by Cara Marie Gary
July began my third season with The Joffrey Ballet.
There was no easing into rehearsals when we came back from our summer break. Role responsibility was posted and we started full force with learning Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake. Répétiteur Jason Fowler and our ballet masters spent several weeks teaching us the choreography for this four-act ballet. An average day consisted of me arriving at the Joffrey Tower around 9:00am and leaving around 6:45pm.
I like to arrive early to change, fix my hair, sign up for physical therapy and stretch. When preparing for a strenuous full-length ballet, it is important to take class in order to warm up properly before rehearsal. I take class from 9:45am to 11:15am to help improve my technique and build stamina. I then readjust my pointe shoes, grab a rehearsal tutu and head back into Studio A for a three-hour Swan Lake Act II and IV rehearsal. After an hour lunch break, I come back for three more hours of Swan Lake Act I and III rehearsal. My rehearsal day ends by 6:30pm.
My favorite moment during the rehearsal process was when Mr. Wheeldon came to Chicago to work with the company for two weeks. When a choreographer is in the room it changes the dynamic of a rehearsal. They have a unique ability to disclose their artistic vision for the piece they’ve created in a way that is different from a répétiteur or ballet master. Working with a choreographer is a special time that allows dancers to gain new insight about the intentions behind certain movements. When dancers have a better understanding of the choreographer’s vision, it challenges us to strive towards achieving this goal.
Christopher Wheeldon’s visit to a Degas exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Museum inspired this version of Swan Lake. It is differs from other versions in that it is a ballet-within-a-ballet. Act I is set in a ballet studio that appears similar to Degas’ paintings. It begins with dancers entering a studio before rehearsal.
by Rachel Malehorn
When I feel the fall’s first chilly breeze, I know that change is in the air. Nature’s cycle strips leaves from trees, puts scarves on necks, and ripens pumpkins in their patches. Fall also finds the dancers of Milwaukee Ballet back in our studio, home after a long summer lay-off to prepare for our first production, Don Quixote. The process of getting back into the rhythm of daily class and rehearsal has made me reflect on the nature of transition. Some people thrive on change while others balk. In the flow of life, change is inevitable. What interests me is how we as people, and we specifically as dancers, can take advantage of these transitions – to seize any opportunity to grow.
Student to Professional
Of the many transitions I went through moving from student to professional dancer, one of the most challenging and least anticipated was navigating my first summer lay-off. As a student, I had spent my summers attending summer intensive programs, which prepare a young dancer for a professional career. But once I had finally landed my dream job, and had just finished my first year with the Company, how should I spend the summer months?
My first lay-off was very confusing for me: on the one hand, I had freedom! I could do whatever I wanted – I was cut loose from the rigid discipline binding me during the season. But after only a few weeks of this wide-open schedule, I realized that I was basically addicted to routine, and felt disoriented, rudderless, and in need of some kind of structure. Also, 21 weeks is a long time to subsist without income, and without regular ballet classes, getting back in shape was extremely difficult. Ever since that first summer, I have dedicated myself to answering the question: what does a dancer do when she’s not dancing full time?
This can be a difficult question to answer for people who have spent the majority of their childhoods in single-minded dedication to their art form. When I made the transition from student to professional, it became apparent that only I could determine my life outside the studio. I began asking my colleagues what they did during the summer and received many different suggestions. Eventually, I was able to craft my summer into a time for college courses at a local university, summer dance projects like Terpsicorps in Asheville, North Carolina, traveling, yoga, camping, and adding to my photographic portfolio.
Recently, I asked three of my fellow dancers from Milwaukee Ballet what they did this summer, and got some great answers.
by Katie C. Sopoci Drake
STORY/TIME is a three-part book that also serves as a companion piece to the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s live production of Story/Time that will appear at New York Live Arts on November 4-8, 11-15 at 7:30pm. More information: http:www.newyorklivearts.org
After the lengthy acknowledgements to many honored academics, distinguished artists, and an impressive list of foundations and trusts, the first thing to strike the reader soundly across the brain is a preface that warns you that what you are about to experience is really a structured event, “a performance yearning to be a document, a book” that serves as a “record of a needy, angry, and confused man” with a need “for a tradition, an intellectual home”. After a description of the book’s layout, a hint at how you might best take in the information (an “invitation to play” or “reorder if you will”), and properly braced with what contradictions may present themselves, you delve into the first of three sections of the book.
This first section, titled “Past Time” plunges you into Jones’ experience within the 1970‘s dance scene. You witness him meeting with the ideas of John Cage, the growing importance of his ideas on Jones’ own artistic inquiries, and are confronted with random stories and images that evoke place and history. Jones’ feelings of exclusion from the intellectual community of scholars and artists of the time surfaces within the narrative providing fire behind Jones’ evidently voracious appetite for inquiry and the contradiction within himself between “comfort” and “provocation” within his own methods of creating live performance that “reveal the most personal aspects” of himself.
