You are stepping down as Artistic Director of Atlanta Ballet this month after 21 years. How to describe what your tenure accomplished? How to distill such a career?
I could talk about the numbers. How the budget has nearly tripled since 1994 or the 1200 students enrolled in the school. I could talk about how Atlanta Ballet has transformed in your two decades from a regional dance troupe to a world-class institution. About the exciting collaborations- Big Boi from Outkast, the Indigo Girls. Or about the world premieres- Twyla Tharp’s first full length ballet, Helen Pickett’s Camino Real. I could talk about the tour to China, the opening of a beautiful new building, your own choreography including the record-breaking Nutcracker. I could talk about the cutting-edge choreographers like Ohad Naharin, Alexander Ekman and Jorma Elo that you convinced out of a sheer doggedness and passion for your dancers to come to a city in the Southeast and bring their work to us.
These things are astounding, valid and commendable. But you know all these things already.
And this letter isn’t about what you’ve done for Atlanta Ballet. It’s what you’ve done for me and your dancers. So I’d rather talk about the joy.
Atlanta Ballet wraps up its 2015-2016 season this weekend with MAYhem: Kissed at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre from May 20-22. The mixed-repertory program will feature the world premiere of Andrea Miller‘s Push, Gustavo Ramírez Sansano’s El Beso, and Yuri Possokhov‘s Classical Symphony.
MAYhem: Kissed is Atlanta Ballet’s final performance under John McFall, who has led the company as artistic director since 1994. “As far as my heart, my soul, my mind, I’m always going to have a connection to Atlanta Ballet,” he told The Atlanta Journal Constitution last September.
Push by Andrea Miller “takes the different facets of human relationships and fits them in to a tapestry of movement,” says Atlanta Ballet dancer Devon Joslin.
“Andrea had us all go through these different improv exercises in order to develop each specific emotion in our dancing,” she explains. “It was a simple task, but she has this way of digging things out of you that you didn’t think you had to offer. I have a solo that’s about the shame you feel when you open yourself up to someone wholeheartedly and they don’t reciprocate. I’m not the most confident person in the world so those feelings of shame and embarrassment came more naturally. Push is emotional. It’s human. It conveys things that every person in the audience has felt or will feel at some point in his or her life.”
Gustavo Ramírez Sansano’s El Beso, set to Spanish Zarzuela music, was created in 2014 for New York City’s Ballet Hispanico.“This work explores the various kinds of kisses you can have in your life: friendship, family, passion, and social kisses,” says Atlanta Ballet’s Rachel Van Buskirk. “It’s extremely fast and detailed. The movement is so musical that it makes dancing it instinctual. My favorite part is the friendship trio I dance with fellow company members Jackie Nash and Heath Gill. It’s a blast to share this with your close friends. No acting required!”
“El Beso is, in large part, an autobiographical account of the choreographer’s early life and family–and I love that aspect of it,” adds John Welker, who’s danced with Atlanta Ballet for the past 21 seasons. “There’s also a playfulness in the music and movement that’s easy to feel. I enjoy the challenge of making this quick and dense choreography appear easy and articulate. Not an easy task.”
Classical Symphony, an encore performance from last year, was created for San Francisco Ballet in 2010 by the company’s choreographer in residence, Yuri Possokhov. The work received praise from Alastair Macaulay of The New York Times for the “sheer exuberance of its often unorthodox ballet virtuosity.”
Accompanied live by the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra, Classical Symphony is performed to Sergei Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony No. 1, which debuted in 1918. “It seemed to me that if Haydn had lived into this era, he would have kept his own style while absorbing things from what was new in music,” the composer wrote.”That’s the kind of symphony I wanted to write: a symphony in the Classical style.” (He also later reused the symphony’s third movement in his iconic ballet score for Romeo and Juliet.)
“Classical Symphony is the challenge of the technique, classicism, and stamina of a traditional full-length ballet condensed into roughly a 16-minute piece,” says Jackie Nash. “It also incorporates fun modern flourishes and playful dynamics.”
In Classical Symphony, Nash will revisit a role she danced last May. “In 2015, this was the first principal part I performed, so there were some nerves that came along with the process,” she explains. “But this time around I have really liked getting to relax into the role a bit more. I also love getting to dance with Christian Clark. His skills as a partner are so refined and effortless and it allows me to really indulge in the steps. I feel I am in such good hands–literally.”
