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Ballet Superstar Roberto Bolle Talks Favorite Dancers, Choreographers, and Katy Perry

13 May

Roberto Bolle - Photo Luciano Romano

Roberto Bolle – Photo: Luciano Romano

How does Roberto Bolle, Italian ballet superstar and one of Italy’s most beloved artists, find a moment to sit down and chat?

As principal dancer for both American Ballet Theatre and Milan’s La Scala Ballet, Bolle splits his time between the two companies, regularly darting between New York and Milan. He will kick off the ABT spring season on May 13 at NYC’s Metropolitan Opera House, after recently touring with the company in Hong Kong and Beijing. He’s danced for the Queen of England at Buckingham Palace and for Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square; he’s performed principal roles for the Royal Ballet, the Tokyo Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada, The Stuttgart Ballet and more. This fall he will be back as dancer and Artistic Director in Roberto Bolle and Friends, a gala of solos and pas de deux presented at NY City Center September 17 celebrating “2013 – The Year of Italian Culture in the United States.”

But luckily, one day, after ABT company class and rehearsals, and before stepping out on the red carpet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s star-studded annual Costume Institute Gala, Roberto took a few minutes to discuss his favorite choreographers and ballerinas, his upcoming Roberto Bolle and Friends, and what the future may have in store.

Here are some excerpts from that conversation:

Roberto Bolle - Photo: Andrea Varani

Roberto Bolle – Photo: Andrea Varani

Who are some of your favorite ballerinas? Who do you love dancing with?

Ah, I love dancing with Svetlana Zakharova (Bolshoi) – she’s so perfect physically and technically – so beautiful. I also love Julie Kent – we’re working on Frederick Ashton’s A Month in the Country at ABT – a debut for us – working in a piece like that is very interpretive and emotional. Julie’s a great artist and I like to share the stage with her. Sometimes I miss Alessandra Ferri – she’s great – we hope to dance together again in the future.

Who are your favorite choreographers?

I will be dancing in ABT’s world premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy at the end of May, in Symphony #9. I like the choreography and like working with Alexi – I think he’s one of the best choreographers now and one of the best in the world. He’s smart and fast and very demanding – it’s not easy – it’s very hard work and sometimes we have a short period of rehearsal time to put things together, working with the corps and principals. Everyone’s involved in the movement and it’s good – I love working with him.

I also love dancing Balanchine because I think he was a genius. One of his great masterpieces that I like is Apollo – I’ve loved it every time I’ve danced it. I have to say I also really like Kenneth McMillan – I’ve done Romeo and Juliet and Manon – he’s great because he used the technique to express emotions. It’s beautiful to be on stage and be Romeo and play the character, because you can actually dance and feel so much emotion. His work is a great combination of musicality/choreography /story. Antony Tudor‘s work is also very emotional, but Leaves are Fading is the only piece I’ve danced by him, and it’s a shame. I’d like to do more.

Tell me about Roberto Bolle and Friends

Roberto Bolle and Friends Gala is a performance I’ve been doing in Italy for the last ten years. I am dancer and Artistic Director. I choose the dancers and with them we choose the pieces to perform. The focus is on bringing ballet to the public, and we often do so in dramatic outdoor spaces. We’ve performed in so many beautiful and unique places in Italy – from the Coliseum to biggest square, the Duomo, in Milan. We’ve performed in an outdoor arena in Verona with 10,000 people in attendance. In Milan there were 50,000 people – it was like a pop event!

What gave you the idea to put this show together?

In the beginning the idea was to be like Pavarotti and Friends and what that did for opera – the idea of putting together friends and artists you admire and go on stage and do a sort of gala performance. Often we could bring together artists I admire who never had a chance to perform together, particularly in Italy.

Roberto Bolle - Photo: Luciano Romano

Roberto Bolle – Photo: Luciano Romano

What brings Roberto Bolle and Friends to New York City Center?

It was already a big achievement to celebrate the “Year of Italian Culture in the United States.” The embassy and the Italian Ministry of Culture wanted to bring the most important kind of events and performances here as part of that celebration. I am honored to be representing the best of Italy. The show will feature 10-11 pieces, almost all solos and pas de deux.

Where do you see yourself in the next few years?

In the future, when I stop dancing, I would like to be Artistic Director of La Scala. It would be great to have a company to work with, and to work with young people and promote and coach them, to be the director and do the artistic part as well.

How do you stay in shape? You actually look like Apollo!

I stay in shape from ballet – there’s no special routine at the gym. I eat well, stay away from junk food, and don’t eat carbohydrates like pasta and bread. But I do eat rice… I come from a part of Italy where they produce rice (Piedmont) – so, I eat lots of rice! Also, I stay away from sweets.