The second section, “Story/Time”, “a response to John Cage’s 1958 Indeterminacy,” is laid out like a score with dashes and brackets marking the time and random order (with the help of www.random.org) of 60 one-minute stories. These nuggets of prose, with words that are nudged and pulled apart on the paper to mark the passage of time, span the range of Jones’ own history and memories. Some having to do with art, some with family, some with characters from his life, certain stories swim back to the surface after their initial appearance in the first section of the book “Past Time”. Here they are washed clean of their previous context, and elevated to the status of art.
“Story/Time” begs to be read out loud. At the end of the previous section, “Past Time”, Jones gives us hints at his approach in performance which certainly invites the reader to try one or all stories in their own tongue. 17 unsentimental performance images accompany this leg of the journey giving the viewer a setting for the stories and reminds us of Jones’ questioning of his own interpretation of Cage’s theories assigning “a higher priority to the author’s intent or choices of presentation than to the audience’s capacity to interpret that intent.”
In “With Time”, the final section of the book, you read Jones’ thoughts on the direction of dance as an art-form with the benefit of having read about both his own journey towards this end and experiencing a sample of what his deep artistic inquiry has rendered. In it, he offers yet another twist in his journey in the form of praise he received from his niece in 1999 after a performance of We Set Out Early… Visibility Was Poor. Jones reveals that at that moment, she had represented another “community I had — justifiably or not — felt estranged from.” This revelation brackets a series of “provocations” that keep circling back around within the book: detachment from emotion in art, exclusion from intellectual society, estrangement from community, the class context of searching for identity versus the search for meaning, the role of history and personal experience in experimental art.
In a final interview with Laura Kuhn, Executive Director of the John Cage Trust, John Cage, Jones’ “icon of modernism”, is partially laid bare. Kuhn relates a story of Cage being so detached from society that he didn’t realize Jesse Jackson was black. The story doesn’t seek to embarrass the man, but to reveal a consequence of a philosophy that separates the artist from society. Directly after the interview, Jones identifies his desire to reconcile the community he grew up in with the artistic community he is immersed in and the contradiction of “choosing to engage seriously with such a socially ‘unengaged’ artist who seems to hard back to an era when the only artists who mattered where male and white. And yet engage with John Cage I must.”
As a written document, this book is clearly organized, quickly read, and dense with musings that can be dissected by dancers and non-dancers alike. As a piece of art, it is both process and product in one. The engagement and participation of audience member might be enhanced if the book is read and discussed in a group setting which makes me curious to see how it will fit with the live performance and how many people will pair the two. The experiment in creation, design and performance certainly poses many questions that, identifying as a dance artist, I found myself musing in the context of own work. Likewise, as an academic, I found I was concurrently dissecting the book for use in a future class. I found the “provocation” of personal context and its link to the audience’s experience of art particularly poignant when my thoughts swung back around to a quotation of Michel Auder which was, perhaps, not so randomly selected to end “Story/Time”: “’You motherfucker! You were thinking about yourself while watching my work!’”.
STORY/TIME: The Life of an Idea
By Bill T. Jones
Performing Arts, Dance, Memoir
108 pp. Princeton University Press. $24.95
Contributor Katie C. Sopoci Drake, MFA, GL-CMA, is a Washington D.C. based professional dancer, choreographer and teacher specializing in Laban-based contemporary dance. Holding an MFA in Dance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a Graduate Certification in Laban Movement Analysis from Columbia College – Chicago, and a BA in Theatre/Dance with a minor in Vocal Performance from Luther College, Sopoci Drake continues to take classes in as many techniques and practices as she can handle to inform her work and life as a curious mover.
Katie has been on faculty at The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Nova Southeastern University, Miami Dade College-Wolfson, Miami Dade College-Kendall, Carthage College, and Lawrence University. She currently guest teaches and gives masterclasses around the D.C. area and wherever her travels take her.
As a performer, Sopoci is described as a “sinuous, animal presence of great power; watching her dance is a visceral experience.” (Third Coast Digest). Company credits include Mordine and Company Dance Theater of Chicago, Momentum Dance Company of Miami, Wild Space Dance Company of Milwaukee, and Rosy Simas Danse of Minneapolis. Katie has also made appearances an an independent artist with many companies including Brazz Dance, Your Mother Dances, The Florentine Opera, and The Minnesota Opera.
Katie’s choreography, described as “a beautiful marriage between choreography, music and poetry” (On Milwaukee), arises from her fascination with the idiosyncrasies of daily life, and the flights of fancy that arise from ordinary inspirations. Her work has been performed by numerous companies, colleges and studios across the country and her latest collaboration, Telephone Dance Project, will take her to states up and down the East Coast while investigating long-distance creation and connecting far-flung dance communities.0
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.
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.0
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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?
This show is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes long and it has two intermissions.
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.
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!
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.