Ah, the time-honored tradition of having non-baseball people throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a major league game. It's usually a cute non-event, a fun photo opportunity for a politician or a local celeb. Which means that while it's happening, most of the folks in the stands are rolling their eyes, eating their hot dogs and generally ignoring the scene on the field.
But when a world-class ballerina like The Washington Ballet's Maki Onuki gets the opportunity to throw the first pitch? She RUNS WITH IT—or, more accurately, tour jetés and saut de chats with it. You, Mr. I'm-Just-Here-For-The-Ballgame, are going to watch her, goshdarnit.
What do you think when you hear "Washington, D.C." these days? Actually, no, bad question—don't tell us. But odds are good that "joy" wasn't the first word that came to mind.
A new video starring the fabulous dancers of The Washington Ballet just might change that. Commissioned by the shopping and dining development CityCenterDC, it aims to re-brand the capitol as the "District of Joy"—by showing colorfully attired artists frolicking through the cityscape, performing charmingly dorky '60s-style choreo by former TWB director Septime Webre.
Webre told The Washington Post that his inspirations were West Side Story and the 1967 French musical The Young Girls of Rochefort. But those of us who just saw/fell in love with La La Land—so, all of us—will notice a lot of parallels between the smash-hit film and this vid. They're both exactly the kind of vibrant, optimistic fun the world needs right now.
Here's one of the many (MANY) things that makes Center Stage so magical: There's a sense that the dance-actors were basically playing themselves. Amanda Schull, a real-life sweetheart who struggled with her turnout, became the sweet and turnout-challenged Jody Sawyer. Sascha Radetsky, a real-life heartthrob and all-around nice guy, became the adorable and eternally nice Charlie. And Ethan Stiefel, a real-life superstar with a bit of a bad-boy edge, became Cooper Nielson, a superstar with a MAJOR bad-boy edge.
Which is why it's so delightful when—16 years out!—Center Stage-rs do things that reconfirm that feeling of art imitating life. Like when Ethan Stiefel, tasked with creating a new ballet for The Washington Ballet, decides to take a 9,000-mile motorcycle ride to figure out the rather daring concept for the work. Because that's straight out of Cooper's playbook, and it really did just happen.
According to The Washington Post, earlier this year, Stiefel received a call from his former American Ballet Theatre colleague, Kathleen Donahue Julie Kent, now artistic director of The Washington Ballet. She wanted him to make a ballet for the company, and she wanted it to commemorate John F. Kennedy's would-be 100th birthday. “I was elated and flattered,” Stiefel told the Post. “And, like, ‘Whoa.’ I needed a moment.” That moment turned out to be a six-week motorcycle trek across the country. By the end of the trip, he had his idea: He'd make a ballet based on Kennedy's space initiative. Which is just the kind of intriguing, unexpected thing that Cooper Nielson might do.
The article includes a ton of fascinating info about the new ballet, Frontier, set to premiere in D.C. in May. (For example: Stiefel actually met with astronauts at NASA headquarters, which, 🙌.) Read the whole thing—and then go watch the Center Stage finale one more time, because it's Monday and you deserve it.
Well, this is one of the best ways we can think of to celebrate International Women's Day!
The wonderful Julie Kent—former American Ballet Theatre principal and, odds are, one of your all-time ballerina idols—has just been named artistic director of The Washington Ballet. And it's a family affair: Kent's husband, fellow former ABT principal and longtime ABT associate artistic director Victor Barbee, will join her at TWB as associate artistic director.
(Kent photographed by Ken Browar and Deborah Ory/NYC Dance Project)
Why is that a brilliant move? One, because Kent—who danced with ABT for 29 years, longer than any other company member—has a profoundly deep knowledge of ballet. In addition to being an exceptional performer, she's a gifted teacher and coach; she has a lot of wisdom to share. Two, because the ballet world desperately needs more women in leadership roles. And there are few more natural leaders than the ballerina we've collectively looked up to for so many years.
So, what changes do Kent and Barbee have in store for TWB? Will the company take on more of the large classical works that ABT is known for? Will its school adopt ABT's National Training Curriculum? It's not clear yet (though there's a press conference at noon today that may answer some of those questions). But we're excited to see what's next.
Congratulations, Julie—and happy #IWD2016, everybody!
Misty Copeland, the first African American soloist at American Ballet Theatre in more than 20 years, has yet to appear as Odette/Odile on U.S. soil. That changes this month: On April 9 and 12, Copeland will take center stage in The Washington Ballet’s first-ever full-length production of Swan Lake.
Her Prince Siegfried will be TWB’s Brooklyn Mack—a rare partnership of two artists of color, performing classical roles historically portrayed by white dancers. Dance Spirit caught up with Copeland, Mack and TWB’s director, Septime Webre, to talk about the performances.
Misty Copeland and Brooklyn Mack in Swan Lake (photo by Theo Kossenas, courtesy The Washington Ballet)
“Swan Lake is regularly presented by some of the best companies in the world—I wanted to make our performance special. One of the last bastions of segregation in America is in ballet casting. I’m aware of the historical significance of Misty in the role, especially dancing with Brooklyn. My goal is to present artists who bring a new dimension to the ballet, and I hope that doing so will make audiences rethink what a ballerina and a prince should look like.” —Septime Webre
“I’m excited to give today’s youth a new image of who can be cast as the Swan Queen. I prefer dancing Odile—she’s not someone I naturally saw myself as. But that’s the beauty of acting in ballet. You get to become characters that aren’t innately part of you. I’m constantly switching partners at ABT, so dancing with Brooklyn isn’t too much of a departure from my norm. His power is effortless, and though he performs with a ton of masculinity, he’s also a really caring, nurturing and sensitive partner.” —Misty Copeland
“I’m honored and humbled to be a part of this. It’s always been part of my mission to inspire others, and I hope this performance reassures kids that they can do anything—we all can do anything, regardless of our color or our social status. Misty is a joy to work with. She’s super down-to-earth and she is, of course, tremendously talented. She’s technically inspiring, and we have great chemistry.” —Brooklyn Mack
Tomorrow night's the night: American Ballet Theatre soloist (and all-around ballet superstar) Misty Copeland will appear as Odette/Odile for the first time in the U.S., dancing with The Washington Ballet alongside the equally brilliant Brooklyn Mack.
Copeland and Mack as Odette and Prince Siegfried (Theo Kossenas, courtesy TWB)
Why is this especially exciting? (Aside from the fact that these are two amazing artists performing one of the world's most iconic ballets, which is thrilling in itself?) Because it is, unfortunately, incredibly rare for two dancers of color to play the leads in Swan Lake. It's an historic moment.
You can read Copeland, Mack and Washington Ballet artistic director Septime Webre's comments on the milestone performance in our April issue. And those of you itching to see the Copeland-Mack partnership in action are also in luck: Webre has posted a rehearsal clip to Facebook, and it's about as fantastic as you'd hope. Take a look—and get your Swan Lake tickets here.
Misty Copeland and Brooklyn Mack rehearsing Black Swan while the beautiful Evermay chamber orchestra plays on. Everyone is really dancing their best just now. I am super-proud of the whole company! We open Thursday night – exciting!
You may want to sit down for this: Misty Copeland will make her U.S. debut as Odette/Odile in the Washington Ballet's Swan Lake this April.
Alexandre Hammoudi and Misty Copeland in Swan Lake (photo by Darren Thomas)
Though she made her debut-debut in the role during American Ballet Theatre's Australian tour this past August, she'll finally be performing those most iconic of fouettés on her home turf. Fingers crossed that Copeland will eventually get the chance to perform Odette/Odile with ABT here in NYC, but she's doing it first with the Washington Ballet, and that's huge for both her and the company. She's been waiting for ABT to cast her in the role, and in the meantime, she took matters into her own hands. I believe that's known as "I will what I want."
Brooklyn Mack (photo via The Washington Post)
But wait, because it gets even more exciting. You may have heard of Brooklyn Mack— Washington Ballet's multi-competition winning dancer, and one of the ballet world's few African American men. He will partner Copeland in the role of Prince Siegfried, and together they will be one of the only African American couples to take on Swan Lake.
This is as epic as it is historic and we can't wait to see rehearsal photos—not to mention the performance itself!
Sure, dance is fun, but these performers have other skills they’re putting to good use:
Alexandra Johnson in Sidra Bell's House Unrest. (Jubal Battisti)
Sidra Bell Dance New York
Hobby: Reupholstering furniture
“My mother has always been into sewing and she’s worked in interior design, so I latched on to her interests. Now, I own a lot of furniture that I’ve reupholstered. People don’t realize that reupholstering isn’t hard if you’re willing to take time to do it—and it saves money!”
Sarah Braverman and Ian Spring (Lois Greenfield)
Hobby: Learning Italian
“I decided to take up Italian because two of the dancers I work with speak the language and we spend a lot of time together. Plus, Italy just happens to be on Parsons’ tour schedule! At the end of a long day it feels good to have something spark my interest that’s outside of the dance world. Keeping your mind open makes your dancing more informed.”
Jermaine Terry (Eduardo Patino)
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Hobby: Costume design
“I discovered costume design in college. I had choreographed my senior piece and my roommate suggested I buy slips and add to them for costumes. So that’s what I did. I started to do it professionally later by accident. In rehearsal one day, I was wearing a pair of jazz pants I had made. The choreographer liked them and asked if I would make the costumes for his piece. People have been asking me to make things for them ever since.”
Shelby Elsbree in Christopher Wheeldon’s Sleeping Beauty (David Amzallag)
Royal Danish Ballet
Hobbies: Blogging, cooking and photography
“A little over a year ago, my sister encouraged me to do something with my free time besides working out. I invested in a camera and took a picture of a chocolate cake baked by my sister. It was the most beautiful picture ever. I love food and cooking, so I combined these side passions with dance and started a blog. Tutus & Tea was born.”
Sona Kharatian in The Great Gatsby (Brianne Bland)
The Washington Ballet
“During Nutcracker season, I’ll knit scarves and socks to give as Christmas presents. If someone has me as their Secret Santa, they know they’ll get something knitted.”
Suluashvili and his wife, fellow Joffrey dancer Victoria Jaiani. Suluashvili says his favorite piece he’s crocheted is a shawl for Jaiani! (Herbert Migdoll)
“One day I decided to pick up crocheting needles and see what happened. I thought it could be a fun challenge. With crocheting you can do a little at a time—a few minutes here, a few minutes there, and before you know it you have a scarf or legwarmers!
When you’re dancing all day, it’s nice to have something calming to do when you get home. It lets your mind and your body rest, and you create something beautiful in the process.”