Classical Symphony is also notable in that it first brought Gennadi Nedvigin, Atlanta Ballet’s incoming artistic director, to the company when he staged the work on them in 2014. “I was drawn to the sense of community among Atlanta Ballet’s dancers,” he said in April. “And I was proud of their performance.”
Tickets start at $25. Purchase here or call call 404-892-3303.
“Runtime is approximately 2 hours, including 2 intermissions.
*Please note that one of the pieces on this program uses strobe lighting.” (from Atlanta Ballet’s website)
by Emma Love Suddarth
Laptop… billfold… Ziploc bag of toiletries… socks… binder… normal Tuesday. Pointe shoes? Foot thongs? Tennis ball? I always wonder what the TSA security officers think when they watch our dance bags go through the x-ray scanners at the airport. Whenever PNB travels on tour, I’m careful to triple check that all those “necessities” we dancers just can’t be without make it into my carry-on—you know, just in case. Sometimes it seems that my carry-on somehow ends up heavier than my actual suitcase. On a normal day in the Seattle studios though, what’s in there?
Naturally, I have the number one ballet-company-related necessity: pointe shoes. Seeing as we are currently performing—meaning traveling back and forth from studio to theater—I have far more pairs in my bag than I should. Another example of the just-in-case. Of course, those pointe shoes come with the necessary accessories, such as toe pads, spacers, toe tape, and a sewing kit, ready for the next pair to enter circulation. A single pair of flat shoes is in there as well, to use for class and the occasional rehearsal. A pair of foot thongs has kept up residence in my bag as well, perhaps for far longer than they should. I used them for Petite Mort a couple seasons back. Nostalgically I find them hard to part with—I treasured dancing that ballet, a favorite, with my husband, another favorite. They might stick around a little longer.
Next, a dancer always seems to have a number of therapy-related items. We require so much of our bodies on a daily basis that the least we can do in response is care for them as best we can. In my arsenal I keep anti-inflammatory gel, Advil, a theraband, a couple of different-sized balls for rolling, and, a trusty pet store tennis ball. I find it comforting to be reminded of our two rambunctious dogs at home every time I pull that one out.
Lastly, there’s always a handful of warmups every dancer relies on. From my bag I pull a pair of well-loved legwarmers, a cozy turtleneck (the theater is always colder so it’s long-sleeves for now), my favorite—not to mention super thick—socks that just happen to be covered in sock monkeys, and a pair of bright orange sweatpants. Ask anyone at PNB and you’ll receive the same answer, “Emma does not wear bright colors.” It’s true; I’m a gray and blue kind of girl. However, I absolutely love my bright orange sweatpants. Maybe it’s related to the fact that Price—my husband—has always loved orange, or maybe they’re just great pants. Maybe it’s just me, but when it comes to doing pliés in those guys on a Monday morning—somehow they go just a little bit better.
Contributor Emma Love Suddarth is from Wichita, Kansas. She studied with Sharon Rogers and on scholarship at Pacific Northwest Ballet School, and attended summer courses at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Ballet Academy East, and Pacific Northwest Ballet School. She was first recipient of the Flemming Halby Exchange with the Royal Danish Ballet School and was also a 2004 and 2005 recipient of a Kansas Cultural Trust Grant. She joined Pacific Northwest Ballet as an apprentice in 2008 and was promoted to corps de ballet in 2009.
While at PNB, she has performed featured roles in works by George Balanchine, Peter Boal, David Dawson, Ulysses Dove, William Forsythe, Jiri Kylian, Mark Morris, Margaret Mullin, Crystal Pite, Alexei Ratmansky, Kent Stowell, Susan Stroman, and Price Suddarth. Some of her favorites include the Siren in Balanchine’s The Prodigal Son, Jiri Kylian’s Petit Mort, David Dawson’s A Million Kisses to My Skin, William Forsythe’s New Suite, and Price Suddarth’s Signature.
She is a contributor to Pacific Northwest Ballet’s blog. She is married to fellow PNB dancer Price Suddarth.0
“I’ve wondered…what I will do after I stop dancing? Be a florist?” joked San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Gennadi Nedvigin in a media Q&A on Wednesday. “I could have performed for two or three more years,” said the soon-to-retire 39-year-old who will become Atlanta Ballet’s next artistic director in August. “But being offered this position took priority. I wanted to focus on one thing.”
