showcasing exceptional American classical training. This six week course offers students a chance to train at HBA and hopefully get a spot in the year-round school. Click here for the HBA audition schedule.
  4. Master Ballet Academy (Scottsdale, AZ) is offering their Summer Intensive again. Their five week intensive offers intense technical training with the Wozniak’s and their large guest faculty. Auditions are submitted online and open January 1, 2018. Master Ballet Academy is known for their huge social media influence, updated Vaganova technique, and pristine precision in execution. (website)
  5. Ellison’s Summer Intensive (NYC) dates have been announced along with their tuition rates. Also known for their intense technical training, Ellison breaks their summer program up into Classical Variations Intensive, Classical Pas De Deux Intensive and Summer Intensive. Their national audition dates have been announced. (website)
  6. Even though they haven’t announced their audition dates, another coveted school to attend over the summer is National Ballet of Canada‘s. More info by clicking here.
  7. Bolshoi Ballet Academy SI NY 2018 has been announced as well. Another chance at hardcore Russian Training and spending time in NYC, this Summer Intensive is becoming more and more popular and exclusive as the demand for Modified/Updated Russian Training is at an all time high. (website)
  8. The School of American Ballet has announced their dates in NYC for July 1-August 4, 2018. But, School of American Ballet has also announced their new Junior Program for young dancers June 25-30 (ages 10-12). They also will be continuing their California Workshop but have changed the age to match the Junior Program, (10-12). These programs are designed to recruit to the School of American Ballet, which I only recommend if your student wants to be a Balanchine Dancer and dance for NYCB. (website) Pre-register to save money.
  9. Pacific Northwest Ballet (Seattle, WA) has announced their dates and audition tour. PNB has  their audition fee at $45, which is kind of insane… But, it is a great Balanchine program. (website)
  10. And then take your pick between Boston Ballet and The Rock School. It was a tie.

Still need more advice? Email me. 

 

Corps de Ballet Confessional: JULIA ROWE, San Francisco Ballet

#corpsdeballetconfessional

 

julia roweJULIA ROWE, corps de ballet at San Francisco Ballet/ formerly a soloist at Oregon Ballet Theatre

Photo by Christopher Peddecord (click here to visit his website of stellar work)

I first met Julia Rowe at CPYB, and she was this tiny little thing…. Like she is this short petite girl from PA with a good heart. I saw her in class and knew she was good, probably close to technically perfect. I then saw her Sherry Moray’s Pandora’s Box… and I was like, “hmmm ok.” Then I saw her in like every role in Balanchine’s Nutcracker and was like, “Okay I see you…” Then one day in Alan Hineline’s Sleeping Beauty rehearsal, I was doing something frivolous and we were rehearsing away from the mirrors, so she was facing towards the back where I was sitting. And I noticed that she did these really beautiful, overly turned out ron de jambes, into a fait pas de bourre and they were the most beautiful steps of the ballet; well the entire sequence of steps. She had complete control over everything, and she had this gorgeous resistance in the fait that was gorgeous. My friend david and julia rowe.jpgand I both leaned over at the same time and called it: PERFECTION. On top of that, she was dancing on shin splints. A prom and graduation later, Julia left to SFB and then landed a contract at OBT. She got promoted to soloist and things were going stellar. Small Facebook chats here and there are nice updates… Then she announced that she was leaving her soloist spot at OBT and heading back to SFB… Now at SFB, I get to follow her career closer and hear from her every now and then. But recently we got to catch up and she was willing to answer some great questions… So here it is… Life as Julia Rowe.

 

So, what is it like to be Julia Rowe? INSTAGRAM: @juliamrowe
Age: 26
Height: 5’1”
Training: Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, San Francisco Ballet School
Company: San Francisco Ballet, corps de ballet, 3rd Season (click here for official bio)
Previous Company: Oregon Ballet Theatre, soloist for two seasons, three in the corps

What did you have for breakfast? How do you drink your coffee?
JR: I had a green juice for breakfast, and I drink my coffee black.

What is it like being in the corps at SF?
JR: It’s quite challenging, actually. We do three full-length ballets per season and then about five mixed rep programs. We learn all of the ballets in the summer and fall, but we don’t get to perform until Nutcracker in December. Our regular season runs January-May, and during that time we are usually performing most nights of the week and rehearsing for the next program during the day. It can get quite intense, especially for the corps de ballet.

