by Sharon Wehner
“What does it mean to you to be celebrating your 20th season with the Colorado Ballet?”
This is a question I have been asked over and over again since our season started this past July—a question asked by my colleagues, by board members, by our marketing department, and by numerous members of the media. I have spent hours pondering it, and each time I am asked, it seems I have a different answer.
It is a big question, and quite honestly, I dread it, because it sends me spinning into a myriad of memories and growth periods—both beautiful ones, and those that were, well, more challenging. My first response is to say that it feels like any milestone birthday. On the one hand, it’s could be viewed as just another number. From a pessimistic perspective, it could be seen as the inevitable passing of time—one year closer to the end. Dancers love to bemoan how old they are getting and how old their bodies feel, a tendency that starts about the age of puberty. But from another perspective, a milestone birthday could be an opportunity to feel blessed—one more year to be able to be and do what I love.
What does it mean to dance for twenty years in the same company? As every dancer knows, choosing this as one’s profession means accepting some unique parameters:
- Dancing is a career with a limited lifespan—retirement does not mean turning 65.5 and collecting a pension. Longevity in one company may earn a small amount of seniority, but nothing like the retirement benefits of a company in the corporate world.
- Being a professional dancer requires a particular lifestyle commitment. Because our body is our bread and butter, what we do outside the “office” affects our ability to be at the top of our game. Simple things like food, sleep, rest, exercise, and play are all intimately connected to our performance. And as the years pass, maintenance on the body becomes an increasingly refined and conscientious balance of these elements.
- Dancing can be a very transient kind of lifestyle. Those who freelance must weave together a patchwork of gigs, supplemented by other kinds of work to pay the bills. They must be able to adapt quickly to new bosses, colleagues, an environments. Even those dancers who want the stability of a company, will often switch companies several times during the span of their careers, for a number of reasons.
Given all of these tendencies, why would someone commit the bulk of their dance career to one ballet company for 20-plus years? When I ask myself this question, there are a multitude of answers, which brings up the question “What are the advantages of such a commitment?”
Today we’re thrilled to take a look behind the scenes, as conductor Scott Speck walks us through what it’s like to work with the score at the Joffrey Ballet. Learn more about how often the orchestra rehearses with the dancers, what Mr. Speck’s routine is like as a conductor the night of a performance, and more…
by Scott Speck
When you conduct for Joffrey, is there a routine when it comes to your approach to the score?
It’s a joy to make music for the Joffrey Ballet. This is a company that truly appreciates and even cherishes the value of live music. I attribute this largely to Artistic Director Ashley Wheater, who had extensive musical training as a child and (it turns out) seems to have perfect pitch, as he always sings the music to me in the right key! A true rarity in the ballet world.
Since I am a symphonic conductor by training, I always approach the score first as pure music. Over several months leading up to the production, I learn the form and structure of the music. I prepare to conduct as if for an onstage symphonic performance. Then I spend weeks in the studio, learning what the dancers need. It’s very helpful to have the score internalized or even memorized, since I often have my eyes fixed on the stage. The best way to achieve that is repetition! (I’ve conducted The Nutcracker some 300 times already, and it’s fair to say that conducting that score is like breathing!)
How often do you rehearse with the musicians, and where?
The Chicago Philharmonic, which always plays for the Joffrey, is a superb ensemble. The orchestra and I work together frequently throughout the year, both onstage and in the orchestra pit. As a result, the musicians and I have learned to communicate with each other very efficiently — we can almost read each other’s minds at times. So the time that we actually spend together rehearsing is quite short. For a new ballet, the musicians first learn their music on their own, and then we get together four times — twice in a rehearsal hall, and then twice in the orchestra pit, with the dancers onstage.
How often do you rehearse with the dancers?
This year marks my 16th Nutcracker season. I have had the privilege of performing seven of those seasons in George Balanchine’s version of the Nutcracker, which premiered in 1954 in New York City.
It is common for The Nutcracker to be the first performing opportunity dancers have in their pre-professional career. Once training intensifies, the requirements for Nutcracker can become more demanding. My first Nutcracker experience was with the Northeast Youth Ballet under the direction of Denise Cecere. With the Northeast Youth Ballet, I spent six seasons performing most of the roles in the ballet including Clara and the Dew Drop Fairy. The last couple years of my training were spent performing in Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker under the direction of Mikko Nissinen. Performances with the Northeast Youth Ballet and Boston Ballet were crucial to my understanding of future professional life.
