Need something to cure your back-to-school blues? Oh, have we got you covered. Or, rather, Dutch National Ballet has got you covered: They've created the world's first-ever virtual reality ballet, Night Fall, in collaboration with &samhoud media and Chester Music. And you can watch it right now on your very own smartphone.
Via the DNB website
What is a virtual reality ballet, exactly? It's a dance work created specifically for VR, designed to be viewed not from a single perspective, but from any angle—360 degrees of beautiful ballet goodness. Choreographed by Peter Leung, Night Fall is a bit of a classical mashup, inspired by the "white acts" of both Swan Lake and La Bayadère. That dreamy premise works especially well with the otherworldly VR experience: As you explore the fantastical piece, you feel completely transported.
The easiest way to watch Night Fall is on your phone, using your fingers to navigate the 360-degree experience. But for the especially motivated/technologically inclined/fancypants of you, there are two more immersive options: using Cardboard with the YouTube mobile app, or using the Samsung Gear VR headset. Dutch National Ballet has even provided handy instructions for those advanced viewing methods.
Watch Night Fall below—and then check out DNB's fascinating "making of" video, which includes interviews with Leung and principal dancer Anna Tsygankova.
Want more Dance Spirit?
The rest of the world is in full-tilt Turkey Day mode right now, but us dance people have been getting our Christmas on since Nutcracker rehearsals began back in September. So, look: If you can't bear to hear the "Party March" one more time, if you're Hot Chocolate-d and Marzipan-ed and Candy Cane-d out, if you're eager for it to be New Years already—I feel you. Nutcracker is a lot.
But here's the thing: There's no better way to fan the dying flames of your Nutcracker love than to watch a few amazing, world-class productions of The Nutcracker from the comfort of your couch. And that's why you should be getting excited about Ovation TV's "Battle of the Nutcrackers"—back for the ninth (!) time—which kicks off this Saturday, November 28.
Ovation will be airing four different Nuts this year, two of which are US premieres and one of which is possibly my favorite Nutcracker video of all time. That's right: The 1993 film of New York City Ballet in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker is on the list. I repeat: THE MACAULAY CULKIN NUTCRACKER IS ON THE LIST.
Not Macaulay Culkin, but sooooo pretty! This is Anna Tsygankova and James Stout in Dutch National Ballet's Nutcracker, making its US premiere during "Battle of the Nutcrackers." (photo Angela Sterling, courtesy Ovation)
Yes, there is an actual battle involved in this Nutcracker battle, and not just of the mouse-soldier variety: You can vote for your favorite Nut via Ovation's Facebook page, beginning November 28. The winner will be revealed and re-aired on December 21.
Check out this year's featured productions below, and visit ovationtv.com for a complete programming schedule.
(New York City Ballet)
Saturday, November 28 at 12:30 PM ET
Peter Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King
(Dutch National Ballet - US Premiere)
Saturday, December 5 at 12:30 PM ET
Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker
(Wiener Staatsballett - US premiere)
Saturday, December 12 at 12:30 PM ET
(The Bonn Ballet)
Saturday, December 19 at 12:30 PM ET
(photo by Michel Schnater)
Chances are, you’re already obsessed with Michaela DePrince. The 20-year-old has been a bona fide star ever since her appearance in the 2011 documentary First Position. She’s ferociously talented, for starters, and fans can’t get enough of her knockout facility and relentless drive. But her story—as detailed in the recently released Taking Flight, which she coauthored with her mom, Elaine—is also the stuff of fairy tales: DePrince started out as an orphan in Sierra Leone and ended up a world-class ballerina. Huge talent + huge story = media catnip, and over the past few years DePrince has gotten tons and tons (and tons) of press.
(photo by Michel Schnater)
Now in her second year dancing with Dutch National Ballet, DePrince has reached an interesting and unusual point in her career. She has to balance the pressures of international stardom with the challenge of dancing in the corps of an elite ballet company. One day, she’s being featured on a TV talk show; the next, she’s standing in a long line of swans.
How is she handling it all? With grace and humility. In fact, DePrince refuses to let her now-famous history define her. Instead, she’s focusing on her goal of becoming a principal dancer and hopes that the spotlight will soon shift from her offstage persona to her onstage presence. “I’m here not because of my story,” she says, “but because of who I am as an artist.”