You left being a soloist at OBT for SFB, why?
JR: Because there was a change in direction of the company, and I was ready for something new in my career. I wanted a different sort of challenge. I wanted to know what it was like to dance every day on that huge Opera House stage, and be surrounded by so much diverse talent all the time. I wanted to know if there could be a place for me here.

When you were a student, and you dreamed of a being a pro– does your experience as a professional compare?
JR: It’s funny. Sometimes I wish I could go back to being a student. The kind of personal attention and corrections that you receive at that point in your training are really invaluable. Once you join a company, especially a big one, you are kind of on your own. There isn’t enough time for individual coaching for all 75 dancers, you know? That being said, you learn a lot about yourself when you have to be your own teacher, coach, mentor, and critic. This is especially true when you are in the corps and the emphasis is placed more on conformity than artistic expression. The beauty in corps work is precision and teamwork. Everyone all breathing together as a singular unit. It’s a different mentality.

Julia in 2008 rehearsing for SFB School Student Showcase doing Kitri’s Variation in the dream scene. Filmed by Dylan Ward.

What kind of pressure do you feel?
JR: Luckily, at SFB, it’s not unusual for corps dancers to get great opportunities dancing soloist and principal roles. Choreographers and others setting ballets generally have their pick of the entire company. Because there are so many of us, there tends to be a lot of pressure to “nail it” in front of a choreographer. There is also this sense that every rehearsal is an audition. The margin for error sometimes feels very small, which I know from experience tends to limit my ability to really make the movement my own. I love to work with choreographers who are OK with mistakes during the learning process(most are). It’s incredibly freeing to be given permission to be yourself in the studio and on stage.

In contrast, learning corps de ballet repertory is an exercise in attention to detail and precision. In a large company, you are expected to be able to quickly and thoroughly learn choreography. This can be tough, especially for new dancers. Luckily, there is a sense of community within the corps. We have all been there, and most of my coworkers were extremely kind and helpful when I was swamped with new information.

 

julia rowe ballet


What kind of pressure do you put on yourself, when it comes to being or trying to be promoted?
JR: the more you think about it, the crazier you get

 

What kind of pressure do you put on yourself, when it comes to being or trying to be promoted? Honestly, I try not to think of it in terms of promotion. I try to recognize every opportunity I have to improve in some way. It is tough, though. We all have dreams, after all! It would be great to get to do more challenging roles, and to not have to suffer through standing in B-plus, but not everyone gets to that place. For me, it’s all about appreciating the moments when I do get to bust out and dancing them to my fullest ability. It makes swan corps way more bearable when you know that you are capable of so much more. Sometimes you just need to remind yourself.

Having outside projects can help, too. If you aren’t getting the artistic growth you want from your job, no one is stopping you from doing it on your own. I have met so many inspiring, creative people in San Francisco not just in dance, but other fields as well. Writers, fashion designers, musicians, visual artists, photographers, you name it. I have even met some incredibly inspiring doctors who take physical therapy and training to an artistic level.

_ET18787
Julia Rowe and Elen Rose Hummel in Tomasson’s Caprice. (© Erik Tomasson) Accessed via blog.cpyb.org

What do you do in your spare time?
JR: I go to school, read, swim, hike, travel and help my boyfriend (@sashaarro on insta!) with his photography in my spare time. I do the LEAP program at St Mary’s for my undergraduate degree it’s a great program geared towards arts professionals. (click here for more information on the LEAP program)

What is in your dance bag?
JR: My dance bag is a mess. I have at least 6 pairs of shoes, three skirts, a pair of shorts, legwarmers, Advil, Voltaren gel, arnica cream, my Lululemon sweatpants, black Uniqlo heat tech shirt, a puffy vest (also Uniqlo) Click here to shop Uniqlo.

Favorite holiday?
JR: My favorite holiday is New Years because I get to spend it at home with my family. We do a delayed Christmas on New Years because I am still doing Nutcracker on actual Christmas.

Any advice to young women who get their corps de ballet contracts…
JR: Advice to young corps members: Remember what your teachers have told you. Really. Corrections and feedback won’t come as often as they did when you were in school. It’s up to you to figure out how you want to dance and to make it happen. Keep your eyes open. Use your coworkers as inspiration. Be respectful of the more senior members of the company, but don’t hide. You have accomplished something very special by becoming a professional ballet dancer. It’s a privilege to be able to do what you do. Make the most of it! Enjoy it!

Personal Note: Greatest part about this interview? It happened in sections- via at intermission during Swan Lake, her days off, and the Academy Awards…
Editor’s Note: Originally when published I credited Pandora’s Box to Alan Hineline, but it is choreographed by Sherry Moray.

