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.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: “SUMMER DANCE”

2 Mar

Imagine – a sleep away camp where you dance, morning, noon and night. Where you stage performances, learn from the masters, excerpt the great ballets and learn folk and modern dance too. Ah, to live in the mountains during the hot summer months, on a lake with an outdoor stage, with piles of pointe shoes, costumes, and new friends and cool mountain air. What I wouldn’t have given to go to a dance camp like the one in Summer Dance. The pre-teen novel struck a chord.

"Summer Dance" by Lynn Swanson

“Summer Dance” by Lynn Swanson

All at dance camp was not perfect for 13-year old Sara – finances were tight at home and a scholarship was needed to come back next year.  Dance was Sara’s passion, and her dream was to dance professionally some day. Could the training at “Lakewood Dance Camp” hold the key?

“Young dancers should be easily drawn into the passions and frustrations of Sara and her friends and the nicely evoked upper Michigan setting,” says Publishers Weekly.  I agree.

If you have a daughter who loves to dance, Summer Dance is a perfect choice for the young reader.  The challenges of learning and perfecting your craft, the motivation for scholarship, and changing relationships with friends over a memorable summer in the northern Michigan woods create a passionate story filled with surprises.

Lynn Swanson, author of Summer Dance, is a dance educator and member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She holds a BFA in dance from the University of Michigan and an MA in Creative Writing from Michigan State University.  Here are some excerpts from a recent conversation:

Author Lynn Swanson

Author Lynn Swanson

They always say, “Write what you know” – why do I have a feeling you spent summers at dance camp?

Yes, it’s true! Two summers in Michigan at Interlochen Summer Arts Camp as a student, and two summers there assisting in the prestigious ballet department.

Summer intensives are commonplace for dance students on the professional track. Do you think a dance camp is an effective alternative?

It depends on what the dancer’s technical and emotional needs are at the time.  A camp environment is ideal as long as the instructors are top-notch.  No sense wasting a summer or developing bad dance habits if you are a serious dancer.

I love that you introduce the reader to some of the great classical ballets – Swan Lake, Les Sylphides, Romeo & Juliet… what made you choose those ballets for the story?

I danced in Les Sylphides and in Les Patineurs, which is also in the book, so I knew the choreography in detail and the artistic expression required to dance them. I love the music from both ballets.  I chose Swan Lake and Romeo & Juliet for their romantic appeal.

How does a young girl become passionate about dance? Do you think it’s learned or innate?

Lynn Swanson presenting Summer Dance to students last summer at Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan.

Author Lynn Swanson presenting “Summer Dance” to students last summer at Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan.

I think all little girls are passionate about some form of movement and do it very naturally if you watch them. Not all sustain the commitment needed to move through every stage of training to become a professional dancer.  It’s the passion that fuels a dancer to keep going.

A scholarship is necessary for Sara to continue her studies. Financing for arts education is always a struggle. Can you tell me something about the importance of scholarship for young dancers with potential, like Sara?

It is highly important that we financially support our dancers through scholarships, especially in this country where there are no government supported boarding schools for dance. It is sometimes up to individual dance teachers at private studios or at the local community center or YMCA to not only identify gifted and passionate dancers, but to help them find a way to get the financial support they need to pursue their dance training. I honor and praise all those who continue to find ways to keep talented dancers moving!

Find Summer Dance on Amazon.com.

TAP DANCE, REVISITED

15 Feb

I haven’t tap danced in 47 years. But I remember when I first took ballet and tap, as a kid back in Brooklyn. “Miss Lorraine’s Dance Studio” certainly offered tap, and lots of it. Ballet class wasn’t the only dance form on my agenda!

I always liked tap and still remember a step or two, but who’d ever think I’d wind up working on a project with the American Tap Dance Foundation? Well, there you go. Again and again, things come full circle.

Maybe this blog is “AdriaBALLETbeat,” but ballet and tap, together, is where it all began for me. I recently published a story in the Huffington Post Arts/Culture page called, Tap Dance Preserved, which included an interview with Tony Waag, Artistic/Executive Director of the American Tap Dance Foundation. Please have a look:

“Tap is jazz, tap is Broadway, tap is culture blending at its best — the history of tap is rich, the dancing electric. We should pay attention.

For more than a century, tap has fought for its place on the legitimate stage. Appropriate venues where tap dancers, both aspiring and professional, can perfect their craft are limited. The American Tap Dance Foundation (ATDF) is one of only a handful of dance companies committed to ensuring that tap and its family of performers receives recognition alongside the masters of ballet, modern and jazz.

The Tap City Youth Ensemble -- Photo: Carolina Kroon

The Tap City Youth Ensemble — Photo: Carolina Kroon

ATDF has recently embarked on a new collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center, bringing talented young musicians and dancers together to share their musical and rhythmic ideas and explore jazz culture. ATDF has spearheaded the development of The Gregory Hines Collection of American Tap Dance Archives at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Education and preservation go hand in hand and are the cornerstones of the Foundation’s mission.

