Tag Archives: Ballet

DOES BALLET CLASS HAVE AN AGE LIMIT?

24 Feb

I take ballet class with a woman who is turning 90-years-old at the end of April. (And she’s not the teacher — she’s a student, like me!)

Clearly, my Saturday morning adult ballet class is host to a diverse group. Some students are local dance teachers; some are yoga or Pilates instructors. Some are former company ballerinas and some are students in their teens. Then there is Nancy, an 89-year-old great-grandmother, in class to take the barre. I guess she’s there for the same reason I am — love for ballet’s discipline and musicality, and, of course, for the great way it helps you stay fit.

Wearing her leotard and nylon warm-up pants, leg warmers and ballet slippers, Nancy begins the barre by facing the mirror and holding on with both hands. Though she needs both hands for support, she is quite competent as she goes through the plié combinations, tendu, rond de jambe and battement.

Nancy’s leg may be low, and she might not bend all the way to the floor, but she works hard, is graceful and is really quite remarkable. (We all adjust our movements for age and capability.)

The master - Antony Tudor at 53 years old, teaching class at the Old Met, 1961

The master – Antony Tudor at 53 years old, teaching class at the Old Met, 1961

I was reminded of prima ballerina Natalia Makarova, who I watched teach class at American Ballet Theatre studios back when I was Event Coordinator for the 2007 ABT Dancer Reunion. (Read Jumping at the Chance on adriaballetbeat.com). I first noticed Makarova while walking past the studio hosting company class – who was that teacher with the gorgeous figure, demonstrating a magnificent grand battement with perfect extension? At first I wasn’t sure, so I asked. It was indeed Makarova, who was 67 at the time.

Well, Nancy is no Makarova, but she does make us realize that continuing to take ballet class, at any level or any age, can be wonderful both mentally and physically.

Nancy's 90th Birthday (Photo added April 22, 2014)

Nancy’s 90th Birthday (Photo: April 22, 2014)

Do we really have to stop dancing when we get older? Does a ballet class have an age limit? I hope not. Nancy makes us realize that at any age or any level, continuing to take class offers the benefit of maintaining flexibility, strength and endurance. Add in the ballet mind-game of combinations and patterns, and there you have it — the full mind/body workout.

Age is just a number, right? On Saturday mornings we take class, and are the better for it.

Advertisements

“BREAKING POINTE” SEASON TWO – A LOOK AHEAD WITH ALLISON DE BONA OF BALLET WEST

14 Jul
Allison DeBona. Photo: Erik Ostling/The CW ©2012 THE CW NETWORK, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Allison DeBona. Photo: Erik Ostling/The CW ©2012 THE CW NETWORK, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The second season of CW Network’s critically acclaimed docu-series Breaking Pointe will premiere on Monday, July 22, (9-10 p.m., ET) and fans are happy. We loved the first season’s inside peek at Salt Lake City’s Ballet West – the exhausting rehearsals, the behind-the-scenes drama, the striking stage productions. Dance fans loved seeing ballet dancers in a different light than what they see in performance, and wanted more. So now… Breaking Pointe is coming back! What’s in store for us balletomanes in Breaking Pointe season two?

Leading the company once again will be Artistic Director Adam Sklute, who will be guiding Ballet West‘s dancers in their largest and most demanding production to date, Cinderella. The competition will be fierce as the dancers audition for the life-changing roles of Cinderella and Price Charming. Featured dancers will include returning favorites Principal Christiana Bennett, Soloist Ronnie Underwood and Demi-Soloists Allison DeBona, Rex Tilton and Beckanne Sisk. New dancers will be joining the group, including Corps Artist Joshua Whitehead and Guest Dancer Silver Barkes.

A year ago I met with Allison DeBona, one of Ballet West‘s rising stars, to discuss Breaking Pointe as we approached the season one finale. She was happy to meet with me once again and chat about breaking ballet stereotypes, the hard work that goes into being a professional dancer, and what we can look forward to in Breaking Pointe season two. Here are some excerpts from our recent conversation:

(L-R): Allison DeBona and Christiana Bennet -- Photo: Erik Ostling/The CW --© 2013 THE CW NETWORK, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

(L-R): Allison DeBona and Christiana Bennet — Photo: Erik Ostling/The CW –© 2013 THE CW NETWORK, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

It’s been said Breaking Pointe has made ballet more accessible, breaking preconceived stereotypes about ballet dancers and the art form. Do you agree?

Breaking Pointe has without a doubt made ballet more accessible. As far as breaking stereotypes, I’m not sure. It seems people still cannot get past the preconceived notions of eating disorders and homosexual male dancers. We really tried to be advocates for healthy, smart, and strong athletes through our actions. We also tried to get people to understand that it doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight or in between. It’s about being an artist and doing what you love. Overall, I feel we got people interested to see live performances of ballet and helped the art form gain more respect. I am proud of that.

When we talked last June you said, “I am hoping for season two because I know there is so much more I can offer.” Season two is finally here! Has your hope been fulfilled?

This season you are going to learn so much more about who the cast is as individuals. You will learn what makes us tick and keeps us motivated. I hope to inspire people with my story. I am very open and honest this year because all of my experiences make me the dancer I am today. I hope people appreciate that.

Last year some fans of the show said they wanted to see more dancing – will there be more studio and performance work featured in the upcoming season?

We dance eight hours a day. We put in the work. I hope to see more dancing on the show just like everyone else.

Will Breaking Pointe continue to emphasize the behind the scenes drama?

Without the “drama” we would not get the amazing artists and products on the stage. You will see it all – personally and professionally. You can’t have one without the other!

So, how are things with Rex?

Hmmm… I don’t know. I’m going to watch Breaking Pointe season two to find out!

Follow Allison DeBona on Twitter @allidebona
Follow Breaking Pointe on Twitter @BreakingPointe

BP_24x36_Poster_Premiere

This story first appeared on the Arts & Culture/Dance page of The Huffington Post, on July 9, 2013.

IT’S MY THERAPY

22 Jun

When I was a little girl growing up in Brooklyn, I was very close with my grandmother’s sisters.  I loved my great aunts – they were a colorful group, all with larger than life personalities. They were great cooks, would talk up a storm (mostly gossiping  about the relatives), were always fun but unfortunately, were also big gamblers. GamblingDespite a tight budget, they managed to spend most of their spare time playing  Poker, Canasta, Gin Rummy,  “the horses,” “the numbers” (pre-lottery days), and more. You name it, they were in it. Of course they were always losing, but still, they went back again for more and more. The gambling bug never quit.

My mother, asking why they couldn’t get the habit under control, would always be given the same answer – “it’s my therapy.” The card playing was their therapy, the racetrack, their therapy, Bingo, their therapy. What the heck were they talking about?

Years later, I learned. Life is filled with curves, with lots of bumps in the road. How do you cope with life’s highs and lows? Most people find balance in “a therapy.” pointe shoesWhether it’s yoga, running, reading or a favorite hobby, having “a therapy” helps calm the soul. (Hopefully, that therapy is not gambling)!

So, what’s my therapy? Mmm.. off to ballet class….

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.

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.

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.

VISUALS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE

4 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Melt like ice cream…”.

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

What visuals have helped you improve your dance technique?

%d bloggers like this: