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Choreographing Symphony of Clouds

Friday, January 28th, 2011

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I adored performing in Ballet Austin’s Community Education programs when I was a Professional Division Trainee during 2006-2008. If you’ve never swung upside-down as a kangaroo in front of cheering kids, you don’t know what you’re missing. It was always a delight to see kids inspired and engaged by Build-A-Ballet programs featuring Stephen Mills’ Carnival of the Animals, to say nothing of the infectious glee shared by Family Dance Workshop participants and The Nutcracker School Show audiences. So when I was asked by Michelle Martin (Ballet Austin’s Associate Artistic Director) to be the choreographer for a new educational program entitled Symphony of Clouds, I was thrilled… but frankly, my knees knocked together with surprising speed and painful forcefulness. I knew from personal experience how Ballet Austin’s educational programs are both substantive and entertaining, and how they have the capacity to spark creativity and broaden horizons… No pressure, right?

Symphony of Clouds is the latest offering in Ballet Austin’s Arts Blitz program. Every year, the Arts Blitz team (Ballet Austin, Pollyanna Theatre Company, and the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum) bring innovative dance-theatre productions to hundreds of area students, and provide classroom educators with associated curricula and Continuing Professional Education credits.

Symphony of Clouds brings the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to life with spoken-word dialogue, dance, and, of course, the masterful music of Mozart. The stars are actors from Pollyanna Theatre Company and dancers from Ballet Austin’s Professional Division Trainee program (my alma mater!). Luckily for me, the production blossomed into being with the direction of Pollyanna Theatre Company’s ever-enthusiastic Judy Matetzschk-Campbell, and with the rehearsal direction of Ballet Austin’s talented and tireless Jaime Lynn Witts.

On January 27, 2011, approximately 300 students at Pleasant Hill Elementary cheered a young “Wolfie” Mozart on as he wowed exuberant European Empresses, encountered a squawking chicken, laughed at the antics of a dancing juggler and his comically clumsy sidekicks, marveled at mustachioed musical maestros, and jiggled and jived with merrily mischievous piano keys… in short, they experienced the production Symphony of Clouds. Hooray!

Not a student or educator in an elementary school? Not to worry! Public shows are offered at Ballet Austin’s AustinVentures StudioTheatre on Feb 5 – 6, 2011 at 2:30pm and 4:00pm, for only $12 per ticket. The production is one hour long. Hope to see you there!

For tickets and more information click here.

Famous Partnership: Suzanne Farrell and George Balanchine

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Image via our friends at thewinger.com

By Marlys Norman, Ballet Austin Trainee

In such a passionate and difficult art form like ballet, forming strong bonds with the people you dance with is almost inevitable. Just like the friends you have made since starting ballet, professional dancers do the same thing with their fellow company members and dancing partners. The connection between Suzanne Farrell and George Balanchine began as any other partnership may have, but quickly developed into something bigger; something that we now consider one of the ‘great’ partnerships in dance history.

Suzanne Farrell was born in 1945 and moved to New York City when she was 15 to pursue a career in ballet. She was given a full scholarship to the School of American Ballet (George Balanchine’s ballet academy that feeds directly into his adjoining company, the New York City Ballet, or NYCB). George Balanchine himself handpicked Suzanne Farrell for NYCB when she was only 16, after one year at SAB. Her unique combination of musical, physical, and dramatic qualities is said to be what caught his eye, and of course her balletic frame and ethereal beauty. All of these characteristics inspired something in Balanchine’s choreographic imagination.

When using Suzanne in choreography, Balanchine was blown away by what she could do with her body and with ballet. She was not limited by classical ballet technique, but instead, used her strength and knowledge to interpret Balanchine’s ideas into physical form. He invented countless ballets for Suzanne that introduced completely new movements never before seen in the world of ballet. Suzanne was said to be his muse, inspiring him to push the limits of classical technique. Some of these works include Diamonds, Mozartiana, Apollo, and her most famous role of ‘Kitri’ in Balanchine’s version of Don Quixote.

After a long and successful career with NYCB, Farrell left the company, leaving her great partnership with Balanchine behind. She went on to dance for another nearly two decades while Balanchine lived out the rest of his days in New York City. After his death, she was made a repititeur for the George Balanchine Trust, an organization that nominates heirs to his ballets in order to ensure they are maintained the way Balanchine intended.

In this way, the great partnership of Suzanne Farrell and George Balanchine still lives on through his ballets, the way it all began.

February Quiz: Who Am I?

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010


JANUARY QUIZ EXTENDED FOR AN ADDITIONAL MONTH!

Grab this chance to win a pair of autographed technique/pointe shoes from the Ballet Austin dancer featured in the quiz. This quiz’s deadline has been extended to March 10th, but don’t wait – post your answer without delay… today!

