Tag Archives: American Ballet Theatre

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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PRESERVING THE WORK

5 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT ANTONY TUDOR:

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

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

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

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

LOVING “BAC” – THE BARYSHNIKOV ARTS CENTER

31 Jan

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

Jerome Robbins Theater at BAC

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW AT BAC

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

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

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

Young Jean Lee explains her craft - YouTube

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

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

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

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

Untitled Feminist Show has been extended until Feb. 4

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

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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!

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.

UNDER THE ORCHESTRA PIT

13 Aug

There is a wonderful man who lives under the orchestra pit in New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. Well, he doesn’t actually live there, but it’s where he spends his days.

I’ve spent a lot of time at Lincoln Center in recent years (as Event Coordinator for the ABT Dancer Reunion and the Antony Tudor Centennial at Julliard), but it wasn’t until years later, as Archivist for the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust, that I had the opportunity to unearth Met Archivist John Pennino’s underground lair, home of the Metropolitan Opera Archives.

The trip to the Archives, led by Mr. Pennino himself, began by walking through the pass door to backstage, continuing on through narrow pipe-ceilinged hallways and down remote staircases to the building’s depths. As dramatic and elegant as the Met is upstairs, the opposite is true of the space underground. Cinder block gray walls and harsh fluorescent lights are de rigueur. It was a long walk to the archives, buried as they are, under the orchestra pit and stage.

 

I was asked to stop before entering the Archives, which are contained in a dark basement room piled high with file cabinets, stacks of boxes and old tin desks.  I had to leave my handbag, my tote, my jacket… I wasn’t allowed to hold or bring in anything. I had to tuck all of my belongings in a corner before even being allowed in the room! (No one is allowed into the archive with coats or bags because of theft.  But I wasn’t offended… I was excited)!

I was there on a mission to discover photos and memorabilia of the great choreographer Antony Tudor, who began staging his ballets for American Ballet Theatre (then “Ballet Theatre”) in 1939, and who in 1951 became Director of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company and School. It was at the Met where Mr. Tudor recreated his ballets Jardin aux Lilas, Dark Elegies and Judgment of Paris, as well as created his first American masterpiece, Pillar of Fire, in 1942. And it was in 1974, as Associate Director of American Ballet Theatre, he created his final masterpiece, The Leaves are Fading. The Met Archives were a treasure trove, and I had access!

So there I sat, kindly tended to by Mr. Pennino, quietly going through files of photos and memorabilia that he had stacked up for me, anticipating my visit. He sat behind me, at his own desk, hearing me occasionally gasp, mutter “wows” and voice disbelief. I found telegrams to Mr. Tudor, letters, old programs, rehearsal photos, performance photos… the collection was priceless.

Tudor’s “Echoing of Trumpets” – Photo: Louis Melancon

The Trust wasn’t given permission to use all of the materials – copyrights and all –  but Mr. Pennino did give permission when he could. It was through his kindness that The Trust could gather materials not only to publish in their fund-raising book but to also digitize and store, in the hopes of further preserving Antony Tudor’s legacy to the dance community.

Before Mr. Pennino brought me to the Met Archives I was given a tour of the lobby, with its huge archival displays of photos, beautiful paintings and glass-lit cabinets filled with costumes, accessories and memorabilia. But nothing on display in that dazzling lobby compared with being able to go through the archival materials in that dusty room under the orchestra pit. That, indeed, was a rare treat!

YES, WE BOW AND CURTSEY!

1 Aug

A few Saturday’s ago I took a great class at New Jersey Ballet taught by prima ballerina and former ABT principal Eleanor D’Antuono. She had such a lovely teaching style, artistic, with great pacing, good corrections, difficult but still manageable.

On my way out of the building I saw Eleanor coming down the hallway – from a distance I blew her a kiss, bowed and curtseyed. When I got home I ran into my husband who asked if I had a good class. “Yes,” I said, “it was great! I saw my teacher on the way out and curtseyed to her for a second time and even blew her a kiss, the class was so good!

“Curtseyed?” my husband answered in amusement. “Are you serious?”

“Of course I curtseyed,” I said, explaining at the end of class we do a “révérence” where we give the teacher a round of applause and then bow and curtsey to the teacher and pianist.  His response was to laugh out loud and say, “Gee, I ought to applaud and curtsey after my spin class!”

Lance Westergard leads "révérence" at Tudor Centennial Workshop at Juilliard. Photo: Cliff Jernigan

It was at that moment I realized to a ballet outsider this behavior might seem odd.  I’d never really thought about it – is a curtsey, bow and round of applause at the end of ballet class (something I’ve done my whole life) really all that strange? And how did the tradition of “révérence” begin?

