Choreography, Collaboration & Laughter: Margi Cole & Peter Carpenter

Choreographers Margi Cole of The Dance COLEctive and Peter Carpenter of Peter Carpenter Performance Project discuss collaborating on “Rituals of Abundance for Lean Times #14: Curious Reinventions”, a project that explores the concepts of mimicry and imitation.

Photograph by William Frederking.

Photograph by William Frederking.

What first inspired you to collaborate?

Margi Cole: Pete and I go way back, and I have always admired his work as a performer and choreographer. After a very chance conversation about the possibility of me being a performer in his work, it happened, and I had the great pleasure of performing in two of his very recent installments of Rituals of Abundance for Lean Times, the series he is working on. To be blunt, I am totally turned on by working with Pete in the studio, creating movement vocabulary, exploring the use of text and the creative process. As a result of my own experiences, I wanted my dancers to have an opportunity with him too, as I know firsthand how much can be gained from the work. Double bonus: I get to be a co-choreographer and continue to learn as well. It’s an awesome opportunity created by being in the right place at the right time.

Peter Carpenter: Margi and I have known each other as part of Chicago’s dance community for years. In the fall of 2012, she performed in an earlier installment of the Rituals of Abundance for Lean Times series (a series I’ve been working on since 2011), and then last year she invited me to come and do some workshops with her company. Several of her company members are former students of mine (from Columbia College Chicago, where we are both faculty members) so I was excited to work with them. From there we pursued an opportunity via the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events for a produced event at the Storefront Theater. That was about a year ago, and we’ve been in the planning stages of this performance ever since.

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French Twist Tutorial

by Cara Marie Gary

The dismissal bell rang to signal an end to a long school day. Students crammed materials into a large book bag and bustled about the halls. It was an inevitable race to leave the building in order to avoid the long traffic line in the parking lot. My ballet studio was an hour away and I didn’t have a second to spare. I took off in my swift sprint and was one of the first students to drive out of the lot. I took off my lanyard and placed it on the rearview mirror while I grabbed a hair elastic off the stick shift. One might think a cup holder held a refreshing beverage, but mine held dozens of tiny hairpins. At the first stop light, my foot pressed against the brake as I quickly maneuvered my hair into a ponytail. A flash of green light meant it was time to keep driving. Twist and pin as fast as you can was my method for my completing my bun. This definitely wasn’t the safest driving method, but it was efficient at cutting out a few minutes so I could do my splits before ballet class started.

Experimenting with different hairstyles has always been an interest of mine. I love being able to change a look completely by simply adjusting where a few strands of hair lay. It’s amazing how hot rollers, straighteners, curling irons, gels, and hairspray can transform one’s hairstyle.

A common image associated with ballerinas is a high, slicked-back bun. However, there are so many options for dancer’s hairstyles (a French braid into a low bun, center part messy bun, cinnamon roll bun, side twist into a bun, etc.). One of my favorite dancer hairstyles is a French twist.

I believe this is a unique and elegant hairstyle. I’ve developed a 10-step process to perfecting a French twist:

1) Start by brushing your hair and parting the front to the side of your preference. (I like a left part.)

Photo Credit: Mahallia Ward

2) Using both hands, collect all of the hair into the center of your head. The hair should be gathered in line with the top of your ears. Avoid going too far towards the nape of your neck or top of your head.

Photo Credit: Mahallia Ward

3) The next hairbrush I use is called my “smoothie” brush. It’s produced by Conair and has nylon tuft bristles. This brush is the best at smoothing down bumps and wisps. Keep holding the hair in your left hand while brushing your hair towards the center gathering with your right hand.

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Atlanta Ballet’s “The Best of Modern Choreographic Voices”

Seven Sonatas - Photo by Charlie McCullers, Atlanta Ballet.

