Tag Archives: Ballet

Meet the Mad Men and Women of Hamlet

By Molly Morrow, HR & Accounting Associate

Famous for the skull, the bloodshed and those six little words “to be or not to be,” Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been revamped and re-imagined by countless artists over the centuries in a hundred different mediums, including dance.

Ballet Austin’s production is a gorgeous modern interpretation that uses the body to soliloquize and prefers the sound of water to the sound of words. We thought we’d give you a little background on the characters of Hamlet to help you translate Shakespeare into ballet this Labor Day weekend.

The Ghost

The Ghost played by Stephen Mills and Hamlet played by Paul Michael Bloodgood (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

The Ghost played by Stephen Mills and Hamlet played by Paul Michael Bloodgood (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

The Ghost sets the story in motion. As soon as the Ghost is alone with Hamlet, he drops a pretty heavy bomb on our leading man: he was murdered by his own brother, Claudius, who is now married to Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude. Logically, the Ghost charges Hamlet with avenging his death.

Fun fact: It is frequently written that Shakespeare himself played the Ghost in the Globe’s productions of the play. Stephen Mills carries on that tradition and will play the Ghost in Ballet Austin’s production.

Hamlet

The poster child for Prozac in the Elizabethan age, the Prince is also a comedian: playful, clever and full of wit. In the text, Hamlet’s first line even contains a pun – “A little more than kin, and less than kind.” Less than kind is right: Hamlet proves Claudius’ guilt by reenacting the murder with a troupe of traveling actors, accidentally kills Ophelia’s father (maybe check behind the curtain next time,) eventually returns home to confess his undying love for the now-conveniently-dead Ophelia and murders Claudius.

In Ballet Austin’s production, Hamlet’s conflicting desires and descent into madness are expressed through three alternate Hamlets that appear to him as visions. Hamlet will be played by company dancers Frank Shott and Paul Michael Bloodgood, and Hamlet II-IV will be played by James Fuller, Oliver Greene-Cramer and Orlando Canova.

Both Hamlet and Ophelia casts in rehearsals. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Both Hamlet and Ophelia casts in rehearsals. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Claudius

Claudius is a man of pure and unspeakable evil. He murders Hamlet’s father, marries Hamlet’s mother, and then, like any good sociopath, convinces everyone that Hamlet himself is to blame for all the dying and suffering. Lucky for us, Shakespeare’s sense of justice and blood-lust is dead on, and Claudius ultimately gets what’s coming to him. Claudius is played by Ballet Austin company dancer Edward Carr.

Gertrude

Gerturde and Hamlet dance by Aara Krumpe and Paul Michael Bloodgood. (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

Gerturde and Hamlet danced by Aara Krumpe and Paul Michael Bloodgood. (Photo credit Tony Spielberg)

The woman who brought Hamlet into this world is of course complex, heartbreaking and infuriating. Once married to Hamlet’s noble father, she chooses with inexplicable and breathtaking speed to marry her dead husband’s brother, who is also her dead husband’s murderer. Her failed attempt to explain herself and her actions to Hamlet inadvertently leads to Polonius’s murder. Gertrude dies, as does most everyone in this play, from being poisoned. She is played in this production by Aara Krumpe and Rebecca Johnson.

Ophelia

Ophelia is a doomed woman if ever there was one. In love with a man who is existentially preoccupied at best, and suicidal at worst, she is driven mad with grief from the news of her father’s death and drowns herself. Ophelia’s drowning is a scene of surprising beauty in Ballet Austin’s production, as Ophelia dances in a track of real water on stage. This fall she is played by Ashley Lynn Sherman and Jaime Lynn Witts.

Polonius

Brian Heil as Polonius and Frank Shott as Hamlet during rehearsals. (Photo credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Brian Heil as Polonius and Frank Shott as Hamlet during Hamlet rehearsals. (Photo credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Polonius is the pompous, long-winded armchair poet of this tragedy (there’s at least one in every Shakespeare play). Ironically, for all his advice on being true to one’s self and having a method to one’s madness, Polonius is a coward: he hides behind a curtain when Hamlet confronts his mother Gertrude about her marriage to Claudius, thus sealing his own fate. Polonius is played by Ballet Austin II dancer Brian Heil.

Laertes

Fencing rehearsal (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Fencing rehearsal (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Laertes is vengeance personified. His whole reason for being is to rain on Hamlet’s parade, just because Hamlet may or may not have killed his sister and his dad. Laertes also happens to be quite handy with a sword. Claudius poisons the sword, of course, and then – just for good measure – poisons a goblet of wine as a kind of Shakespearean Plan B, because you can never have enough poison. Ballet Austin brings the magnificent swordfight to life with a fencing match that dances across the stage, an unusual and distinctly inspired element of this ballet. Laertes is played by Christopher Swaim and Jordan Moser.

Purchase tickets today to see Stephen Mills’ modern interpretation of Hamlet, guaranteed to leave you thankful for your seemingly undramatic family drama.

