Go Ask Alice
Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland arrives at The Royal.
In Lewis Carroll’s classic books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, the eternally curious Alice is no shrinking violet—and she won’t be in Christopher Wheeldon’s new Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, either. “Alice is a strong-minded girl in our production, a little ahead of her time,” says Wheeldon. “She’s gregarious and modern for her Victorian age.”
The whole of Wheeldon’s Wonderland, which The Royal Ballet will premiere this February, seems inspired by Alice’s feistiness. Though only the forth evening-length work Wheeldon has ever tackled, it’s a huge undertaking: A lavish and expensive full-company production (co-commissioned with the National Ballet of Canada, which will perform it in June) with an original score by Joby Talbot and designs by Bob Crowley.
Charged with bringing Alice to life on opening night is RB principal Lauren Cuthbertson—and it’s no easy task. “I don’t think I’ve ever done a full-length ballet where I’m literally on the entire time, but these are indeed Alice’s adventures, and Alice never, ever leaves the stage!” she says, laughing. “We’re even working out what will happen if, for example, I want to change my shoes before a big pas de deux—how am I going to manage it?” Logistical challenges aside, Cuthbertson, who’s a talented actress known for her dramatic Juliet, is looking forward to fully immersing herself in Wonderland. “There’s something lovely about never having to step back into the wings, into the real world,” she says. “Sometimes when I’m dancing Juliet, I’ll imagine the wings and the backstage area as the streets of Verona, so I don’t have to come out of character. As Alice I don’t have to do any of that pretending.”
Wheeldon says that translating the intricate, witty wordplay of Carroll’s books into movement has been “rather like trying to solve a never-ending puzzle,” and Cuthbertson has enjoyed watching him put the pieces together. “I’ve only worked with Christopher on abstract leotard-and-tights ballets like Tryst, but Alice has brought out a totally different side of him,” she says. “He’s just a big kid in the studio. His demonstrations of all the characters are hilarious, and so spot-on—he does all of them better than any of us can. It’s like he’s creating a living pop-up book in front of you.”
Ethan Stiefel Takes the Reins in New Zealand
Principal dancer, movie star, dance school dean: Ethan Stiefel has worn many hats over the course of his career. This September, he’ll add yet another to his collection when he becomes artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet.
While Stiefel, currently a principal at American Ballet Theatre and dean of the School of Dance at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, has some ties to New Zealand—his grandmother was born and raised there—he knew RNZB only by reputation before he was offered the directorship last fall. “Luckily I was able to go out and spend four or five days with them, observing and teaching,” Stiefel says. “I was immediately impressed by their responsiveness and energy.”
Stiefel has big plans for the company, which include increasing its visibility in the United States and adding repertoire by American choreographers. “Right now, RNZB is much more connected to Europe than the U.S.,” he says. “That’s great, but I’d also like to bring in some ballets by people I’ve worked with. And if audiences in the U.S. are interested in the ‘new’ RNZB, so to speak, it’d be good to tour there.” His partner, fellow ABT principal Gillian Murphy, will spend parts of the year performing with RNZB. Stiefel says he may perform with the company as well, if the opportunity arises.
Stiefel adds that he and Murphy will continue to dance with ABT, and that artistic director Kevin McKenzie has been “gracious and enthusiastic” about the
new project. But Stiefel announced last September—shortly before taking the RNZB job—that he would step down as dean at UNCSA at the end of this academic year. “Unfortunately, I can’t do three jobs at once,” he says.
Cynthia Gregory Comes to NBT
Former American Ballet Theatre principal Cynthia Gregory has forged a new relationship with Nevada Ballet Theatre: This fall she signed on as the company’s artistic advisor. NBT has also established the Cynthia Gregory Center for Coaching, which will give dancers across the country the opportunity to work with the legendary ballerina.
Gregory, who moved to Las Vegas in 2009, is particularly excited about the coaching center, which will have designated studio space at NBT. “Coaching is my love,” says Gregory, who was known for her incisive interpretations of Odette/Odile and Aurora. “I have a lot of knowledge to pass on, and I’ve always wanted a place where people could come to me and work.” In time, dancers from companies all over will be able to make pilgrimages to Nevada to work with Gregory.
