Some insight on being fully immersed in a role, creating a character, not comparing yourself to the past 400 years of Juliets, and kissing your co-workers…
by Alessa Rogers
“Let love drive you.” These are not the words of Shakespeare but of stager Giovanna Lorenzoni as she attempts to mold me into a Juliette Capulet worthy of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s stunning ballet. They are the words that have been driving me since I was first cast as Juliette in October 2013, through the intense rehearsal process that led to the first time Atlanta Ballet performed the ballet last year and now, as I prepare for an encore round of shows February 6-14. As I prepare for my second shot at what has become my favorite ballet, I reflect on the process, on remembering that opening night is just one night, and how the genius is in the details.
For me, being cast as Juliette was a dream come true. But as is the case with most dreams, reality was a little different than I imagined. First of all, this version, which was choreographed in 1996 for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, is a departure from the classical versions I grew up with. This is a stripped down, more contemporary version. Third Act I am barefoot. There are no lavish sets, cumbersome period piece costumes, and nary a sword or a vial of potion to behold. Instead, the story is told through the movement and the musicality only. As such, every step is vitally important. Nothing is thrown away or meaningless. There is text in every gesture, tension is every moment of stillness.
Juliette herself is different too. She is older than she is normally portrayed, closer to woman than girl. She is fierce and fearless and knows a thing or two about the world. She knows herself and what she wants. She takes the lead in the budding romance with Romeo, demarcating their boundaries or lack thereof. The streak of mischief in this Juliette is part of the reason why I got this role in the first place. Early in the process one of the stagers from Monte-Carlo came upon me in the hallway, shoving a piece of cake into the mouth of one of the other dancers. That, she said, is exactly what Juliette would do.
The opening of the Royal Ballet’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland interposes a psychological basis for Wonderland. Alice (Lauren Cuthberton) is not a little girl in this version, but a young teenager who shares an infatuation with the gardener’s son Jack (Sergei Polunin). But, tsk tsk, this is the Victorian Era and Alice’s mother (Zenaida Yanowsky) disapproves of this class-disparate romance. She takes the opportunity to dismiss Jack after she erroneously believes he stole a tart. Not surprisingly, Yanowsky returns in Wonderland as the Queen of Hearts and Polunin returns as the Knave of Heart who “stole tarts”. The premise of dual characters is carried farther as family friend Lewis Carroll (Edward Watson) reappears as The White Rabbit, and tea guests such as the visiting Rajah (Eric Underwood) and Magician (Steven McRae) later morph into The Caterpillar and Mad Hatter.
Video projections are appropriately used to portray Alice falling down the rabbit hole. In the sequences that follow, a combination of projections and more traditional theatrical effects help create the famous “Eat Me” and ”Drink Me” episodes (where Alice grows and shrinks) as well as the “Pool of Tears”. All of these scenes are fun to watch, although, if you haven’t read the book in while, they might be hard to follow in places. “The Pool of Tears” is actually the most visually effective though it’s also the most conventional – dancers “swimming” in between rows of stationary scenery painted to look like waves. While suggesting just enough of reality, it retains the charm of a storybook illustration – something that is not as easy to accomplish with video projections.
A challenge in adapting Alice in Wonderland for a non-verbal medium is the fact that much of the story’s potency comes from wordplay and parodies of poems and songs. The wordplay, of course, can’t be translated into dance, but there is a perhaps a nod to it in some of the projected backgrounds which feature skies of scrambled letters. The element of parody though does find an interesting parallel in Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography which incorporates spoofs of classical ballet, most memorably in the Queen of Hearts’ botched Rose Adagio. Elsewhere, Wheeldon employs a mix of non-satirical classical ballet, contemporary ballet, and, occasionally, other styles of dance. The Mad Hatter is in fact reimagined as a tap dancer, an effect which works remarkably well.