If you are a corps de ballet dancer, and would like to be interviewed for a Ballet Education’s Corps De Ballet Confessional, email me at aballeteducation@gmail.com

Follow me on YouTube… it’s new, and rough but I promise you good things are coming!

Don’t forget to check out SFB’s next program: COPPELIA, MARCH 8-13- CLICK HERE for tickets, preview and SFB’s website.


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Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner: the TOP TEN BALLET SCHOOLS of 2015

top ten ballet schools
Winner, winner chicken dinner. The list is in. The TOP TEN Ballet Schools of 2015.

There is always a great debate when it comes to rankings. Rankings for anything really are always surrounded by controversy, but we love them. While the list last year reflected the number of graduates from a school in principal jobs in 30 major international companies, this year’s list reflects the power, innovation, and the teacher’s that make these schools. This year we have seen the power of the ballet student. At the ballet competition circuit this year we saw super powerhouse and future stars premier to the world, and we were blown away.

BIG NAMES & BIG SCHOOLS

Harrison Lee took top prize at the Prix , he is from Australia. Gisele Bethea made another strong international competition circuit this year. She is a student in Arizona.  And while these individuals took home top prizes, home schools like School of American Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, the Vaganova School, and POB made surprising debuts for their students.

One of the plus sides of big ballet  competitions, are big ballet schools. Scholarships to the most prestigious schools that have made their place in ballet history.  Unfortunately though, these dancers don’t make a school.  Very rarely does a student start and finish their training at one school, in the US.  Sure, in Europe it is more common because there are state schools that feed into the state supported ballet companies, and opera houses.  So super stars don’t make schools, and shouldn’t be a factor when deciding the best of the best. Now, when looking at a school, you have to ask yourself, if you are in the US, is it a technical school or a finishing school. For example, School of American Ballet is a finishing school… Yes, it is technical, but the majority of their upper level students are from other schools.  Most small studios in the US should be focusing on technique, like learning the basics of turn out, feet, and learning how the body works… This is like CPYB.  CPYB you learn all the basics, but you leave to a bigger school, or professional school to finish out your training, and coaching.  So this was also taken into consideration, which eliminated off a lot of the US schools from last year.

HERE WE GO… the moment you have all been waiting for…

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. Last year these schools took the top.  This year, we have lumped the three into one category, as the SUPER STAR STATE SUPPORTED SCHOOLS.  It really is only fair that the three of them share number one and make room for other schools offering great training, and are more realistic to get into.

  1. Paris Opera Ballet School, Vaganova School, the Royal Ballet School (Upper School).  Historically, the three of them have always ruled ballet, and unfortunately I don’t see that changing anytime soon. But, not everyone is meant to dance there.  Not everyone is a super turned out French girl, or a leggy skinny Russian girl, and very few boys are going to become the power houses that the Royal Ballet School produces. (Remember, huge headliner  names at the Royal Opera are mostly imports from winning huge competitions.) You can’t argue that each of these schools have a very specific style, and produce a very specific look… Regardless if I like the company or school or not…

    The Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Anastasia Soboleva & Victor Lebedev Asaf Messerer’s “Class Concert.” Photo: Stas Levshin
    Honorable Mention 1.5: Every other hardcore Russian school.The Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Anastasia Soboleva & Victor Lebedev Asaf Messerer’s “Class Concert.” Photo: Stas Levshin
  2. THE SCHOOL OF AMERICAN BALLET, founded by George Balanchine, SAB is probably the only school in the US that can even resemble a portion of what a state school has to offer. Sure, the Balanchine aesthetic is super specific, and the dancers are very… well American, but that is what is celebrated. The school produces great artists and the faculty nurtures dancers to become artists at a young age. Something the dance world loves. School of American Ballet is the feeder school to NYCB, which is oddly unique in the US.

