Jewels: A Multifaceted Ballet

Pacific Northwest Ballet

Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet dancer Jessika Anspach backstage, prior to a performance of Diamonds, choreographed by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo © Lindsay Thomas.

Today we are thrilled to welcome Pacific Northwest Ballet‘s Jessika Anspach McEliece to the site officially as a contributing writer. She’ll be writing about a variety of topics for us, starting with this post about George Balanchine’s “Jewels”, which the company will be performing, starting September 26th in Seattle.

by Jessika Anspach McEliece

It’s Tuesday but it feels like, um, I don’t know… not Tuesday. Coming back to work after a break always gives me that jet-lag feeling, no matter what time zone I’ve been in. PNB dancers are doing pirouettes across the grey marley floor of Studio C and between thinking about getting my foot immediately to passé and keeping my standing leg engaged, my rehearsal schedule for the day runs through the ticker tape of my brain. Confusion. Then holes. Then blanks.

I turn to the blonde girl with hyper-extension for days who’s patiently waiting her turn and ask, “Emma, do we have Rubies first or is it Emeralds?”

“I’m pretty sure we have Rubies 12-1 and Emeralds 1-2 but with the principal couple…” she replies. And yet I can tell that her ticker tape is following a similar pattern by her perplexed eyes.

“Oh yeah. That’s right… But I’m pretty sure Emeralds is only a half hour. I thought we had a break from 1:30 to 4, and finished with Diamonds. Is that just demi women or corps women too?” I reply.

“It’s demi and corps men and women. I think we’re piecing together the finale. Are you sure Emeralds is only a half hour?”

“Ha. I’m not sure of anything.”

Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds – juggling these ballets can be a bit of a handful at first. Yes, Jewels is a full-length ballet. Yes, it has the same choreographer – the genius George Balanchine. All the costumes are designed by the same woman – the fabulous Karinska, and thankfully there’s not a single hair change during the performance… I think. But that’s about it when it comes to continuity.

No two stones are alike, and that is most definitely true of Jewels. Like any beautiful gem, we see the many facets of Mr. Balanchine’s choreographic prowess.

George Balanchine's Emeralds

Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in Emeralds, choreographed by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo © Angela Sterling.


In Emeralds, set to the very French and very impressionistic music of Gabriel Faure, the movement is soft, yet sweeping. The curtain opens to a sea of emerald green: a principal couple dancing amid ten corps ladies who bourrée from one formation to the next, rarely coming off pointe. The effect: a floating, almost shimmering quality–like lily pads glistening on a glassy pond in one of Monet’s landscapes.

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CD Review: Reimagined For Ballet Class: Pop Volume Two

Reimagined For Ballet Class: Pop Volume Two
Andrew Holdsworth

by Emily Kate Long


When REM and RAD collide, you get a mashup like Reimagined For Ballet Class: Pop Volume Two. In this 2014 release by British composer Andrew Holdsworth, many of the pop tunes (Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love” or David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”) are so well disguised they almost disappear—a plus for a pop-themed ballet CD, where too-obvious melodies can easily overwhelm. That isn’t to say most songs don’t jump right out, but more than many pop CDs I’ve encountered, Holdsworth’s keeps the music functional for a ballet class setting. I also found humor here—nobody would mistake Katy Perry for Strauss in the “California Gurls” waltz, but the transformation in style for this and other tracks is pretty tongue-in-cheek.

In terms of content, the disc has music for a full ballet class, plus longer versions of the allegro tracks and some samples from Holdsworth’s Classical series. The tempi are well-suited for an intermediate to advanced-level class. If you’re looking for a pop-meets-ballet CD, this is one of the better selections out there.


Joffrey Ballet – Stories In Motion

Joffrey Ballet

The Joffrey in RAkU, Christine Rocas & Miguel Blanco, Photo by Cheryl Mann

This Thursday the Joffrey will be performing Stories In Motion at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre. The program features three ballets, one of which is a Chicago premiere.

First up will be Balanchine’s Prodigal Son, which hasn’t been danced by the company since 2000. Based on a well-known biblical tale, this ballet is a visual treat to watch. Artistic Director Ashley Wheater will be performing the role of Father, and he talks about the reason these three ballets were chosen on j-Pointe, Joffrey’s blog.

The company was able to call on the considerable expertise of Edward Villella to coach the dancers during rehearsal. Take a look at some of the footage here:

Antony Tudor’s Lilac Garden is next on the program. It has been called his first “psychological ballet”, telling the story of an arranged marriage and lost love. Set in Victorian times, the music is Chausson’s Poeme for violin and orchestra and Senior Répétiteur Donald Mahler worked with the dancers to help them fine-tune this ballet.

The final offering is the Chicago premiere of Yuri Possokhov’s RAkU. The storyline of this contemporary ballet follows a Japanese emperor, his princess, and an obsessive Buddhist monk. Here’s a video of the Joffrey dancers working on the ballet in rehearsal:

Stories in Motion opens Thursday, September 15th and runs through the 21st.


Angela Dice Nguyen – From Chicago To San Francisco


Angela Dice Nguyen. self-portrait of a woman by Demis Volpi. Photograph by Vin Reed.