As for the music, I admit I have mixed feelings about the original score by Joby Talbot. Of course, it makes sense that a soundscape for Alice in Wonderland would express the madness, confusion, curiosity, and even violence that are integral to the story. However, whether or not you enjoy Talbot’s approach to this will depend on your taste for modern symphonic music, which, of course, doesn’t shy away from dissonance and percussion-heavy moments. At the risk of sounding like a throwback, I think it’s harder to pull off effective dissonance than it is effective melody. So, to me, the score is most compelling when it sticks to the latter. During these moments, such as Alice and the Knave of Hearts’ courtroom pas de deux, the music takes on an engaging cinematic quality which enhances the already engaging visuals onstage.
Speaking of engaging visuals… the costumes, colors, scenery (with a small caveat about out-of-place grimness of the kitchen set with its sausage maker and pig carcasses), lighting, and overall composition of each scene is top-notch, sometimes to the degree that the designs begin to compete with the dancing for your attention. The courtroom in Wonderland just might be the best for its geometry, full prism of costumes, and a giant house of cards looming in the background.
When that house of cards literally and figuratively falls and Alice awakens in reality, we notice that she is now wearing a modern-day dress. The Knave of Hearts/Jack, sitting nearby her, is sporting a t-shirt and blue jeans. Yes, as it turns out, this story wasn’t about a Victorian youth dreaming of madness, love, confusion, and discovery based on her real-life experiences. It was instead a dream about a Victorian youth who had such a dream. Hmm… I’m not sure this conclusion is quite as interesting as the scenario seemingly set forth at the beginning.
The dancing, of course, is world-class all around, as you would expect from the Royal Ballet. As Alice, Lauren Cuthbertson is like a music-box ballerina in her seemingly effortless precision, line, and musicality – her technique so pure it’s almost startling. She also possesses a natural girlish playfulness and lightness that are ideally suited for the role. The other standout is Zenaida Yanowsky as the Queen of Hearts. Her acting is spot-on, and, even more impressively, her classical grace radiates so thoroughly through her every movement that you’re simultaneously in awe of how well she embodies her comical character and how she makes it so beautiful to watch — without dampening the fire of the satiric choreography.
This OpusArte DVD of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is from 2011. Since then, the Royal Ballet has revised and extended the production. I haven’t yet seen the updated version, but Sarah Crompton of The Telegraph wrote that the changes were all improvements. I truly believe that this ballet has masterpiece potential, though, as with all art, it takes time and revision to achieve that end.
It’s always interesting when one artist inspires another–especially when they operate in two different mediums.
Brock Clawson is a choreographer who has had work performed by both the Milwaukee Ballet and The Joffrey Ballet. Herbert Migdoll, artist, Director of Special Projects for Joffrey, and long-time company photographer, recently created a series of art pieces based on Clawson’s piece, “Crossing Ashland”.
We wanted to learn more about how the inspiration for this work came about, so we reached out to Mr. Migdoll to learn more about his process. (Please feel free to click on the photos below to bring up a larger view.)
What was it about Brock’s piece (Crossing Ashland) that you were drawn to specifically?
Initially, in the Joffrey dance studio, the work reminded me of the ballets performed at Judson in the Village in the olden days. That period included such artists as Carolee Schneeman, Laura Dean, Meredith Monk, Twyla Tharp, Cathrine Litz and many others. It always had a rawness and simplicity in the aesthetic, which allowed one to realize that all movement is a part of dance. The core came from rough ideas, and the motion of the dancers presenting those elements were indulged by an audience and relished by visual artists–like Rauchenberg who jumped into dance and even performed in a work with Steve Paxton there. A photo from that performance is on my list of paintings, TO DO.
The bodies of the dancers (in Brock’s piece) rolling to the left and then to the right is totally unique to how bodies are normally focused upon.
As a kid I loved to roll down low ravines or in the shallow waters of an ocean tide foaming onto the beach as the twilight of evening was approaching. All of this creates a visual plethora of ones past experience with rolling around. I knew fairly quickly that Brock had touched a nerve in my collective consciousness and that I would have to run with it. That electrical moment does not occur that often and when it does you are not able to not jump into the creative process.
