Conducting Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake

Joffrey swan lake

Dylan Gutierrez & Jeraldine Mendoza, Photo by Cheryl Mann

Conductor Scott Speck is with us to talk about the music of one of the most famous ballets of all time–Swan Lake. He has been in rehearsal with Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet, and they will open October 15th doing Christopher Wheeldon’s version of this ballet classic. We’re excited to share a deeper look at this wonderful Tchaikovsky piece with you here…

This is one of the big story ballets. Is there more preparation involved in conducting a piece like this than in doing a mixed rep program? Why or why not?

More preparation is involved, but not because it is big. This is one of the most specific​ ballets of all time, meaning that this ballet has an inordinate number of special moments, solos, pas de deux (and trois and quatre….) that require very specific attention to what the dancers are doing onstage. In addition, each dancer has a personal mode of expression within the choreography, and my goal is to create the musical backdrop to support that expression and allow it to shine. For that reason, each moment requires several different kinds of preparation–and that makes Swan Lake one of the trickiest pieces to conduct in the whole history of ballet.

Tchaikovsky’s music is well-known and well liked. Can you talk a bit about him as a composer?

Tchaikovsky was the essence of the Russian Romantic era. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and his unforgettable melodies are full of the most honest expression. It’s like listening to an old friend pour his heart out to you. I think that’s why people love Tchaikovsky so much.

It was with pieces like Swan Lake, his first work for the Bolshoi Ballet, that Tchaikovsky burst upon the musical scene. He was very influenced by Ludwig Minkus, his extremely talented and facile (yet much less deep) predecessor at the Bolshoi. Minkus’s clever and tuneful music to La Bayadere, which the Joffrey performed last fall, had recently premiered.​ Minkus was a master of miniatures–those wonderful short characteristic movements that create a mood and atmosphere in a very short period of time–and in Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky was able to try his hand at the form. Although his “foreign”-sounding characteristic dances–Spanish, Neopolitan, Hungarian. etc.–are probably not as idiomatic as those of Minkus, Tchaikovsky allowed his true character to show in the body of the ballet.

And so, in most of Swan Lake, you hear the same personality that you can hear in the 6 symphonies, multiple operas, concertos and tone poems that Tchaikovsky is famous for. In other words–when he wasn’t trying to imitate Minkus directly, he appeared clearly as the immortal composer that he was.

Joffrey worked with choreographer Christopher Wheeldon on this version of the ballet. Is there anything different here musically?

Yes, We are still using the original Tchaikovsky, but Chris has created a more streamlined version of the ballet–it moves very excitingly from beginning to end. Some of the movements are in a different order​ than listeners may expect, but all the favorite melodies are intact, Most ballet companies do cut the music somewhat, as the full score would take about three hours to play.

Is there anything that the audience can listen for musically in terms of distinguishing Odette and Odile?

The character of Odette is presented as very elegant and poised, with great control; and Odile is very confident, with bravura technique. To a certain extent this is reflected in the music. For example, both the White Swan (Odette) and Black Swan (Odile) have a pas de deux with young Siegfried, and each pas de deux features a violin solo. In the White Swan Pas de Deux, the violin solo is extremely elegant and mingles beautifully with cello and harp. But in the Black Swan Pas de Deux, there are moments of astounding virtuosity for the violin. But other than that, I think that most of the distinguishing characteristics are visual.

What are the most challenging parts of this ballet in terms of the orchestra?

We are so lucky to have the Chicago Philharmonic, which has been called one of the nation’s finest symphonic orchestras, playing for us in the pit. These musicians can really do anything. My challenge will be the communicate the specific needs of the stage, with my baton, to musicians who cannot see the dancers. That communication will be most important in the pas de deux and solo movements, which can vary the most from show to show. These movements will require the most lightning-quick reflexes from all of us.

What do you enjoy most about conducting this ballet?

The opportunity to hear Tchaikovsky’s glorious music — ten times!​

Joffrey’s Swan Lake runs from October 15th through October 26th at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre.

scott speck

Scott Speck

With recent performances in London, Paris, Moscow, Beijing, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, Contributor Scott Speck has inspired international acclaim as a conductor of passion, intelligence and winning personality.

Scott Speck’s recent concerts with the Moscow RTV Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky Hall garnered unanimous praise. His gala performances with Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, Midori, Evelyn Glennie and Olga Kern have highlighted his recent and current seasons as Music Director of the Mobile Symphony. This season he also collaborates intensively with Carnegie Hall for the seventh time as Music Director of the West Michigan Symphony. He was recently named Music Director of the Joffrey Ballet; and he was invited to the White House as Music Director of the Washington Ballet.

