Call Board

November 28, 2001

A New Take on
Romeo and Juliet

The National Ballet of Canada celebrates its 60th with a Ratmansky premiere.

National Ballet of Canada artistic director Karen Kain has been after Alexei Ratmansky for years. “I first started contacting Alexei when he was still with the Bolshoi,” she says. “I’d watched videos of his Bright Stream and The Bolt, and I saw how brilliantly he understood human nature, comic timing and how to create characters of real interest.” But as one of the world’s most popular choreographers—after leaving the Bolshoi, he developed an ongoing relationship with New York City Ballet, then became American Ballet Theatre’s resident choreographer, and he continues to set work on companies all over the world (Pennsylvania Ballet will present the North American premiere of his Jeu de Cartes this fall)—Ratmansky wasn’t easy to track down. “I knew if I wanted to get him, I’d have to offer him something exciting,” Kain says.

The project that reeled him in? A new version of Romeo and Juliet, which will open the National Ballet’s 60th anniversary season this November. “We’ve had John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet in our repertoire for 46 years, and it’s a beautiful work,” Kain says. (As a National Ballet principal, she was renowned for her interpretation of Cranko’s Juliet.) “But it’s time for a version with more depth and complexity—and Alexei is the perfect man to make it.”

Set to Prokofiev’s soaring, turbulent score—newly cut by Ratmansky himself—the ballet also features designs by Richard Hudson. “We’re all nervous about this project,” Kain says. “It’s always easier to try to do something totally new. But it’s worth the effort to get something wonderful out of a great artist.”  —Margaret Fuhrer


Today’s Tom Sawyer

If you want to make a classic story ballet, it helps to start with a classic story. Mark Twain’s masterpiece is the basis for Kansas City Ballet’s Tom Sawyer. The three-act ballet, choreographed by artistic director William Whitener with an original score by Tony Award–winner Maury Yeston, premieres October 14 at the company’s new home, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

Dancing the title role is second-year company member Alexander Peters, a 20-year-old redhead who bears more than a passing resemblance to previous portrayals of Twain’s hero. Though he admits he wasn’t quite the troublemaker Tom was as a kid, Peters was known to brazenly defy gravity while winning both the Princess Grace and Mae L. Wien Awards at the School of American Ballet. “And I had to paint my parents’ house this summer,” he adds, “so I can relate to Tom’s dislike of painting.”

Preparation involved much more than just reading the book. “Bill Whitener would read from the text for inspiration, or bring in photos or paintings that other artists had done inspired by Tom Sawyer,” says Peters. “He comes into rehearsal full force. He’s throwing things at you and you have to deliver right away.”

A classic story and the perfect dancer for the part: Kansas City Ballet proves that, every so often, the twain shall meet. —Michael Northrop


Insider To Head The Royal Ballet

When it came to casting the part of next Royal Ballet artistic director, most ballet fans expected that a familiar face would land the job. (Several big names—including Christopher Wheeldon—were repeatedly tossed around.) In the end, however, Monica Mason will be succeeded in July 2012 by an insider no one saw coming: Kevin O’Hare, her administrative director since 2009.

A former principal with Birmingham Royal Ballet, O’Hare retired from dancing in 2000 to train in company management. After stints with the Royal Shakespeare Company and BRB, he joined The Royal’s management team in 2004. “Kevin knows the company and has already established a clear and communicative relationship with the dancers,” explains Wheeldon, who choreographed Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for The Royal earlier this year.

While some have deemed the appointment unexciting, O’Hare is intimately familiar with the company’s English repertoire and won over the selection panel with ambitious plans to bring together “the most talented artists of the 21st century to collaborate on the same stage,” as he said in a press release. He won’t be lonely at the top, either: Both Wheeldon and resident choreographer Wayne McGregor, along with associate director Jeanetta Laurence, have agreed to be part of his “senior artistic team.” The terms of their involvement remain to be defined, according to Wheeldon, but “there are future projects in the works, including another possible full-length ballet.”

