The New York Dance and Performance Awards—known fondly as the Bessies—are back! They're the dance world's Academy Awards, if you will. Named after dance pioneer Bessie Schonberg, the Bessies are more and more impressive each year. 2015's nominees are no exception.
The list is huge and sparkling. There's all the ballet that made headlines this year, from Alexei Ratmansky's production of The Sleeping Beauty (nominated for Outstanding Revival), to New York City Ballet principals Robert Fairchild and Amar Ramasar (both nominated for Outstanding Performer), to NYCB Resident Choreographer Justin Peck's Rōdē,ō: Four Dance Episodes (nominated for Outstanding Production).
Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes in Alexei Ratmansky's The Sleeping Beauty (Photo by Andrea Mohin)
There's also a ton of fascinating work that really highlights what the Bessies are about—truly performing and pushing boundaries. Talya Epstein's performance in Star Crap Method is one to note, as is Xavier Le Roy's Outstanding Production nomination for Retrospective, which took place at MoMA PS1 last winter.
Outstanding Performer nominee Talya Epstein in Larissa Velez-Jackson's Star Crap Method (Screenshot via Vimeo)
The Bessies take place on October 19th and it's going to be a magical night for all of these deserving artists.
American Ballet Theatre's latest production of The Sleeping Beauty premiered last night at the Segerstrom Center in California. And you know what that means: The company's dancers are currently flooding Instagram and Twitter with tantalizing behind-the-scenes photos and videos. Which is the best.
World Premiere Day! All very best to dear colleagues/friends @ABTBallet. t my prince @marcelogomes47 #Sleepingbeauty pic.twitter.com/0KmOSiTRvr
— Diana Vishneva (@dianavishneva) March 3, 2015
This new Beauty is especially interesting because it's actually...old. Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky reconstructed it from dance notation recorded more than 100 years ago, making it about as close to the original Petipa choreography as you can get. And though ballet companies around the world have been performing Beauties "after Petipa" for generations, this super-authentic production looks remarkably different from the SB ballet nerds know and love. Legs and lifts are lower; the overall feel is more genteel.
For example—to get reeeeal nerdy for a minute—look at 1:47–2:07 in this video of Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares dancing the Act III pas de deux with The Royal Ballet. Legs galore! But in the ABT production, as this clip from principal Isabella Boylston's Insta shows us, that moment has a totally different feel:
So elegant and refined, right? It's almost disorienting for those of us accustomed to the "higher is better" school of thought.
The new Beauty's costumes also have a vintage-y feel. They're inspired by the designs of Leon Bakst, the artist who famously costumed many productions for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in the early 20th century. Tutus are longer, headpieces are more extreme, colors are brighter and bolder:
One down & costumes ready! Excited to dance Sapphire tonight, come see us #SleepingBeauty @ABTBallet @SegerstromArts pic.twitter.com/eF4wegAjxv
— Paulina Waski (@PaulinaWaski) March 4, 2015
If you're lucky enough to be in the L.A. area, you can catch ABT's Beauty now through March 8; East Coast peeps, you'll have to wait until the company performs it at Lincoln Center in a few months. In the meantime, let's all of us bask in the glory of this SB Insta post by principal Gillian Murphy, which wins everything:
A photo posted by Gillian Murphy (@gillianemurphy) on
The year 2011 was filled with show-stopping onstage moments and exciting offstage drama. Whether you were captivated by New York City Ballet star Sara Mearns’ 32 fouettés in Swan Lake or danced along in your seat as Sutton Foster led the Broadway cast of Anything Goes through a series of time steps, there’s no doubt you were entertained. Here are the people who kept us on the edge of our seats in 2011.
Sarah Lane. Photo by Gene Schiavone.
When Natalie Portman won the Best Actress Academy Award for her role as a twisted-but-talented ballerina in Black Swan, she neglected to thank her dance double, American Ballet Theatre’s Sarah Lane, in her acceptance speech. Later, Lane stood up to the movie industry by demanding credit for her work.
- New York City Ballet principal Jenifer Ringer danced the Sugar Plum Fairy role in the company’s Nutcracker, last year, and while most gave her a standing ovation, New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay remarked in his review that it looked as though she’d “eaten one sugar plum too many.” Ringer quickly became a role model for women everywhere when she went on “Oprah” this February to discuss the critique and proclaim that she thinks her body is just fine. So do we, Jenifer. Rock on!
- As if Alexei Ratmansky wasn’t already the busiest man in ballet, he just extended his contract as American Ballet Theatre’s resident choreographer through 2023.
- Company tours are a lot of work. This year Ballet Nacional de Cuba embarked on its first U.S. tour in five years, hitting four cities along the way.
- American Ballet Theatre principal (and star!) David Hallberg became the first American dancer to enlist permanently with Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet.
The Broadway production of Wonderland. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Everyone wanted to go down the rabbit hole: Productions of Alice in Wonderland popped up everywhere, from ballet stages (The Royal Ballet, The National Ballet of Canada and Royal Winnipeg Ballet all showed versions) to Broadway (Wonderland was short-lived, but the choreography by Marguerite Derricks was quirky and fun).
- Apparently Harry Potter can sing and dance—or at least his real-life alter-ego can. Daniel Radcliffe drew massive crowds and rave reviews when he starred in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. No magic wand needed.
The Book of Mormon. Photo by Joan Marcus.
The Book of Mormon was easily the most controversial debut on Broadway this year. The show, penned by “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone with Avenue Q co-writer Robert Lopez and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, may have offended some audiences, but it impressed the Tony Award voters and took home nine honors, including Best Musical.
On the Comp Scene
- Joe Lanteri, executive director of New York City Dance Alliance, changed 44 young dancers’ lives this summer when he presented $2.8 million in college scholarships. Go get those diplomas!
- Selecting the DS Cover Model Search finalists is never easy, but this year there were three dancers who stood out: Kaitlynn Edgar, Maddie Swenson and Zoey Anderson. All three hail from the competition circuit, and all three were wildly impressive.
- Melanie Moore won the title of America’s Favorite Dancer on “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 8 and landed on the cover of DS!
- When Beyoncé revealed her baby bump at the MTV Video Music Awards, she proved she runs the world—and so do her choreographers, Frank Gatson, Sheryl Murakami and Jeffrey Page. The trio won the VMA for Best Choreography for Beyoncé’s “Run the World” video.
- When Laurieann Gibson wasn’t throwing together award-winning choreography for Lady Gaga, she was starring on her own TV shows on E! and BET. We’re not necessarily on board with her screaming fits and harsh treatment of her dancers, but we do respect her moves.
Amanda and D'Angelo on "Live to Dance." Photo by Monty Brinton.
Paula Abdul’s “Live to Dance” wasn’t a hit, but it introduced us to D’Angelo Castro and Amanda Carbajales, who became the show’s champions. These tiny dancers won us over with their personalities and technique.
- Lil’ Buck may have been the coolest guy to get us talking this year. He starred in Janelle Monae’s “Tightrope” video and helped make jookin’ mainstream. His “Swan” performance alongside Yo Yo Ma? Breathtaking.
On the Big Screen
Natalie Portman accepts her Oscar for Best Actress. Photo by A.M.P.A.S.
She may not have done all the dancing as Nina, but Natalie Portman’s Black Swan performance was definitely Oscar-worthy. Plus, she met Benjamin Millepied, her boyfriend-turned-fiancé and father to her child, Aleph, on set.
- While no one can truly replace Kevin Bacon, Kenny Wormald proved that he’s a stud with smooth moves in this year’s remake of Footloose. Plus, his onscreen chemistry with costar Julianne Hough made us want to drag our own boyfriends to dance class.
- In First Position, audiences get a glimpse at the behind-the-scenes action at the Youth America Grand Prix finals in NYC. The documentary and its stars—Michaela DePrince, Joan Sebastian Zamora, Miko and Jules Fogarty, Aran Bell and Rebecca Houseknecht—received rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival.
In Modern Dance
- Bill T. Jones + Dance Theater Workshop = New York Live Arts. We love a good collaboration.
- When Judith Jamison retired as artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Robert Battle was handed the reins to the prestigious modern company. We can’t wait to see what he does with the group in 2012.