Why Do YOU Dance?

By Vicki Parsons, Butler Center for Dance & Fitness Director

I knew at a very young age that I loved to move my body. Whether it was playing tag with the neighborhood kiddos, hiking, swimming, or one of many sports, I loved it! And while dance lessons were not on the list, I can tell you that when the music played, I could not be still.

I fondly remember the dance craze of the 60’s: The Twist, the Mashed Potato, the Loco-motion. And if you grew up in the 70’s you probably grooved to the Funky Chicken and YMCA. Every generation has their dance – dance has always been, and will always be.

America’s Dance Craze

America’s fascination with dance exploded with the popularity of So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars. Last summer, ballerina Misty Copeland’s breathtaking Under Armour ad brought ballet into our living rooms.

Dance can be seen on billboards, in TV commercials, and sells everything from Mountain Dew to cell phone service. The rising interest in dance as an alternative form of exercise has positively impacted the fitness industry.

Why Do YOU Dance?

butler-center-dance

People love to dance. But why? I decided to play roving reporter at Ballet Austin’s Butler Dance Education Center this past week and investigate. I didn’t have to rove far since  we bring dance to adults of all ages and ability levels 7 days a week. I walked from studio to studio asking people, “Why do you dance?” I asked professional company dancers, dance instructors, people sitting in the lobby, children in our kid’s camp… I even asked the barista at Starbucks and took to Twitter to hear what people had to say! 

“Dance is one of the things that brings me the most joy!”

 Tara Alperin, Butler Center Instructor

“Dance has always moved me.”  – Company dancer Orlando Canova

A photo posted by Ballet Austin (@balletaustin) on

 

“I dance to chase the crazies away.”

– John, Starbucks Barista

“I dance to work out. It’s a fun and positive way to exercise. I have lost 18 lbs. dancing!”

– Laura, Butler Center Member

“Nadanam, manidhanaaga pirandha ovvoruvanum alli alli paruga vendiya amurdhamada adhu!”

Prakash Mohandas, Butler Center Bollywood Instructor

“I dance because it’s like physical journaling; a way to speak when I don’t have the words. Sometimes it’s happy, sometimes it’s sad, but I always get that amazing feeling of release once I’ve done it.”

– Boo Ruis, Butler Center Instructor

“Yo bailo, porque el baile es vida, es una expresión de creatividad, es arte en movimiento, es mi libertad”

– Janet Alvarado, Butler Center Customer Relations

“We celebrate Dance, revel in the universality of this art form. Dance crosses all political, cultural and ethnic barriers and brings people together with a common language – Dance.

World Organization for the Performing Arts

“I dance because I don’t really have a choice…when I hear good music, my body just reacts to it with movement. It’s the best feeling.”

– Hannah Brightwell, Butler Center Instructor 

Now tell us why you dance at @BalletAustinCTR !

Behind the Scenes of Gala Giving: Pick Your Poison

By Christi Cuellar Lotz, Director of Development

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” – Hamlet

Ah, Fête season. Any who knows me would not argue for one moment that event fundraising is just that… madness! But what better way to highlight the mission and purpose of an incredible non-profit than to bring folks together who share a passion for the organization, show off what we do, and ask for their support? Truly, the Fête and fête*ish have become Ballet Austin brands in their very own right. But through the glitz and rock-and-roll glamour, there is, indeed, purpose.

fete*ish

A Midsummer Night’s Dream themed fête*ish

A Gala Unlike Any Other

The Fête doesn’t have a structure like other galas. We pride ourselves in telling our story – with one heck of a back-drop. This year, the Hamlet-themed evening provides all kinds of fun and creepy ways to celebrate. And as Stephen Mills says, “Creepy is only ever good.”

There are many ways to give at just about every level possible. My job is to make sure you find one you love.

The fun part for Fête-goers is that their friends can see them do it. I think Michael Barnes once called gala-giving “philanthropy in front of other people.” The “Paddles-Up” portion of the evening, as I call it, happens just after the live auction where folks have hopefully purchased incredible, once-in-a-lifetime packages for killer deals. There is then the opportunity to give outright to some of our community and education programs. Many who come to the Fête don’t realize all that Ballet Austin does, outside of producing first-class professional ballet productions. But wait. There’s more.

Live Auction during 2014 Fete

Live Auction during 2014 Fête

Did You Know?

  • Over $250,000 in scholarships are given to students who want to learn ballet but don’t have the means
  • The Pilates Pink Ribbon program is offered free of charge to nearly 100 breast cancer survivors regardless of means
  • School-based Dance In The Classroom is offered free of charge (leotard and shoes included) to two Title I schools
  • Thousands of tickets to the final dress rehearsal for every major performance are offered free of charge to clients of local social-service non-profits

And I could go on.