The Quiz:

Originally from Seattle, Washington, I have performed with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Ballet Pacifica, Redlands Festival Ballet, Ballet Austin, and as a guest artist with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet. I have danced principal roles such as Hamlet in Hamlet, Romeo in Romeo & Juliet, Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, Prince Ivan in The Firebird, Prince Charming in Cinderella, and Cavalier in The Nutcracker. I have been awarded the Austin Critics Table Award twice. Who Am I?

Click here and post your answer below! The deadline for submissions is March 10. Be sure to include your first and last name. A winning answer will selected at random from all of the correct answers. The winner will receive an autographed pointe or technique shoe from the dancer featured in the quiz.*

*You must be a current Ballet Austin Academy Student in good standing in order to be eligible to win. The winner will be contacted for further details on attaining the prize. Terms and conditions are subject to change without notice.

ASSEMBLÉ – January Quiz: Who Am I?

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Originally from Seattle, Washington, I have performed with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Ballet Pacifica, Redlands Festival Ballet, Ballet Austin, and as a guest artist with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet. I have danced principal roles such as Hamlet in Hamlet, Romeo in Romeo & Juliet, Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, Prince Ivan in The Firebird, Prince Charming in Cinderella, and Cavalier in The Nutcracker. I have been awarded the Austin Critics Table Award twice. Who Am I?

Click here and post your answer below! The deadline for submissions is Feb. 10. Be sure to include your first and last name. A winning answer will selected at random from all of the correct answers. The winner will receive an autographed pointe or technique shoe from the dancer featured in the quiz.*

*You must be a current Ballet Austin Academy Student in good standing in order to be eligible to win. The winner will be contacted for further details on attaining the prize. Terms and conditions are subject to change without notice.

ASSEMBLÉ – December Quiz Winner

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

The winner of the December Quiz is? (drumroll, please)? Academy Level 4A Student Layne Smith! Layne, congratulations. You correctly identified the subject of last month’s quiz as MICHELLE THOMPSON. You will be contacted to arrange a time when you can claim your prize: Ms. Thompson’s autographed pointe shoes!

Grab the chance to win your own pair of prized ballet shoes by posting a response to this month’s quiz!

ASSEMBLÉ – A Famous Sugar Plum: Darci Kistler

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Image via ballerinagallery.com

By Alexa Jean Capareda and Danielle Savka, Ballet Austin Trainees

As the Sugar Plum Fairy in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, New York City Ballet dancer Darci Kistler captivated audiences with her charming, yet innocent, performing quality and grace. Her sparkling performances gave her the status of the “It” Sugar Plum Fairy.

Born: June 4, 1964
Hometown: Riverside, California

Training:

Darci Kistler received her early training from Irina Kosmovska at Riverside Ballet Arts in southern California. In 1979, she was selected to study at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet.

Most Famous For:

Dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the New York City Ballet’s 1993 film version of The Nutcracker. Her long, slender body, effortless charm, strong technique, and genuine personality made her perfect for the role. She became the successor to Suzanne Farrell, George Balanchine’s muse, and was awarded many roles, including leading roles in Balanchine’s Jewels (“Diamonds”), Agon, Prodigal Son, and Symphony in C. She always danced with confidence, and added depth to many of her signature roles.

Fun Facts:

  1. Darci Kistler joined the New York City Ballet as a member of the corps de ballet in 1980 and became a soloist in 1981. In 1982, at the age of 17, she became the youngest-ever principal dancer.
  2. Before she began studying ballet, Kistler enjoyed many sports, including skiing, waterskiing, swimming, tennis, football, and dirt biking.
  3. In 1991 she married dancer, choreographer, and New York City Ballet director Peter Martins. They have one daughter, Talicia, born in 1996.

To learn more about Darci Kistler, explore these resources:

  • Lincoln Kirstein’s Thirty Years New York City Ballet. London: A & C Black, 1979. Print.
    Lincoln Kirstein gives his first-hand account and thoughts on working with Balanchine and famous dancers with the New York City Ballet.
  • Frank Augustyn and Shelly Tanaka. Footnotes – Dancing the World’s Best-Loved Ballets. Brookfield: Millbrook, 2001.
    An in-depth exploration of the roles in famous ballets; The Nutcracker and the Sugar Plum Fairy role are described.
  • George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (1993). Emile Ardilino. New York City Ballet. 1993. New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker on film, with Darci Kistler dancing in her famous role of Sugar Plum Fairy.

ASSEMBLÉ – December Quiz: Who Am I?

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

I trained at San Francisco Ballet for nine years. This year (my seventh year at Ballet Austin!), I am performing a certain lead role in The Nutcracker for the first time. I loved performing the role of the spunky Kitri in Don Quixote, and dancing in works by Stephen Mills (Silence within Silence, Kai, Red Roses, Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project), and Gina Patterson (Free to Fly, Red Line, Liquid Eyes). Who am I?

Click here and post your answer below! The deadline for submissions is Jan. 15. Be sure to include your first and last name. A winning answer will selected at random from all of the correct answers. The winner will receive an autographed pointe or technique shoe from the dancer featured in the quiz.*

*You must be a current Ballet Austin Academy Student in good standing in order to be eligible to win. The winner will be contacted for further details on attaining the prize. Terms and conditions are subject to change without notice.