O’Hare also has an impressive track record in reaching out to new audiences: He was behind the company’s historic 2009 tour to Cuba and a recent venture at the O2, a London sports arena where tens of thousands were able to see Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet. He has a “knack for understanding what appeals to a younger audience,” as Wheeldon puts it, which will come in handy as the company starts to feel the effects of recent funding cuts. —Laura Cappelle

Return of the Scots

This October, the Scottish Ballet travels to the United States for the first time in 25 years. The trip is one highlight of Ashley Page’s farewell season, capping a decade-long tenure as artistic director during which he remade the formerly staid classical group into a neoclassical and contemporary powerhouse. Featuring performances of Kenneth MacMillan’s hauntingly poetic The Song of the Earth and the North American premiere of a new work by Jorma Elo, the tour kicks off at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles and concludes at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. —Katie Sisco


ABT’s Less Classical Side

It’s been three years since American Ballet Theatre had a fall season at the historic New York City Center. This November, the company returns to the newly renovated venue for a week, with a set of repertory programs that feel fittingly fresh. The headliner is a premiere by Stuttgart Ballet dancer Demis Volpi, who recently won the Erik Bruhn prize for choreography. Major revivals include Merce Cunningham’s characteristically spare Duets, Paul Taylor’s Great Depression–themed Black Tuesday and Martha Clarke’s atmospheric The Garden of Villandry. And Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room—celebrating its 25th anniversary this year—makes another welcome appearance in the company’s lineup.  —MF

Morphoses’ Second Debut

What will the new Morphoses look like? That’s a puzzle that’s preoccupied director Lourdes Lopez ever since Morphoses mastermind Christopher Wheeldon, aiming to pursue more freelance opportunities, left the company last year. And we’re about to see Lopez’s solution in action: This October, the reimagined Morphoses will premiere Bacchae, by its first resident artistic director, Luca Veggetti, at New York’s Joyce Theater.

Lopez now sees Morphoses, which will bring in a new artistic leader each season and have a flexible roster of dancers, as “an engine of creativity—a company where the infrastructure is constant, but the artistic vision is always being renewed,” she says. “We want to highlight interesting choreographers, to involve the dancers in the creative process and to experiment with multimedia and exciting collaborators.”

It’s a model that fits Veggetti to a T. His take on Euripides’ tragedy will feature 11 dancers (including New York City Ballet’s Adrian Danchig-Waring), a score by Paolo Aralla played by flutist Erin Lesser, text fragments adapted by dramaturge Luca Scarlini, motion capture technology and even a puppet. “It’s a lot, but there is an interrelation and balance of all these elements,” Veggetti says. “Each thing depends on the other.”

Long an admirer of Jerome Robbins’ experiments with American Theatre Laboratory in the 1960s, Veggetti saw in the new Morphoses a similar approach to the creative process. “Robbins’ idea of creating with very few restrictions—that’s the model I’ve always hoped to emulate,” he says. “When Lourdes and I first talked about Bacchae, I saw it happening.” 

Stay tuned: Lopez is already at work on the following season, a project involving Pontus Lidberg’s film Labyrinth Within (which stars NYCB’s Wendy Whelan) and composer David Lang. —MF

Ballet All Over

Ballet Hits Primetime

There are few things better than watching ballet in your living room. This fall, tune in to PBS, which is featuring Miami City Ballet and San Francisco Ballet in its eight-part Arts Fall Festival. MCB’s program, airing October 28, includes Balanchine’s Square Dance and Western Symphony, as well as Twyla Tharp’s The Golden Section. On December 16, SFB goes under the sea in John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid. Check your local listings for times. —KS

Hot Off The Presses

Jock Soto’s new memoir, Every Step You Take, traces the former New York City Ballet principal’s journey from growing up on a Navajo reservation to his glamorous career as a ballet superstar. Full of NYCB gossip, it’s also a compelling chronicle of Soto’s trials and triumphs, and an account of his attempts to negotiate his post-dancing life. Every Step You Take hits bookstores on October 4. —Meggie Hermanson