In 2009, I was first exposed to George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker with Alabama Ballet. During my five seasons with the company, I was given opportunities to perform many roles including the Sugar Plum Fairy, Arabian, and Lead Marzipan. One particular role I fell in love with was Coffee, also known as Arabian. I was chosen to perform Coffee for all five seasons. This repetition gave me time to refine this specific role while also exploring the other personalities that make the ballet unique.
At Miami City Ballet, rehearsals for George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker begin in September. It is a special time of year in which you hope to gain new experiences and bring something different to your audience. Performances span from the beginning of December until New Year’s Eve. This will be my fourth season performing as the Sugar Plum Fairy and my second with Miami City Ballet. Along with performing the Sugar Plum Fairy, I will performing the roles of Lead Spanish, Demi-Soloist Flower, Marzipan, Flower, Snow, and Party Parent.
As a little girl I had always dreamed of dancing as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Last season, when I saw my name on the casting list to dance the iconic role, I couldn’t wait to get to work. It was a new opportunity to perform a very rewarding and challenging role in a new home. On top of that, I was paired with a partner, Ariel Rose, who I had spent time dancing with in Balanchine’s Who Cares? at Boston Ballet. It has been really special to work with Lourdes Lopez on this principal role. The time Ariel and I have spent with Lourdes and Arnold and Joan Quintane this season has allowed us to bring our own interpretation to the dance.
In George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, the Sugar Plum Fairy holds a large amount of responsibility. She is the first and last Sweet to perform in Act II and is responsible for showing Marie and the Prince their way. When I revisit classic roles like the Sugar Plum Fairy I hope to show audiences what I’ve been working during the rest of the season.
Personal and professional lives are usually combined during Nutcracker season. It can be difficult to spend time with family and friends because of performances and rehearsals. We perform five to six times a week while also preparing for our second repertory program. Fortunately, my family usually comes to visit and see some of the performances. During my time off I like to read, write, or watch old TV shows like Friends on Netflix. Having an outlet allows me to reset and rest my brain from ballet.
Miami City Ballet will be performing George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker December 5-7 in Naples, FL, December 11-13 in Fort Lauderdale, December 17-24 in Miami, and December 27-29 in West Palm Beach.
Contributor Samantha Hope Galler, a Bedford, Mass. native, spent 13 years training with The Ballet Academy, Inc., under the direction of Frances Kotelly in the Cecchetti Method. She performed six seasons with The Northeast Youth Ballet under the direction of Denise Cecere. She continued training, on scholarship, with Boston Ballet School and received the PAO Merit Trainee Scholarship. She received the NFAA Honorable Mention Award in Ballet. Galler spent summers training at Boston Ballet, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and Boston Conservatory. She danced with Cincinnati Ballet in their 2008-2009 season under the direction of Victoria Morgan.
Samantha spent five seasons with Alabama Ballet under the direction of Tracey Alvey and Roger Van Fleteren. During her tenure there, she was promoted to principal dancer. She had the honor of performing some of her dream roles including Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, The Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, The Sylph and Effie in La Sylphide, Myrtha and Moyna in Giselle, Dryad Queen and Mercedes in Don Quixote, the Rancher’s Daughter in Agnes De Mille’s Rodeo. Her Balanchine roles included Dark Angel in Serenade; The Sugarplum Fairy, Arabian and Lead Marzipan in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™; and the principal roles in Allegro Brillante and Tarantella. She has also performed in Jiří Kylian’s Sechs Tanze, and Van Fleteren’s Shostakovich and Romancing Rachmaninov, both world premieres.
Samantha joined Miami City Ballet as a member of the corps de ballet in 2014. Since joining Miami City Ballet, Samantha has performed in various roles including as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Balanchine’s The Nutcracker and as the Harp Soloist in Balanchine’s Raymonda Variations.2
The web and social media can be wonderful places to get information – facts and news are able to be shared shared quickly and easily. Unfortunately, the same things that make these areas great for spreading information can also have a drawback. Too often something can get passed along without context, which can change the entire meaning…or information can be widely shared that may not have a solid foundation underneath it.
In the coming months our Dance Wellness team will be putting together some solid guidelines for readers on how to go about evaluating dance medicine and dance wellness information on the Internet. They will share specifics on what to look for when searching for, and reading dance wellness info on the web.
We’ll also be compiling and sharing a list of reputable sites that you can go to for information in this field.
In the meantime, our Dance Wellness editor, Jan Dunn, wanted to address some recent information that has been circulating around on social media about the use of ice for dance injuries to make sure that dancers know that indeed, the ice pack is still a useful tool!