ASSEMBLÉ – November Quiz Winner

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

The winner of the November Quiz is? (drumroll, please)? Academy Level 6 Student Emily Hardick! Emily, congratulations. You correctly identified the subject of last month?s quiz as AARA KRUMPE. You will be contacted to arrange a time when you can claim your prize: Ms. Krumpe?’s autographed pointe shoes from her performance on the opening night of Stephen Mills? World Premiere, The Firebird!

Grab the chance to win your own pair of prized pointe shoes by posting a response to this month?’s quiz!

The Nutcracker Prep: A Rehearsal Day with Jaime Lynn Witts

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

By Maryls Norman, Ballet Austin Trainee

Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood

Ballet Austin dancers spend two months preparing for The Nutcracker performances. What does a day during The Nutcracker rehearsal season look like for a dancer in Ballet Austin? I interviewed dancer Jamie Lynn Witts to find out.

A normal day for Jaime begins at 9 a.m. with a technique class to warm up her body and prepare her for her day. It is important for her to use this class not only as a warm up, but also to work on steps like pirouettes and jumps that she will use later in choreography. After class, Jaime is called to a private rehearsal for the Snow King and Snow Queen where she and her partner will practice the Snow Pas de Deux. While the Snow Corps girls are running through their part in a separate room, Jaime and her partner have the chance to practice their material without distraction. The rehearsal director is also able to give undivided attention to the couple rather than trying to watch everyone at once.

Next, Jaime heads to a rehearsal for the entrance and finale of Act II in The Nutcracker. It is helpful to break apart a large ballet like The Nutcracker into more manageable pieces to rehearse, rather than running through the entire ballet each rehearsal. This saves time and allows the rehearsal director to work on specific problems without the entire company having to wait for their turn. When it gets closer to the show however, it is useful to run The Nutcracker from start to finish in order to work out transitions between divertissements (short dances in Act II).

To finish her day, Jaime rehearses her second role in The Nutcracker: the Waltz of the Flowers soloist. Just like in the morning, the Flowers Corps girls are separated from her so that she can get the most out of the rehearsal.

When you see the dancers in The Nutcracker performing seemingly effortless movements, remember that it takes hours of hard work to put on the show!

ASSEMBLÉ – Bon-Bons Across the Nation

Monday, November 30th, 2009

By Marlys Norman, Ballet Austin Trainee

So you’re in The Nutcracker this year – congratulations! Now that the initial excitement is over, it’s time to worry about costumes, choreography, and of course always pointing those feet. But where do you fit into the story of The Nutcracker? Well, it depends on your part. If you’ve been cast as a Bon-Bon, I am here to help!

In Ballet Austin’s The Nutcracker, the second act opens with Clara’s journey into a magical land. A beautiful Sugar Plum Fairy greets her and introduces her to a cast of mystical characters who dance and entertain her. The Bon-Bons enter second to last, right before the Waltz of the Flowers and the dance the Sugar Plum Fairy performs with her cavalier, or king. After a series of ethnic dances from Spain, China, and France, the Bon-Bons serve to put a little fun back into the show!

As you may have discovered, Ballet Austin is not the only company to put on a show of The Nutcracker and there are countless versions found across the country. For instance, Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) in Seattle, Washington puts on a world-renowned show that is famous for its elaborate costumes and more modern twists on the story. If you are cast as a Bon-Bon at PNB, your part is called the Commedia and the Toy Theatre. In their story, Clara’s old uncle accompanies Clara to the magical land of the Sugar Plum fairy. During this scene, he opens his long cloak to expose a toy theatre where little dolls are dancing around. Now, when you perform this part, you don’t actually have to dance inside a cloak, but the old uncle will flourish his coat and all of you will seem to magically appear!

Another company whose version of The Nutcracker is world-famous is the New York City Ballet (NYCB). You may have heard of a choreographer and director named George Balanchine. This is his arrangement of the beloved Christmas story. To begin with, if you have been cast in NYCB’s The Nutcracker, congratulations; only about twenty kids from their school are chosen each year to perform with the company! Here, the Bon-Bons are called Pollichinelles, which is a fancy name for clowns. Like The Nutcracker at Ballet Austin, this part is supposed to be funny! The little Pollichinelles, or “Pollys,” as the company calls them, surprise their mother (Mother Ginger) by running out of her big skirt and beginning to dance. Four girls and four boys dance in pairs until Mother Ginger calls them back under her skirt. In Mr. Balanchine’s choreography, however, Mother Ginger has already started to move off-stage while her children are doing emboités to catch up to her. In all, the kids have to do a total of 32 emboités to get back under the skirt, and that’s at the end of the dance!


To learn more about different productions of The Nutcracker, explore these resources:

Ballet Austin’s The Nutcracker Interactive Dance Resource

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s The Nutcracker Video:
Nutcracker,The Motion Picture (VHS 1984).

New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker Video:
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (DVD 1997).

 
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