Archive | New York City Ballet RSS feed for this section

MY FAVORITE “MEN DANCERS” IN NYC – JAN 2013

30 Dec

An outstanding cast of dancers, choreographers, directors and scholars will appear together this January in NYC, in a special production of “The Men Dancers: From the Horse’s Mouth.”  Spanning all ages and traditions, this diverse group of performers will join together to dance and share personal stories with the audience, with big names in the dance world participating.

Lar Lubovitch in The Men Dancers, Jacob's Pillow, July 2012. Photo: Christopher Duggan

Lar Lubovitch in The Men Dancers, Jacob’s Pillow, July 2012. Photo: Christopher Duggan

Former NYC Ballet principal dancer Charles Askegard, master choreographer Lar Lubovitch, former NYC Ballet principal Jock Soto,  acclaimed dance figure Gus Solomons Jr.  and Trent Kowalik (one of the original “Billy” performers from the musical Billy Elliot) will be among the cast of 30 — Bessie and TONY Award winners, Ernie Award recipients and dance legends will share the stage in this four-day event.

Last summer, a special all-male version of From the Horse’s Mouth premiered at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in honor of Ted Shawn, the festival’s founder. Inspired by the success of that production (part of the Pillow’s 80th anniversary season), The Men Dancers: From the Horse’s Mouth is back!

Following is a conversation with Jamie Cunningham, founder of From the Horse’s Mouth, about this extraordinary production:

Jamie Cunningham in The Men Dancers, Jacob's Pillow, July 2012. Photo: Christopher Duggan

Jamie Cunningham in The Men Dancers, Jacob’s Pillow, July 2012. Photo: Christopher Duggan

How did you come up with the idea for Horse’s Mouth?

I have known Tina Croll, co-founder of From the Horse’s Mouth, since 1966, when we were young dancers and choreographers at Dance Theater Workshop in New York City. Fourteen years ago, I attended an Al-Anon meeting where each person spoke for three minutes about a problem they were having and how they were working to resolve it. I kept thinking how this process was “real theater.” Upon leaving the meeting, I happened onto a sign in front of Yoga Institute, reading, “one truth, many paths.” And that’s when then idea for From the Horse’s Mouth came together… to create a piece featuring many dancers and choreographers doing many different things. I immediately phoned Tina and told her it would be interesting to put together a piece where dancers could talk about their lives and their work — whether serious or funny — exploring their own style of dance as well as interacting with other people working in quite different styles, ie. an Indian classical dancer interacting with a Spanish flamenco dancer; a ballet dancer interacting with hip hop.

Do you see a historical value to this personal story telling?

Yes, indeed. When we introduced the production 14 years ago, our friend Sharon Kinney,  a former dancer with Paul Taylor, asked to do a documentary of the piece. Lincoln Center’s Library for the Performing Arts  also shot 10-minute interviews with each of our dancers from the original production, which is now part of the Library’s permanent collection.

Why are dancers, choreographers, directors and scholars drawn to perform in this piece?

What has made this piece so successful with dancers and the audience is its diversity and variety — we are all a part of this process of theater and dance… part of a larger, common humanity. It’s a common ground that we all have. From the Horse’s Mouth is like the UN — although it started out with our friends in the modern dance world, it has evolved over 14 years to include all races, sexes and cultures. It reminds the participants that they are not separate — they are all a part of the greater field of theater and dance.

How will the NYC production of The Men Dancers differ from the one presented at the Jacob’s Pillow 80th Anniversary season in July, 2012?

There will be some changes — for example, former NYC Ballet principal dancer Jock Soto will be joining us and dance critic Jack Anderson and his partner George Dorris, together for 46 years, will participate, talking of the changes they’ve seen in the role of male dancers over many years. We are delighted to see the return of former NYC Ballet principal Charles Askegard (now artistic director of Ballet Next) and master choreographer Lar Lubovitch to The Man Dancers for the NY run.

What’s in store for the future?