God does good stuff too–like grass and human bodies seemed inevitable elements of collaboration. The grasses in Lurie Garden are often nifty, and also in Ping Tom Memorial Park.
Do you have a particular piece you gravitate toward?
The first grey panel I produced with colored bodies on top and flesh bodies below would be my first choice if I could afford to buy one. But I can’t.
Also the 5 bodies lost in the Lurie Garden autumn grasses is uniquely magical.
Bob Joffrey once remarked that wonderful art will always have a quality of being magical. It’s the magic that allows you to enter that other dimension.
What was your creative process like with this project?
It started by watching a rehearsal–and from that to know that I had to shoot a lot of rolling around stuff. And I did.
Then I edited down to nine iconic images and placed them mostly sequential order as they appeared on stage–but not strictly. Next I looked at them in Photoshop to eliminate the photographic aesthetic and coax the slickness out of the photo into an evolved
sort of drawing–and then to finally take shape into an acrylic reproduction–producing a digitally painted series of nine images in a row.
The monochromatic “drawing-like” figures were so on the mark, I stopped and simply continued to create an almost square of bodies which became a matrix for the possibility of endless modular combinations. And these compositions of modules will now continue on as long as I have funding to produce new canvasses.
The grey backgrounds on some of the works led to the beauty of colors against grey, and intermingled with the lush flesh colored bodies. All of which have nothing and everything to do with Brock’s ballet. Rothko, one of my heroes, inspired me to pursue the soft edge of one or two colors firmly blended and totally separate. It’s all kind of a “stream of consciousness” response–and finally a leaving of the source of inspiration. It is an acceptance that the inspiration is the golden source–not because it recreates the final images–but because it evolves art totally unique from the source.
Painting is not illustration. It’s something else!0
I’m so pleased to introduce this month’s guest contributor, Dr. Selina Shah, MD, a dance and sports medicine physician based in San Francisco, where she is Director of Dance Medicine at the Center for Sports Medicine. A dancer herself, Dr. Shah is the company physician for the San Francisco Ballet School, Liss Fain Dance Company, and Diablo Ballet, among others. Her article discusses the different factors that determine when a student dancer should begin pointe work.
We are grateful to her for sharing her expertise on this topic —pass it on!
- Jan Dunn MS, Editor, Dance Wellness
by Selina Shah, MD, FACP
If you are anything like me, you are captivated by ballet. You love its grace and its gravity-defying, gentle power. You dream of performing as a prima ballerina. In the years of work it will require to get there, perhaps the single most important milestone you will face is when to go en pointe.
Dancing en pointe is an advanced stage of ballet that requires unique skills. The challenge is to place almost all of your weight on the extreme tips of your toes, yet appear as light as a feather. In fact, no matter how long all of your toes are, research has shown that most of your body weight is carried on the tip of your big toe. It may sound very hard, but in truth, it’s even harder!
How Will I Know When I Can Get Pointe Shoes?
Most likely, your teacher will decide when you are ready to go en pointe. Many factors are involved in this decision. One common myth is that there is a mandatory age requirement of 11 or 12. In actuality, having adequate training rather than age is what matters. Usually, this means at least several years of consistent, high-quality training. Often girls are around age 11 or 12 before this happens, but some girls may be ready sooner, some later, and some not at all. Keep in mind the quality of work is more important than quantity.
You need enough flexibility in your foot to rise fully to pointe. One way to test this is to point your foot while sitting down with your legs extended in front of you. Next, place a pencil on top of the ankle and it should be able to lay flat from the tibia to the foot across the ankle joint.
You need physical and technical skills, such as strength, balance, alignment and control. For example, you should be able to hold passé on each leg with arms in high fifth for at least a few seconds. You should also be able to perform a clean pirouette with a smooth landing.
You also need to be able to continuously accept and apply teacher feedback.