Seven Sonatas – Photo by Charlie McCullers, Atlanta Ballet.

by Rachel Hellwig

Atlanta Ballet’s “The Best of Modern Choreographic Voices” opens with “Seven Sonatas” by Alexei Ratmansky, a work originally created for American Ballet Theatre. A piano ballet, featuring live performance of Scarletti selections, it depicts three lyrical, windswept, and witty couples in white. Some of the most distinctive features of Ratmansky’s style are its improvisational quality and playful, sometimes irreverent use of classical ballet, as well as unexpected moments of humor. Hard-to-get, push-pull, please-don’t-go-yet courtships are highlighted in the pas de deuxs, often with comedy. When one man’s beloved skims offstage out of his reach, he merely shrugs and keeps dancing until she returns. Interestingly, intermittent somberness and the quiet ending hint at a more solemn undercurrent of anxiety about losing “the one you love”, though this is usually hidden behind much lightheartedness.

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Searching For Swans…

Swan Lake Ballet

Jessika in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Swan Lake. Photo by Lindsay Thomas

by Jessika Anspach McEliece

The dreary landscape stretched out before us as we migrated northward on I-5. Headed to the Canadian border, we were searching for that powdery white stuff they call snow. A ski weekend for him, not so much for me – there’s always the lodge and hot cocoa, right? Sitting in the passenger seat, the scenery seemed to mimic the weariness of my own self, having spent weeks recovering from mono.

And then, in the brown bleakness he saw it. He saw them.

“Hey. Hey babe? Do you see that?” my husband asked me as he drove. “On the left…”

I looked over his shoulder through the driver’s window and across two lanes of traffic to see a field, all white. And no. It wasn’t snow.

Squinting his eyes he continued, “I think… Are those..?”

The little kid leapt out of me as my eyes grew wide with wonder; as my heart began to flutter; as I shouted aloud, “SWANS!”

There they were. A whole field of them. Swans. Dozens of them. Maybe even hundreds. An invisible string tugged tightly on my heart and suddenly my soul felt awake – alive.

“PULL OVER BABE!” I implored. “Seriously. Please. Please?!! We can take that next exit… At the very least drive past them? I just have to see them!”

His eyes smiled at me as he laughed and shook his head.

This invisible string.

This strange connection to these beautiful white birds. Why did I feel so drawn to them? What was it about them that so compelled me? When had this affinity begun?

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Dancer Profile: Isabella Boylston

Isabella Boylston. Photograph by Rosalie O'Connor. Used with Permission from American Ballet Theatre and Rosalie O'Connor.

Isabella Boylston. Photograph by Rosalie O’Connor. Used with Permission from American Ballet Theatre and Rosalie O’Connor.

“That’s the goal: To really have your expression manifest itself in your movement” –Isabella Boylston

Isabella Boylston began dancing at three and fell in love with ballet at eleven. At that age, her lessons featured live piano music and the opportunity to improvise with silk scarves at the end of class– both out-of-the-ordinary experiences for most ballet classes. Boylston went on to train at Colorado Ballet and the Harid Conservatory in Florida. In 2001, she won the gold medal at the Youth America Grand Prix.

At age 17, she attended the American Ballet Theatre’s summer intensive and was asked to join ABT’s studio company. However, her parents wanted her to complete her education first. Boylston said, “We got into a big fight because I wanted to come to New York and they wanted me to finish high school. Eventually we compromised and I got to come halfway through my senior year and I finished high school through correspondence.”

She found the transition from school to company a little jarring a first. In the studio company, she had to learn choreography much faster than she did in school. When she moved up to ABT’s main company, her struggle was to fit into the corps rather than stand out as an individual dancer. But, she rose to the occasion and was promoted to soloist in 2011 and principal dancer in 2014.

Boylston has danced many famous roles from the classical repertoire including Odette/Odile, but her favorite character is Giselle. She explains, “I really relate to Giselle. She’s impulsive and I feel like she’s more like my younger self than me now. I’ve experienced betrayal and it can be quite devastating, but it didn’t kill me. I think in the first act she’s really really lively and vital, experiencing life to the maximum. She opens herself up completely and that makes it all the more tragic when everything comes crashing down.” Boylston believes in ballet’s power to convey complex emotions and its relevancy. She says, “Ballet is such a unique art form. You can say things through dance that you could never express in words, and ballet has the ability to touch people on a deep, abstract level. In some ways, ballet is more valuable now than ever.”