How many seasons did you perform with DanceWorks Chicago?

I performed with DanceWorks Chicago for three full seasons: 5, 6, and 7. My finale performance was the company’s first tour of the new eighth season, so my time with DWC correlates fairly well with a common count-off phrase dancers use to come together in preparation for a strong start: “5, 6, 7, 8…”

What did you learn at DanceWorks Chicago and how has it helped you?

When to make a pun, how to “go from good to great,” and what not to wear during a photo shoot: this is what I have learned at DWC, among other things, such as embracing a sense of humor. In all seriousness though, DanceWorks Chicago has changed my perspective of the world. Through dance as the means of exchange and communication, I have learned that I am only one of countless others, and yet I am the only one of me. My curiosity and bravery towards the new and unknown exist because of the respect I have developed for personal exploration, shared experiences, and permission to make mistakes. Julie Nakagawa, through thoughtful guidance, somehow crafts a way to encourage focus in certain areas and emphasizes that the journey matters more than the product or destination. I learned how to learn at DanceWorks, which is an empowering realization, and I can continue moving forward with this invaluable tool.

What was one of your favorite pieces that you danced in for DanceWorks Chicago? Could you describe it a little for us?

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DVD / CD Review : Sur Les Pointes avec une Etoile and Ballet Class Music

Sur Les Pointes avec une Etoile
Ballet Class Music
Sylvain Durand, pianist
Andrey Klemm, producer
Isabelle Ciaravola, dancer

by Emily Kate Long

Sur Les Pointes

This DVD/CD pair highlights the articulate pointe work of Paris Opera etoile Isabelle Ciaravola and the exceptional musical talent of accompanist Sylvain Durand. In the 72-munite Sur Les Pointes DVD, Andrey Klemm leads Ciaravola through a fast-paced, advanced-level barre and center. The accompanying CD features all of Durand’s music from the DVD, 52 tracks for 39 exercises.

Klemm’s combinations showcase Ciaravola’s exquisite footwork. The barre is quite typical, but several center exercises are a pleasing hybrid of Russian and French style, which the Bolshoi-trained Klemm discusses further in a short interview.

Sur Les Pointes post photo 2

Sylvain Durand plays passionately throughout, and the fact that the CD was recorded live gives it tremendous energy. The sensitivity and attention to the subtle differences in dynamic is stellar, especially for the barre and allegro selections. Unfortunately, the short tracks limit the album’s overall usefulness. Only ten are longer that ninety seconds, making longer combinations or reversals inconvenient. In center, there are just a handful of pieces long enough to accommodate more than one or two groups of dancers without restarting the music.

Durand and Klemm both have other music and DVD releases available. This is their only collaboration to date.


Trading My Tutu For An Apron: What Waiting Tables Taught Me About Being A Performer

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Pierre Bonnard’s “The Red Checkered Tablecloth” 1910

by Emily Kate Long

Most dancers have had to take a second job to pay the bills at some point in their career. In high school I cleaned houses and babysat, but throughout my professional life I’ve been lucky enough to have dance-related second jobs: as a teacher, guest artist, and summer chaperone.

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We’re popular for afternoon ice cream stops…occasionally we even stock a flavor called “Nutcracker!”

This summer I tried my hand waiting tables at a casual mom-and-pop restaurant in my neighborhood. After one day shadowing another server, my manager threw me out on the floor still wet behind the ears. It was chaotic and overwhelming and tons of fun…and, I’ve realized, not all that different from performing. I’ll admit, though, that I’m a lot less klutzy when my workday is choreographed!

Working for a small business has the same close-knit feel of dancing in a small company. Everyone has to be really invested in the work for our service to be good so the business can grow. We do the legwork and we see the immediate payoff of a happy table or a transformative moment onstage.

The ebb and flow of serving during a rush feels like getting ready for a performance. You sweat through class every day, you rehearse all your roles, you preset costumes and shoes and headpieces for quick changes, and as soon as that music starts, you get onstage and don’t look back.

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Midwesterners love their brewed sweet tea

I can’t say brewing sixteen gallons of iced tea and rolling dozens of sets of silverware each morning is as satisfying as class and rehearsal, but I can appreciate the importance of being well equipped to confidently serve a full house, whether they’re sitting in red velvet seats or at red-checkered tables.

When I work with other servers during a rush, we divide and conquer to get all the prep work, side work, and cut work done while still making sure our guests are happy. Usually it’s as simple as checking in with one another about the status of each table and whether or not there are cups in the dishwasher. Since we share our tips, we all benefit most when everybody’s on top of things.

That teamwork mentality comes easily to dancers. We know that the show is best when each performer takes responsibility for him- or herself and takes joy in the collective effort of putting work onstage. Being accountable to a group is a really powerful motivator, and shared success is a truly special thing.

Screen shot 2014-08-28 at 2.38.39 PMOf course, bad reviews and cranky customers are both inevitable and necessary. They’re a way to either toughen up against unfounded censure or learn something valuable from constructive criticism. Some people are just impossible to please, and for those few snarky ones, it really isn’t worth trying.

