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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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.


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.


Choreography And Collaboration — Spain’s Taiat Dansa

Taiat Dansa

Taiat Dansa’s Meritxell Barberá and Inma García

When it comes to choreography, international collaborations are always interesting. The circumstances that bring people together. The sharing of new ideas–ideas from other places in the world. Today we’re going to take a closer look at one of these collaborations that is happening in Chicago, between DanceWorks Chicago and Taiat Dansa from Spain. We asked founders Inma Garcia and Meritxell Barberá to walk us through the process of bringing their work to the Midwest this summer…

Can you tell our readers a bit about Taiat Dansa?

We first met studying dance when we were young. Both of us continued studying until we graduated with degrees in dance  as adults. We were passionate about dancing but also really motivated to create our own dance pieces and so more than ten years ago we formed our own company, Taiat.

We always work from the perspective of presenting the body. This is an important distinction for us – we do not want to represent the body or to make dance theatrical; our objective is to present the body in movement. At the same time we also always insist on a strong narrative theme for each piece.

At present we are on tour with two pieces. No Half Measures: Episodes of dance in museums is a piece that was originally commissioned to be performed on International Museum Day on May 18. The aim of the performance was to bring the typical museum-going public into contact with dance, it was a way of bringing the plastic arts and the physical arts together. We accompany the performance with a questionnaire that the audience is asked to complete, to give their impression of the experiment. It was a really successful debut and we were booked by another 22 contemporary museums around Spain, France and the USA.  Also, we are performing We are going to make you dance: Chasing Patti Smith. We are also really pleased to perform this piece again as it has been a really enjoyable 3 year run.

Over the past few years we have worked as choreographers for other companies outside of Spain. We find this facet of our work really satisfying.

How did you wind up teaming up with DanceWorks Chicago?

The Cervantes Institute got in touch with us with the project of facilitating a collaboration between our company and a local Chicago company. They offered us rehearsal and performance space and were really helpful. We proposed the idea to Andreas, the Director of DanceWorks, and the rest is history!

What is your collaboration going to look like and what first steps are you taking?

We have had a very short but intense period in which to investigate movement so that the dancers of DanceWorks can become familiar with the dance language that we use. This time has served to delve into the mood and style of Man Ray’s work. What a lot of people don’t know is that Man Ray himself studied dance – in fact people said he was a very good dancer. Later he turned to photography for his artistic expression but for us the inspiration of dance on his work is very clear. So this time with DanceWorks has been for us, and for them, a time to investigate the different ways we can express his vision in dance, a kind of a full circle for his work. Our first step was of course to inspire the dancers, showing them some of Man Ray’s work. The rest is a work in progress that we hope can be developed into a complete show. The progress that we have made so far will be shown in the theatre of the Cervantes Institute on the 25th of August.

What do you think you might be able to bring to this collaboration?

We hope to bring our particular philosophy of dance and movement to the creation of a dance piece around this interesting theme – Man Ray Dancer. We would love to return to Chicago to create the complete work, we are really inspired.

What are you hoping to get from the collaboration?

For us, as we said, choreographing is really satisfying work. We have always created our own pieces, which is something we love doing, but working with other companies we find that our progress and our creativity are really accelerated. The process of creating new choreography  is always dynamic and challenging and when we work with other companies apart from our own then it is also a process of give and take. Every dancer we work with teaches us something. In some moments inspiration can come from a certain attitude or move that a dancer makes, sometimes we take that initial inspiration and develop it, so our choreography is the result of the very personal  interaction we have with the dancers themselves.

Have you done anything like this before?

Over the last few years, as we said, we have worked with other companies. Our last work in the USA was with the Ballet Hispanico. The difference between our work in the past and this work with DanceWorks is that it is a wonderful luxury to have a time to work together that is specifically for experimentation. Normally we have to jump right into the creation phase. Usually we do the investigative work on our own and  arrive ready to begin the choreographic part of the project when we meet the dancers. It is really nice to have time to investigate with the dancers themselves and of course it is different here again because we have the chance to show the public the results of our investigations -  this way we can gauge their reactions and that will help us to direct the course of the work in case it is to be developed properly in the future .

What has it been like to work with DanceWorks so far?

Wonderful, really great. Andreas and Julie have been very supportive and lovely. The dancers themselves have been really enthusiastic and they have understood our philosophy perfectly. We have seen the dancers enjoying the investigation process so you can imagine, when we see them happy it makes us really happy too. They have lived up to our greatest expectations. We are delighted to have the chance to work with a young company that has so much drive. They have a very exciting future ahead of them.


About Taiat Dansa: Meritxell Barberá and Inma García, with degrees in Classical and Contemporary dance from the city of Valencia, founded their own company Taiat Dansa in the year 1999. Since then they have presented their creations in different spaces and festivals within Spain in Valencia, Barcelona, Madrid, the Canary Islands, Sevilla, Murcia and País Vasco; in museum spaces, normally accompanied by an educational work around the country. In the international scene they have performed their work in countries such as France, Germany, Switzerland, the UK and the United States. Also, since 2009 they have worked with other companies as choreographers both nationally and internationally.


