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DANCING TO THE RIGHT

13 Nov

Sometimes I feel like I’m crumbling… one day my knees are the problem, another day my back, some days my hips or feet.  Sometimes I feel like I can conquer the world, so bendy and free, and other days just taking the barre feels like a challenge.  As an adult dancer who takes two to three ballet classes a week, I get sick and tired of my never-ending aches and pains, but unfortunately, that’s  the reality when you’re still taking class over the age of 50(!).

Sadly, as a person ages, their body just doesn’t perform the way it used to. In the old days, I would take class and focus on technique; now, my focus often turns to a stiff back, knees that don’t bend deeply enough or shoulders that ache when I move this way or that.

In the “old” days, all “bendy and free…”

Of course, injuries to dancers are common – ligament tears, overuse injuries, ankle sprains and knee pains… it goes with the territory.  (And dancers should always see a doctor if they’re dancing through pain and no one should ever come back to class without clearance. Waiting without treating an injury surely does more harm than good)!

But this musing is not about handling serious dance injuries – it’s about facing the inevitable stiffness and loss of flexibility that comes with age. When a dancer matures, so does the technical difficulty of the dance class.

So, why do we continue to go? Because we take pleasure in ballet’s discipline and enjoy interpreting the beautiful music. We like to work hard and bend our bodies in ways that are unlike any other type of exercise. We feel joy in artistic movement and find satisfaction in that, despite the physical obstacles.

We manage by substituting less flexibility for increased artistry; we use the music differently and phrase our dancing, perhaps, more eloquently; we re-focus on grace and posture. We “mark” when we need to and sometimes alter the combinations to suit.  Regardless of our age, we receive gratification from striving to be our personal best.

If a bad left knee means a grand jeté only to the right, that’s OK. If, because of that knee, you relevé only on the right foot, that’s OK too. So what if your petit allegro isn’t what it used to be?

The important thing is that we’re there, in ballet class, doing what we love and striving to be our best. That’s what I do, and I feel like I still belong.

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IN CONVERSATION WITH DAMIAN WOETZEL, ART. DIR. VAIL INTL. DANCE FESTIVAL

28 Jul

Carla Körbes and Eric Underwood rehearsing Agon. Photo: Erin Baiano

The Vail International Dance Festival 2012 kicks off its 24th season, July 29-August 11, with a packed two-week schedule crossing many genres of dance and program formats. This year the annual summer showcase for dance has a diverse line up, including the return of New York City Ballet MOVES, the Vail debut of Martha Graham Dance Company, plus International Evenings of Dance and Dance for $20.12. Additional programming will continue to embrace its original mission of advancing education in the arts through community-based off-stage events such as Celebrate the Beat and Village Vignettes.

Sterling Hyltin from NYC Ballet MOVES rehearses in Vail for the Vail International Dance Festival

Led by Artistic Director Damian Woetzel, VIDF has grown into one of the most renowned summer festivals in the world and has been widely acclaimed for its innovation. The 2012 event will feature ten performances at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater and Vilar Performing Arts Center.

Damian Woetzel is a former ballet star with a storied career in dance. He was a Principal Dancer at New York City Ballet from 1989 until his retirement from the stage in 2008, where he had works created for him by Jerome Robbins, Eliot Feld, Twyla Tharp, Susan Stroman, and Christopher Wheeldon among others. Among his recent projects was directing the first performance of the White House Dance Series in September of 2010, which took place in the East Room of the White House and was hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama. In 2009 and 2010, Woetzel produced and directed the World Science Festival Gala Performances at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. For the 2010 event he created an arts salute to science honoring the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, featuring performances by Yo-Yo Ma, John Lithgow, and Kelli O’Hara among others.

Damian Woetzel. Photo: Erin Baiano

In 2006, Damain was appointed to lead the Vail International Dance Festival. Here are some excerpts from a recent conversation about the 2012 Festival and the performance lineup:

What makes this festival different from other dance festivals?

I try to always present performances that can’t be seen anywhere else, whether it’s a new partnership between dancers from different companies, or new works made especially for the festival or special performances in the UpClose series that explore an aspect of dance in depth. Some examples from this year are the pairing of Carla Korbes the ballerina from Pacific Northwest Ballet with Eric Underwood from the Royal Ballet– they have only ever danced together here in Vail and it is a wonderful partnership, Carla is also dancing with Cory Stearns from American Ballet Theatre, another partnership you won’t see anywhere else. The UpClose performance this year celebrates the incredible repertory of works created by George Balanchine to the music of Igor Stravinsky, and we will look at the works danced rehearsal style by the dancers of New York City Ballet MOVES.

