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.
Returning Ballet Austin II dancer, Sarah Hicks, performing in Quiet Imprint. Photo by Tony Spielberg.
Five new dancers are leaping into Ballet Austin II this fall! Sara Hays, Kody Jauron, Nicole Voris, Mandy Wenk and Benjamin Wetzel will all be a part of the apprenticeship program for the 2011/12 Season. They will be joining the ranks of Ballet Austin II veteran members Sarah Britton (Hicks), Whitley Saffron and Daniella Zlatarev who are all returning for their second season. To learn more about the second company, read their bios here.
These dancers have a lot to look forward to this season, and so does their audience. They will first be taking their talents on tour as they travel to Orange County, California to debut Quiet Imprint, a work by New America Talent/Dance winner (2006) Thang Dao. This production is critically acclaimed, earning nominations for Best Ensemble and Best Choreographer from the Austin Critic’s Table. The performances of Quiet Imprint will be held at the Rose Center Theater in Westminster, California on October 8-9. The dancers will then be back in Austin to perform Peter and the Wolf. This whimsical spin on the classic Russian fairytale, which includes participation from the children in the audience, takes place October 29-30, and November 5-6 at Ballet Austin’s Austin-Ventures Studio Theater.
Ballet Austin II dancers are hard at work already preparing for both of these productions. And, if it is any indication of what is to come, this season is sure to be a great one for all of the new apprentices!
That’s right everyone, National Dance Day is THIS Saturday – and we want to see you! Come support Ballet Austin’s scholarship program with $5 classes, while helping us celebrate National Dance Day, a nation-wide celebration organized by everyone’s favorite guilty pleasure… So You Think You Can Dance.
Here at Ballet Austin headquarters, we’ll be offering all of our regularly scheduled classes in addition to three classes that will focus solely on teaching the routines created by SYTYCD celebrity choreographers Mary Murphy, Robin Antin and NappyTabs.
More details on the classes and choreography videos below – you know, just in case you want to brush up on your moves before the big day.
Ballet Austin’s Featured “National Dance Day” Classes:
Beginning at the age of 5, Kathryn Waggoner has an extensive background in dance. She was captain of her high school dance team and continued her dance and musical theater education at Baylor University. With 16 years of dance experience behind her, she has had the opportunity to train at the finest dance studios under some of the best dancers and choreographers in the business including: Wade Robson, Tyce Diorio, Shane Sparks, Mia Michaels, Brian Friedman, Gil Duldualo, Cris Judd, Laurieann Gibson, and Dave Scott. In the summer of 2009, Kathryn was chosen to be an intern at the Pulse On Tour dance convention in Los Angeles, and additionally had the opportunity to participate in a summer intensive dance program at the legendary Millennium Dance Complex. Kathryn is excited to be a part of Ballet Austin’s Butler Community School this season.
Boo Ruiz has more than 20 years of dance training in a variety of mediums. She was in the pre-professional program at Ballet Austin from 1996-1999 where she was fortunate enough to study under Mr. Stephen Mills. She has trained in jazz, hip-hop, tap, lyrical, ballroom, and contemporary dance all over the country in studios such as The EDGE PAC (West Hollywood, CA), The PAC Annex (Van Nuys, CA), Broadway Dance Center (NYC, NY), and Steps (NYC,NY). Boo was a competitive dancer from 1992-2003. In 2003 she was ranked as the number three competitive soloist in the nation (National Dance Finals in Orlando, Florida). Boo continues to dance and audition all over the United States and Canada. Boo began choreographing and teaching at the professional level in 2001.
As a dancer Boo has experienced first hand the benefits of Pilates, not only for rehabilitation purposes, but also for maintenance and fine tuning, and is a Certified Pilates Fitness instructor. She has studied under Pilates Program Director Vlada Sheber since 2000. Her understanding of the human body, the knowledge lent from Vlada, and countless hours on the equipment provide dynamic tools that Boo utilizes to create an independent program for each client. Her focus is on form, proper alignment of the body, and helping her clients trust their bodies so that they achieve their personal goals and reach their fullest potential. “Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential” – Winston Churchill
Aara Krumpe, a Ballet Austin company dancer, reflects on the innovative nature of The Magic Flute, as well as her experience in preparing for it. The production premieres this weekend, May 6-8, at The Long Center.