My online research yielded many explanations of the ballet term “révérence” but very little information on its origin. A blog called balletdancing4u said, “your ballet dancing class isn’t over until you do your révérence. A révérence is always done at the conclusion of your class and is an old ballet tradition that acknowledges your teacher and pianist, as well as showing courtesy, elegance and respect.” It went on to say, “today you thank your teacher for helping you and the pianist for the beautiful music, but one day you may thank your partner for dancing with you, or the conductor for the beautiful music and your audience for their applause.” I kind of liked that.

I also liked the simple, straightforward explanation of révérence on About.com, which defined révérence as simply, “a bow or curtsey – the last exercises of a ballet class in which the ballet dancers pay respect to and acknowledge the teacher and pianist. Révérence usually includes bows, curtsies, and ports de bras, and is a way of celebrating ballet’s traditions of elegance and respect.”

"How to do Révérence " - eHow.com

But what where did it all begin?

In her new book Apollo’s Angels, historian Jennifer Homans traces ballet’s evolution over the past 400 years and how the art of ballet evolved from its start in the Renaissance court cultures of Italy and France. In a recent interview with National Public Radio Homans said, “It was a dance (ballet) that was done by courtiers and kings and princes at court in social situations. It was not a theatrical art set off from social life…. the ways that people moved had to do with the ways that they moved in their lives. Like for example, if you have a révérence, a bow, which is still performed today in classical ballet, both in dances but also at the end of most dance classes, that’s the same bow that you would see in a painting of courtiers leaving their king.  And how far they bow, how deep they go was a sign of respect for the monarch or for the person they were addressing.”

But I thought the best explanation of  révérence was in a Dance Magazine article back in December, 2009. The article, by Kristin Lewis, said, “The origin of révérence dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries, when bows and curtseys were choreographed into social dances. ‘Couples turned toward each other and bowed as a gesture of respect,’ says Elizabeth Aldrich, curator of dance at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. If one couple performed a dance for someone of rank or nobility, their bows and curtseys were given as gestures of respect to this higher authority. Today, the higher authority is the teacher.’”

After class that Saturday I did wish to honor and respect my teacher – to say thank you for a class filled with artful challenges and gentle corrections. I also wanted to thank our wonderful pianist, Marie Raffa, whose daughter is a ballet mistress at American Ballet Theatre. Marie has a way of enriching the music so that it “tells me what to do” – the music she chooses helps me find the steps, figure out the choreography – her music choice is always a perfect fit to the combination.

Marie, who has trouble walking, once told me she takes great joy in watching us dance and move for her. Here’s an extra bow and curtsey for you, Marie, with utmost reverence and applause!

View stunning photographs of bows and curtsies at photographer Gene Schiavone’s website page: “ABT ‘Bows and Curtain Calls’.”

JUMPING AT THE CHANCE – Working with ABT on The Dancer Reunion, May 2007

21 Jul

I often reflect fondly on my year at American Ballet Theatre, planning their 2007 dancer reunion. I jumped at the chance… after all, what ballet aficionado would pass up the opportunity to work at the ABT offices in NYC, not to mention connect with every dancer they’ve ever adored in their life? What an opportunity I was given!

The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend became the target date for a 650+ reunion of American Ballet Theatre dancers. What we wound up with was a daylong event hosted by Gage Englund and ballet luminaries Susan Jaffe and Cynthia Gregory which included a morning JKO School demonstration, an evening cocktail reception and an invitation to an ABT performance at the Metropolitan Opera House that night. All would be followed by an alumni curtain call bow and after-party on the Met’s Grand Tier. Wow.

The ABT Dancer Reunion took close to a year of prep from my tiny office at 890 Broadway, and that year was nothing short of amazing. Working with Artistic Administrator Tina Escoda made each day a delight. My thanks to her always. Here are some fond memories from that wonderful year:

ABT’s offices and studios are not glamorous in the least. When you enter 890 Broadway you are met by two pint size elevators in the small lobby, operated by elevator men using hand levers and pull grates. After being dropped on ABT’s 3rd and main floor, you find a gray reception area with exposed ceiling pipes, a no frills space indeed. The administrative and artistic offices are on this floor, along with one ballet studio. Two staircases lead from the third to the second floor, which contains additional studio space, as simple as the floor above. But oh, the beauty that comes from this unassuming space!

One morning I walked past the 3rd floor studio and couldn’t help but stop and watch some of company class from the door. The class, often taught by ballet veteran and company teacher Lupe Serrano, was a joy to watch. What could be better than standing steps away from someone like Paloma Herrera, with those incredible arched feet, always in the same place at the barre, quietly observing her tendu combinations? Another day walking past the same studio I noticed a different person teaching company class. She was striking and dramatic, with a body to die for. She looked so perfect in her leggings and leotard,  her head topped by a long scarf, tied bandana style with ends draping long down her strong back. I wasn’t sure who this woman was, demonstrating a magnificent grand battement with perfect extension. I asked. It was prima ballerina Natalia Makarova. She was 67 at the time.