In recent seasons Scott Speck has conducted at London’s Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, the Paris Opera, Washington’s Kennedy Center, San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, and the Los Angeles Music Center. He has led numerous performances with the symphony orchestras of Baltimore, Houston, Chicago (Sinfonietta), Paris, Moscow, Shanghai, Beijing, Vancouver, Romania, Slovakia, Buffalo, Columbus (OH), Honolulu, Louisville, New Orleans, Oregon, Rochester, Florida, and Virginia, among many others.

Previously he held positions as Conductor of the San Francisco Ballet; Music Advisor and Conductor of the Honolulu Symphony; and Associate Conductor of the Los Angeles Opera. During a recent tour of Asia he was named Principal Guest Conductor of the China Film Philharmonic in Beijing.

In addition, Scott Speck is the co-author of two of the world’s best-selling books on classical music for a popular audience, Classical Music for Dummies and Opera for Dummies. These books have received stellar reviews in both the national and international press and have garnered enthusiastic endorsements from major American orchestras. They have been translated into twenty languages and are available around the world. His third book in the series, Ballet for Dummies, was released to great acclaim as well.

Scott Speck has been a regular commentator on National Public Radio, the BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and Voice of Russia, broadcast throughout the world. His writing has been featured in numerous magazines and journals.

Born in Boston, Scott Speck graduated summa cum laude from Yale University. There he founded and directed the Berkeley Chamber Orchestra, which continues to perform to this day. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Berlin, where he founded Concerto Grosso Berlin, an orchestra dedicated to the performances of Baroque and Classical music in a historically informed style. He received his Master’s Degree with highest honors from the University of Southern California, served as a Conducting Fellow at the Aspen School of Music, and studied at the Tanglewood Music Center. He is fluent in English, German and French, has a diploma in Italian, speaks Spanish and has a reading knowledge of Russian.

Scott Speck can be reached at and also at, and @ScottSpeck1 on Twitter.


More From Inside/Out At Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival​

Marta Renzi & The Project Co at Inside/Out at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival 2014

Marta Renzi & The Project Co at Inside/Out at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival 2014

by Christopher Duggan

It will be almost 10 months before dancers return and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival 2015 kicks in. I love the Pillow so much and am filled with gratitude to have spent 9 summers there. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to create pictures and make a contribution to this historic place.

Schoen Movement Company at Inside/Out at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival 2014

Schoen Movement Company at Inside/Out at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival 2014

To me, nothing says “The Pillow” more than the Inside/Out stage. I spent the last few days of the festival working through more than 20,000 photos from the 2014 summer festival and wanted to share some highlights from this amazing dance space.

Laurie M Taylor/Soul Movement at Inside/Out at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival 2014

Laurie M Taylor/Soul Movement at Inside/Out at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival 2014

I’ve said it before, but the Inside/Out stage is my favorite stage to photograph dance. It’s hugely challenging working with the available light, the crowd and making choices on where to shoot from. It keeps me on my toes. There’s never a perfect spot, only the perfect way to make a picture in the spot I’ve chosen.

Oui Danse at Inside/Out at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival 2014

Oui Danse at Inside/Out at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival 2014

And more than just the dance on the stage, it’s the atmosphere, the trees, the sunlight, the patrons, the kids and everything put together that tells the story of Jacob’s Pillow in the Berkshires.

Emery Lecrone at Inside/Out at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival 2014

Emery Lecrone at Inside/Out at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival 2014


Adam Weinert at Inside/Out at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival 2014

Adam Weinert at Inside/Out at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival 2014


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 NewmanHe 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.


American Ballet Theatre Offers Chicago An “All American Celebration”

American Ballet Theatre dancing Bach Partita. Dancers: Polina Semionova and James Whiteside.  Photo by:  Gene Schiavone

American Ballet Theatre dancing Bach Partita. Dancers: Polina Semionova and James Whiteside. Photo by: Gene Schiavone

American Ballet Theatre is coming to Chicago for one weekend–October 3rd through the 5th. The company will be dancing Clark Tippet’s pas de deux, “Some Assembly Required,” “Fancy Free,” by Jerome Robbins and two works by Twyla Tharp’–“Back Partita” and “Sinatra Suite”. Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie put together this “All American Celebration” and it will take place at the Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University.