“My aesthetic has been formed by the diverse range of choreographers and dancers I’ve worked with and by the diverse range of pieces I’ve performed in my career. Different styles of dance and choreography are like different languages,” he said. “The more languages you know, the better.” Drawing further upon the language parallel, the Bolshoi-trained Nedvigin related that he’s experienced the challenge of being immersed in new language environments before—first when he moved from his native Russia to dance with Le Jeune Ballet de France in France, and then again when he came to the United States to join San Francisco Ballet in 1997. “It’s like being dipped in water and forced to swim—twice,” he said.
Nedvigin will be “dipped in water” again as he transitions from dancer to director. Though this will be his debut in such a role, he has worked with Atlanta Ballet before when he staged Yuri Possokhov’s Classical Symphony on the company in 2014. “I was drawn to the sense of community among Atlanta Ballet’s dancers,” he said. “And I was proud of their performance.”
Nedvigin announced that Atlanta Ballet’s 2016-2017 season will include works the company has performed before, such as John McFall’s Nutcracker, David Bintley’s Carmina Burana, and Helen Pickett’s Camino Real, as well as mixed repertory performances he personally selected. “I’ve carefully chosen these programs. They will hint at the direction I will take the company,” he said. He also emphasized that the company will perform “classical, neoclassical, and contemporary works”– bringing to mind the “many languages” analogy again.
Among the mixed repertory programs, Gennadi’s Choice will feature his staging of selections from Paquita, the Atlanta premiere of Liam Scarlett’s Vespertine, and a world premiere by Gemma Bond. Firebird will include Yuri Possokhov’s Firebird, George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante, and Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort.
What other changes might Nedvigin bring to Atlanta Ballet? He indicated that he’s open to the idea of a ranking system for the currently unranked company. “Ranking exists whether it’s announced or not,” he said. “Ranking helps give dancers recognition and it doesn’t prevent lower-ranked dancers from performing lead roles.” Another possibility he’s looking into is touring. However, he acknowledges that changes will take time and that it will be at least a few years before he begins to attain his vision for the company. One thing that won’t significantly change for the present is the roster of Atlanta Ballet’s dancers. All had their contracts renewed, though some have opted not to return in the fall.
Nedvigin will conclude his 19-year performing career with San Francisco Ballet in May as Lensky in John Cranko’s Onegin. He will succeed John McFall who retires in June after 23 years as artistic director of Atlanta Ballet. Nedvigin will be just the fourth artistic director in the history of the 87-year-old company. “It’s an honor to be joining Atlanta Ballet,” he said. “These are exciting times.”
Atlanta Ballet’s 2016-2017 Season
ATLANTA BALLET’S NUTCRACKER
December 9 – 24, 2016 | The Fox Theatre
Live with the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra
Encore Presentation of David Bintley’s CARMINA BURANA
February 3 – 11, 2017 | Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
Live with the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra
One Hour Family Ballet – TITLE TO BE ANNOUNCED
February 11 & 12, 2017 | Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
Recommended for families and younger audiences.
GENNADI’s CHOICE (Mixed Repertory)
March 17 – 19, 2017 | Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
Selections from Paquita choreographed by Marius Petipa and staged by Gennadi Nedvigin, the Atlanta premiere of Vespertine by Liam Scarlett, and a world premiere by Gemma Bond.
FIREBIRD (Mixed Repertory)
April 14 – 16, 2017 | Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
Firebird by Yuri Possokhov, Allegro Brillante by George Balanchine, and Petite Mort by Jiří Kylián.
Encore Presentation of Helen Pickett’s Tennessee Williams-Inspired CAMINO REAL
May 12 – 14, 2017 | Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
Choreography by Helen Pickett
Music & Sound Design by Peter Salem
Live with the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra0
How many years have you been doing ballet?
I’ve been dancing for about 16 years.
What are some roles you’ve danced with Ballet San Antonio?
With Ballet San Antonio I have been very lucky to perform a wide variety of different roles and characters. Some of my favorites have been the title roles in Ben Stevenson’s Romeo & Juliet and Cinderella, as well as the role of Odette/Odile in his Swan Lake. I’ve also danced the lead in Balanchine’s Donizetti Variations. In February, I performed the role of Wendy in Peter Anastos’ Peter Pan. It was a very fun ballet with lots of silly moments…and, as Wendy, I got to fly!
What’s your favorite thing about ballet?