This weekend will be the world premiere of Stephen Mills’ The Magic Flute. I have worked with Mr. Mills for twelve years now and I think this production is his most complex and elaborate full-length ballet. It has been a very unusual process for the dancers because there are so many elements involved: choreography, music, props, costumes, and of course, the shadow puppets.
In this production I will be dancing the role of Queen of the Night, a strong and powerful woman who is also manipulative and evil. Typically to prepare for a role, I study films and books to develop inspiration for my character. Original ballets, however, are a special treat for the dancers. A simple look or a hand gesture can define a role, and everything is magnified in shadow for this piece, so I restrained myself until Mr. Mills choreographed the ballet in its entirety to decide how to augment his steps with my interpretation of the character.
In rehearsal: Aara Krumpe, left, as the Queen of the Night.
For the past two weeks, the dancers have rehearsed in the morning at the studios then headed over to the warehouse to work with the scenic elements. The shadow puppets are incredible! The simplicity of light creates a magical world of larger-than-life imagery. Our costumes were designed by Susan Branch-Towne to be very elaborate and distinct so the audience can distinguish which character is in shadow. I particularly love my costume! I have an exquisite dress with an amazing cape and a six-inch-high white wig (which I have yet to rehearse in) created by Allison Lowery.
As we head into the theatre this week, we will add a new element of the ballet with each rehearsal, the most challenging of which will be the music. We have been rehearsing with a recording of the opera but we will dance to an instrumental rendition performed by The Austin Symphony. Although I am anxious about the absence of vocals in such a powerful score, I like that Mr. Mills chose to tell the story primarily through dance.
I am very excited to see this ballet come together! I constantly marvel at Stephen Mills’ vision, and this ballet is shaping up to be a masterpiece. I hope you come to see for yourself!
The Magic Flute – World Premiere THIS WEEKEND
8pm | May 6 & 7 3pm | May 8, Mother’s Day The Long Center Austin, Texas
For more information, please visit our page for The Magic Flute.
For tickets, please click here.
Got your attention, didn’t I? In case you are scrolling down to find the answer…wait! Read carefully to discover what is considered to be the best exercise in the world! Everyone is telling you to get moving, get active, get fit! The City of Austin has its Fit City campaign and is becoming an official Let’s Move City in 2011. There are local and national Active Life initiatives. Even here at Ballet Austin, one of our core values is, “We dance…to encourage lifelong health and well-being.” The Butler Community School (BCS) desires people to adopt healthy lifestyles through dance and regular physical activity. But what does all of this mean for you and me?
I know the human body was designed for activity, and by exercising regularly I’ll look and feel better. I also know it is something I have to do for the rest of my life…be active to stay active. My training and experience in the field of aging remind me that what I don’t use, I lose. Muscular endurance, cardio-respiratory strength, flexibility, balance, and overall health, all increase if I move now. I stay strong because I stay active. I know all that! But if the average lifespan of a female is 80 years, that’s a long time to stick with something just to stick with something. It takes a convincing exercise program for me to keep doing it for 80 years! What will it take for you? What is the best exercise in the world for you? The answer…beactive your way! It’s your choice. Whatever it looks like for you!
The philosophy is that IF you find an activity that keeps you moving, that you enjoy, you will maintain a higher level of involvement for a longer period of time. So what is the best exercise in the world for you? Whatever you enjoy and will keep doing! Walking the dog, playing golf, raking leaves, running the trail, riding a bike, Pilates, even dancing! It’s anything that will get you moving and keep you moving! Choose an activity that’s easy to fit into your life. If it’s easy you’ll do it. If it’s fun, social, refreshing…you will do it! Wherever you are…it is never too late to start. There is not an age you reach when you are done! What’s the best exercise for you? Your way…guaranteed!
Four our second installment in the La Sylphide video blog series, we sat down with Artistic Director Stephen Mills and Company Dancer Paul Michael Bloodgood, who will dance the principal role of James, to discuss the challenging and beautiful characteristics of the Bournonville style of choreography.
For Tickets and more information about La Sylphide, click here.
We’re right in the heart of our run of The Nutcracker, and the sugarplums have danced out of our heads and onto the stage. While it might not be snowing outside, it will be snowing in The Long Center through December 23.
View the clip above from KXAN, featuring Executive Director Cookie Ruiz and the Austin’s Mother Ginger Contest winner, Jeanne Goka, Principal of the Ann Richards School. And below, check out a smattering of some of the other press we’ve received so far around our 48th annual production of The Nutcracker:
There are so many elements about The Nutcracker that simply take peoples breaths away. All sit marveled by the dancing, some swoon over the set and then there are many who, like myself, gawk at the elegant and magnificent display of costumes. With a new one making its way on stage every couple of minutes throughout the show, each with such beautiful detail, I began to wonder… how do you undertake costuming a production like The Nutcracker?
Since beginning my internship here at Ballet Austin in August, I had yet to visit the wardrobe shop. And wanting to inundate myself with all things costumes, I decided to go straight to the sources: Ballet Austin’s Wardrobe Master Alexey Korygin and his assistant Emily Cavasar. As I made my way to the costume world, I half expected to stumble upon a room covered in fabric and thread, hear sewing machines flying and see two people stitching on sequins at a mile a minute. What I discovered was an unbelievably neat work space complete with two of the nicest and most welcoming individuals!
What I learned from this talented two-some was quite interesting. With a total of 176 company-owned costumes, the biggest challenge deals with maintenance and cleaning. Now, the end-of-production dry cleaning is relatively simple: send all 176 costumes off, they return a week later and are tucked safely away until the following season. The difficulty is keeping the intricate costumes clean between performances, especially the stark-white Snow Queen and King outfits, and removing stage make-up takes a lot more than a Tide To-Go Pen.
Of course I had to ask, how many brand new costumes make their debut each season? The answer: one, maybe two… seriously? Alexey explained that new ones are made only when the present ones wear completely out, and with the current set about to celebrate its 15th Nutcracker with Ballet Austin, these costumes are obviously build to last and have an ability to stay beautiful!
Alexey and Emily went on to describe where the real work lies – refurbishing, rebuilding, and fixing all 176 costumes. It’s a meticulous process that begins over the summer; the team spends five to six weeks figuring out how much maintenance each costume will require and the actual fixing begins then as well. About a month and a half before the December opening night, alterations and individual fittings commence and those keep the staff plenty busy!
After gaining this unique insight into the world of Nutcracker costumes, I can hardly wait to watch as they grace the stage with their presence and stun audiences with their beauty.
We proudly announced earlier this week that our Season Opener production of Carmina Burana and Kai was performed to three completely sold-out houses, making it the most successful and well-attended opener in Company history. Thank you to everyone that joined us!
We also received some very complimentary press regarding the Season Opener. Here’s a smattering of a few of the articles:
“Initial darkness makes the subsequent choreography – exuberant, passionate and throbbing with life – all the more engaging, and accompanied by the Austin Symphony Orchestra and the Conspirare choir, the experience is wholly impressive.” Austinist read more…
“On a purely personal note, I couldn’t help choking up a few times as the three companies paraded their confident wares. Having followed these artists for decades, I could measure the distance they had traveled since the 1980s. No one is claiming perfection, but the standards are infinitely higher these days.” Michael Barnes, Social Columnist, Austin American-Statesman read more…
“Particularly awe-inspiring in Carmina Burana is the combination of three unique artistic mediums.” The Daily Texan read more…