In her artistic advisor capacity, Gregory recently worked with both NBT dancers and Nevada Ballet Theatre Academy students on The Nutcracker, and she plans to assist with the Academy’s production of La Fille Mal Gardée in May. “Professionals are always wonderful, but I love getting my hands on the younger students,” she says. “They’re open to anything—little sponges!”
Ballet’s Next Generation Comes to DC
Kennedy Center audiences will get a glimpse of ballet’s future this March with Protégés III. The latest installation of the program, which began in 2006, features students of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, The Royal Danish Ballet School, New National Theatre’s Tokyo Young Artists Training Program and the Julio Bocca Foundation Ballet Argentino School of the Arts.
Niels Balle, director of the Danish academy, says his 13- to 17-year-old students will perform repertoire that reflects the school’s rich Bournonville tradition: excerpts from Flower Festival in Genzano, The Kermesse in Bruges and Le Conservatoire (Konservatoriet). Balle values the opportunity Protégés offers his students to learn “how to deal with an audience in another part of the world,” he says. “It’s very important at this age that they see kids from other schools, and the level they’re on, to gauge if they’re on the right track.”
ABT Visits Moscow
It’s been half a century since American Ballet Theatre last performed in Moscow. This March, ABT returns to the Russian capital city—home of the Bolshoi, one of the world’s most venerable ballet companies. The program features Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, Robbins’ Fancy Free, Alexei Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas and a new work by Benjamin Millepied. “It was an issue of presenting a balance of our heritage, what is uniquely American and what we are doing creatively today,” says artistic director Kevin McKenzie of the programming. McKenzie is also keen for the company’s dancers to experience Moscow. “It’s always eye-opening to be aware of our status as cultural ambassadors,” he says. “In Moscow, the versatility of styles we present will be the most notable.”
Ballet on Your iPhone
Since it seems like there’s an “app” for just about everything these days, it was only a matter of time before ballet companies got in on the trend. Both the Paris Opéra Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet recently created handy, free iPhone applications, which allow users to view image galleries, check out casting, make ticket purchases and even get directions to the theater—right from their phones (or their iPads or iPod Touches). Look for the “Opéra National de Paris” and “PNB Mobile” apps at the iTunes App Store.
Hot Ticket Giveaways
The Joffrey Ballet will perform Ronald Hynd’s glitzy, comedic The Merry Widow for the first time this February. We’re giving away two pairs of tickets to the Friday, February 25, performance at 7:30 pm.
The Washington Ballet’s “Rock & Roll” program, which runs February 16–20, includes Christopher Bruce’s Rooster, Trey McIntyre’s autobiographical High Lonesome and a world premiere by artistic director Septime Webre. We’re giving away a pair of tickets to the closing performance at 1 pm on Sunday, February 20.
Christopher Stowell on OBT’s “Stravinsky Project”
Oregon Ballet Theatre’s “Stravinsky Project,” featuring artistic director Christopher Stowell’s Rite of Spring, Yuri Possokhov’s Firebird and a collaborative premiere, opens February 26. Pointe spoke with Stowell about how he assembled the program.
Pointe: A lot of iconic ballets—Balanchine’s in particular—come to mind with Igor Stravinsky. But you chose not to include them on your program. Why?
Some of the Stravinsky scores that were written for the Ballets Russes are fantastic pieces of music, but the original versions don’t really hang together for 21st-century audiences. One of my missions since joining Oregon Ballet Theatre has been to present current interpretations of these great scores, which is why I chose Rite and Firebird.
PT: And what about the premiere?
There are two local contemporary dance companies that I admire, BodyVox and Rumpus Room Dance. I asked their choreographers—Jamey Hampton, Ashley Roland and Rachel Tess—to work with Anne Mueller, one of OBT’s principals, on a joint project. I wanted them to make something influenced by, if not directly related to, Stravinsky’s music, his piano pieces in particular. Stravinsky wrote a lot of shorter pieces for piano that are eminently danceable, and I figured using a few of them would automatically link each choreographer’s section to the next.
PT: Why did you think these choreographers would work well together?
Frankly, I didn’t know if they would. But I did think including a collaborative effort on the program was important. I wanted to steer clear of the old programming formula: Three ballets, each by a different choreographer…one’s old, one’s new, one’s Balanchine…you get the picture.