Becoming Juliette

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…

Alessa Rogers as Juliette

Christian Clark and Alessa Rogers in Romeo et Juliette. Photo by Charlie McCullers.

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.

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Looking At Art & Inspiration With Herbert Migdoll

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.

Brock Clawson and Herb Migdoll

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.

Herbert Migdoll

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.

Lurie Gardens

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!

Herb Migdoll artwork


Wendy Whelan At The Harris Theater: Restless Creature

Wendy Whelan in Restless Creature. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Wendy Whelan in Restless Creature. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

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:

Alejandro Cerrudo and Wendy Whelan in rehearsal for Restless Creature, photo by Christopher Duggan.

Alejandro Cerrudo and Wendy Whelan, photo by Christopher Duggan.


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.

Wendy Whelan

Joshua Beamish and Wendy Whelan, photo by Christopher Duggan


Also on the program is Joshua Beamish with Conditional Sentences*. Beamish is the force behind MOVE: the company, which he founded in 2005.

Kyle Abraham and Wendy Whelan. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Kyle Abraham and Wendy Whelan. Photo by Christopher Duggan.


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.

Brian Brooks and Wendy Whelan. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Brian Brooks and Wendy Whelan. Photo by Christopher Duggan.


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.


The Nutcracker – From Student To Professional

Cara Marie Gary backstage before Nutcracker

Cara Marie Gary backstage before Nutcracker

by Cara Marie Gary

Over the past twenty-three years I have gathered many memories around Christmas time, but the one that stands out amongst the others starts with a magical event that has forever made an impact on my life and has left me with new found feelings of eagerness and desire.

The time had finally come, the chilly December air made the girls run quickly through the green backstage door of the Peace Center in Greenville, South Carolina. It was the night of The Nutcracker performance and I, along with other aspiring young dancers, were waiting for the curtain to go up.

After anxiously skipping up and down the long hallway filled with dressing rooms, the moment had finally arrived where the burgundy curtain was lifted and Tchaikovsky’s music filled the theater. I wore a red and black solider costume adorned with strings of gold and stood backstage between two tall curtains. The joy of the holidays filled the air and crept back to the small spot where I was standing. I experienced a feeling of awe as I observed the older girls dancing before me. The tall girl with a radiant smile and a blue dress, who had the role of Clara, stood out to me. She moved with elegance as she danced across the stage; I longed to dance just like her one day.

As I executed my role during the battle scene I attempted to keep the graceful vision of Clara in mind. Staring out at the anonymous silhouettes of the strangers in the audience, I felt as if everything was perfect. The feeling of wonder bubbled inside of me as I took that final bow. I knew from this December night that I wanted to pursue dance, and learn how to leap and twirl like the tall girl in the blue dress. For me this memory combines the joy of Christmas and the motivation I had discovered to pursue a new found passion.

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Behind The Scenes At Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker


From left: Dawn Atkins, Lauren Herfindahl and Ashley Ellis of Boston Ballet in The Nutcracker. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

by Ashley Ellis

Nutcracker season is upon us, which means many things; the holiday season is upon us, temperatures are dropping, and for us dancers, hearing the lovely Sugar Plum and Russian music as we walk through the stores to do our holiday shopping.

And many more times as we head back into the theater.

Here in Boston seeing this ballet is a holiday tradition for so many people in and around the city. And to make sure that everyone has a chance to see this holiday classic, Boston Ballet offers a total of 44 shows this year. It is a daunting number to say the least—for everyone involved in the production. However, besides the obvious fatigue that accompanies such a rigorous schedule, there are benefits that come with performing everyday—and it can be up to ten shows a week. Needless to say, one tends to become quite comfortable on the stage and strength is gained without even realizing it.


Anaïs Chalendard, Ashley Ellis and Seo Hye Han of Boston Ballet in The Nutcracker. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

This combination of comfort and strength provides wonderful opportunities for growth as an artist. Dancers have a chance to explore their approach to the technique being executed, musicality and more. On top of this, it is a time when many of the principals and soloists travel to appear as guest artists in other places. This gives even more opportunity for company members to perform some of the more demanding or spotlighted roles.

These opportunities can be exciting, but it is always important to remember that with this strenuous schedule and colder weather, everyone has to take extra care in staying healthy. Injuries and sick days do creep their way into the picture, but we do our best to avoid them by frequent visits to our wonderful physical therapists, resting when possible, and nourishing our bodies.

In Mikko Nissinen’s production of the Nutcracker I alternate between the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy, Snow Queen, Dew Drop, and Arabian. I would say that dancing the Grand Pas de Deux of the Sugar Plum is my favorite role, and I truly enjoy the time onstage with my partner in this classy and regal pas de deux.

Apart from these shows I will make a few trips through the Nutcracker season to perform in different places. It can be a wonderful change of scenery during such a long stretch of one production, and when I come back things usually feel a bit more fresh. In addition, sometimes I will do these guest appearances with an old friend who I haven’t seen in a long time, so these trips have an extra bonus!