Two new productions, blending the history of tap as well as new, contemporary work will open March 19 in New York City. Top tappers Brenda Bufalino, Michelle Dorrance, Derick K. Grant and Savion Glover‘s protégé, Cartier Williams are participating. There is a lot going on.

In a sit-down with Tony Waag, artistic and executive director, we learned more about the American Tap Dance Foundation mission and how they continue to stretch the boundaries of the form:

Tell us about the beginnings of tap. How did it become part of the American culture?

Well, it actually was born and became what we know as Tap Dance right here in NYC. In fact, it was primarily developed and identified as tap dance in what was called the “5 Points District” in lower Manhattan. Freed African slaves and Irish immigrants lived there together, and danced publicly and socially, often in competition.

Why is preservation so important to ATDF?

Tony Waag -- American Tap Dance Foundation. Photo: Lois Greenfield

Tony Waag — American Tap Dance Foundation. Photo: Lois Greenfield

Because so much of its history has already been lost. Only so much could be handed down through stories. The general public knows very little about it, and how amazing that history is! Tap parallels American history, and had to overcome the same prejudices and social issues we’ve all had to acknowledge.

Tap is ultimately a performance art. How do you integrate performance and preservation?

There are several ways. We showcase vintage video footage, such as in Rhythm is Our Business, one of our upcoming shows in March. Then, of course, we also videotape the shows. We also add “Meet the Artists” discussions before our shows, so we can put everything in context.

How will the upcoming performances showcase past and present?

Rhythm is Our Business is using swing as the theme of the evening. The band, the vocals, the choreography, the dancing, the costumes are all in the swing style. Rhythm in Motion is using contemporary music and much of the choreography is hot off the presses. Each piece has a different point of view and has been created and/or inspired by contemporary issues.

What is the future of tap? What can we look forward to in the long term?

I think we will see much more mixed media in productions, experimental use of site-specific venues and new surfaces to tap on. We will also see much more from the international community, with different musical influences from other cultures… everything is cyclical, you know. Personally, I’m going back to basics and experimenting with Busby Berkeley motifs like in Tap It Out, a piece I did this summer at NYC’s World Financial Center. We had 151 dancers do a modern take on orchestral unison percussion and movement, out of doors, right next to the Hudson River!”

Rhythm Is Our Business
The Theater at the 14th St Y, NYC
Tues., 3/19-Thurs., 3/21 – 7pm and 9:30pm
http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/327158

Rhythm in Motion
The Theater at the 14th St Y, NYC
Fri., 3/22-Sat., 3/23 at 7pm and 9:30pm
Sun., 3/24 at 3pm
http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/327849

Adria Rolnik is helping promote the American Tap Dance Foundation.

A portion of this blog first appeared in the Huffington Post Arts/Culture Page, February 7, 2013.

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.

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.

MODERN DANCE CELEBRATED AT AMERICAN DANCE GUILD FESTIVAL 2012

24 Aug

Dawn Robinson in “Phoenix: The Rising”– Photo by Yi-Chun Wu

Modern dance lovers take heed: There are big doings this September at the Ailey Citigroup Theater in NYC, when the American Dance Guild (ADG) hosts their annual Performance Festival with more than 30 artists/choreographers featured over four nights. Living legends of modern dance Dianne McIntyre and Elaine Summers will be honored with tributes, and works by Molissa Fenley (also performing), Harald Kreutzberg, and performances by John Pennington and Joseph Mills included. Festival dates are Sept. 6-9.

Dianne McIntyre. Photo: Larry Coleman

Ms. McIntyre, a champion of dancing to live jazz music, will be presenting Life’s Force, a signature work of Sounds in Motion, the first company Ms. McIntyre formed in 1972. This time the presentation will feature a reunion of past dancers and musicians, with jazz trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah leading the band along with a cast of 20 dancers who worked with Ms McIntyre both recently and long ago – a celebratory reunion!

Elaine Summers, an innovator since the 1960’s as a choreographer, teacher, filmmaker and interdisciplinary artist, was an original member of the workshop that spawned the Judson Dance Theater. Some know her as the person who filmed Trisha Brown walking on the walls of the Guggenheim.  We’re excited to see Windows in the Kitchen, her 1976 vanguard intermedia work featuring Douglas Dunn performing live with composer/performer Jon Gibson, alongside dancer Matt Turney on film. Ms. Summers work is currently being archived at the Jerome Robbins Dance Collection of the NY Public Library at Lincoln Center.

Elaine Summers. Photo: Jeff Fox

ADG is an organization that has served the dance field for 56 years, and Festival ’12 continues their tradition of bringing together artists from across the nation and internationally. “What makes us distinctive is that we honor the past and promote the future,” says Mary Seidman, Festival co-producer.

ADG promotes the new, and preserves the living history of modern dance as an art form.  That is something special modern dance lovers won’t want to miss!

Adria Rolnik is helping promote ADG Performance Festival 2012, September 6-9 at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, The Joan Weill Center for Dance, 405 West 55th Street at 9th Avenue, NYC. Performances are 8pm Thurs/Fri/Sat, and 7pm on Sun. Visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/253476 for tickets.

This blog first appeared on the Huffington Post Dance Page, August 23, 2012.

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

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