Author Archives: Ballet Austin

About Ballet Austin

Get a glimpse of Ballet Austin behind the scenes and read more about our upcoming performances, as well as get an inside look into the lives of company dancers and Artistic Director and Choreographer Stephen Mills.

Swan Lake: Then and Now

We’re all familiar with some version of Swan Lake. But there is so much more to this timeless ballet than the inner angst portrayed in the most recent pop-culture rendition, Black Swan. The Swan Lake that we all know and love, choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, initially had a rough start. Let’s take a look at where it began how we arrived to the acclaimed ballet of today.

The World Premiere in 1877

The first premiere of Swan Lake was actually choreographed by Julius Reisinger, ballet master at the Ballet of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre (now the Bolshoi Ballet.) “When the premiere of Swan Lake took place, it was a disappointment to everybody, especially its composer [Tchaikovsky].” famed choreographer George Balanchine comments. “The choreographer was a hack ballet master who possessed neither the talent nor the taste to choreograph a work to the music of a major composer.”

Anna Sobeshchanskaya

Anna Sobeshchanskaya

The Russian ballerina intended for the role of Odette, Anna Sobeshchanskaya, was replaced by Pauline Karpakova. “Karpakova was a run-of-the-mill dancer past her bloom, who insisted upon interpolating sure-fire ‘numbers’ from other ballets in her repertoire to replace some of Tchaikovsky’s music which she could not appreciate, understand or even count,” Balanchine continues.

It wasn’t until 18 years later when the famed choreography of today was pieced together.

The 1895 World Premiere

In November 1894 Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov agreed to work together to revive Swan Lake. Petipa choreographed the acts that took place in the castle and castle garden, and Ivanov choreographed the lakeside acts, including the corps de ballet of swans.

Ivanov was the first to base his choreography on the structure and emotional content of the music, rather than displaying how technically brilliant his lead dancers were. Ivanov also was one of the first to use the corps de ballet to its fullest potential and to help tell the story of the ballet. He excelled in making patterns and shapes on the stage with the corps as shown in the lakeside acts in Swan Lake, as well as the snowflakes’ dance in The Nutcracker.

The premiere of this new work took place at the Mariinksy Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia on January 17, 1895. Unlike the Moscow premiere in 1877, it was a huge success.

Pierina Legnani

Pierina Legnani

The occasion was also a testimonial gala for Pierina Legnani, who danced the double role of Odette/Odile and could not restrain herself from injecting her 32 fouettes from Cinderella, this time as the coda of her black swan pas de deux in the ballroom scene.

Swan Lake of Today

Since then, over 155 versions of Swan Lake have been performed by at least 115 companies based in 25 countries. Few other ballets from the 19th-century have had such lasting and widespread popularity.

The Petipa-Ivanov production has formed the basis of most subsequent stagings around the world. Most current versions of Swan Lake retain the core of what is considered the original Petipa-Ivanov choreography, though with some new choreography added.

Ballet Austin prepares to perform the famed ballet once again Mother’s Day Weekend, with the Austin Symphony Orchestra with live accompaniment. Join them as they close the 2014/15 season. Now is the time to check off that box on your “ballet bucket-list.”

Reference: Balanchine, George, and Francis Mason. 101 Stories of the Great Ballets. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1989. Print.

 

Romeo & Juliet by the Numbers

Romeo & Juliet marks the end of the 2011/12 season, and with elaborate sets and costumes it is certainly a grand production. Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at some of the most interesting production stats. 

Costume and Set:

80 costumes and 25 head pieces are worn throughout the production, including period style handcrafted leather boots which cost around $450.

4 wardrobe crew members and special changing booths constructed backstage allow for the dancers’ quick costume changes.

So what is the production budget for all the costumes? Approximately $100,000 when Ballet Austin first acquired them. Replacement costs in today’s prices would range from $200,000 to $250,000.

Lady Capulet’s ballroom gown, worn by Associate Artistic Director Michelle Martin, weighs 30 pounds.

The costumes were made from fabrics like silk chiffon, linen, wool and cotton to give them the realistic look and feel of the clothing worn during the Italian Renaissance.

Ironically, the first person to wear (and sweat in) the Romeo costume was not Romeo himself, but current Company Manager Eugene Alvarez!

Dancers will go through roughly 80 pairs of pointe shoes during Romeo & Juliet rehearsals and performances.

The tomb scene once used live candles. Due to fire codes this is no longer allowed, and now 360 lighting instruments illuminate the stage throughout the production.

3 truss spot operators are suspended over the stage during the performances. Truss spots are follow spotlights manned by operators on a rig above the stage.

Dancer:

Romeo & Juliet has 45 characters, which means some of the dancers play multiple roles and require many costume changes.