Sometimes I would pass the studio at lunch time, and the Corps would be sprawled out, sitting on the floor chomping on sandwiches, these little girls no older than my own daughters who on stage look so ethereal, so mature, so adult. They seemed so young, and who said dancers don’t eat!

And what could be better than watching the rehearsal of La Bayadère from the studio door – principal conductor Charles Barker sitting on the piano bench next to the wonderful Gladys Celeste, ABT’s pianist who passed away little more than a year later. There he sat, conducting the music with pencil in hand, while Gladys played the famous score by Ludwig Minkus. I watched the ballerinas enter in crisscross, wearing leotards and warm ups, leggings and sweatshirts, stepping in to that beautiful music of the “Shades” scene. Despite the studio setting and bright lights and exercise clothes, it was so overwhelming and amazing to watch, I started to cry.

One day, looking for records in the supply room, I tried to bring down a box containing info on former dancers – we were trying to find and invite everyone to the reunion, research in every possible way. The box was big, unwieldy and heavy. A Russian company member was passing by the door and I asked if he could give me a hand. I said I hoped he didn’t mind helping me, and he said it was “no problem. Box doesn’t complain when I lift – only ballerina complain.”

And then there was this little boy, son of ABT Principal Dancer Julie Kent and her husband, ABT Associate Artistic Director Victor Barbee, bouncing on the knee of the company’s office manager and receptionist. He was adorable and I couldn’t help but ask him, “do you want to be a dancer like your parents?” He responded, “a dancer? I don’t want to be a dancer! I want to be a baseball player!”

There are so many wonderful memories, far too many to include. But I must mention one more – standing in the wings of the Metropolitan Opera House, watching an entire performance of  Swan Lake with principal dancer Angel Corella as Prince Siegfried and Julie Kent as Odette/Odile. The intimacy of watching that ballet from the wings, hearing that amazing Tchaikovsky score, watching the dancers who looked so effortless on stage exiting into the wings pounding their thighs to relieve the cramping, watching them heave, breathless, waiting to re-enter the stage where their dancing appeared so effortless, was an insider experience beyond compare. What a moment that was – so overpowering that I turned to Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and PR, and whispered, “now I can die.”

Read more: “Tableau of History: Generations Link Arms at Ballet Theater Reunion” – NY Times, May 28, 2007

COMING FULL CIRCLE

28 Jun
Lincoln Center, New York. June 7, 2007.

Lincoln Center - Image via Wikipedia

I was sitting at a long outdoor table at Café Fiorello at the end of a crisp October day in 2007, overlooking the spraying fountain on Lincoln Center’s plaza.  Among those at the table were Sally Brayley Bliss, Trustee of the Antony Tudor Ballet Trust, and Tudor Centennial committee members  Ernesta CorvinoLance Westergard  and Donald Mahler.

Tudor Centennial Planning Meeting

We had just left a long first meeting of the Antony Tudor Centennial Celebration, being planned for March, 2008. The meeting, which took place across the street in a Juilliard conference room, also included the wonderful Elizabeth Sawyer, Antony Tudor’s pianist for 17 years, Amanda McKerrow, the amazing prima ballerina and former star of American Ballet Theatre, Diana Byer, Artistic Director of New York Theatre Ballet and Yasuko Tokunaga, director of Dance at The Boston Conservatory. The committee included over 33 American Ballet Theatre alumni, Juilliard alums and assorted ballet luminaries.

The Centennial Celebration, for which I was hired as event coordinator, was to be held at The Juilliard School, March 29 & 30, 2008. The weekend was designed to bring together generations of dancers, writers and others who were touched by the life of Tudor, and would include teaching workshops reconstructing his class combinations and choreography. They were also going to feature panel discussions with dancers, writers and musicians. (Ultimately, the event was attended by over 250 guests and participants).

So what brought me to the Tudor Trust? A year or so before, with a bit of luck and some really great contacts, I had the opportunity to meet with Rachel Moore, Executive Director of American Ballet Theatre. I was soon given what for me was the ultimate gig – planning and executing the American Ballet Theatre Dancer Reunion which took place on Memorial Day, 2007.  Working in the Ballet Theatre offices for close to a year’s event planning is a story in itself (more later) but after that wonderful event for 600+ dancers (including a cocktail reception, “JKO” school demo, performance, on-stage post performance bow and party), my credentials were sealed. I was taken on by the Tudor Trust for the Centennial event at Juilliard.