Are any of the pieces or programs new?

Our “NOW” performance presents a number of world premieres this year, among them new works by Brian Brooks who is creating a piece with the great ballerina Wendy Whelan for the first time, and Christopher Wheeldon whose piece uses the incredible modern dancer Fang-Yi Sheu, and then Martha Graham Dance Company is premiering a new Lamentation Variation by Doug Varone–all are new works, but also new collaborations between wonderful artists.

Why Vail? What prompted this location and how does it differ from a festival in New York for example?

The Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail is unlike any other performance venue in the world, set with mountains and trees as a backdrop. One of my favorite memories is Balanchine’s Serenade being performed there as the moon rose in the sky behind the stage – amazing!

Next year will mark the 25th Anniversary of the Dance Festival. In recent years, what changes have you witnessed that make you especially proud?

In 2006, my wife Heather Watts had the idea to bring “Celebrate the Beat” – a dance and music education program – to Vail. This is a life changing program that teaches children how to learn and how to succeed, all through the arts, and now it is had been in the local schools in Vail for six years! I also take a lot of pride in our Dance for $20.12 program, which launched in 2008 and allows people an opportunity to see a world-class performance, all at a price that opens the door wide to new audiences.

If a “dance rookie” who is new to the VIDF and wants to attend a performance wanted advice on what to attend and look out for, what would be your advice?

I would definitely suggest coming to a series of performances to get a sense of what the person likes–to develop a taste for it. But if it were just one performance they could attend I would suggest the Dance for $20.12 performance, or one of the International Evenings as there is a real variety of dance styles to enjoy.

What piece(s) are you most excited to see performed?

I am really looking forward to seeing the new pieces on the NOW evening, and also very interested to see Jerome Robbins Moves on the Monday 7/30 performance by New York City Ballet MOVES–it is a groundbreaking ballet in silence that Robbins created in 1959, it’s a masterpiece, and to see it outside in Vail with the music of nature and life as its score is an incredible and unique opportunity.

To learn more, visit www.vaildance.org.

Video clips from the 2011 Vail Intl Dance Festival:

New York City Ballet MOVES performing an excerpt from Christopher Wheeldon’s After The Rain 8.1.11 – Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail, Colorado

New York City Ballet MOVES performing an excerpt from Jerome Robbins Dances At A Gathering on 7.31.11 – Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail, Colorado.

New York City Ballet MOVES performing excerpts of George Balanchine’s work throughout the century during UpClose: The Male Dancer by Balanchine hosted by New York City Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins and Festival Artistic Director Damian Woetzel on 8.2.11.

This blog first appeared on The Huffington Post Dance Page on July 27, 2012.

Follow Adria Rolnik on Twitter: www.twitter.com/adriaballetbeat

A LOOK BACK AT “BREAKING POINTE” WITH ALLISON DeBONA OF BALLET WEST

2 Jul

Breaking Pointe, the CW Network’s behind the scenes look at Salt Lake City’s Ballet West, will air its final episode on July 5, 8 pm EST.

The six episode reality series features an inside peek “at the world of competitive ballet,” including day-to-day rehearsals, the drama of company romances and the excitement of main stage performance, all while highlighting the sacrifice and discipline it takes to look “perfect” for the audience.

Allison DeBona is one of the seven featured dancers on the series. Here’s her look back at Breaking Pointe as we approach the season finale.

BREAKING POINTE. Pictured: Allison DeBona PHOTO: Erik Ostling/The CW ©2012 THE CW NETWORK, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Allison, it’s been said that ballet is having “a mainstream moment.” Jane Tranter, the head of BBC Worldwide Productions, said when the movie Black Swan came out she knew “the time was right to seize upon the new awareness of ballet in popular culture.”Do you think the show has succeeded in making ballet more accessible – and more appealing – to the general public?

As ballerinas we are taught to make our art form look effortless, which, in my opinion makes ballet seem unattainable.  When watching Breaking Pointe the general public gets to see how hard it really is for ballet dancers and humanizes what we do day-to-day.  That alone makes ballet more appealing because people can relate to the “blood, sweat and tears” shed.  It makes them want to see us live, which is our ultimate goal.