Settling In in Holland
DePrince, who trained at The Rock School for Dance Education and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre, landed a spot in DNB’s junior company two years ago, after guesting in a production of The Nutcracker in the Netherlands. Her friends Rinus Sprong and Thom Stuart, who’d organized the Nutcracker run, suggested that she take company class at DNB and recommended her to artistic director Ted Brandsen. “It was immediately clear that she was really strong technically and had an amazing jump,” Brandsen says. “I offered her a position straightaway.”
(photo by Michel Schnater)
DePrince quickly felt at home at DNB, with its varied repertoire of classical and contemporary works and diverse roster of dancers. “I love the atmosphere here—the dancers are all so different,” she says. “I can love my body the way it is, instead of eating salads every day and constantly worrying about my shape, like I did in the U.S.”
Now comfortable in her own skin, DePrince has the freedom and confidence to focus on developing her artistry. She’s taken full advantage of some surprise opportunities that have come her way—like performing David Dawson’s high-octane A Million Kisses to My Skin on opening night after another dancer got injured. “It was crazy! I had only two days to rehearse it before the premiere,” she says. “It ended up going well, and I’m happy the company knows it can rely on me.”
Finding Her Voice
While technique comes easily to DePrince, she says it’s harder for her to open up artistically. Ballet master Charlotte Chapellier has been helping her figure out how to identify with each role, and how to use her feet, hands and head with greater detail. “She digests all the information very fast, and she’s not afraid of working,” Chapellier says. “She’s eager to learn.” These days, there’s a newfound depth to DePrince’s dancing, and she’s blossomed in nuanced, lyrical roles, including as one of the pas de trois soloists in Swan Lake.
While she’s still working out the kinks in her port de bras—“I used to be a competitive swimmer, and my shoulders are hyperextended, so it’s easy for them to sneak up”—DePrince is trying not to get bogged down in self-criticism. “I’ve had to learn to let go and be less of a perfectionist,” she says. “In the end, it’s not about having a perfect fifth position, but about enjoying the ballets and sharing the emotion I’m feeling with the audience.”
(photo by Michel Schnater)
Handling the Pressure
DePrince is humbled and a bit overwhelmed by all the media attention she’s received. She admits she’s tired of telling her tale over and over again, but acknowledges that speaking about her experiences has also been therapeutic. “Yes, I wrote the book because I didn’t want to tell the story every single day,” she says, laughing. “At the same time, I wanted to show how you can use the things you go through to make yourself stronger.” DePrince plans to use some of the proceeds from the book—and from the movie version of the story, which is in the works—to open a ballet school in Sierra Leone. “But right now, I want to focus on my dancing,” she says.
Brandsen wants her to focus on dancing, too. He put a hold on media requests for a few months this year to give DePrince a break from the frenzy. “As her artistic director, I feel responsible for her artistic and personal well being,” he says. “It’s not good for a person so young to be under such stress.” Still, he’s impressed with how DePrince is handling it all. “She’s very curious, very open, and is soaking up all the information she can get,” he says. “She just keeps growing.”
Becoming a Grown-Up
DePrince says she’s changed a lot in the years since First Position. “I don’t take life so seriously anymore!” she says. “And I’ve learned that if you’re injured, you have to take the time to rest. You might want to push through pain, but you have to think about your career in the long term.” As a young teen, Michaela also ate “horrible foods” and didn’t realize the value of a healthy diet. Now, she cooks constantly. (“I love making lentil soup!”)
But the biggest change is that DePrince has simply grown up. She lives in her own apartment in Amsterdam and bikes to work every day. “I loved living in NYC and having my friends and family around,” she says. “But here, it’s more about the work. Now my goal is to become the artist I’ve always dreamed of being.”
(photo by Michel Schnater)
Favorite food: “Omelettes. I can eat them anytime.”
Weirdest thing in her dance bag: “A back brace to help keep my stomach pulled in.”
Latest obsession: “Onesies! I have a purple one, a red one, a zebra-print one and even a pig-print one.”
Preshow ritual: “I have to tie my ribbons twice. I had a dream that I missed a performance because I couldn’t get my ribbons to stay in.”
Dream role: “Aurora has been my dream since I was little.”
Secret wish: “I’d love to have a leotard line—but the only things I can sew are my pointe shoes!”
Nickname: “Arthur Mitchell, the founder of Dance Theatre of Harlem, used to call me Mickey.”
Most-played music: “I’m really into Taylor Swift and John Legend right now.”
Advice for Dance Spirit readers: “Don’t give up on yourself. It’s OK to be different! Never try to be like anyone else.”