My ballet boyfriend David Hallberg has a new love Down Under, and it's low-key breaking my heart. Okay, I'll be a little less melodramatic (and maybe explain what I'm talking about): Hallberg, who's basically a real-life Apollo of ballet, has been recovering in Sydney ever since he suffered a pretty gnarly ankle injury in 2014.
David Hallberg (photo by Henry Leutwyler)
Cue two and a half dark, dark years for those of us who love seeing him onstage with American Ballet Theatre, where he's a principal danseur. The bright light at the end of the Hallberg-less tunnel was next month's premiere of Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream, in which he'll dance the role of Prince Coffee. *swoons*
But now there's news via The New York Times that the land of dingoes and didgeridoos still gets to keep Hallberg—at least, for part of the year. The Times reported this morning that the Australian Ballet has named Hallberg their first-ever international resident guest artist. David McAllister, the artistic director of Australian Ballet, says that means Hallberg "comes to Australia every year and performs with us in selected repertoire and he has very generously also agreed to do some coaching and mentoring during these visits.”
Well, don't forget how much your American fans miss you, Hallberg. Oh yeah, and don't be surprised if we decide this is a great excuse to take a trip down under. G'Day, Australian Ballet!
Everyone knows it's not only the steps or technique that make a ballerina memorable. It's the emotion—and the ability to tell a story—that truly captivates an audience. And American Ballet Theatre's latest video is here to help. It takes us inside this season's production of The Sleeping Beauty, complete with luscious footage of the ballet itself and a few wise words on really getting inside Aurora's head, straight from some of ballet's leading ladies.
Because let's face it, getting into character is easier said than done. I mean, it's a little tricky to relate to a princess who sleeps for 100 years when you can't even squeeze in a power nap. And who has time for a prince when you've got rehearsals? It takes a lot of focus and imagination to play a convincing character, especially in a fairy tale story like The Sleeping Beauty.
In the video, principal Gillian Murphy talks about all the famous Auroras she looks up to and says: "Be inspired by that huge history of iconic Auroras and ballerinas, but also you have to make it your own." Cassandra Trenary, a soloist, credits Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky with helping the dancers dive deep into their roles. "He (Ratmansky) is able to give you a story behind every single movement. Whether it's a variation or a pas de deux, you're not just taking your partner's hand. It's like, that's the love of your life! Just keep that in the back of your mind."
Note taken. So long story short, don't be afraid to ask your teacher or director for guidance if you're struggling, take inspiration from others who have played the role and always trust your gut to make your portrayal authentically you.
As for the production itself, this Sleeping Beauty is absolutely dreamy (pun intended)—principal Stella Abrera (also featured in the video) says it's "kind of like watching a very old painting from the Louvre slowly come to life." This "new meets old" ABT Ratmansky version of SB premiered last season, but if you missed it check out the video for an exclusive behind-the-scenes look. Or, see it live when it runs at the Met June 27-July 2!
Get it, Santa. (via netanimations.net)
We wish you a merry Christmas, a happy belated-Hanukkah and a joyous early-Kwanzaa! If you're celebrating today, we hope you've had a magical morning—filled with hot cocoa, holiday carols, bear hugs and Santa surprises.
While old Kris Kringle may be through making his rounds for this year, we've still got a few holiday hopes and dreams up our sleeves. So in the (dance) spirit of the season, I asked my fellow editors to share their Chrismakwanzika wishes, and this is what they all had to say:
"...for more and more people to discover the genius of ballet choreographers like Alexei Ratmansky and Justin Peck...and for more and more women choreographers to experience that same level of success." —Margaret Fuhrer, editor in chief
"...to be a guest judge on 'So You Think You Can Dance' Season 12...and for this movie to actually, finally get made (please, please, please??) and somehow incorporate Ryan Gosling, too." —Jenny Dalzell, managing editor
"...that more companies make it part of their mission to bring regular dance training to under-served communities." —Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone, assistant editor
"...for a chance to see The Nutcracker with my best friend!" —Meggie Hermanson, fashion editor
As for me, I wish that by this time next year, I'll be able to post a video of the DS editors performing an ugly-Christmas-sweater dance routine. Fingers crossed it rivals the smooth moves of these dads from the Sainsbury's Christmas jumper commerical. (Fun fact: Apparently "jumper" is a British word for sweater.)