This post is in response to discussions I recently became aware of online (primarily on Facebook) regarding the use of ice in treating injuries. Respected dance educators were advocating throwing away the ice pack, despite the many years where RICE (Rest / Ice / Compression / Elevation) has been advised, or more recently PRICE (Protection / Rest / Ice / Compression / Elevation).
I was not aware of any discussions, presentations, or articles on this topic in the dance wellness field – and so was cautious / skeptical, since some of what is seen or posted online is not necessarily true – or is not in line with current scientific / medical protocols. I started doing some research, and checking with various experts in dance medicine – including members of the 4dancers.org Dance Wellness Panel: James Garrick, MD; Moira McCormack, PT; Selina Shah, MD; Matt Wyon, PhD; Janice Plastino, PhD; Robin Kish, MA; Gigi Berardi, PhD; Emma Redding, PhD; Erin Sanchez, MS; and Nancy Wozny.
And what I learned is — well, please don’t jump on this particular bandwagon and throw away your ice packs!
Ice can clearly be overused, and when it is, it’s not good. It can damage the tissue it’s meant to be helping if it’s kept on too long. It is usually advised the first 48-72 hours after an acute injury (like an ankle sprain). Some of the sites online are advising not using ice at all are saying that because inflammation is the body’s way of healing, and they imply that to use ice is to stop inflammation. But ice treats the symptoms of inflammation, it doesn’t get rid of it. Ice and compression (more on that in a moment) can reduce the amount of initial swelling –which speeds the healing process– and this is the whole point of post-injury care.
Why Ice Can Be Helpful
Ice is also very useful for helping decrease pain levels –another major symptom of inflammation. So another good reason not to throw away that ice pack.
There is also the issue of “secondary hypoxic injury” – this refers to tissue not damaged by the primary injury (such as the ligaments directly affected by an ankle sprain), but nearby, which can become damaged as a direct consequence of the physiologic response to the primary injury. Ice can slow down these metabolic processes and therefore save some tissue.
How to Use Ice
When you do use ice, go for at least 10 – 15 min. on a new injury (or until the area is numb, which vary slightly depending on how muscular or bony the area is), allowing at least 20 min. before re-applying. Try to go for at least 5 min. minimum on not-so-new areas, if you can’t do the full 10-15.* You have to also always be sure you have something between you and the ice itself – most icepacks come with a fabric covering, and that works fine. You just don’t want to put ice directly on the skin, without something to protect it (think “freezer burn”!). Never use heat on a new injury.
Now, let’s briefly go over Compression. Most people interpret this as (for example) wrapping an Ace bandage around a sprained ankle. Yes, all well and good – but, as Dr. James Garrick, MD (one of the founders of both the sports medicine and dance medicine fields) points out:
“The ‘hollowed out’ areas posterior (behind) the malleoli (ankle bones, on both inside and outside of the joint) and anterior (in front of) will have NO compression at all (with an Ace bandage), and those structures (the ligaments that were actually injured) will actually be encouraged to swell more.”
What is needed instead is focal compression (directly on those “hollowed out” areas)—which moves the bleeding away from the areas injured. Dr. Garrick gave the example of a dancer whose sprained ankle was treated with this protocol, and “the ankle actually looks like an ankle, not the polish sausage one sees if just an elastic wrap is used.” He noted that this dancer was able to walk with nearly full ankle motion 24 hours after the injury.
Some of the dance medicine medical and scientific colleagues (and non-dance as well) whom I contacted on this Ice / No Ice question, gave some pertinent thoughts that are worth passing on:
“There is no research that counters the practice of using ice to reduce swelling. On the contrary, there are studies that do show the benefits of ice as well as NSAIDS. Not using ice is not standard of care in sports medicine, and I don’t know of any research in dance medicine.” (orthopedic MD who specializes in sports and dance medicine).
“The articles being referenced (in some online sites advocating no ice) need to be referenced to determine their quality – most research in this area is pretty poor. I am also a great believer in using our years of clinical experience (on the beneficial aspects of using ice)”. ( PhD researcher in Sports Physiotherapy).
“Until I see some really solid physiological studies, over time, that ice is detrimental and actually damages the tissues, I will continue to use it as part of my treatment protocols.” (long-time sports medicine physical therapist).
So in conclusion – I hope this article / advice from dance (and sports) medicine experts (who keep up with the latest research) will help clarify this for you, and as I said at beginning – please don’t throw away your ice packs!