Do you feel the show is a good thing for ballet? Some ballet enthusiasts feel strongly against “commercialization” of the art.

Ballet has a beautiful history and it must maintain its integrity.  However, ballet is a dying art form and if going “mainstream” helps to revive ballet then I stand by this show and what we are doing.  Ballet companies are downsizing and even worse closing their doors in many cities.  We felt it was time to take a chance at something new because the old isn’t cutting it anymore.  Breaking Pointe is different, but we believe that is a chance to bring ballet into the 21st century and I think it is doing just that.

Do you think the attention being given to Ballet West will increase ticket sales not only for Ballet West but for other regional ballet companies? There are so many wonderful ballet companies out there.

I hope that Breaking Pointe helps to increase ticket sales for not only ballet companies but all performing arts.  Nothing surpasses seeing a live performance and Breaking Pointe is getting people excited to see live theater.

In retrospect, are you happy with the series? If the show is renewed, would you like to see any changes to its content and/or how you were portrayed?

I am happy with the series and how I am portrayed.  It’s not easy to wake up every day and beat myself up physically and mentally for ballet, but I do it because I love it.  I’m not trying to be the best at Ballet West; I’m trying to be my personal best.  I’ve sacrificed a lot to be successful at ballet.  If that comes off as “bitchy” that’s OK because to me ballet has gone beyond just steps. It has become something personal.  I’ve been criticized for taking it too seriously but I’ve fought tooth and nail to get to where I am today, so for me… that is serious.

If you could do it all again, would you have said yes to the filming? It couldn’t have been easy being followed all day by a film crew!

Of course I would do it again!  I am hoping for season two because I know there is so much more I can offer.

Do you see yourself remaining at the company? What is your ultimate dream job?

Being a professional ballerina is my dream job.  I’ve thought about being on stage for as long as I can remember and it is impossible to show how grateful I am to be doing what I love.  People come to see us perform to escape from their lives for a few hours and knowing that I am making people happy is the most gratifying feeling in the world.  I hope I remain dancing for as long as I can.

Breaking Pointe is produced by BBC Worldwide Productions. Kate Shepherd (“Big Brother,” “Wife Swap”) is executive producer. Izzie Pick Ashcroft (“Dancing with the Stars”) and Jane Tranter (“Top Gear,” “Dancing with the Stars,” “Torchwood”) are executive producers for BBC Worldwide Productions.

This story first appeared on the Huffington Post on June 29, 2012.

HEATHER WATTS AND TRACY STRAUS ON THE POWER OF ARTS EDUCATION

7 Jun

While scrolling through my Facebook News Feed a few weeks ago, I noticed a colorful photo posted by Heather Watts, former principal dancer with New York City Ballet. It was an eye-catching image of 300 children, all smiles with hands in the air, on stage at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek, Colorado. The caption read, “CTB end of year performance” and congratulated the children, their teachers, “and Tracy, for organizing it all!”

Celebrate the Beat year end performance – May 4, 2012

What was CTB, I wondered? Why was Heather Watts involved with children in Colorado? And who was Tracy? I was curious, and wanted to learn more.

It turns out Heather is chairperson of Celebrate the Beat, (CTB), a not-for-profit Colorado-based organization which teaches music and dance classes to children. The program was founded by Tracy Straus, now Artistic Director of CTB, and is an associate of Jacques d’Amboise’s National Dance Institute.

(Associates of National Dance Institute – ANDI – is a collective of arts education programs inspired by National Dance Institute’s pedagogy. ANDI members share best practices, maintain standards of excellence and promote the growth of community arts education programs for children. More than 30,000 children are served annually by ANDI programs).

I decided to reach out to Heather and Tracy to find out more about Celebrate the Beat, what it takes to bring arts education into the public schools, and the positive impact such programs have on students.   What follows is a conversation on the wonderful and important work they are doing.

A conversation with Heather Watts:

Since retiring in 1995 as a principal dancer with New York City Ballet, you have given so much back to the dance community. You’ve lectured at Princeton and taught academic courses at Harvard; you are a lecturer on the works of George Balanchine, educate dance academics and work with professional dance students training future instructors. You have worked with The National Endowment for the Arts, serve on the Artists Committee for the Kennedy Center Honors, and are on the Hunter College’s Dance Advisory Board.