Many of us first fell in love with Michaela DePrince after seeing her onscreen. The 2011 Youth America Grand Prix documentary First Position captured DePrince as a teenage ballet hopeful with an incredible story—and seriously incredible talent. It was enough to hook anybody with feelings and/or eyes.
DePrince in a First Position publicity shot (via First Position's website)
Fast-forward four years: DePrince has developed into a gorgeous artist; is gracing the cover of the current issue Dance Spirit; has a contract with Dutch National Ballet, where she's already dancing soloist roles; and is the author of a beautiful memoir, Taking Flight. Now, in a full-circle moment, that memoir—which traces her journey from a Sierra Leone orphanage to the international ballet stage—is getting a film of its own. Which means it's time for a whole new group of dance lovers to discover Michaela's story onscreen.
Breathtaking. (from DePrince's DS shoot; photo by Michel Schnater)
You might have noticed a sentence about the film tucked into DePrince's cover story. As of this morning, we have a little more information about the MGM project: Respected director Sanaa Hamri—best known for her Jay-Z, Mariah Carey and Prince music videos, the film Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 and the (fantastic) Fox drama "Empire"—has been tapped to direct. Which makes us all the more excited to see the finished product.
No word yet on expected release date, but you'd better believe we'll be following this one closely. Stay tuned!
OK, yes, Candy Crush is totally addictive. But did you ever wish your smartphone games involved more than just your thumbs?
Well, wish granted. Indie developer Game Oven is cooking up a new game, Bounden, that allows two players to create a sort of dance together.
How the heck does that work, you ask? Each player holds on to one end of a smartphone. A cursor floats across the screen in various snaky ways, and the two of you have to wiggle around to make it hit a series of bulls-eyes. It looks a little like this:
Or, uh, this:
(Via Game Oven)
In other words, the result is either a strangely beautiful pas de deux, or, you know, a hilarious disaster. Either way, fun!
Bounden has a pretty serious dance pedigree, too: Choreographer Ernst Meisner of Dutch National Ballet is on the design team, and 12 dancers from DNB's junior company are helping him work through its kinks.
Bounden is scheduled for release sometime this summer. In the meantime, visit the app's website and check out this "making of" video below.
Not Michaela's book. (Photo of Michaela by Yaniv Schulman.)
People just can't stop telling ballerina Michaela DePrince's incredible story. And now the world will get to hear it in her own words: Random House Children's Books has acquired the 18-year-old dancer's memoir.
Michaela, who grew up an orphan in war-ravaged Sierra Leone before being adopted by an American couple, will write the book with her adoptive mother, Elaine DePrince. She'll discuss not only her amazing survival story, but also her path to the world of professional ballet. (She danced with Dance Theatre of Harlem last season, and recently joined Dutch National Ballet's junior company.) Look for the book in the fall of 2014.
Survivor, dancer, writer—what can't this girl do?
ABT's Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes in "Swan Lake," part of the gala program. (photo Siggul/Visual Arts Masters)
Nobody puts on a ballet gala quite like Youth America Grand Prix. Their must-see performances routinely feature bold-faced names from all over the world. Watching all those ballet superstars sharing a single stage is one of those experiences that'll give you goosebumps.
Well, here's your chance to see one of the competition's most impressive galas for the price of a movie ticket. Emerging Cinemas—which has been broadcasting some seriously impressive shows recently—will beam YAGP's "Ballet's Greatest Hits," performed earlier this year in Tampa, FL, to movie theaters nationwide this Sunday, with an encore showing on Tuesday.
You don't want to miss this, guys. The lineup includes New York City Ballet's Ashley Bouder and Daniel Ulbricht, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Alicia Graf Mack and Antonio Douthit, San Francisco Ballet's Maria Kochetkova and Taras Domitrio, American Ballet Theatre's Veronika Part, Marcelo Gomes, Hee Seo and Stella Abrera, National Ballet of Canada's Greta Hodgkinson, Dutch National Ballet's Matthew Golding and Boston Ballet's Alejandro Virelles. Phew!
Not enough starpower there to tempt you? a) You be crazy, and b) wait! There's more: The broadcast will also be hosted by "So You Think You Can Dance" producer Nigel Lythgoe and feature interviews with soon-to-be Paris Opéra Ballet director Benjamin Millepied and the ever-awesome ABT soloist Misty Copeland.
Visit the Emerging Cinemas website to find a participating theater near you!