Happy Nutcracker and Holiday Season! – Jan Dunn, MS, Dance Wellness Editor
*Please note that this time has been adjusted from the recommendation of 5 minutes, along with a clarification to make it more applicable to a variety of injuries
Editor Jan Dunn is a dance medicine specialist currently based on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, where she is owner of Pilates Plus Kauai Wellness Center and co-founder of Kauai Dance Medicine. She is also a Pilates rehabilitation specialist and Franklin Educator. A lifelong dancer / choreographer, she spent many years as university dance faculty, most recently as Adjunct Faculty, University of Colorado Dept. of Theatre and Dance. Her 28 year background in dance medicine includes 23 years with the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) – as Board member / President / Executive Director – founding Denver Dance Medicine Associates, and establishing two university Dance Wellness Programs
Jan served as organizer and Co-Chair, International Dance Medicine Conference, Taiwan 2004, and was founding chair of the National Dance Association’s (USA) Committee on Dance Science and Medicine, 1989-1993. She originated The Dance Medicine/Science Resource Guide; and was co-founder of the Journal of Dance Medicine & Science. She has taught dance medicine, Pilates, and Franklin workshops for medical / dance and academic institutions in the USA / Europe / Middle East / and Asia, authored numerous articles in the field, and presented at many national and international conferences.
Ms. Dunn writes about dance wellness for 4dancers and also brings in voices from the dance wellness/dance medicine field to share their expertise with readers.4
by Catherine L. Tully
The Joffrey Ballet opened its holiday classic, The Nutcracker on December 4th at the Auditorium Theatre. Many people have come to see this ballet as a “holiday tradition,” but next year Chicago will ring in a different version of this popular ballet…
A look back…
The current version of The Nutcracker was choreographed by Robert Joffrey in 1987. Performing the same version of this ballet for many years leaves a bittersweet feeling for many dancers as they look to the next season, and reflect on the past years…
This year’s opening night featured a combination of newer company dancers and those who have been around for a while in the cast. The underpinning similarity was that they were all radiant–from the party scene, through the finale. It can be challenging to bring a fresh approach to this ballet after so many years, but the energy was alive in well in the Auditorium on opening night. Of course, it certainly helps to have the live music provided by the Chicago Philharmonic, under the direction of Scott Speck.*
Joffrey’s production is indeed a beautiful one, complete with a stunning snow scene, lovely costumes, and many rich details. It has a very old-fashioned feel to it, which may make it a bit difficult to let go of in order to make room for the new production next year.
That said, Joffrey has commissioned none other than Tony Award™ winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon to re-envision the new Nutcracker for 2016, which definitely adds an air of anticipation and excitement to the mix. It also gives people in the Chicago area a unique opportunity to attend the last run of Joffrey’s old favorite one last time before they unveil the new version.
It should be a wonderful year to see this ballet, as the dancers will be putting their all into the roles that will be danced on the stage for the last time. A historic season!
Joffrey’s Nutcracker runs from now until December 27th. Both evening and matinee performances are available.
*Scott Speck is a contributing writer to 4dancers.org
This year’s Nutcracker season is both an exciting and bittersweet time for Atlanta Ballet. It marks the 20th anniversary of artistic director John McFall’s version of the beloved holiday classic as well as his final Nutcracker with the company. After leading Atlanta Ballet since 1994, he will retire at the end of the 2015-2016 season.
Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker, which runs from December 11-27, will be performed at the historic Fox Theatre and accompanied by the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra led by principal guest conductor Gary Sheldon. The Georgia Youth Choir will sing during Act I’s Snow Scene
Atlanta Ballet’s Alessa Rogers, now in her ninth year performing as Marya (the production’s Clara/Marie equivalent) began portraying the part as a student. A couple of years later, McFall decided to change Marya into a role for a company dancer. “I think when he choreographed the updated Marya, he definitely considered his own feisty young daughters,” says Rogers, “He also took a lot of input from company dancers who were performing the role. We all bounced ideas off of one another. Atlanta Ballet has a very open and collaborative environment so we really molded the role together. But each Marya retains the right to tweak things and interpret the part in the way that makes the most sense to her.”
In McFall’s Nutcracker, Marya plays a more active role up than she does in other interpretations. “She has a lot more to do than stand around and open presents,” explains Rogers, “In the first act she has a bit of a flirtation with Drosselmeyer’s nephew. At the end of the battle scene, she takes the initiative to defeat the Rat King using a sword she steals from a rat.”