Luciana Paris and Herman Cornejo in Sinatra Suite. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie

Sinatra Suite” consists of two dancers and five Sinatra songs–Strangers in the Night, All the Way, That’s Life, My Way, and One For My Baby (And One More for the Road). Misty Copeland and Marcelo Gomes along with Luciana Paris and James Whiteside will perform this work by Tharp during the Chicago engagement.

Clark Tippet‘s “Some Assembly Required” is also on the program for the evening. This pas de deux has been staged by the original cast (Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner) and is set to set to William Bolcom’s Second Sonata for violin and piano.

Another piece that will be performed is Tharp’s “Bach Partita,” which will feature live music, with violinist Charles Yang playing Bach’s Partita No. 2 in d minor for solo violin.

No “All American” program would feel complete without Jerome Robbins’ lighthearted “Fancy Free,” which was actually the first ballet he ever choreographed back in 1944. The audience tags along with three sailors on leave as they meet up with two girls in New York City. What could go wrong?

American Ballet Theatre

Herman Cornejo in Fancy Free. Photo by: Gene Schiavone

Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie
Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie
Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie”All American Celebration” will take place at the Auditorium Theater

This show is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes long and it has two intermissions.



Freetoes Toeless Socks – Interview with Katelyn Lohr

Katelyn Lohr

Katelyn Lohr. Photograph by Douglas Homer.

4dancers wanted to share this interview with Katelyn Lohr, well…because we like her product. And, because we think it’s pretty cool that she founded a business based on an idea she had.

Read more about her story in this interview…

What Inspired Freetoes?

When I was eight, I wanted to wear my flip flops outside when it was cold out. My mom said I had to wear socks and shoes. So, I came to her with scissors and socks. It was my way of following the rules but still getting what I wanted!


How can Freetoes be helpful to dancers?

Dancers have been pulling their leg warmers down around their heels forever. Freetoes are great with leg warmers because they keep the leg warmers from sliding too far down, and they offer a little extra support. I also think they would be great for costumes during performances.

Freetoes give dancers the slip they need to move freely across the floor, but, because the toes are free, they also have that grip that is so important. Freetoes keep feet warm, keep heels from drying out on the wood floors, and can help make tights last a little longer.


Freetoes Pink 1

Freetoes Ballerina Pink. Photograph by Douglas Homer.

How can Freetoes be a fun part of your wardrobe in general?

Freetoes are so much fun! They come in so many funky colours and designs. They work with such a variety of footwear too. Everything from flip flops, riding boots, crocs, peekaboo toe boots, sandals, and Vibram barefoot sports shoes. They are fun and extremely practical.


 How many different patterns/colors of Freetoes do you offer?

We currently have 12 different colours and patterns in stock…we call them flavors! Variety is the spice of Freetoes. Something we learned early on in developing this product was that people wanted to buy more than one pair because we had such a wide variety of colours and designs. We like to carry some staple colors like Solid Black and Pink, but we get wild with patterns like Electric Zebra and Teal Blue Leopard!


Freetoes Stripes 2

Freetoes Electric Zebra. Photograph by Douglas Homer.

Do you have a favorite pattern/color?

It’s really hard to pick a fav because we are always getting new ones in. Right now, I would say Black and White Stripes, but I do wear the Solid Black and Pink ones most often.


Read more


Lindsay Nelko’s “Awakening” At Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater

Lindsay Nelko’s “Awakening” (Promotional Video) from Nel Shelby on Vimeo.

by Nel Shelby

We were excited when Lindsay Nelko approached us for a promotional video showcasing her New York City production of “Awakening” at the Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater! Lindsay is a young Canadian choreographer whose career is really starting to take off; you may have seen her on TV as a choreographer for So You Think You Can Dance. It’s always been a dream of hers to make a full length work and show it in NYC, and now that dream has come true!

Because Lindsay was only in New York City for a limited time, she was able to work with her dancers for just a few short weeks before the performance. We filmed some of those precious hours in the studio, and a few interviews with the dancers, to create something that would promote her upcoming show. Our team had only a few days to create and edit this promotional video so Lindsay could get it out into the world before the show and boost ticket sales.

It was a really fun project and her dancers looked incredible! Jessica Ray did a great job editing!

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.

Nel Shelby, Photo by Matthew Murphy

Photo by Matthew Murphy

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.


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.

Read more


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.

dance class music
Behind Barres

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