Heather Watts, former principal dancer with New York City Ballet

I have recently learned you are also chairperson of Celebrate the Beat, the Colorado-based NDI associate organization teaching music and dance classes to children.  Your hope is to motivate students “to believe in themselves, value artistic expression and develop personal standards of excellence.” What a wonderful endeavor.

How did you become involved with Celebrate the Beat? I had long admired National Dance Institute (NDI), the organization Jacques D’Amboise created. In fact, as he was in the beginning phase of creating NDI in the mid 1970’s I would often pass the small rehearsal hall after late rehearsals at NYCB and stop to watch and listen as Jacques worked with all sorts of SUPPOSED non-dancers; these were policemen, kids, and at one point he was involved in teaching and working with the hearing impaired as well… his passion and ability to get people from all walks moving and engaged is a true gift!!

In 2007, when my husband Damian Woetzel took on the artistic direction at the Vail Valley International Dance Festival, we both felt it was important to offer the entire Vail community access to dance. Since NDI is a fantastic dance and movement program with live music, I spoke to Tracy Straus, the associate director at NDI, who I knew through my friendship with her mother. It turned out she already had a Colorado based organization called Celebrate The Beat, and with the incredible energy of Damian at the VVIDF and Ceil Folz who runs the entire Vail Valley Foundation, we were able to start up immediately that summer and Tracy has built an amazing and robust program in Vail and in other communities in Colorado. This year CTB is moving into schools in Denver where we feel we will be addressing a diverse student body that really stand to benefit from the confidence and joy that CTB brings to kids!!

What influenced you to advise and mentor an organization teaching love of the arts to children? I have always believed that those that have been given a lot need to share in all areas of life. Both my mother and Mr. Balanchine were very civic minded and empathetic and it was a wonderful example and environment to be raised around, first at home in southern California and then later on at NYCB. I believe strongly in the power of arts education to engage and empower young people.

What are the rewards of participating in such a program? Is there a different kind of satisfaction in introducing school children to dance than in teaching professional dancers or students in university dance programs? Watching the pride that the youngsters take and the great energy that is in the room is VERY powerful!!!!

Do you work with the CTB children hands-on? I watch the students with tremendous pride and admire Tracy and her staff. Damian teaches hands on in his various projects with young students, both with Tracy and in the work he does with Yo-Yo Ma volunteering in schools. I am really happy watching, applauding, and plotting how to reach even more students!

Heather Watts and husband Damian Woetzel, Artistic Director of the Vail International Dance Festival

Do you think programs like CTB make a difference? I met a third grade teacher in Vail that told me he was truly against CTB for his kids. He felt it was a distraction from their studies and testing until he started to notice that the boys fought and fussed a lot less on days that they had CTB and that attendance was much better too… he is a true believer today for sure! It’s very important to utilize team work and create self esteem for learning. There is a big movement to justify arts in schools with facts and statistics that prove the usefulness of the arts, but I am a believer in engaging all children BECAUSE IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO, ENGAGING YOUNG HEARTS AND MINDS IN CREATIVE AND JOYFUL EXPERIENCES.

It’s always a struggle to find funding for the arts. What can be done to encourage public and private funding of programs which mentor arts education for children? As long as arts programs and arts education for children is considered an add-on, their funding will be the first to go. Today there is a much needed focus that is growing daily here in America on our education system and on necessary improvements in how we engage and measure our children’s progress. Arts education is a big part of building a 21st century creative mind, and I think that we have let way too many kids lose their way by not drawing in their young minds with music, dance, painting and the other various ways we can express those things we do not have words for.

Do you foresee a growth in the associate programs of the National Dance Institute? Oh yes indeed! NDI has a long, LONG fantastic reach that is growing day by day!!!!!!! Don’t forget it’s called NATIONAL Dance Institute — BRAVO to Jacques and his amazing program!! What an accomplishment. KUDOS to Tracy for all she does for both NDI and CTB and to our team on the ground in Colorado!! And special shout out to Ceil Folz the visionary head of the Vail Valley Foundation – she just makes it happen for the kids in the Vail Valley!!!!!!!!!

How can we help CTB, and other associates of National Dance Institute, to expand? What can arts advocates do to support and encourage development of similar programs? CTB is training more teachers and Tracy is generous to give away all her knowledge and expertise to all who will listen just as Jacques trained her. There are many fine Arts Ed Programs in America, and we can all help them grow by donating even small amounts of money, or by attending events put on in the schools or by starting our own!!!!!!! You can send money to both NDI and CTB online or in the mail. For more ideas if you believe in arts education and want to help, you can go on to www.DonorsChoose.org  and look up arts needs in schools, and help an individual teacher get the supplies she or he needs or help in other ways. Take a look, its amazing!! Even the smallest donation helps.