One of my favorite things about ballet is that it is always changing, and, as a result, ballet is always changing me as a person. Everyday I come into the studio and discover something new about my technique or learn a new approach on tackling a particularly demanding step. As a performer, I’m constantly learning new ballets and choreography. With each new piece, I learn new ways to understand musicality and search for the intention behind the movement. Throughout the rehearsal process I find myself growing as an artist, an actress, a dancer, and as a human being. And then I get to share everything I’ve learned and experienced on stage with the world! I feel incredibly lucky to call myself a ballet dancer and feel very fortunate to always be growing as a person through this beautiful art form.
What’s in your dance bag?
Freed Maple Leaf Variation pointe shoes – I have about 6 pairs rotating at a time which I keep organized in a reusable wine bag (this way they are organized by pair and not mixing with my other dance wear), toe spacers and gauze which I use instead of toe tape (it doesn’t slip off when my feet get sweaty!), foot roller, dense rolling ball, thera band, back warming brace, Rubiawear leg warmers and socks that I’ve cut into ankle warmers, shorts, Eleve and Tulips by Tracy skirts, aqua socks (they keep my feet so warm!), multiple shades of chapstick/lipstick, water bottle, and, for snacks, I usually like to have bananas or apples, nuts, and protein powder (mix with water for a quick and easy snack when you don’t have a long break!).
Sally Turkel began her ballet training at the Cary Ballet Conservatory, in her hometown of Cary, North Carolina. At age 14, she was accepted into the residential high school’s ballet studies program at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
Upon graduation, Ms. Turkel performed with Houston Ballet, HBII, Carolina Ballet and Steifel and Stars. In subsequent years she joined Colorado ballet, where she danced for five seasons, performing a wide range of both classical and contemporary roles. A few of her favorites include the Serenity Fairy and Puss and Boots in Sleeping Beauty, Little Swans in Swan Lake, George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, Glen Tetley’s The Rite of Spring, Michael Pink’s Peter Pan and Dracula, Agnes DeMille’s Rodeo, Lynn Taylor Corbett’s Great Galloping Gottschalk, and Christopher Wheeldon’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
In 2013 Ms. Turkel joined Ballet San Antonio and was promoted to Principal Dancer the following year. While with Ballet San Antonio, Ms. Turkel has danced the roles of Odette/Odile in Ben Stevenson’s Swan Lake, Mina in Gabriel Zertuche’s Dracula, Cinderella and Fairy God Mother in Stevenson’s Cinderella, the Sugarplum Fairy and Snow Queen in The Nutcracker, and the female lead in Balanchine’s Donizetti Variations. In addition, she has worked with choreographers such as Stephen Mills, Twyla Tharp, Michael Pink, Emery LeCrone, and Stanton Welch.
In February 2015, Ms. Turkel danced the role of Juliet in Ben Stevenson’s Romeo & Juliet.
“Turkel maintains the character arc from impudent and reluctant girl to the grieving and horror stricken widow-too-young, with a richness of feeling that goes beyond her obvious prowess as a dancer.” [Tami Kegley, The Rivard Report].
There was once a little princess whose father was king over a great country full of mountains and valleys. – George MacDonald
A heroine’s quest to save her sisters from goblins comes to life through the choreography of the legendary Twyla Tharp as Atlanta Ballet brings The Princess and the Goblin to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre from April 15-17.
Created in 2012 for both Atlanta Ballet and Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, The Princess and the Goblin takes its inspiration from George MacDonald’s 19th-century fantasy story of the same name.
“Princess Irene is the oldest daughter of a mostly absent father,” explains Alessa Rogers, who is performing the part. “When her two younger sisters and other children of the kingdom are kidnapped and taken to the underworld, Irene must find the strength within herself to rescue them. She is aided along the way by her friend Curdie and by a mysterious presence.”
No stranger to the role, Rogers performed as Princess Irene in Atlanta Ballet’s 2012 production. Originally cast as the understudy, she was put into the part right before a studio performance. “That was my first lead role ever and I will always have a soft spot for it,” says Rogers. “It’s wonderful to revisit it now after 5 years. I recognize the ways in which I’ve grown and changed as a dancer since its premiere. A lot of opportunities sprang from this ballet. It’s been a crazy, surreal ride but The Princess and the Goblin gave me so much. I will always be grateful for the experience and for Twyla for believing I could be a princess.”