Last but not least, you must consistently maintain your discipline and focus to keep your skills sharp and reduce the likelihood of injury.
Barre is where you form the crucial foundational skills on which pointe, and all other ballet movements are built. Listen to your teachers when they give you corrections and apply them until they become second nature. For instance, “working the floor with your feet” in tendus helps build your foot strength, which is essential for pointe. Working diligently on your turnout (and not cheating!) results in proper alignment. Use your core strength (ask your teacher how to do this correctly) to help you with balance and control. Apply these skills in the center and across the floor.
Various Foot Types
Knowing your foot type is important when you look for pointe shoes. Most people fall into one of three categories.
- The “Giselle” or peasant foot shape is one where the first three toes are of equal length, making this ideal for pointe because the big toe gets assistance from the other two toes in carrying the weight.
- The “Morton’s” or “Grecian” foot, in which the second toe is the longest, is more prone to developing callouses, pain, and stiffness in the big toe. Most of the body weight is still carried by the big toe in the Morton’s foot.
- A narrow “Egyptian” foot, in which the toes taper in length from the big toe which is the longest, usually requires a cap on the second toe so that it can assist the big toe with weight bearing.
Finding The Right Pointe Shoe
Pointe shoe fitting is complicated because of the variability in shape, size, strength, and flexibility of each dancer’s feet. Most dance stores will have specialized pointe shoe fitters on staff. Your first visit to the store will take some time as you try on a number of shoes until you find the one that feels good and fits properly. As you gain experience in pointe, you will likely change shoes.
With hard work and dedication, one day you may be fortunate enough to hear the words “You are ready for pointe!”
Selina Shah, MD, FACP is a board certified sports medicine and internal medicine physician and the Director of Dance Medicine at the Center for Sports Medicine in San Francisco, CA and Walnut Creek, CA. She has lectured nationally and internationally on various dance medicine topics and has published papers in medical journals and books including her original research on dance injuries in contemporary professional dancers. She is the dance company physician for the San Francisco Ballet School, Liss Fain Dance Company and Diablo Ballet. She is a physician for Berkeley Repertory Theater, Mill’s College, St. Mary’s College, and Northgate High School. She takes care of the performers for Cirque du Soleil and various Broadway productions when they come to the San Francisco Bay Area. She has taken care of several Broadway performers (i.e. American Idiot, South Pacific, Lion King, Book of Mormon, MoTown, and Billy Elliot). She is a team physician for USA Synchronized Swimming, USA Weightlifting, USA Figure Skating and travels with the athletes internationally and nationally. She is also a member of the USA Gymnastics Referral Network. As a former professional Bollywood and salsa dancer, Dr. Shah is passionate about caring for dancers. She continues taking ballet classes weekly and also enjoys running, yoga, Pilates, weightlifting, and plyometric exercise.2
by Catherine L. Tully
Wendy Whelan is here in Chicago. And after waiting nearly a year for her to heal from a hip injury and re-schedule her tour, Restless Creature is on the schedule at the Harris Theater tonight.
The dance community is buzzing…
Whelan retired from New York City Ballet near the end of last year, and she is transitioning to the next phase of her career. Restless Creature is a unique dance offering that takes four young choreographers and challenges each to create a duet for one of the greatest ballerinas of our time.
But there’s a twist–they also dance these pieces with her.
Here’s a quick peek at each of the pairings that will be on stage this evening:
In Chicago Alejandro Cerrudo needs no introduction. This Spanish-born dancer became Hubbard Street‘s resident choreographer in 2009. His duet with Whelan, Ego et Tu is the first of the four to be performed.
Also on the program is Joshua Beamish with Conditional Sentences*. Beamish is the force behind MOVE: the company, which he founded in 2005.
Choreographer Kyle Abraham has his own company, Abraham.In.Motion, and his duet, The Serpent and the Smoke is the next offering on the program.
The final pairing for Restless Creature was created by Brian Brooks, and is titled First Fall. He is the choreographer at Brian Brooks Moving Company.
