Call Board

March 14, 2013


In April, Dance Theatre of Harlem will take a break from its first national tour since the company’s relaunch to perform in its hometown, New York. This initial appearance, at Jazz at Lincoln Center, is the first of several high-profile engagements: In June, the company will perform in the Kennedy Center’s “Ballet Across America” series and at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.

Clearly the iconic American organization is well on the way to fulfilling the five-year rebuilding plan devised by DTH artistic director Virginia Johnson, executive director Laveen Naidu and the board. Johnson emphasizes DTH’s unique artistic legacy in the dance world. Always a multicultural institution, DTH is “still a company of color, but a very diverse company,” Johnson says. “The phrase I like to use is ‘unimagined beauty.’ I think there are so many people who imagine ballet as one thing and black people as another. When you put them together, that’s the beauty that you hadn’t imagined before.”

The current company comprises 18 dancers, hired from the DTH Ensemble, national auditions and the company’s school. The compact troupe (down from 44 dancers in 2004) tours without trucks or scenery and does not have a union contract. “We’re never going to be 44 dancers again,” Johnson says, “but slightly larger than 18 is something I can aim for.” DTH’s 2013 repertoire consists of 12 ballets, including Balanchine’s Agon, the Black Swan pas de deux, Donald Byrd’s Contested Space, Robert Garland’s Gloria and Alvin Ailey’s The Lark Ascending.

The closing of DTH in 2004 didn’t just hurt the company, says Johnson: “It was a tragedy for future dancers of color. A generation of dancers didn’t see DTH and get inspired.” But she feels optimistic that dancers of color will eventually become more visible in ballet companies. “That’s going to change very rapidly—not just because we’re back but because the world is changing.” —Joseph Carman

Millepied’s Controversial POB Appointment

Many expected an étoile from the Nureyev era to be the designated heir, but in the end, an outsider prevailed. After much speculation, it was announced at a press conference in Paris this January that Benjamin Millepied would take over as director of dance of the Paris Opéra Ballet in October 2014. The appointment brings Brigitte Lefèvre’?s nearly two decades at the helm to a close, and opens a new chapter for the company. Millepied will leave the troupe he founded last year, L.A. Dance Project, to move to Paris with his wife, Black Swan star Natalie Portman.

The decision raised some eyebrows: Millepied has never run a large company, and, at 35, is younger than many of POB’s étoiles. The choreographer is also unfamiliar with the company?’s famed style. Born in Bordeaux, Millepied left France to join the School of American Ballet at 16 and went on to dance with New York City Ballet as a principal until 2011. He admitted that he would have much to learn about the POB’?s historic repertoire, with its Nureyev productions and Petit, Béjart and Neumeier classics.

But Millepied also has ideas that could set the venerable institution on a stimulating path. Opera and ballet collaborations are one of them, along with an emphasis on new contemporary choreography using the classical idiom. “I am passionate about ballet,” Millepied said. “I want to open up the company to my generation of classical choreographers.” He also said he would ration his own works in the repertoire and encourage budding choreographers within the company.

At the press conference, Lefèvre stressed the continuity between her term and Millepied?’s plans, adding: “?I didn?’t expect to be so emotional. You’?re young, Benjamin, but it will sort itself out.?” —?Laura Cappelle

Wheeldon’s Triple Play

Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon is having a very busy spring. In addition to setting his new Cinderella on San Francisco Ballet, he’s making new pieces for New York City Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet, and all three works have May premiere dates.

Bay Area audiences have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of Cinderella—a co-production with the Dutch National Ballet that had its world premiere last year in Amsterdam—and so have SFB dancers. Wheeldon’s version is principal Maria Kochetkova’s first experience dancing the lead role. “It’s been fascinating bringing her to life,” Kochetkova says. “I feel the way Chris sees Cinderella is very close to how I understand her”—as a girl with more confidence and initiative than the retiring heroines of other ballet versions of the tale. “This Cinderella stands up for herself when her stepmother and sisters mistreat her,” Kochetkova says. “In a way, they know she’s stronger than they are.”

Kochetkova is also enchanted by the ballet’s stage effects, created with the help of puppeteer Basil Twist. “My favorite moment has got to be when Cinderella’s on her way to the ball, and everything and everyone around her transforms in a few seconds,” she says. “It’s actually quite tricky, but it looks so magical.” —Margaret Fuhrer

Ratmansky at ABT

Symphony #9
, the energetic first section of Alexei Ratmansky’s new Dmitri Shostakovich trilogy, impressed American Ballet Theatre audiences last fall; during the company’s Metropolitan Opera House season this spring, they’ll finally see the last two acts of the choreographer’s first abstract evening-length ballet. The Met season also includes the company premiere of Sir Frederick Ashton’s A Month in the Country, the return of several classical warhorses and, in June, a new production of Le Corsaire.

McIntyre’s New Fleet Foxes Ballet

Trey McIntyre is known for setting ballets to pop music, frequently choreographing to the likes of Peter, Paul and Mary and The Shins. “I think you can actually be lazy choreographing to symphonic music, because there’s so much detail that you can follow as a roadmap,” McIntyre says. “I want to have something to contribute beyond illustrating what a composer has already done. In pop music, the form is simplistic, so I have to bring more of myself to add that next layer.”

Oregon Ballet Theatre’s American Music Festival program this April offered McIntyre a chance to further explore his pop fascination: He’ll premiere a work set to music by Pacific Northwest–based folk band Fleet Foxes. “When the company asked me to contribute to a program celebrating American music, it made sense to me to use pop songs,” McIntyre says. “It’s my connection to American composers. I haven’t found a contemporary symphonic composer I respond to, so I like to work with the best of American pop instead.”

McIntyre has had the Fleet Foxes in the back of his mind for a while. (He’s used one of their songs in another ballet.) “Their music has this great connection to nature,” he says. “I picture huge open canyons when I listen to it, grand landscapes. I think that sense of space is something that translates well into choreography.” —MF