Now here I was having my drink, watching the sun set over Lincoln Center plaza while listening to the laughter, lively conversation, and most importantly, the wonderful stories of the Met and Tudor. Past and present had combined in the most wonderful way. I felt I had returned to my childhood roots, working with people who loved the ballet, who understood the importance of the arts, who shared my passion. I had come full circle, sitting at that table with these incredible artists, staring at that magnificent fountain-sprayed facade so many years later.  I had come home.

FORTY-FIVE YEARS AND COUNTING

14 Jun

There were ten years of my life that didn’t include ballet – birth to five years old, and 12 to 17 years old, the latter being the years that allow you to meld a career.  So, I’ve danced for 45 years and am not a dancer. But ballet has fashioned me, formed me (and by all means not supported me). It’s my passion, my guiding force, my delight.

As a little girl in Brooklyn, New York (before Brooklyn was cool), I went to “Miss Lorraine’s Dancing School” where I was often singled out to be the star of the “recital.”  In those days the recital was often presented at The Brooklyn Academy of Music (before it was “BAM,” and before it was cool). My parents early on realized my “potential” and following the advice of Miss Lorraine  had me try out for and enroll in The Metropolitan Opera Ballet School, located in The Metropolitan Opera House in New York City at 1411 Broadway.

The building, which was overwhelming to me, occupied the whole block between West 39th Street and West 40th street in midtown Manhattan. And there I was, graduating from one to two, and then three to four to five ballet classes a week! My mother would take me there on the subway, or sometimes we’d drive – she’d wait in the lobby with the other moms or in the cafeteria across the street, waiting, waiting, while I took class upon class.

The school was under the direction of Antony Tudor (and later Dame Alicia Markova) and Margaret Craske – ballet luminaries – something I didn’t understand. Who knew Antony Tudor was one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th century, along with Balanchine, Robbins and Ashton? And who knew “Miss Trask,” as I called her, was a pupil of Enrico Cecchetti, the great Italian ballet pedagogue, and was teacher to ballet greats Melissa Hayden, Hugh Laing, Nora Kaye, Paul Taylor and Sallie Wilson? Oh my!

So there I was, wearing regulation black leotard with little short sleeves and my name embroidered on the front and back as requested. (My mother wasn’t much of a sewer – my name was stitched on in an embarrassingly crooked way and looked positively awful). In addition to my uniform of black leotard and pink tights, I had to wear a wide white headband – the ugliest thing– stretchy and quilted, like a bandana over the front of your head, tied with string at the nape of the neck. The year was 1962.

I remember smiling once at “Miss Trask” and she yelled at me, that I shouldn’t smile at her, what, am I trying to get on her good side? She was frightening, and always seemed angry. I remember in the middle of class she made us walk, walk, walk in a circle, toe to foot, just walk to the music, parading in a circle. So odd, thinking back.

People came to observe class, more than once. I heard they were selecting children to be “supernumeraries” in operas – Verdi’s Falstaff  for one. Many of my fellow students were selected to be “supers” in that opera – and I wasn’t picked. My mother took me home one day after class and said not to be sad, to understand that “I probably wasn’t the right type.” But not long after that I was selected – to be a little girl in Act One of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore  – a “bigger part.” Only two girls were selected for that opera, and instead of being one of many children in a crowded scene in Falstaff, I was on stage for most Act I in L’Elisir as one of the only children. I guess I was the right type.

Being on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House as a little girl – do you ever recover from something like that? After L’Elisir there were roles in La Giaconda, Parsifal, Faust and even Falstaff… I was like a rat pressing the bar for food – more class, more shows, more loving every minute. So, what happened to my career? My parents didn’t want to bring me to NYC five days a week, didn’t want me to have “the life of a dancer.” During those formative years between 12 and 17 I was pulled out of ballet school, no longer financed, no longer transported to 43rd street and Broadway and the “new” Met at Lincoln Center. Can you believe I auditioned for School of American Ballet – Balanchine’s school – and got in? But no, they’d had it. It was over!

It was over, but life went on. This Brooklyn girl returned to dance while studying English at New York University, taking class at The Joffrey Ballet School in Greenwich Village purely because I liked it – it was FUN. And then I continued on, taking class whenever possible, still doing so after all these years. Ballet is my comfort zone, my passion, that thing I do – it puts order in my life.  Lincoln Center will always be my home away from home.

And so I begin this blog – not as a professional dancer, but as a passionate unprofessional who in recent years had the good fortune to work with American Ballet Theatre as event coordinator for their Dancer Reunion (how about meeting ever dancer you’ve ever adored in your life?) and blessed with continuing on as an archivist and social media diva for The Antony Tudor Ballet Trust (a gig that evolved after coordinating their Tudor Centennial at The Juilliard School).

So I’m here to share my thoughts on ballet and give an inside peek behind the wings – past and present. Stay tuned… lots to come… merde!


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