Start learning your choreo, guys. I call the whacking solo that starts at 0:55!
Let's establish this right off the bat: Alexei Ratmansky is a genius. The prolific choreographer—it seems like he has a new work premiering every five minutes—has made four works for New York City Ballet, and episode 6 of "city.ballet." follows the creation of the fourth, Pictures at an Exhibition, which premiered this fall. Here are five things we learned from the ep.
1. The dancers are totally, utterly devoted to Ratmansky. They will do anything for this guy. "I will roll around on the floor and then get up and do a manège," principal Sara Mearns says. "I'll do it twice. And he's actually making me do that!"
2. Ratmansky himself is a pretty fantastic mover. He used to dance with the Bolshoi Ballet, so there's obviously a lot of training in his body. But that's not what's impressive about him—there's something ineffable about the quality of his movement. Even the amazing NYCB principals working behind him can't pick up some of its subtleties.
3. Once again, we see just how collaborative the choreographic process is. Like NYCB artistic director Peter Martins, Ratmansky keeps an open dialogue with his dancers as a piece takes shape, listening to and incorporating their ideas. "You feel like you're part of the process—like someone's not just directing you to do these steps," says soloist Georgina Pazcoguin.
4. The glimpses we get of Pictures at an Exhibition are enchanting. Full disclosure: I saw the premiere of this piece live, and am completely obsessed with it. But while it's rare for the energy of a live performance to translate on video, Ratmansky's choreography is so potent it even reads through a screen. It's just that full of character—and characters.
5. AMAR RAMASAR'S LAUGH. It's the last thing we hear in the episode, and holy mother it's amazing.
Click the image below to watch the full episode!
Ballerina retirements are always hard. There's a unique feeling of loss that comes with the knowledge that you'll never see a particular dancer onstage again—that that part of her life, and yours, is over.
But somehow, the luminous Wendy Whelan was able to make her final show with New York City Ballet a joyful event. Granted, there were still plenty of tears as she took her last bows on Saturday night. But while she's leaving NYCB, she's not leaving the stage. During this next year alone, she'll be touring her own repertory program, Restless Creature, and debuting a brand-new program in London. Wendy's* still got a lot of wonderful dancing left in her—which meant Saturday night's celebration marked a beginning as well as an ending.
And in that spirit, she chose to say goodbye to NYCB with a world premiere. Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky—choreographers who've molded some of their most memorable ballets on Wendy—teamed up to create By 2 With & From, a sweet tribute to their longtime muse. I especially loved Ratmansky's section, which was equal parts playful (Wendy, giggling, as frequent partners Tyler Angle and Craig Hall did little hip-bumps with her) and reverent (the final image of Wendy stretching toward the sky, like the Statue of Liberty). You can watch its perfect ending here.
(From left) Tyler Angle, Craig Hall and Wendy in By 2 With & From (photo Andrea Mohin/New York Times)
We saw Wendy dance some of her signature roles, too—parts she's stamped so indelibly that it's difficult to imagine others in them. She was whispery and ghost-like in George Balanchine's La Sonnambula, impish and exuberant in an excerpt from Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering. The audience sobbed collectively as she floated through the now-iconic duet from Wheeldon's After the Rain. But my personal favorite was the pas de deux from Ratmansky's Concerto DSCH—a thoughtful, meditative piece, tinged with melancholy. I love that Ratmansky can make Wendy both a distinct individual and a kind of universal symbol, and her cool, serene presence elevates his choreography to a different plane.
At the end, there were flowers and confetti and a never-ending string of curtain calls. All kinds of ballet luminaries—from Jacques d'Amboise to Julie Kent to Jock Soto—came out to honor Wendy. This is a dancer who's as well-loved offstage as she is onstage, admired for her humility and generosity and kindness as much as her singular artistry. Wendy couldn't stop smiling. Neither, through my tears, could I.
(Photo Andrea Mohin/New York Times)
*The Dance Spirit style guide tells us to refer to respected professionals by their last names. But I'm going to break that rule this time around—because Wendy is the kind of dancer everyone feels like they're on a first-name basis with. She makes it personal. That's part of her greatness.