Splitting up a full tip jar at the end of a shift is great—for the personal satisfaction of knowing we provided good service, and because everybody gets to go home to lights on and food in the fridge. But it doesn’t even come close to the reward of performing: that somebody in the audience might feel or see or think something new as a direct result of what happens onstage. I’d fold all the napkins in the world for that privilege!


dancer doing arabesque

Emily Kate Long, Photo by Avory Pierce

Assistant Editor Emily Kate Long began her dance education in South Bend, Indiana, with Kimmary Williams and Jacob Rice, and graduated in 2007 from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s Schenley Program. She has spent summers studying at Ballet Chicago, Pittsburgh Youth Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, Miami City Ballet, and Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive/Vail Valley Dance Intensive, where she served as Program Assistant. Ms Long attended Milwaukee Ballet School’s Summer Intensive on scholarship before being invited to join Milwaukee Ballet II in 2007.

Ms Long has been a member of Ballet Quad Cities since 2009. She has danced featured roles in Deanna Carter’s Ash to Glass and Dracula, participated in the company’s 2010 tour to New York City, and most recently performed principal roles in Courtney Lyon’s Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and Cinderella. She is also on the faculty of Ballet Quad Cities School of Dance, where she teaches ballet, pointe, and repertoire classes.


Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival 2014 – Daniel Ulbricht/Ballet 2014


BALLET 2014 Performance

by Christopher Duggan

I’ve photographed and filmed a lot of top-notch ballet this summer. Nel and I wrapped our fourth season at Vail International Dance Festival, where we filmed some performances by international dance stars from New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Boston Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet and more. Artistic Director Damian Woetzel outdid himself this year, creating beautiful new partnerships and sharing dance classics and world premieres.

         Highlights from International Evenings of Dance, video by Nel Shelby Productions

Tiler Peck, Robbie Fairchild, Daniel Ulbricht and other incredible dancers from New York City Ballet performed in Vail, and it was exciting to see them in new roles, after photographing them this summer​ at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.

I photographed the dress rehearsal of Daniel Ulbricht/BALLET 2014 at Jacob’s Pillow​ like I do every performance, every week. But I also had the rare opportunity to photograph a live performance of BALLET 2014 from the front of the house.


BALLET 2014 Performance

I also made portraits with Daniel Ulbricht, ​Georgina Pazcoguin, Tiler Peck & Robert Fairchild. Tiler & Robbie​ are beautiful dancers and newlyweds. We made two portraits together on the Pillow grounds, and then we went and did some pictures on my trampoline.


Tiler Peck & Robert Fairchild

I know they just got married, and, as a friendly gesture from me to them, I wanted to make a romantic portrait. That’s where that lift came from. An intersection of weddings and dance right there!


Tiler Peck & Robert Fairchild

Georgina Pazcoguin found time in her busy dance week to come over and make pictures on the trampoline too. I’ve photographed Gina for American Dance Machine and she is creative and fun. She saw some of my daughter ​Gracie’s balls in our yard, said we should use them for some of the photos we were making, and it turned into a really great portrait!


Georgina Pazcoguin

Daniel Ulbricht had an extremely busy week, but we found time for him to come over to our house and make pictures. Our daughter Gracie jumped with Daniel on the trampoline, and our 13-year-old cousin Mary, also a ballet dancer, was just over the moon when Daniel said he would make a picture on the trampoline with her too. It was definitely the highlight of her summer! Daniel is gracious, generous and thoughtful, and we had a great time.


Daniel Ulbricht and Gracie

Nel and I feel so blessed to work with such mindblowingly talented dancers. We’ve always loved going to the ballet in NYC, and now, high-caliber ballet performances are everywhere we go.


Daniel Ulbricht and Mary


Contributor Christopher Duggan is a wedding and dance photographer in New York City, the Berkshires and beyond. Duggan has been the Festival Photographer for Jacob’s Pillow Dance since 2006. In this capacity, and as a respected New York-based dance photographer, he has worked with renowned choreographers and performers of international acclaim as well as upstarts in the city’s diverse performance scene.
Christopher Duggan, Photo by Julia Newman

Christopher Duggan, Photo by Julia Newman

He photographs dancers in the studio and in performance, for promotional materials, portraits and press, and he often collaborates with his wife, Nel Shelby, and her Manhattan-based dance film and video editing company Nel Shelby Productions ( Together, they have documented dance at performances from New York City to Vail International Dance Festival.

Christopher Duggan Photography also covers the finest wedding venues in the Metropolitan and Tri-State areas, in Massachusetts and the Berkshires, and frequently travels to destination weddings.

His photographs appear in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Knot, Destination I Do, Photo District News, Boston Globe, Financial Times, Dance Magazine, and Munaluchi Bridal, among other esteemed publications and popular dance and wedding blogs. One of his images of Bruce Springsteen was added to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and his dance photography has been exhibited at The National Museum of Dance and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.

His Natural Light Studio ( at Jacob’s Pillow is his most ambitious photography project to date – check out his blog to see more portraits of dance artists in his pop-up photo studio on the Pillow grounds.

dance class music
Behind Barres

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