In that climatic scene, the Rat King’s costume increases his height to a towering eight feet and the Nutcracker wears a two-pound mask as he combats against him. “Dancing with the giant sword isn’t easy with a lot of people on stage,” says Miguel Montoya, who is debuting as the title character this year, “But those moments are still fun parts that make the scene more interesting and the role more challenging in a good way.”
Also making a role debut this year is Yoomi Kim, who will be dancing the Sugar Plum Fairy. “This has been my dream role since I was a little kid,” she says, “I used to watch The Nutcracker with my parents during the Christmas season and I was fascinated by the magical Sugar Plum’s kingdom. Ever since I started dancing the role, my love for Sugar Plum has grown deeper.”
In Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker, the Sugar Plum Fairy dons an unconventional burgundy tutu and shares her iconic solo with Marya. “Sugar Plum is like a role model to Marya and that is illustrated through the choreography,” says Kim, “Each movement of the variation is mirrored by Marya, which makes for a very beautiful and special moment on stage between the two characters.”
The choreography for the variation of the Prince, the Sugar Plum Fairy’s dance partner, also has a unique twist in Atlanta Ballet’s version. “McFall grants us permission to make our own variation,” says Jacob Bush, who has been dancing the role of the Prince for six years, “You can challenge yourself. It’s fun!”
As with any production that’s presented annually, The Nutcracker offers its performers new challenges and opportunities for growth. How do dancers build upon roles they’ve revisited for many Nutcracker seasons? Bush focuses on enhancing movement quality and artistry. “I have been dancing with the same Sugar Plum Fairy, Tara Lee, for a while now,” he says, “Each year, we talk a lot about how we can finesse the movement so we are as calm as possible. I think that gives it the regal look we both want the characters to have.” For Rogers, it’s about dramatic content and recreating seasonal enchantment. “The challenge of doing any role for nearly a decade is keeping the interactions spontaneous,” she says, “Especially because Marya is a young girl, I have to remember the feeling of Christmas morning when I was a child–that effervescence, that joy and exuberance and sparkle. But Marya is such a joy-filled character and performing for those people in the audience who have never seen a ballet before–that is a magic that keeps me motivated.”
Tickets start at $25.00. Purchase here.
(Peck, front right, in his own work Rōdē,ō: Four Dance Episodes)
“There’s this Diaghilev quote that I always go back to. It’s very simple. He said, “I have big plans.” Maybe I’m being overly optimistic. But that’s how I feel. ” – Justin Peck
At age 13, Justin Peck was cast as in extra in American Ballet Theatre’s touring production of Giselle. Witnessing the athleticism of ABT’s male dancers Herman Cornejo, Marcelo Gomes, and Ethan Stiefel inspired him to begin ballet training. Previously, he had only taken classes in tap and musical theater. He found ballet challenging, particularly extension and turnout. Nonetheless, within just two years, he proved proficient enough to be accepted into the School of American Ballet. He became an apprentice with New York City Ballet in 2006, a corps member in 2007, and a soloist in 2013.
Peck’s career took a unique turn when he decided to take a dance criticism course at Columbia University. There, his professor Mindy Anloff told him he had a good mind for choreography and encouraged him to give it try. Peck’s first work was a pas de deux for the student-run company Columbia Ballet Collaborative. From there he went on to New York City Ballet’s affiliated program The New York Choreographic Institute. His creations caught the eye of NYCB’s artistic director Peter Martins who invited him to choreograph for the company.
In 2014, after choreographing for New York City Ballet for only two years, Peck was named New York City Ballet’s Resident Choreographer. He was just 26 at the time. New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay has written that Peck is “the third important choreographer to have emerged in classical ballet this century, following Christopher Wheeldon and [Alexei] Ratmansky.”
In Peck’s choreographic process, music and collaboration have priority. He told the Washington Post,”My philosophy on choreography is that the making of a ballet is a team effort, and we’re in this together. It’s not me hammering on them. It’s more about how we can elevate this piece collectively to something great.”
- Peck’s role in ABT’s Giselle at age 13 was a dog handler in Act I
- His guilty food pleasure is Australian licorice
- He admits the main reason he wanted to attend SAB was to live in New York City; he didn’t actually know much about Balanchine when he applied.
Follow Peck On:
His website: http://www.justin-peck.com/
Justin Peck and Janie Taylor
Justin Peck and Taylor Stanley on Peck’s ‘Rōdē,ō: Four Dance Episodes
Justin Peck & Sufjan Stevens – Excerpts and discussion of Peck’s “Year of the Rabbit”
Miami City Ballet: Justin Peck & Shepard Fairey – Excerpts and discussion of Peck’s “Year of the Rabbit”