Fun Facts:

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Student Spotlight: Jasmine Wallis

Jasmine Wallis is 18 years old and from Essex, UK. She is currently in her second year of training at Central School of Ballet in London. Before joining Central, Jasmine trained in the Cecchetti method as a Cecchetti scholar. She is also a member of the Chelmsford Ballet Company.


1. Can you tell readers how you became involved with dance?Jasmine Wallis

When I was five my Mum started taking me to weekly ballet classes as a fun thing to do. At the time she thought it was something I would only want to do for a little while, not that 14 years later it would be such a huge part of my life! But I loved it from a young age and gradually got involved in more classes.

2. What do you find you like best about dance class? 

I like the challenges that dance classes bring. I think the best feeling is the feeling of improvement. This process takes time and can be frustrating when you don’t understand things a first, but when you start to understand it is a great feeling. I like that you can always push yourself because there is always more to learn and something else you can work on. Another of the best parts is being on stage and performing to an audience after all the hard work that goes into rehearsals.

3. What is the hardest part about dance for you?

For me the hardest part of dance is dealing with confidence. It is so easy to listen to the negative thoughts in your head, but doing this will only prevent you from achieving your best. I think it’s important to always try to look at the positives and to believe in yourself, otherwise know one else will !

4. What advice would you give to other dancers? 

The advice I would give is to always stay motivated. It can be easy to get upset when things don’t go right or to compare yourself to other people. So it is important to remember why you dance and to set your own goals so you can achieve the best that you possibly can.

5. How has dance changed your life?

From being involved in dance I have met such inspiring people, like teachers and choreographers who I have learnt so much from. Also, being involved in dance gives you the opportunity to met lots of new people and create so many friendships.

I think that even if you don’t want to pursue dance as a professional career your dance training will always benefit you, because it teaches you about discipline and dedication.

From The Barre To The Barn: A Ballet Dancer’s Career Transition To Farming

Paris Wilcox

Paris Wilcox

Dancers retire and do all sorts of interesting things. Sometimes the new job isn’t far from the studio–such as a teacher or a choreographer. Sometimes they go back to school and study something totally different.

Today we share one of those stories with you. Meet Paris Wilcox, formerly of Kansas City Ballet. Paris decided to return to his family roots and become a farmer when he stopped dancing full time. We hope you enjoy the story of how he decided on this direction, and what it has been like to switch careers…

1. When did you start thinking about a post-dance career?

I was born and raised on a Dairy in upstate NY, and learned all about responsibility, initiative, risk, and reward at a very early age. My father is a 4th-generation farmer, so I always knew that the “Farm life” was a chromosomal part of who I was, but didn’t think much about it…everything about my upbringing was normal to me, from drinking raw milk for twenty years to taking ballet class. I spent every summer at home, from kindergarten through my retirement from Kansas City Ballet, so I always knew that I wanted to return.

Even though my father sold the dairy herd and young stock in 1992…farmers call it “selling out”…my summers after 1998 were spent rebuilding the by-then-dissolved physical farm infrastructure, many miles of perimeter fence for cattle and sheep…by hand, managing the flock, making hay, and doing field work.

2. What drew you to organic farming?

Technically, we are “non-certified Organic,” which means that we are Organic, but don’t want to spend the money for constant Organic certifications. The farm had always been organic; my father never used chemical fertilizers or insect sprays. If he had a cow sick with mastitis or pneumonia, he gave her antibiotics, but those cases were few.

My father always managed the land in a way to maximize the growing seasons, and used natural fertilizers to great advantage. I remember a neighbor scoffing at my father’s talking about considering Organic milk production back in the late 80’s, the neighbor assured him that the Organic movement wouldn’t amount to anything, but it turns out Dad was right.

The way we are set up now, with beef cattle and sheep, makes chemicals irrelevant. The sheep especially like weeds and shrubs, and get fat on good grass. Ironically, they are the best weed killer out there; they eat so close to the ground that they kill broadleaf weeds. I have seen them literally turn a rough pasture of weeds and native grass into a pure stand of clover the following year. Our organic approach simply works well for us, and we don’t need to alter it. Besides, I don’t like chemicals around my food.

Paris Farm 5

3. What do you enjoy most about farming?

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