DVD Review: Basic Castanet and Movement Technique Volume 1

Basic Castanet and Movement Technique Volume 1
JoDe Romano

by Emily Kate Long

Screen_shot_2014-08-11_at_8.32.14_AMIn this thirty-five minute instructional DVD, New York City-based teacher and choreographer JoDe Romano walks the beginning student through a series of six castanet exercises. She begins with simple instructions for putting on and adjusting the castanets, then moves on to finger exercises, and eventually incorporates arm, head, and leg movements. Each new element is added systematically, with emphasis on slow repetition and daily practice to develop strength and accuracy.

Romano’s verbal directions are clear and easy to follow, and each exercise is shown from the front and back. Her demonstrations cleanly show the technique for each combination, and she provides an inspiring example of the strength, passion, and power of Spanish dance.

This DVD is a useful tool for beginners of any age, or any dancer looking for a better understanding of the basics of Spanish castanet movement. Basic Castanet and Movement Technique is the first of a two-part series. Both DVDs can be purchased on Romano’s website, www.flamencoromano.com.


New Series With DanceWorks Chicago – James Gregg, Choreographer

Welcome to our new series! In the coming months, you’ll be hearing a variety of voices from DanceWorks Chicago (DWC), an arts organization that has been around since 2007.

DWC gives early career artists an environment where they can build a foundation and hone their artistry through training, collaboration, performances and mentoring opportunities. They also showcase work from established choreographers.

Today we will hear from guest choreographer James Gregg, who will be a part of DWC’s SEASON 8. This season will include other guest choreographers from across the country and around the world as well as a focus on Chicago dancemakers through the DanceMoves Choreography Competition. Keep an eye out for interviews with DWC participants here on the blog.

In the meantime, let’s get to know James Gregg a little better, as he answers interview questions for us here today…

Nocturnal Sense, choreographed by James Gregg. Photo by VIN

Nocturnal Sense, choreographed by James Gregg. Photo by VIN

Why did you make the move from dancer to choreographer? 

I always wanted to be a choreographer, I knew from the very beginning.

What is it about choreography that appeals most to you?

It’s a hard question, there is so much that appeals to me.

I love painting the stage with movement and lighting. I love creating and challenging dancers to get out of their comfort zone. I love trying to connect with the audience and challenge them as well.

Where do your ideas come from for creating dances?

Every piece is different.

Sometimes it’s music, other times it’s a moment between two people on the street, or a commercial. It can be a life-changing moment or subtle exchanges between lovers. I mean, the ideas are all around you, you just need to open to receive them.

Is there anything you don’t enjoy about the process of choreographing a piece?

I enjoy it all—not to say certain days aren’t challenging. It’s all about the process and how we maneuver around those challenges, which in turn gives a better product. Those moments take you to places you wouldn’t have expected.

You created a piece for DanceWorks Chicago titled Nocturnal Sense. Did the choice of music (Vivaldi) come before or after you began choreographing?

The last musical movement of Nocturnal Sense was the catapult for the entire piece.

What was your process like for creating this piece?

I created 5 phrases based off the 5 senses, then manipulated them with each dancer, and then it just kind of molded itself from there.

James Gregg will unveil his new work at DWC’s “Dance Bytes”, taking place August 4th at the Ruth Page Center Theatre.

Choreographer James Gregg

Choreographer James Gregg

BIO: James Gregg began dancing at the age of nine with Ballet Oklahoma. He continued his training with Cece Farha’s Range of MotionHouston Ballet Academy, the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, and EDGE Performing Arts Center. In 1999, he moved to Chicago to dance with River North Dance Company, then in 2005, moved to Montreal, where he danced with Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal until 2013. James has performed the works of renowned choreographers Crystal Pite, Rodrigo Pederneiras, Barak Marshall, Frank Chaves, Danny Ezralow, Harrison McEldowney, Mauro Bigonzetti, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Cayetano Soto, and Edgar Zendejas. Besides RUBBERBANDance Group, he also performs with Aszure Barton and Artists and other dance companies around the country.


Finis: Trey McIntyre Project’s Farewell At Jacob’s Pillow


by Christopher Duggan

This summer at Jacob’s Pillow marked Trey McIntyre Project‘s last performances as a professional dance company before Trey moves on to other projects. I’ve photographed the dance company before, and I’ve always loved Trey’s choreography.


It just seemed like a very special week, so I thought it’d be great to spend extra time with the company making pictures. I photographed the company in dress rehearsal as I usually do, but I also photographed one performance from backstage and I made portraits with four of the dancers around the Pillow grounds and on my family’s trampoline.


Brett Perry and Benjamin Behrends

Each of these four dancers, Benjamin Behrends, Chanel Da Silva, Amber Mayberry and Brett Perry, really gave me time to explore with them. The nature of a dancer’s schedule is that they just don’t usually have a lot of time to spare. So I approach a portrait with an idea that we try to execute and we may be able to try one other thing after that, but then the dancer needs to go.

Chanel Da Silva

Chanel Da Silva

Chanel and I had two hours together and there were several photos we tried that are not featured here, because we were able to explore more and figure out the best portraits. The same with Amber Mayberry below – she gave me a nice amount of time to have a relaxed approach and create something together.

Amber Mayberry

Amber Mayberry

To be able to create something together is special. We’re both artists, and we want to make something beautiful. I was able to do that with all of them, because they were so generous with their time and excited to work together. When they had their final performance that Sunday afternoon, I snuck in to the Ted Shawn Theatre at the very end to capture their final bows. I wanted them to have this moment forever.


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 (nelshelby.com). 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 (http://www.christopherduggan.com/portfolio/natural-light-studio-jacobs-pillow-photography/) 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.