Romeo (Paul Michael Bloodgood) is actually married to Juliet’s friend (Anne Marie Melendez).

In real life, Friar Lawrence is a Pilates instructor, Lord Capulet is a theater dance instructor, and Benvolio is a Harvard grad.

Romeo from the other cast (Frank Shott) is a massage therapist when he’s not dueling, and helped choreograph the fencing scene.

2006 was the last time Ballet Austin performed Romeo & Juliet. Prior to that, the world premiere of Stephen Mills‘ version of the ballet was in 2001.

From the dancers to the stage crew, everyone’s hard work goes into making the production a success. See the magic come to life this Mother’s Day Weekend, May 11-13, at the Long Center.

Reserve your seats today.

The Truth About Cats & Dogs

From cats that play dead to dogs that wear scarves, our dancers’ pets are almost as diverse as the Company members themselves:

Orlando Julius Canova
Pet:
Lia // Dog
Age:
8 years old
Lia acts about as far from 8 years old as she can get. Not only does she bound around the Ballet Austin offices with the energy of a puppy, she loves to swim and roll around in the water. When Orlando moved from Chicago to Texas with Lia, it was too hot for her to fly in the pet section of the airplane. So, instead, Orlando and his mom took a 2-day road trip down to Texas with Lia in tow. In the words of his mom, “This dog better live forever.”

Ashley Lynn Gilfix
Pets:
Samson // Dog and Desmond (Desi) // Cat
Age:
Samson is 4 years old; Desi is 8 years old
Orlando isn’t the only one who brings his dog to work: Ashley’s dog Samson is also a frequent visitor – getting treats from the front desk before running back to the locker room where he is crated during rehearsals. Ashley’s cat, Desmond, is also a performer – this big kitty loves to “sing” and is definitely the boss of the two pets.

Anne Marie Melendez & Paul Michael Bloodgood
Pet:
Cordelia (officially “Cordelia Chase Bloodgood”) // Cat
Age:
8 years old
Adopted just before Paul and Anne got married, Cordelia is more like a dog than a cat. In addition to running to the door when Paul and Anne come home, she also has a bag of tricks that includes sit/stay, shake and play dead when Paul shouts, “BANG!”\

Chelsea Renner
Pet:
Bowser // Dog
Age:
Almost 2 years old
Bowser, a huge snuggle bunny with an extreme overbite, is friends with a few of the other dancers’ dogs – particularly Samson and Stella (see the end of this post). Happy and energetic, Bowser loves to play fetch outside, but hates giving back the ball. According to Chelsea, he is definitely a mama’s boy – even if his dad disagrees!

Christopher Swaim
Pet:
Chibi // Dog
Age:
2 years old
For such a tall dancer, Chris has a very small dog. Fittingly-named, “Chibi” means “little person” in Japanese. Chris got Chibi from a local breeder, despite originally setting out to get a different dog. When Chris arrived at the breeder, however, it was Chibi who was the most interested and playful of all the puppies. Later that night, after Chris took Chibi – then only the size of an iPhone – home to his new house, she curled up on his foot and promptly passed out. Love at first cuddle.

Beth Terwilleger
Pets:
Tucker // Dog & Dudley and Scoot // cats
Age:
Tucker is almost 8 years old; Dudley and Scoot are 1.5 years old
Beth rescued Tucker almost 7 years ago during a road trip to California, and later adopted her two cats (Dudley and Scoot) to help keep Tucker company when she’s at work. Tucker is full of energy and loves to go along for bike rides with Beth in the mornings. People often mistake him for a puppy because he’s so wiggly and affectionate. Dudley and Scoot are convinced they’re dogs, too, and according to Beth they love to follow along on walks around Town Lake.

Kirby Wallis
Pet:
Stella // Dog
Age:
1.5 years old
Kirby’s dog Stella, a brindle boxer, is filled with energy and constantly has love to give (usually with slobbery kisses). A social butterfly, Stella loves trips to the off-leash dog park in Kirby and her husband’s neighborhood, as well as weekend trips to Red Bud Isle, Zilker and Turkey Creek.

Don’t miss these dancers – and the rest of our company – in our upcoming production of Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project.

Stephen Mills on Finding Inspiration

When we began talking internally about Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project, Artistic Director Stephen Mills walked us through the inception of the ballet. Read below to see how he found inspiration for his work – or in this case, how it found him.
In the life of an artist one is always searching. The search for a narrative, music, new movement language, or simply a kernel of an idea is constant and ongoing. An artist has to remain open to possibilities. Ideas rarely come while sitting behind a desk or computer. Very often the best work comes from years of collecting seemingly disparate ideas. I keep files of tear sheets from magazines of images that are interesting or provocative. Art and fashion magazines as well as newspapers contain great source material. I store away unusual colors I find from various sources. Even paint chips can become part of my hoarding. I find music I like and put it back until I find a project it might be right for. I even collect titles for dances that might not be created for years, if ever. I hold all this information in files, on my computer or iPhone, and in my mind simultaneously. For me, the idea for a dance might happen over the course of years because all the visual and aural information I’ve gathered needs one unifying, ‘ah ha’ moment to bring it together. At that point it becomes like a puzzle where I can see all the pieces, and I go about assembling them. Why it happens like that, I don’t understand.