An all-tap version of Horse’s Mouth is planned by the American Tap Dance Foundation in NYC in April 2013. There will also be a production in Boston to celebrate the beloved teacher, choreographer and dancer Martha A. Gray.  Next fall, Horse’s Mouth will be in San Francisco honoring choreographer and dancer Margie Jenkins. Also on the fire is an all male — and all female — version of Horse’s Mouth for the 2014 World Pride Celebration in Toronto, Canada.

We are also planning a production in 2015 connecting the arts and sports, sponsored by the University of Toronto — we’ve been dying to do a piece with athletes!

About From the Horse’s Mouth

Adria Rolnik is helping promote The Men Dancers: From the Horse’s Mouth, Jan. 10-13 at the newly renovated Theater at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th St (between 1st and 2nd Avenues), New York, NY 10003. Gala celebration and performance on Jan.10 at 8 p.m, with performances continuing on Jan 11/12 at 8pm and on Jan 13 at 3pm. Visit http://themendancers.brownpapertickets.com/for tickets

This blog first appeared on the Huffington Post Dance Page, December 17, 2012.

Advertisements

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

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

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.

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.

WHOSE SPOT IS IT ANYWAY?

13 Sep

I often wonder, why do people always stand at the same place at the ballet barre? No matter what the class, or whom the teacher, no matter what the day or what the level, it seems dancers always stand at the barre in the exact same spot! (In my class, I can almost tell you where people are standing with my eyes closed).

I remember when Sally Brayley Bliss, Trustee of the Tudor Trust, told me she always stood at the piano when she took barre in Mr. Tudor’s class at the Metropolitan Opera House and that’s how she became close with Elizabeth Sawyer, Antony Tudor’s accompanist for 17 years.

Dancers at the Barre - Tudor Centennial at Juilliard; Photo: Cliff Jernigan

I’m not talking about “the middle,” where the more advanced or higher level dancers tend to be first. I’m talking about the barre and why people always seem to stand in the exact same place. In my class, dancers are often so committed to their spot that people are literally afraid to “steal” a regular spot from another class member. (I recall one day a dancer holding a tiny section of the barre at the piano relocated like a bullet when the person who normally stands in that spot arrived late – yikes)!

Actually, there seems to be a bit of protocol regarding where you stand at the barre. In a 2009 article in Pointe Magazine, author Temple Kemezis said, “At the beginning of every day, class sets the tone for how you will work. Make note of where people like to stand to avoid standing in someone’s favorite barre spot….”  The article, which discussed proper etiquette for a first-year company member, went on to say, “Communication is your best friend. Checking ahead of time is far better than being kicked off the barre mid-plié by a principal who is late for class.”

Edgar Degas - 1888. "Tänzerinnen an der Stange" Source: Wikipedia

Ashley Bouder,  Principal Dancer for New York City Ballet, told me she always stands in the same spot in company class. “I have stood in the same spot in company class for eight years. I always stand directly behind the piano, no matter which studio the company is taking class in. It makes me feel comfortable. It’s like waking up in your own bed. A hotel bed may feel great, but nothing beats home. That’s how I feel about my barre spot. It’s my home base; a place to start my day,” she said.

In a story called, “A smile on my face… as long as you stay clear of my space” columnist Heidi Rice said it doesn’t matter if  it’s where you sit in college, yoga class or church – “People stake out their territory.” The article, recently published in The Post Independent of Glenwood Springs, CO, went on to say, “When I looked up this whole phenomenon on the Internet, I found something that said, ‘Humans are homeostatic by nature.’ In other words, our bodies like things to pretty much stay the same.”

Yes, we are creatures of habit.

Recently my daughter told me a lawsuit was filed at her NYC gym after one man pushed another off his “favorite” bike in spin class and wound up breaking the trespasser’s arm! She hears the “pusher” is now banned from the Equinox gym for life and “is probably in anger management.” Well, ballet people don’t go that far, but yes, we do like our spots!

Do you always stay at the same place at the barre? (I try not to. But then again, I do like a clear view of the mirror and hate being squished in the corner. The back of the room gets too warm for me and I don’t like being too close to the door…).

Well, I guess I do always stay at the same place at the barre! Or try to!

%d bloggers like this: