The Stars Descend on Vail
This year, International Evenings of Dance will include new works.
International Evenings of Dance, which features an array of celebrated dancers each year, has become a signature event at the Vail International Dance Festival in Colorado. But this August, the smorgasbord of stars will have an exciting new dimension: original choreography by Alexei Ratmansky and Larry Keigwin.
“We wanted to foster some new work this year,” says festival director Damian Woetzel. From the widely admired Ratmansky, Woetzel has commissioned a solo for New York City Ballet principal Wendy Whelan. And Keigwin’s première will showcase some of today’s hottest ballet dancers: Joaquin de Luz, Robert Fairchild, Tiler Peck and Sokvannara Sar. “Larry’s our first artist-in-residence, and though he’s essentially a modern choreographer, he’s eager to stretch himself and work in the ballet world,” Woetzel says. “He’s making dance more accessible and interesting.”
Woetzel also relishes the opportunity to create new ballet partnerships. “I love to introduce great dancers to each other,” he says. This year, Boston Ballet’s Misa Kuranaga will dance for the first time with American Ballet Theatre’s Daniil Simkin and Herman Cornejo. Kuranaga relishes the chance to branch out. “New partners teach you so much about other styles and other companies, how they work and do things differently,” she says. “It broadens your range as a dancer. And the networking is a nice bonus, too.” —Margaret Fuhrer
Colorado Ballet Turns 50
Colorado Ballet opens its 50th-anniversary season this September with a wide-ranging mixed bill: Edwaard Liang’s darkly powerful Feast of the Gods, Lar Lubovitch’s sweetly earnest …smile with my heart and a world première by the imaginative Matthew Neenan. “When you get to a 50th anniversary, you like to show off everything your company is currently capable of,” says Artistic Director Gil Boggs. “A diverse program does just that. And because the choreographers’ styles are so different, the audience doesn’t feel like it’s sitting through the same ballet three times.”
Ballet Mistress Sandra Brown, a member of the original American Ballet Theatre cast of Lubovitch’s …smile with my heart, looks forward to coaching the Colorado Ballet dancers in that piece. “It moves beautifully, it’s musically exacting and it represents different types of relationships in a very real, nuanced way,” she says.
And thanks to the soundtrack of Richard Rogers tunes, she says, it is “appealing to many generations of ballet-goers, the young as well as the old.”
The company’s anniversary season will also include the return of audience favorites Dracula, The Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet. —MF
Boston Ballet Principal James Whiteside, Pop Star
Many ballet dancers have summer dance guesting gigs—but Boston Ballet principal James Whiteside spends his summers as a pop singer. Whiteside’s musical alter-ego JbDubs (a play on his initials) will perform all over the northeast during Boston Ballet’s break this summer. His backup dancers—because of course he has backup dancers—are fellow Boston Ballet members.
Whiteside, whose brother is a musician, has been writing and performing as JbDubs for two years, but he plans to amp up his performance schedule this summer. “I’d describe the music as a pop-dance-hip-hop fusion,” Whiteside says. “I do everything—I write the music and the lyrics, I’m the lead singer and I do the choreography. It’s pretty intense.”
Boston Ballet soloist Lia Cirio, corps member Brad Schlagheck, former principal Melissa Hough (who just started at Houston Ballet) and BBII member Lawrence Rines join Whiteside onstage, slinking through his funky choreography. “I chose them because they all have hip-hop and jazz backgrounds,” he says, “and we’re good friends, so we have a lot of fun up there.” And the other Boston Ballet dancers? “They’re our groupies!” —MF
Forgotten Land Returns To Houston Ballet
Five years ago, Houston Ballet’s first performances of Jirí Kylián’s 1981 ballet Forgotten Land were cut short by the arrival of Hurricane Rita—an eerie coincidence. “Forgotten Land is technically an abstract ballet, but it seems like it’s about a place that was destroyed by nature,” says soloist Ilya Kozadayev, who was part of the 2005 cast. “We had to evacuate for the hurricane, and when we came back, the city looked so abandoned and empty. It was a strange case of art imitating life.”
This September, Houston Ballet will perform the moody, somber piece again (and all hope the weather will cooperate). “As Kylián evolved, he became more modern and fluid. This is a relatively early Kylián work,” says Kozadayev, “rooted in classical ballet, with just a hint of Martha Graham and other modern influences.” —MF
Complexions’ Summer “Holiday”
Complexions Contemporary Ballet will jazz things up this August with Billy on Billie, set to songs made famous by Billie Holiday as performed by pop vocalist Billy Porter. Commissioned by NYC’s SummerStage festival, the ballet will premiere outdoors in Central Park.
“I’ve always been inspired by Billie’s music, because her phrasing is creatively unpredictable,” says choreographer Dwight Rhoden, who will use Holiday classics like “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” “God Bless the Child” and “Love Me or Leave Me.” “Her voice sometimes sounds unlike a voice—she uses it like an instrument. That makes for an interesting canvas to paint a dance on.”
Though Billy on Billie is part of SummerStage’s tribute to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ’30s, Rhoden isn’t making a period piece. “I want to include a few references to that time in the movement and the costumes,” he says. “But since Billy Porter will be singing his modern interpretations of Billie’s songs, I’d like to bridge the gap between past and the present in the dance.”
Rhoden plans to create an intimate work for four couples, who will interact with Porter and the five jazz musicians onstage. “I think jazz music is a natural choice for contemporary ballet,” Rhoden says. “Contemporary ballet bends and manipulates and slides around classical shapes and steps. Jazz does the same thing to music, pushing the boundaries of the traditional form.” —MF
Amanda Schull Returns To The Big Screen
Most ballet fans know Amanda Schull as Jody Sawyer from the 2000 dance blockbuster Center Stage. Though Schull initially decided to pursue her dance rather than her film career, performing with San Francisco Ballet for seven years after Center Stage, she’s back onscreen this August with a featured role in Mao’s Last Dancer.
Schull was “beyond inspired” by the film’s script, which tells the true story of Li Cunxin, a Chinese ballet dancer who defected to the United States after participating in a cultural exchange program at Houston Ballet. Interestingly, the movie has an Australian accent: Australian Ballet dancers portray Houston Ballet artists, and Aussie choreographer Graeme Murphy’s work features prominently.
Schull plays Elizabeth Mackey, a Houston Ballet School student who became Li’s love interest. But you won’t see much footage of Schull dancing. “I did read for the part of Lori”—a principal dancer with Houston Ballet, played by Australian Ballet principal Madeleine Eastoe—“who has a lot of dance scenes. But Elizabeth was the part I wanted, because I’m not really a dancer now; I’m an actress.”
Her ballet training still came in handy on set, however. “Being a good actress requires the same principles as being a good dancer,” she says. “It’s hard work that requires a great deal of discipline, just like ballet. And I’ve found that since I danced, I know how to hit my marks and am aware of where the other actors are. So I already have a leg up that way—bad pun intended!” —MF
Pointe Shoe Profile
Ballet Arizona’s Ginger Smith
Freed of London
4XX with a heel pin
Bell, which she has been wearing for six years. She likes Bell because she has small, thin feet and Bell is a lightweight, tapered shoe.
She wears old gel pads with very little gel left in them. She doesn’t like a lot between her feet and the floor.
She cuts the shanks of both shoes but cuts the left shoe a little more, since her left foot is a little less flexible. She then stitches the insole down and puts a little glue on the tips to harden them.
Number of pairs she uses:
One to three pairs a week depending on her performance and rehearsal schedule.