In my full-length ballet Hamlet, the dance is divided into two acts. Act II is set in a completely white environment with two very large ski slope like structures upstage. These ‘scoops’ serve a couple of purposes: Besides being aesthetically beautiful, the structures allow for the white of the floor to carry up onto the back wall, which visually elongates the floor. Secondly, they become the ground in which the character Ophelia is buried after her death. The idea for this device came to me at the end of a flight when I noticed structures such as this at the end of the runway. I believe that in an emergency they prevent the planes from over-shooting the runway. Originally designed as safety devices, they now find themselves in a ballet. This image, photos of red flowers and plexiglass tubes came together to create that ‘ah ha’ moment; the aesthetic of the work became inevitable.

And though artists are always in search of new projects, sometimes the project seeks out the artist. Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project is an example of a work in search of an artist. In the creation of this piece I used images from my files – all of which were unrelated to the Holocaust. In developing this dance I used all the devices I’ve mentioned but brought one more element to my process of brainstorming: Memory. I spent an entire year researching the historical narrative of the Holocaust, and brought from Europe many photographs and books. Studying the ways in which the Holocaust has been represented in the past was very informative, and the ways in which loss and absence has been illuminated became important.

I have had the good fortune to spend time with many Holocaust survivors. Hearing firsthand accounts of the pain and loss people endured during this catastrophic event has left an indelible mark on my psyche. I am forever changed by this knowledge, as well as by the generosity of those who shared this intimate information. But there is no art – no enduring art – without inspiration. For me, the inspiration for this work came from Naomi Warren. A survivor of three of the most notorious death camps in history, Naomi lost nearly her entire family in the Holocaust. Naomi is inspiring because of her tenacious and resilient nature, and her positive perspective in the face of unimaginably negative knowledge is awesome. Creating this work was difficult, emotionally challenging, eye-opening and fulfilling. I have had the most profound experience of my dance making career because the inspiration for creating it came from a very spiritually connected place. I believe Naomi served the role of medium between that place and me, and obviously it will be nearly impossible to access that place again. I am no more certain of where inspiration comes from than before this project, but I now know to expect the unexpected and appreciate the opportunities when they arise.

Hansel and Gretel – Dancer Preview #2

Ballet Austin II dancer Sarah Hicks lets us into the world of  creative “workshopping”.

As a young dancer, you don’t often have the privilege to be choreographed. The opportunity to have a completely new work of art created for you is perhaps one of the most exciting parts of being a dancer. The fact that I have experienced this with Nelly van Bommel’s Hansel and Gretel is absolutely thrilling, to say the least.

Every choreographer works and creates movement differently. In Nelly’s case, we went through an exhilarating, entertaining and, at times, completely hysterical process we called “workshopping.” In these creative brainstorm sessions Nelly would give us a simple idea, such as pretending to run through a room full of shattered glass, and have us show her our physical interpretation. From there, she would take the movement we gave her and morph it into something quintessentially “Nelly.”

After much manipulation and innovation on Nelly’s part, we ended up with movement that could easily be described as playful, energetic and even mischievous. Her choreography is largely based on a tribal-like community feeling in which moving as a group and being comfortable with your fellow dancers is crucial. She challenged us to create games, to be shamelessly verbal while dancing, and to spend a lot of time rolling, stomping, scooting and crawling on the floor (activities we “bun-heads” generally find mortifying!).  Despite all this, the challenges paid off and we ended up with a piece that is funny, charming and truly unique.

Another notable quality of Nelly’s work is her use of props. As an audience member, you will quickly find yourself thrust into a world of spinning tables, four wheel drive shopping carts, and velcro cupcakes.  Nelly created a full sensory experience in her fabulously comical interpretation of a fairy tale classic.

Hansel and Gretel is entertainment for the whole family, sure to please audience members of all ages. Don’t miss it!

Hansel and Gretel opens Feb 25. Tickets available here.

Hansel and Gretel – Artistic Preview

Associate Artistic Director, Michelle Martin, discusses how one choreographer’s personality, background and constant curiosity combine to make Hansel and Gretel a ballet you won’t forget.

Nelly van Bommel’s Hansel and Gretel, is one of those rare examples of a work that appeals across generations, and its success is as much a reflection of her energy and sense of humor as it is of her choreographic talent. Nelly’s curiosity provides her with a limitless pool of inspiration, and she draws on her background in street theater, and modern dance technique to express her discoveries.