John Welker will also revisit a role he performed in 2012–Princess Irene’s father, King Papa. “His self-centered ways inadvertently lead to the abduction of his daughters,” Welker explains. “He then goes on a desperate search to find them. They, however, are saved by a young man named Curdie, whom he dismissed earlier in the story as a lowlife. Through the innocence of his children and the grace of Curdie, King Papa experiences a transformation and realizes the beauty of family and life.”
Welker especially identifies with King Papa because of his real-life role as a parent. “I enjoy and relate to this character due to my experience of being a father to a frustrating and very adorable three year old,” he says. “Through my son’s eyes I get to experience being a child again, along with all the joy and wonder life holds.”
The cast of The Princess and the Goblin includes 13 students from the Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education. Tharp explained to The New York Times in 2012, “My mission was to find movement [for the young performers], which they could really do that was not something they were straining to reach at […] But that would not just be running and skipping and hopping and chaos. First thing I did was to get them out of their ballet shoes and put them in street shoes. Next thing was: ‘Girls, get your hair out of the buns. Now let’s be who you are, and let’s figure out how you move.’ ”
Twyla Tharp’s The Princess and the Goblin is set to compositions by Franz Schubert arranged and orchestrated by Schubert scholar Richard Burke, as well as original music by Burke. The score will be performed live by the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra.
Tickets start at $25. Purchase here or call 800-982-2787.
From Atlanta Ballet’s website:
“Run time is approximately 1 hour and 24 minutes. This program is performed without an intermission.”
by Lauren Warnecke
Ballet has been the topic of much debate among dance scholars and writers over the last decade. Authors, critics, and academics have questioned the relevance of an art form with more than 600 years of history, particularly given the fact that much of that history has centered around Euro-centric, imperialist, male dominated subject matter (or Euro-centric, imperialist, male-dominated stereotypes of non-Western themes). Ballet dancers, choreographers, and artistic directors have varying views on how to remain current and inclusive in modern society, with some companies focusing on preserving the classics, others re-imagining or somehow evolving older ballets, and still others trying to push the form into entirely new territory.
Published in 2015, The Ballet Lover’s Companion by Zoë Anderson is a brief dance primer on ballet, with each of its eight chapters dedicated to distinct periods throughout ballet’s long history. In fewer than 350 pages, Anderson sifts through 140 ballets, analyzing their context by examining the social and political eras in which they were created. It’s an exciting (context: exciting for dance nerds like me) update to the slew of western dance history books available in that Anderson actually digs into the late 20th and early 21st century, perhaps replacing Susan Au’s 1988 stalwart on many dance majors’ bookshelves.
The Ballet Lover’s Companion is essentially a less verbose, easier to read, more optimistic version of Jennifer Homans’ Apollo’s Angels; Anderson, a dance critic, is unafraid to infuse the facts with opinion and commentary. For this reader, those are the bits that allowed me to get all the way through the book as a recreational read, but a second, typo-free edition could easily complement a western dance history course given its interesting tidbits of history and thorough treatment of an impressive number of ballets.
That all of those ballets originated from Europe, Russia or the United States is a symptom of ballet’s history, and not necessarily the fault of Zoë Anderson. That only five of the 140 ballets surveyed were created by women (namely Bronislava Nijinska, Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp) might be more problematic given the scope of the book into the 2010s, but perhaps again indicative of a systemic problem, and not at all unique to Anderson’s book.
Unlike Au’s Ballet and Modern Dance, or Homans’ Apollo’s Angels, however, The Ballet Lover’s Companion doesn’t appear to identify a clear audience or position itself as a textbook, though it reads like one. One page offers an enlightened discussion on the radicalism of the Ballets Russes and the desire of early 20th century choreographers to abandon classicism for more meaning and authenticity, while the next page gives a definition of the word tendu. Unsure of its audience, The Ballet Lover’s Companion could be for everyone interested in ballet, or no one at all, but my guess is that pre-professional dance students and college dance majors have the most to gain from reading it.
Contributor Lauren Warnecke is a freelance dance writer based in Chicago, and regular contributor to SeeChicagoDance.com, Windy City Times, and Chicago Magazine. Lauren is the creator of artintercepts.org, a blog committed to critical discourse about dance and performance, and has written for nationally reputed sites such as Dance Advantage and 4Dancers. An experienced educator, administrator, and producer, Lauren holds degrees in dance (BA) and kinesiology (MS). She is a Certified Personal Trainer (ACSM), and holds specialty certificates in Functional Training (ACE) and Sports Performance and Weightlifting (USAW). Tweet her @artintercepts0