The program runs approximately 55 minutes and is only here for one night. It should be a thrilling one.
For more information about upcoming tour dates, visit Wendy Whelan’s website.
*4dancers originally had the name of this piece incorrect and it has been updated.0
By Nel Shelby
Happy New Year!!
2014 was an incredible year filled with so much dance. I pinch myself constantly, because I get to do what I love.
Thank you to all of our amazing clients that make our work so worthwhile. It is a blessing to be in the dance world and to film in theaters all over the country and specifically in New York City.
For the first time in 12 years, I created a video review of the past year. I couldn’t possibly include everything NSP worked on, but I wanted to give you a taste of the wonderful work that has graced our cameras in 2014.
Contributor Nel Shelby, Founder and Principal of Nel Shelby Productions, is deeply dedicated to the preservation and promotion of dance through documentation of live performances, fully edited marketing reels, live-stream capture, and documentaries and films that encapsulate the essence of nonprofit organizations.
Her New York City-based video production company has grown to encompass a diverse list of dance clients including American Ballet Theater II, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, Gallim Dance, Gotham Arts, Kate Weare and Company, Keigwin + Company, Monica Bill Barnes Company, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Shen Wei Dance Arts, Wendy Whelan and many more. She has filmed performances at venues throughout the greater New York area including The Joyce Theater, New York Live Arts, Lincoln Center, Symphony Space, St. Mark’s Church and Judson Church, to name a few.
For nearly a decade, Nel has served as Festival Videographer for the internationally celebrated Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in the Berkshires. Each season at the Pillow, Nel’s responsibilities include documenting aspects of festival culture in addition to its 20 mainstage dance performances, filming and overseeing documentation of more than 100 free performances and events, managing two dance videography interns and an apprentice, and educating students about the technical and philosophical aspects of filming dance.
She also serves as Resident Videographer at the Vail International Dance Festival where she spent her first summer creating five short dance documentary films about the festival in addition to documenting its events and performances. Her longer-form, half-hour documentary on Vail’s festival, The Altitude of Dance, debuted on Rocky Mountain PBS in May 2013.
She has created four short films for Wendy Whelan’s Restless Creature, and she collaborated with Adam Barruch Dance to create a short film titled “Folie a Deux,” which was selected and screened at the Dance on Camera Festival in New York City and the San Francisco Dance Film Festival. She is making a dance documentary featuring Nejla Y. Yatkin, called Where Women Don’t Dance.
Nel has a long personal history with movement – she has a B.A. in dance and is a certified Pilates instructor. She continues to train with world-renowned Master Teachers Romana Krysnowska and Sari Pace, original students of Joseph Pilates. In addition to her dance degree, Nel holds a B.S. in broadcast video. She often collaborates with her wonderful husband, dance photographer (and fellow 4dancers contributor) Christopher Duggan on creative projects with dancers in New York City and beyond. They live with their beautiful daughter Gracie and son Jack in Manhattan.
Shashi socks are designed for pilates, yoga, and barre-style workouts. They sit low on the ankle and feature slip-resistant grippers on the bottom and mesh panels on top. Mine also had a sprinkling of sparkle sequins on the mesh – the STAR style.
I loved the streamlined feel of Shashi socks and enjoyed just wearing them around the house. But, more importantly, Shashi socks achieve their objective of keeping your feet cool while you do pilates, yoga, or barre-style exercises (not traditional ballet barre exercises of course, as the grippers would interfere.)
Shashi socks require a little care when washing. The Shashi website says, “Machine wash warm inside out. Gentle cycle. Line dry.” My pair are purple (sugar plum) so I decided to wash them on a cold, delicate cycle. I noticed that a couple of sparkles came off in the process, but, other than that, they held up well. I dried them overnight (about 6 hours) and they were ready to go for a morning workout.
Overall, I really like this product. It fills the need for exercise footwear that falls in between sock and dance slipper.0