I came to know Nelly through Ballet Austin’s biennial choreographic competition, New American Talent/Dance. She was one of the three finalists in 2010 and I spent two weeks in the studio with her as she created a new work, Fanfarneta, for our main company.  As she worked, I was fascinated by her interest in human interaction and her eye for nuance, particularly within interpersonal  encounters. I thought her highly theatrical aesthetic would be a wonderful match for a narrative work, and her collaborative approach would provide a rich experience for the dancers in Ballet Austin II. I was thrilled when she accepted our invitation to create Hansel and Gretel.

Nelly’s work on Hansel and Gretel began with a series of facilitated games for the dancers. Some were based on movement and others involved vocalization. Through this process she began to know the dancers as individuals, in terms of both physicality and personality; and from this foundation, she matched each dancer with her ideas of the characters from Hansel and Gretel.  Using the movement from her games, she crafted the dance portions of the piece first. Set to a series of traditional German folk songs, they’re high energy and playful, establishing her whimsical perspective on the story and its characters. The narrative scenes, particularly with the Witch, Hansel and Gretel, and their parents, were made in a very collaborative way – the dancers contributed to the development of the characters and the progression of the story. Nelly’s unique perspective is interspersed throughout the ballet with quirky interjections of props that are brilliantly out of context and absolutely hilarious – a wildly retro vacuum cleaner, baskets of apples and mountains of marshmallows .

Hansel and Gretel – Dancer Preview #1

Kody Jauron, “Hansel”, lets us in on why Hansel and Gretel isn’t your mother’s fairy tale.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the creation of Hansel and Gretel! Working with choreographer Nelly van Bommel has been an enjoyable and memorable experience. Nelly is whimsical, playful, theatrical, and innovative. Her sprightly personality is reflected in the choreography of this production, the theatricality she built into each individual character, and the fantasy world that she invented.

This is not your mother’s Hansel and Gretel. For starters, the story takes place in the 1950s.  Hansel and Gretel are not expelled from their house because their parents cannot afford to feed them; instead, the two run away from home after accidentally breaking their mother’s most prized possession; her vacuum. Children can also look forward to a newcomer to the story, the forest fairy!

Perfect for the entire family, Hansel and Gretel has something for everyone. Kids will enjoy the fun-loving characters and seeing a familiar fairy tale translated on stage. Adults will appreciate the cutting edge choreography and unique movement quality.

This is definitely a Hansel and Gretel you won’t forget.

Get tickets to Hansel and Gretel here.

NAT/D: Dancer Preview #3

For our third dancer preview, we asked Orlando Julius Canova to discuss what it’s like to perform in an all-male piece.

The rumor the day Bradley Shelver arrived to cast the dancers was that Bradley was going to do a ballet only using men. Since the inception of New American Talent/Dance, no choreographer has chosen to only use men. The rumors were finally put to rest when he excused all the ladies and auditioned the ten men of Ballet Austin. In the audition that ensued we were asked to yell, tumble, and push our bodies to their physical limit. I knew that when Bradley returned to choreograph on his cast of men, it would mean one thing… PAIN.

The first day Bradley returned to choreograph, he began like a racehorse out of the starting gate. His stride was swift, and his steps were confident. From day one, Bradley was incredibly organized and sure of what he wanted. Some choreographers begin to piece work together after getting to know their dancers, but Bradley had no time for that – his brain was bursting at the seams with the ballet that danced in his mind. Bradley began to set his work immediately, and within the first day, four minutes and twenty two seconds of the ballet were choreographed.

Bradley’s entire residency continued in this pace. Bradley had a schedule and no matter how grueling and difficult, he stuck to it. Every day, I went home battered and bruised both mentally and physically. After a week of floor burn, swollen knees, and bruised thighs the ballet was finished. Let me reiterate: Bradley Shelver finished his ballet in only a WEEK.

Though done in only a week,   with six sections, two solos, and even a pas de deux, the ballet does not lack for anything. I believe that the bonds of camaraderie between the men of Ballet Austin have grown stronger. The work that took place in AustinVentures StudioTheater was focused and dedicated, and because of this Bradley’s piece is filled with anxiety, tension, beauty, athleticism, grace, and strength. This piece makes me proud to be a man of Ballet Austin.

Today is the last day of Bradley Shelver’s residency. As I write this blog I am well aware of the crick in my neck, the scabs on my feet, and the pain in my muscles. I am also well aware of the satisfaction that all these ailments give me. Bradley pushed and coached the men of Ballet Austin to the brink of insanity. When we had nothing left to give, he wanted more. When the curtain goes up on Feb, the men of Ballet Austin will give the audience more than they ever knew they could.

Tickets on sale now for New American Talent/Dance.