A conversation with Tracy Straus:

Tracy, you are the founder and Artistic Director of Celebrate the Beat (CTB), and have spearheaded the development of ANDI – Associates of National Dance Institute, a collective of arts education programs. You serve as the National Dance Institute (NDI) Associate Artistic Director, and lead their Residency Program. You are one of a core group of educators who have who have helped found NDI associated organizations across the country.

You engage and motivate young dancers. Introducing young people to the arts is your passion. Who better to talk to about the nuts and bolts of introducing young people to the arts via dance outreach programs? In fact, Celebrate the Beat began as an outreach program of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.

Tracy Straus, Founder and Artistic Director of Celebrate the Beat

How does a dance educator go about establishing an outreach program, and how do such outreach programs become associates of the National Dance Institute? A few wonderful NDI associate programs have been created by teaching artists who have become “Master Teachers” after many years of working tirelessly for NDI in different and extremely challenging public school settings in NYC. Other associate programs have been created by dance educators who have been trained by us, and who then continue their training by assisting a master teacher on a few two or three week intensive ‘residency’ programs, during which they teach daily alongside a fabulously talented teaching artist. I was extremely fortunate to have begun working with NDI at a time when Jacques (d’Amboise) was teaching a lot, and he took an interest in seeing me reach my potential, and invited me to assist him on many projects. I was also so fortunate to have been trained by three other extraordinary teachers: Catherine Oppenheimer, Lori Klinger and Ellen Weinstein. Eventually, after working in NYC for seven years, then working with NDI New Mexico for a year, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet hired me to create an ‘outreach’ program for them. Because the teaching is extremely effective, principals in other towns in Colorado wanted the program, and so it grew and became independent. And now, with the support of the Vail Valley Foundation, and a committed group of funders in Crested Butte and Paonia, it has grown tremendously. And in January we were awarded a grant from the Adams County School District in Denver, which supports our expansion into four schools Denver in the 2012-2013 school year.

Each NDI associate program has a very different “birth” story, but share one crucial element: the founder is brilliant in teaching children and other teachers, passionately committed to inspiring communities through this work, and excited by the challenge of raising funds to make it all happen.

During and after school hours, CTB teaching artists “serve entire grades or an entire school.” How do schools elect to participate in your program? Are you approached by the public schools to bring your program to them? Do you go to the schools to suggest arts programming? In most cases principals have heard about the success of CTB and approach us.

Do children choose to participate in the program, or are they enrolled as part of the regular school curriculum? To highlight our belief that to create a better world, ALL children need excellent first hand experiences in art, we place our classes alongside science, math, reading in importance, and the ENTIRE class participates during the school day.

How do the associate organizations fund raise? Do they receive support from NDI? Each organization is one hundred percent independent financially and in every other way. Associate programs share a vision and mission, but are run independently.

Do local school budgets contribute to financing your program? In some cases yes, in others no. Our most recent expansion in Denver is possible because the Adams County School District has committed to financing half the cost of our programs in four new schools in Denver.

How are you working to make the program grow? What can we do to promote arts education in the schools? Our growth continues to be very organic, in that we are responding to a demand for programming that truly benefits the child, her family, and the community at large. Thank you for asking what you can do to promote arts education in our schools. I answer by saying financial contributions are an excellent way to express your support and experience the joy of watching the children touched by this program excel in ways you didn’t quite know possible!

I see there are currently 11 associate organizations for NDI. How do they recruit instructors? Are they found locally? How are they trained in the NDI method? Each organization runs their program completely independently. Some send their teachers to NYC to participate in NDI’s Teaching Artist Training Workshops, some train them in their home programs.

Can you give an example of a success story? A child whose life may have been changed by participation in the CTB program? Oh yes…so many……a child who began a school year struggling in every subject excelled in CTB dance classes. By the end of the year he was also excelling in the classroom, and then was invited to dance on a world class stage – the Gerald Ford Amphitheater, accompanied by Yo Yo Ma….he continues to thrive in CTB and all areas of his life.

NDI’s founder Jacques d’Amboise said, “the arts have a unique power to engage and motivate individuals toward excellence.” How can we support the growth of programs such as Celebrate the Beat, programs that make a difference in the life of a child? Please join our mailing list and become involved as a friend and funder!