You are on your way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Costume Institute Gala, New York’s party of the year. I hear you’re sitting with Katy Perry. Who else are you going with and, most importantly – what are you wearing?

Actually, I’m a guest of designers Dolce & Gabbana, they’re friends of mine. I’m at their table and so is Katy Perry. What am I wearing? Well, Dolce & Gabbana, of course!

Walking red carpet at Met Gala with Franca Sozzani, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Italia

Roberto Bolle and Friends is presented by Artedanze S.r.l, in association with NY City Center. Acqua di Parma, the leading Italian lifestyle brand, is the Patron of this event. Performance on Tuesday, September 17 at 7pm. For tickets:

This story first appeared in the Huffington Post Arts/Culture page, May 9, 2013.

Addendum – the September 17 GALA was great! Have a look:

Final piece of the evening - Roberto Bolle in Prototype; Photo: xChanges vfx

Final piece of the evening – Roberto Bolle in Prototype; Photo: xChanges vfx

President of Acqua di Parma Gabriella Scarpa, dancer/artistic director Roberto Bolle and actress/producer Trudie Styler attend Acqua di Parma gala event

President of Acqua di Parma Gabriella Scarpa, dancer/artistic director Roberto Bolle and actress/producer Trudie Styler attend Acqua di Parma gala event. Photo: Getty Images for Acqua di Parma

Musician Michael Stipe and actress Toni Collette attend Acqua di Parma gala event with Roberto Bolle; Photo: Getty Images for Acqua di Parma

Musician Michael Stipe and actress Toni Collette attend Acqua di Parma gala event with Roberto Bolle; Photo: Getty Images for Acqua di Parma

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TUDOR BALLET “DARK ELEGIES” HAS FINGER ON THE PULSE

20 Apr

I saw Antony Tudor’s Dark Elegies performed last night at New York Theatre Ballet’s “Legends and Visionaries” program at Florence Gould Hall, NYC.

Though created by Mr. Tudor in 1937, the ballet couldn’t have been more current. Tudor described this work as his favorite ballet, and many consider it to be his greatest. “From bursts of rage to tender moments of quiet devastation, Tudor’s ‘ballet requiem’ expresses the raw emotion of a tight-knit community faced with the inexplicable loss of their beloved children,” explains the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust.

"Dark Elegies" - ABT - Fall, 2005. Julie Kent and Grant Delong. Photo courtesy of Sally Brayley Bliss

“Dark Elegies” – ABT – Fall, 2005. Julie Kent and Grant Delong.
Photo courtesy of Sally Brayley Bliss

Newtown, Connecticut grieves for 20 children and six adults gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. Boston grieves in the wake of Monday’s marathon bombings, with three dead and more than 260 injured. Together, we grieve as a nation.

It has been 76 years since Tudor choreographed Dark Elegies. Everything has changed, yet nothing has changed. The ballet’s subject matter and emotional content feel raw. Dark Elegies has its finger on the pulse. Perhaps it always will.

Dark Elegies is danced to the Song Cycle Kindertotenlieder (“Songs on the Death of Children”) by Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). The work consists of five songs to lyrics by Friedrich Rückert. It was first performed in London by Ballet Rambert on Feb. 19, 1937. First cast included Peggy van Praagh, Maude Lloyd, and Agnes de Mille. First US Performance was by American Ballet Theater (Ballet Theatre) at New York’s City Center, January 24, 1940.

NY Theatre Ballet performs chamber ballet masterpieces and new works by emerging choreographers, and innovative one hour ballets for children. By pairing the ballets of legendary creators with those of new visionaries, NYTB helps audiences to rediscover the old and be thrilled by the new.

PRESERVING THE WORK

5 May

The events of this week made me realize there is so much more to a ballet archive than the simple collection of photos, film, dance notation and personal remembrances. It’s not just about the collection of materials, it’s ultimately about the preservation of the ballets within that archive.

The ongoing mission of The Antony Tudor Ballet Trust, in addition to the licensing and production of Antony Tudor’s ballets, has been to preserve Mr. Tudor’s work – his ballets, his teachings and his creative process – for future generations so they are never lost.

Antony Tudor teaching at the “old” Met – NYC, 1961

This week the National Endowment for the Arts announced an award in support of the development of The Antony Tudor Dance Studies Curriculum.  Their award, along with funding from the Jerome Robbins Foundation, the CORPS de Ballet and the Cornelius N. Bliss Memorial Fund, will allow the Trust’s “Curriculum Committee” to complete lesson plans for a dance curriculum which will offer a multifaceted, comprehensive approach to learning the work of Antony Tudor. The curriculum, intended for university dance programs, will include Tudor’s method of choreographic composition; his unique use of gesture and movement; the application of choreographic phrases in partnering, pointe and men’s classes; and, of course, Tudor’s unique musicality. Archival images, performance video, and studio exercises will be part of the package.

According to Sally Brayley Bliss, Trustee of the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust, “engaging the student-dancer on a level where significant learning takes place is the most effective means for preserving Tudor’s work. A fully developed Tudor Curriculum will best serve to assist dance teachers and students in the interpretation, presentation, and performance of Antony Tudor’s choreography…. it is vitally important this be done now while those who worked directly with Antony Tudor are here and ready to share their knowledge.”

Tudor at “old” Met, including left to right Pina Bausch, Jennifer Masley, James Waring, Bruce Marks – June 1961. Photo: Liz Sawyer

According to Mikhail Baryshnikov, former Artistic Director of American Ballet Theatre, performing in even one Tudor ballet amounted to “a passport to become mature, to be an adult dancer, a dancer in-depth…”.

This week the NEA endorsed The Trust’s mission to insure Antony Tudor’s legacy – the development of an education program that engages young dancers in the choreographic complexities and creative process of his unique style.  Tudor was one of the great masters of 20th century choreography. The Tudor Curriculum will ensure his legacy will live on through learning. I’m excited!

ABOUT ANTONY TUDOR:

Antony Tudor was one of the giants of twentieth century choreography. He presented his works at American Ballet Theatre’s first season, and continued to choreograph works for companies throughout the world. His ballets have been performed by the world’s leading ballet companies including Paris Opera Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, and the Royal Ballet. Tudor was Choreographer Emeritus at American Ballet Theatre, and also was a renowned teacher at The Juilliard School, where he was a founding faculty member of the School’s Dance Division.

Tudor rehearsing “Little Improvisations” with Lance Westergard and Lee Wagner at Juilliard – 1964. Photo: Liz Sawyer

Licensing for performances of Antony Tudor’s ballets has been more or less consistent since Mr. Tudor’s death in 1987, with the exception of a spike in performances during Mr. Tudor’s Centennial year in 2008. Almost every major ballet company, regional dance company, university dance program, and international ballet school desires to have Tudor ballets in its repertoire.

Adria Rolnik, author of Adriaballetbeat, is Web Coordinator and Archivist  (Photos, Materials, Memorabilia) for the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust.

LOVING “BAC” – THE BARYSHNIKOV ARTS CENTER

31 Jan

I always love going to the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Located in New York City’s “Hell’s Kitchen” on West 37thStreet, BAC is an unassuming place. In what appears to be a renovated warehouse, the Center houses studio spaces, offices, and the intimate 238-seat Jerome Robbins Theater which opened just two years ago.

Jerome Robbins Theater at BAC

Presentations at BAC are not big tourist attractions, mass market or often even mainstream. The cost to attend is minimal – typically $25-30 a ticket (depending on the production), and sometimes even less, with many offerings completely free of charge.

The programming line-up varies from dance and performance art to film and experimental theater. The Center opened in 2005, “to house the core activities of the Baryshnikov Dance Foundation,” according to the Center’s website. The New York Times summed it up best by calling BAC, “a laboratory and performance space for multidisciplinary artists.” Perfect.

The first time I attended a performance at BAC, almost two years ago, I picked up the evening’s tickets at the “will call desk” – a teenager sitting at a folding table with pink slips of paper (“tickets”) in a shoebox. After pick up, I was directed to a freight elevator which took me up to The Jerome Robbins Theater – the Met it was not.

Since then things have changed – the elevator is no longer freight, the tickets are “real” tickets, and the “will call desk” is sturdier, now a real desk, with tickets held in an upgraded tin box!

Back in May, 2010 I was lucky enough to attend a BAC production of “Unrelated Solos,” a mixed bill featuring three male dancers, five choreographers and six solos. Mr. Baryshnikov was in three of the solos – a piece by Benjamin Millepied, another by Alexei Ratmansky, and finally a “work in progress” by Susan Marshall. The last time I had seen Baryshnikov dance was at the The Metropolitan Opera House, so long ago, when he was a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre. (The Opera House has 3,800 seats, so seeing him in the tiny Jerome Robbins Theater that night was exciting).

The up close and personal performance took my breath away. Baryshnikov, now older and less agile, nonetheless moved with expressiveness, elegance and grace. One of the highlights for me was the Marshall piece, “For You,” which included Baryshnikov selecting audience members to come onto the stage where he sat them in folding chairs and danced independently for each of them. Why, oh why was I in the second row?? If I were only in the first row, maybe he would have selected me!

UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW AT BAC

Last Wednesday night I was back to see Young Jean Lee’s “UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW,” presented by Baryshnikov Arts Center and Performance Space 122 as part of the 2012 COIL Festival. The performance featured six female dancers who with choreography and music, mime and sound, addressed the female experience. The stage was bare white, projections were beamed overhead, and the cast was completely, totally, NAKED! Not only were they naked, but they were of every size and body shape.