Ashley Ellis (center) and the Boston Ballet performing The Nutcracker. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

I must give a special shout-out to the members of the corps de ballet. Many, if not most of them, are on stage every day without even a single show off. So, while performing from the day after Thanksgiving straight through New Years Eve, how does one have time to enjoy this joyous season without going mad? Well, between holiday shopping and performing it is tricky, but we do find ways to create a festive atmosphere and keep the atmosphere light.

If someone has a chance to pass through the dressing rooms at the Boston Opera House they would most likely find music playing, Secret Santa gifts, sweets (yes, even us ballerinas treat ourselves), and lots of supportive talk. We all get grumpy at one point or another, but the dancers are so supportive of one another—rooting each other on as someone does a role for the first, or even the 40th time!

Even though most dancers have a tendency to cringe when they hear the music of the Russian dance for the umpteenth time in Macy’s, there is always a magical feeling when hearing it along with the rest of Tchaikovsky’s score. Especially when it’s being played live by an orchestra—along with the telling of this classic story.

In the end we all come together and we survive the season as a family. Ringing in the New Year is even more exciting because it means we have made it through another “Nut” Season!

Boston Ballet presents Mikko Nissinen’s Nutcracker through December 31st. You can get tickets through their website.

Boston Ballet's Ashley Ellis

Boston Ballet’s Ashley Ellis

Contributing writer Ashley Ellis is a principal dancer at Boston Ballet. Ellis hails from Torrance, California and she received her dance training at the South Bay Ballet under the direction of Diane Lauridsen. Other instruction included Alicia Head, Mario Nugara, Charles Maple, and Kimberly Olmos.

She began her professional career with American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company and later joined American Ballet Theatre as a company dancer. In 1999, Ellis won the first prize at the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Award, and went on to become the recipient of the Coca Cola scholarship award in 2000 and 2001. She has performed in Spain with Angel Corella’s touring group and joined Corella Ballet in 2008 as a soloist. In 2011, Ellis joined Boston Ballet as a second soloist. She was promoted to soloist in 2012 and principal dancer in 2013.

Her repertoire includes Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty; Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker; Natalia Makarova’s  La  Bayadère;  Marius  Petipa’s  Swan Lake; Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse, VIII and Polyphonia; Harald Lander’s Études; Michel  Fokine’s  Les  Sylphides;  Rudolf  Nureyev’s Don Quixote; Christopher Bruce’s Rooster; George Balanchine’s  Serenade,  Coppélia,  Symphony  in Three Movements, Symphony in C, and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux; Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto; Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room; Stanton Welch’s Clear; Angel Corella’s String Sextet; Wayne McGregor’s Chroma; Jorma Elo’s Awake Only; Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free; Jiří Kylián’s Wings of Wax, Symphony of Psalms, and Petite Mort.


Closer To The Edge Of Dance – Zephyr’s Michelle Kranicke

Michelle Kranicke. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Michelle Kranicke. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Assistant Editor Rachel Hellwig interviews Michelle Kranicke from Zephyr – a Chicago-area experimental dance company that has been around for over 20 years…

What inspired you to start Zephyr?

I was very young when I started Zephyr so the reasons behind why I founded the company don’t really resonate with Zephyr’s current aesthetic and mission.  What is more important to me right now is what inspires me to continue.  And that is my continued fascination with creating work, dance specifically, and trying to push beyond known ideas and preconceptions about what the art form can be.


What’s it like to be artistic director, choreographer, and performer all at once?

I have been all three for so long I guess I am not sure what it is like to not be artistic director, choreographer and performer all at once.  I think the roles of director, choreographer, and performer are linked, each having their own specific requirements and priorities.  For example, in my role as director I try to make sure that both Zephyr’s productions and its education work are an extension of the company’s mission.  To that end I try to make sure company class is structured so that dancers are not only learning technique, but also developing an innate understanding of Zephyr’s aesthetic so that when I am working as a choreographer the performers I am working with have all the tools they need. Regarding Zephyr’s long history of arts integrated education programming, working with schools and students using movement and the creative process to access knowledge and understanding, Zephyr trains its teaching artists in the same clear detailed manner with which its aesthetic is presented.  As far as my performer self, that is often the most straightforward role, and one where I am deeply connected.


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Hubbard Street 2 Kicks Off The Season With A Challenging Triple Play


Hubbard Street Second Company

Hubbard Street 2 Dancer Andrea Thompson. Photo by Todd Rosenberg Photography 2014.

by Andrea Thompson

I am now in my second year with Hubbard Street 2 (HS2), and it has been quite the season so far. We’ve already created two new works through the International Commissioning Project (IC Project) which we just premiered on tour at Broward College, and we’re working on our third right now, which will debut at the Harris Theater as part of Eat + Drink to the Beat on December 16. Not to mention HS2 also collaborated with Hubbard Street’s main company and The Second City on the world premiere of The Art of Falling back in October. Here’s how all of that action has gone down in the studio:

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