Find out more:

Celebrate the Beat

National Dance Institute

Associates of National Dance Institute

Master Class with Jacques d’Amboise – HBO’s “Master Class” on YouTube

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.

VISUALS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE

4 Apr

When did my posture at the barre really change? After all the years of shoulders back and down, pulling up, sucking in that gut , nose in the air, weight forward, nothing made me reconfigure my stance at the barre better than this visual:

Thank you to my teacher Claudia Guimaraes, who said, “picture a dot under each of your shoulder blades, then a dot under each of them at your waist. Now connect them in a crisscross, and pull your stomach up and in.” Wow – that changed everything! By utilizing that visual, my posture changed – I’m now raising my leg higher, my balance is improved, I’m doing better pirouettes and ponches and have an easier time at the center. It was Claudia’s visual that made the difference.

I’ve had many teachers who use visual cues to improve technique, but some images resonate. Take my teacher Luba Gulyaeva,  for example – “when you ponche, you are balancing a crown on your head, not bending over to scrub the floor!” Oh my! Or another gem: “melt like ice cream” in describing the perfect plié.

A recent story in the New York Times science section titled, “Ballet Fans Truly Know How to Feel the Moves”  reported ballet lovers  “truly feel they are dancing” when they watch a performance. According to Corinne Jola, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Surrey in England, “Scientists report ( ballet) spectators showed muscle-specific responses in their brain as if they were expert dancers – even though ‘they were clearly not capable of doing the actual movements.’” Even for a non-dancer, visual cues affect their sense of movement. The spectator’s observation of dance helps them visualize their own dancing!

Stephanie Madec and Ramy Tadrous in "Lilac Garden," 2012, Ballet du Rhin. Photo: Jean Luc Tanghe

One of the reasons The Antony Tudor Ballet Trust sends a “répétiteur” to set a ballet is because it’s not just about dance notation and the steps – it’s also about nuance, feeling, interpretation. (Read Trust répétiteur Donald Mahler’s WordPress blog on setting Tudor’s Lilac Garden in France, and you will see what I mean)! The répétiteur must fine tune the dancers in their interpretation of the ballet. It’s not just the steps, it’s how you feel them.

“Melt like ice cream…”.

What makes a better history teacher? A better yoga teacher? A better dance instructor? The ability to communicate and make an idea come alive is what makes the message resonate.

What visuals have helped you improve your dance technique?

A POINTED TOAST FOR THE NEW YEAR

3 Jan

It felt good to plié today.  After all the travel and mayhem of the busy holiday season it  felt good to finally adjust my posture, pull up, move my shoulders back and down, turn out and enjoy that first plié in my first ballet class of 2012. (Sure, you can stretch and plié and tendu without class, but it’s just not the same, you know that)!

As I went through my first  barre of the New Year,  I started thinking how grateful I am to New Jersey Ballet where I take class, for being there with a professional class and pianist so close to home. In fact, I am grateful to all of the local schools and institutions who offer quality dance training – those regional ballet companies, university dance programs and dancing schools who nurture and  inspire so many, all over this country.

New Jersey Ballet

Hey – we all start local – even the luminaries. Wendy Whelan, NYC Ballet principal, began taking dance class with a local teacher in Louisville, KY and as a child performed as a mouse with the Louisville Ballet in its annual production of The Nutcracker.

Charles Askegard,  recently retired principal dancer with NYC Ballet, began his dance training with  Minnesota Dance Theatre. David Hallberg, principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre and the Bolshoi Ballet, began his formal ballet training at the Arizona Ballet School in Phoenix. And Amanda McKerrow, Répétiteur for the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust and former ABT principal dancer, began her training at the Twinbrook School of Ballet in Rockville, Maryland and later studied at the Washington School of Ballet. And those are just a few.

I love American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, San Francisco and Miami City Ballet. But let’s not forget all of the smaller  companies in the smaller towns; the universities and even the small ballet schools who train and develop our young people, provide quality performance, and of course, offer class to all those who wish to continue dancing throughout their lives.

Please support your local ballet company in 2012 – their role is ever more important. As they say at NJ Ballet, “dance training develops discipline, concentration, alertness and body control, which aids in scholastic endeavors and personal growth. Carriage, body lines, coordination, grace, style, technique, artistry – the benefits that a dance education can bring are unlimited.”

