Tag Archives: Swan Lake

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.

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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.

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

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