The premise, according to Lee, was to create “a fluid sense of gender… a world in which people could identify and be however they wanted regardless of their sex.” She said her concept of uninterrupted nudity was “far from being shocking or titillating… it prevented the audience from imposing identities on the cast and allowed them to experience all the possibilities the performers could embody.”

In his review of UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW, Charles Isherwood of the New York Times addressed the show’s nudity by saying there was “certainly something celebratory about the performers’ carefree attitude toward their bodies and the joyful abandon of their movement… but nudity is hardly extraordinary in modern dance, or theater for that matter…”.

Young Jean Lee explains her craft - YouTube

That’s true, but somehow, this show did seem extraordinary. Was it the intimacy of the theater? The shapes and sizes of the performers? The message they tried to convey? I really can’t be sure. But including this show in the BAC lineup is what makes the Center fun and different – their mission to present emerging talent is what makes things special.

Mr. Baryshnikov recently donated his personal artwork to the Center, which in turn auctioned it to raise funds to benefit new programs. I can’t think of a better reason for the auction than Mr. Baryshnikov gave himself – he was “using old art to generate new art.”

BAC helps to produce new art indeed! I believe their mission is heartfelt and a stellar showcase for what’s new and thought provoking – it’s a great venue. Get there!

Baryshnikov Arts Center – 450 west 37th st bt. 9th and 10th Avenues; http://www.bacnyc.org

Untitled Feminist Show has been extended until Feb. 4

The Jerome Robbins Theater is home to The Wooster Group, the Center’s resident theater company.

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FINDING NATALIE PORTMAN

11 Oct

I know the ballet world wasn’t particularly fond of the movie Black Swan. From American Ballet Theatre’s Sarah Lane not being credited as Natalie Portman’s body double, to the implication ballet dancers are self possessed, anorexic freaks, the complaints were loud and clear. Top that off with the fact that it takes a lifetime to train to be a professional ballerina (not the one year producer’s implied it took Portman) and dancers were, for the most part, upset. And that’s understandable.

Nevertheless, I liked the movie!! I was entertained. And I tend to agree with New York Times film critic A.O. Scott who said, “Black Swan is no more about the behavior of ballerinas than its central pretext, ‘Swan Lake,’ is about the habits of birds.”

Natalie Portman as "The Black Swan." Movie Poster: Wikipedia

Besides, I LIKE Natalie Portman. I’ve always enjoyed her films (from Garden State to Cold Mountain) and was delighted when she won the Oscar for Best Actress in Black Swan last February. I thought she did a great job portraying a ballerina similar in personality to Odette, the White Swan, who slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like Odile, the Black Swan.

That being said, let me zoom back to a great night at The Metropolitan Opera House last May, when I attended opening night of ABT’s mixed repertory program with members of the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust. The evening included two premieres – Alexei Ratmansky’s Dumbarton and Christopher Weeldon’s Thirteen Diversions, plus a performance of Benjamin Millepied‘s Troika and a revival of Antony Tudor’s Shadowplay.

The audience was filled with ballet luminaries such as Peter Martins, Ballet Master in Chief of New York City Ballet his wife, prima ballerina Darcy Kistler; Anna Kisselgoff, former chief dance critic of The New York Times; philanthropist and former dancer Nancy Zeckendorf; Amanda McKerrow and her husband John Gardner, both former ABT principal dancers and now Tudor Trust répétiteurs; and, of course, Benjamin Millepied and his very pregnant significant other, Natalie Portman!

Tudor's "Shadowplay" on YouTube - Anthony Dowell, 1967

Ok, I’m star stuck! I’m a fan. Natalie’s big time – an Oscar winner and girlfriend of one really cool choreographer… how could I not be excited when I went to the rest room at intermission and came face to face with the Black Swan herself! Very pregnant and very gorgeous, there she was, waiting in line next to me, and then the two of us were there, alone together, at the sink!

Staff of The Tudor Trust at the Met for ABT's "Shadowplay" Premiere

My mind was racing. Should I say something? A hello? Make a comment? Introduce myself as a member of the Trust? Say something pedestrian like, “I love your work,” or, “Congratulations on your Oscar?” Or how about, “Good luck with the baby?” Instead I just stood there and looked at her. Then she looked at me, and I looked at her again. She glanced at me once more, because I looked twice. And I didn’t say anything. Not a word.

I eventually returned to my seat, after a chat with some friends in the lobby. I plopped down next to Amanda McKerrow and said excitedly, “Guess who I just ran into in the ladies room? Natalie Portman!” And what do you think Amanda said? “Gee, Adria, I would have introduced you to her – I was just hanging with her and Benjamin by the bar. I would have introduced you, but I didn’t see you……..”

Oh. My. God.

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