    Her voice is a bit much, she is the corps now… So holla for a dolla…. and how did she not know who the faculty of SAB were… did she just wake up one day and was like I am going to audition for this random school in NYC? You can also watch the first season of strictly ballet about SAB life.
  3. THE JOHN CRANKO SCHOOL, is one of the leading ballet schools, associated with one of the most innovated companies in the world. The Cranko school is known for international power house students. A lot of students after a big win, will decide to attend the Cranko School to hone their technique but most importantly developing the artistry needed to work as a dancer. Then they either join the company or move on.  Oh the Cranko school is associated with Stuttgart.
  4. LA ESCUELA NATIONAL DE DANZA, in Havana, Cuba. Controversy.  While we left this school off the list last year, a huge heat came onto us.  So, let us take a look at the school at National Ballet of Cuba… Just because it is an important moment in dance diaspora, doesn’t mean that it is a good school… Ironically, if we are talking about dance diaspora, we should really look at Russian Immigration changing the world’s perception of ballet through the various wars, and conflicts. But, that is neither here nor there, we are here to talk about schools. While major dance companies have Cubans in their companies, the Cuban school is basically intense Russian training, with a focus on turns… and men.  If you look at these high ranked, high profiled ballet Cuban super stars… they are all men.  After seeing National Ballet of Cuba in Los Angeles, I wasn’t impressed by their women… Creating strong technical powerhouses, the school produces more men than women. (Many of you wrote in saying I left them off the list last year because of socialism, pff. And those who said it is the most important diaspora in dance, maybe not so much, but maybe over the past 50 years… )
  5. THE AUSTRALIAN BALLET SCHOOL, our friends down under are definitely pushing their way to the international front.  With some of the best PR campaigns I have ever seen, the Australian Ballet is a reflection of their school. With a new campaign called project assemblé, the Australian Ballet school will soon have a residence for their students. Despite popular belief the Australian Ballet School is not supported by the state, well it is partially supported by the state. You can audition for the school for placement, but beware, it the application alone is $83 USD.
  6. SAN FRANCISCO BALLET SCHOOL, has truly stepped up their game.  With their ranks at the company being filled with some of the most promising ballet dancers of our time, all of these students at least spent two years in the school. San Francisco has always been the West Coast’s center for ballet, but even more so as this season ended. SFB is becoming much more than just a school, but it is becoming a breeding ground for exceptional talent. Rightfully so, since San Francisco Ballet School claims the nation’s oldest professional ballet school. SFB has now rightfully produced a future superstar choreographer, Myles Thatcher who makes his NYCB premier at the Fall2015 Gala. It is more likely for a dancer to go start to finish at SFB than any other school. SFB has turned into a breeding ground for ballet superstars over the past ten years and is causing many students, and competition winners to go there.
  7. NBS, National Ballet of Canada’s School.   NBS is a healthy structured school in which students really are prepared for the real world of ballet.  Additionally last year, we talked about their program that bridges the last year of school and the first few years of professional ballet life.  The school itself has lost some recognition on the international circuit, as they haven’t had a huge international draw lately…. Also in Canada other schools have risen to the occasion allowing more options for Canadians to train at.  Mainly speaking about GOH Academy that produced international power house Alex Wong. (They were on the list last year, but so many of you wanted to know why Royal Winnepeg, and GOH Academy were left off… Frankly put, when it comes to NBS, you just can’t compete with them.)
  8. THE JUILLIARD SCHOOL OF DANCE, for those students who are 18, and haven’t found a company contract, there aren’t very many places to go.  The Juilliard School of Dance is one of a few exceptionally ranked programs. Another is NBS, number 7 on our list.This University offers dancers a B.F.A for 24 exceptional students. Their program is rigorous but their alumni have joined numerous companies both within the US and abroad. I really, really, really want to encourage dancers after 18, to not give up.  There are places to dance, or continue your dance education without feeling like the oldest one in the room. There are various universities and programs that help continue your training and transition into professional life.
  9. THE SUNHWA ARTS HIGH SCHOOL, South Korea is becoming a powerhouse in producing international ballet super stars. So, is it the rice? No. The Sun Hwa Arts High School is the premier school for young people in Korea to attend. Most of these kids are trained to compete on the international level, and then they transfer schools. As mentioned in a previous post, Korean males are required to serve two years to the army, unless they finish first or second at an international competition. Their training is basically Russian training mixed with extreme stretching technique. Much like the Cubans, an integrated Russian technique refined for a specific body type. A lot of the Sun Hwa girls end up at Kirov DC, which is associated with Universal Ballet of Korea. Why are they on the list? Because it is important to recognize that a lot of Russian based schools have created a technique based off of a specific, ethnic body type.  In this case it is a longer but narrow torso. So many girls at the prix finals were from SunHwa.
  10. Royal Danish School of Ballet This school reminds me a lot of School of American Ballet… Obviously not the same technique, they couldn’t be more different… This school though has a very specific technique, and very specific style. They produce crazy jumpers.  Ironically, the company director is from NYCB.  The school is small, according to their website it has roughly 60-70 students ages 6-16 and paid for the by the state.