Well said! We would be way less fortunate without our local schools and companies – here’s to them!

90 MINUTES TO NUTCRACKER

6 Dec

Twitter can be an amazing thing.

Ashley Bouder, principal dancer with New York City Ballet, tweeted on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, “I’ve got 2 tix to the 2pm matinee of Nutcracker today. DM me if you want them:)” It was 12:30pm and I live in New Jersey.

I was barely fixed up and my kids, visiting for the holiday weekend, were at the gym, but what the heck? George Balanchine’s version of Nutcracker opened at New York City Ballet the day before and I knew the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center would be a sold-out house. Plus, I hadn’t seen the NYCB version of Nut in maybe 15 years? Cool opp. I’d love to take a run in, on a whim. After a little Twitter back and forth with Ashley, I learned the tickets were complimentary and would be left at the box office under her name. The race was on. Depending on traffic, the ride could take an hour and a half or more. (Of course, Lincoln Center is only 30 minutes from my house if you leave at, say, 4am).

David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center

I called my kids – stop running, stop biking, stop lifting – one of you get in the car NOW – we’re going to Nutcracker. Both thought I was crazy, but one did run for it, and we were on our way. We made every wrong turn, hit every traffic light, crept though every midtown Manhattan jam up, but we made it to the box office with three minutes to spare and rushed to our seats. And were we glad we made it!

That heartwarming Tchaikovsky score! The party scene! The growing Christmas tree! Those fabulous children from the School of American Ballet! And then the wonderful Act II variations in the Land of Sweets, with the beautiful Sugarplum Fairy and all of its inhabitants…. I was excited and I was loving it. I was so excited that after the first act I stumbled upon Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins in the rear orchestra and went up to him to say the company was excellent, Nutcracker was better than I ever expected, hadn’t seen the show in many years, better than ever… what was I doing?? Shut up!

There was excitement in the house. In the “viewing room,” where we were seated, bitter words were spoken to parents about rustling children and their whispers during the overture; people were fussing, moving around and not sitting still. Someone was making noise with candy wrappers… not the usual crowd at the Koch Theater. But Nutcracker is never the usual crowd – not only is the audience filled with children (us older folk should give them some wiggle room re decorum), but those very children were dressed to the hilt – most all little girls were in party dresses,  many with large petticoats, some even wearing “Santa” dresses, in red velvet with white fur trim. One little girl had a silver crown on her head! The ballet was a show, and the audience was a show. Even during intermission a dancer was posing for fundraising photographs with children. That is Nutcracker.

For me, there is nothing like Balanchine’s version, and I think NYCB does a stellar job. The reviews were good – even the normally persnickety New York Times was pleased. (Be sure to read Tobi Tobias’ Arts Journal blog on this season’s NYCB’s Nutcracker– she summed it up well)!

By the way, Ashley was a fine Dew Drop. The phrasing, execution and musicality of her dancing is a delight.  Thank you, Dew Drop, for a great afternoon. What could be a more wonderful and spontaneous way to kick off the holiday season then a “Twitter” Nutcracker?

NYCB will have a live telecast of Nutcracker on December 13, which will be on view in more than 500 movie theaters cross-country. On December 14, PBS’s Live From Lincoln Center will present the ballet. The NYCB season runs through December 31, 2011.

BALLET NORMAL

15 Nov

Today is one month since I moved, after being in the same home for 22 years. Although not a far move by any means, it was nevertheless a major upheaval – packing up your belongings after 22 years in the same place! What to take, what to throw, how much memorabilia do you really need to save? What is worth bringing, what you will use, how it will fit, where will you put it, should it be tossed? And then, arrival in the new digs – where do you place things, how can you get organized, what to do with this, that and the other? (Forget Internet, phones, TV, computers….).

Maybe you just can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Moving is HARD.  Now I know why some people never move – it’s just too difficult, too must work, expensive and filled with anxiety –  for many it’s easier to just stay put!

With this in mind – when nothing is normal and you can’t find your proverbial ass from your elbow – there is one thing that stays incredibly normal and blessedly diverting.  Yes, you guessed it – it’s ballet class!

So there you go – no matter what life brings – where you live, what your relationships, life’s difficulties, distractions, ups and downs – the ballet barre, at least, remains happily reliable – plié, tendu, dégagé, rond de jambe, developpé, frappé, grand battement.. class has order. When life is out-of-order, taking ballet class makes things feel incredibly normal.

Normal is good.

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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