Ballet in the age of Technology…

Happy Valentine’s Day. Here are some of the stunning videos of dancers embracing the evolution of ballet. It is no surprise with IG, and other video apps, that ballet is becoming more and more embraced. Dancers are now collaborating with world renowned videographers, or taking to their own projects to bring a more precise, more intimate, more intricate look at movement. Below are some stunning videos that demonstrate the power of multiple art forms coming together.

Sergei Polunin“Take me to Church” by Hozier, Directed by David LaChapelle

Guillaume Côté, Composer: James LaValle, Director: Ben Shirinian

Dores Andre and Frances Chung, Directed by Quinn B

A haunting take on jealousy, this existential contemporary dance film thriller posits a man (Royal Swedish Ballet/Cullberg Ballet alumnus) Giovanni Bucchieri, a woman (New York City Ballet Principal Wendy Whelan), and an elusive lover (Pontus Lidberg) in a series of intense pas de deux in a stark apartment that becomes a fourth character. Danced to a commissioned score by Pulitzer Prize and Grammy winning composer David Lang with solo cello by Maya Beiser.

 Sasha De Sola & Steven Morse. Choreography by – Myles Thatcher.

The Australian Ballet (BTW, they have thee best PR videos, ever… They beat NYCB hands down)

Matthew Bourne has released several shorts which are beyond brilliant…

Intro to Summer Programs

The Guide to Summer Programs:

While Christmas is finally here, and Nutcracker is finally over… We now look at the bigger picture, and the next part of the season: SUMMER PROGRAMS!! With auditions literally starting next week, the stress is on. SO, here are some of the truths about summer programs:

  1. Summer programs are not a vacation.  While it might be fun to travel all over the US, the reality is that summer programs are designed for three purposes.
    1. The first is to get the maximum amount of training in while you aren’t in school. So, if you are looking at summer programs as a chance to catch up on technique, then audition away. Dancers drastically change at summer programs for the good and the bad.
    2. The second reason ballet companies host summer programs is to look at the work ethic of potential year round students. For those who are killing themselves dreaming of San Francisco Ballet, your best bet is to go there for the summer. Hopefully, you are around 14-16 with awesome technique. This way you can get asked to stay for the year, and hopefully make it into their trainee program.
    3. Finally, the third reasons companies host summer programs is because it is a huge money maker. If you don’t know the costs of a summer program, check out this post. Summer programs are a way to overflow a school, and make money. It isn’t a hidden fact that ballet companies aren’t doing well, so Summer Programs are a way to generate income to the school/company during the off season (January) and then again in the Summer months.
  1. Names don’t mean anything. While many prestigious schools boast awesome summer programs, it doesn’t mean it is the best training for you. You have to find the school that is right for you, and where you are at in your training. For example, you should not audition for SAB until you are completely sure you are as strong as you can be, technically. SAB is a finishing school, not a training school. If you are behind on your technique, CPYB is the best place to go and get your butt whooped for a month. If you are looking to broaden your horizons in ballet, LINES would be a great add to your resume. And for those of you who are looking for individual attention, go to a smaller program like Ballet West or Atlanta Ballet’s Summer Programs. If you are looking to work on turns, go to the Rock School for Education, and if you are looking to jump go to PNB.
  2. Have back up plans. Like any child applying for colleges, you have to have a plan. Everyone has their dream programs, but then pick others that you know you are going to get into, schools you might get a scholarship to, and schools that are affordable. Have options, because a lot of kids will hit two summer programs in a summer.
  3. How do you know you are ready for a summer program? You have to be mentally prepared because at a summer program the competition in the classroom is stiff. Everyone there is pushing for a year round spot and scholarship for the year. You will be hundreds or thousands of miles away from home, living in dorms, with a hundred other ballet dancers. While you make lifelong friendships, the reality is, they are also your competition. It is easy to become friends, but it is easier to become jealous and get inside your own head, sabotaging your chances of staying for the year. If you are at a smaller school, and you are the best one at your studio, this would be a great growing opportunity.
  4. Finally, use summer programs to see if this is what you really want to do with your life. Summer programs are a great stepping stone to see whether or not you want to pursue ballet professionally. While it is rare for a dancer not to go to a summer program, a summer program is usually required as a bridge between professional schooling and a home studio. Another small step towards dancing Odette in Swan Lake.

You can go to any company’s website or school website to see if they are doing a national tour. The dates are already published. Audition fees will apply. If you don’t have the money, you can call the school registrar and possibly have the fee waived.

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.