Five to six programs are highlighted each Fête and each is introduced by our wonderful auctioneer followed by a 1-minute video about the program. Our goal? To make you cry. And to also help you realize how lucky you are and what a difference you can make. Of course I’m just standing in the corner a nervous wreck hoping someone – anyone – will raise their paddles for the highest level. And someone does… And then often, someone else. And then I love everyone the rest of the night because it just goes downhill (and up in funds raised for Ballet Austin) from there. But that’s just me.

fete

fête*ish Highlights

fête*ish offers another level of giving opportunity – this year’s is called a “Skull Pull” in celebration of the event theme Hamlet. (Again, creepy = fun. Who doesn’t want to pull a skull?) You pay a certain amount for your chance to win a prize worth that amount or more! Instant gratification is the name of the game here, and I’m not gonna lie, it can get addictive. Last year’s “Key Pull” was sold out as fête*ish barely got going.

By the time you read this, we’ll be a few weeks away from what’s been dubbed as “Austin’s Best Black Tie.” Each year, we challenge ourselves to live up to this! The amazing team working on the event (shouts out to Mandarin Design Lab, Ruby Rogers Events, TWIN Liquors, Ilios Lighting, the JW Marriott and many others) makes sure that each year tops the one before. Many of these vendors have been working on Fête/fête*ish for a number of years and their creativity never ceases to amaze me.

So what are some of YOUR favorite memories of past Fête/fête*ish events? I’d love to know!

Spending My Summer Vacation With Ballet Austin

By Bill Piner, Academy Director  

Ahhh… Summertime in Austin. The time when everything slows to a crawl. The sun is high in the sky and temps top 100. Everyone heads to the lake, or to cooler climes in northern states. You would think it would be nice and quiet at 501 W. 3rd St. But you’d be wrong.

Summertime is actually one of the busiest seasons at Ballet Austin. Classes at the Butler Center for Dance & Fitness are packed 7 days a week for the entire summer and the Academy’s Senior Summer Intensive Program brings students from as far away as Japan and Panama to Austin for six weeks of intensive study and potential job opportunities.

Ballet Austin Summer Intensive Level 8 (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Ballet Austin Summer Intensive Level 8 (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Each summer, after a 27 city audition tour, over 250 students descend on Austin.
They come here to take part in a program that is designed to improve their individual dance skills. For the post-high school crowd, they audition for a coveted position in Ballet Austin II, Ballet Austin’s paid apprentice company, or the Butler Fellowship Program, a nine-month, intensive training program that provides 15 talented students the opportunity to train at Ballet Austin tuition-free.

A Day In The Life

This is a very concentrated and intensive time for the Academy. From 8:45am to 6:15pm the studios are filled to capacity with some of the most focused young adults you will find. From my office I can look into the Armstrong/Connelly Studio. Right now the Level 6 dancers are learning a piece of original choreography from Company Dancer and Academy faculty member, Christopher Swaim, which they will perform at a small performance at the end of the session. Chris’ choreography pushes these young dancers to new limits and challenges them to take risks and find new strengths.

For the highest levels it’s all about learning what’s unique about Ballet Austin and assimilating. Will they be accepted into the year-round program or not? Will this be the next step in their personal and professional lives or not? There is a lot riding on these few weeks and it can be a nerve-wracking experience.

“I chose to spend my summer training at Ballet Austin because I was looking for an opportunity to further my dance career. Having just graduated from high school, I wanted to come to a program where I could possibly stay for the 2015-2016 season, and I knew that Ballet Austin could provide an opportunity for me. Ballet Austin’s summer program has reinforced the technique I know, expanded my artistry and allowed me to think differently about my dancing. Not only have I grown as a dancer in just four weeks, but I have also met new people with whom I have become extremely close. My classmates and I have had different yet relatable experiences. Even though some of us may be competing against each other to get a position as a Fellow or Ballet Austin II member, we all share one similar trait: the love for dance. This similarity allows for friendships to be created which aid the extremely memorable and enriching experience here at Ballet Austin.” –  Kayla Hallman

Kayla will be joining the Butler Fellowship Program in August.

Summer-Intensive

Associate Artistic Director Michelle Martin correcting a student’s position. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

I choreograph on the two youngest levels in the program, where they are still struggling to find the control over their bodies that will enable them to make the prescribed shapes of classical ballet. The pace is slower, but the sense of accomplishment is just as great. When the entire group performs for an audience of their peers (final rehearsal on performance day is performed in front of the other levels in the program) and the cheers of approval erupt, I’m reminded why I chose this profession. This struggle, this mastery, this acceptance is something they all can relate to and it seals a bond that will stay with these young artists well beyond their six weeks in Austin.

Teaching (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Bill Piner, Academy Director, rehearsing with Level 4 student for upcoming Summer Intensive performance. (Photo Credit Anne Marie Bloodgood)

These bonds and friendships, challenges and growth, fun and hard work, all combine to make the Summer Intensive experience one that will live with these dancers forever. This is a huge commitment and requires dedication and sacrifice from the entire family. This is another aspect of the program that I find inspiring – the fact that parents will do everything in their power to provide the best for their kids. And the fact that these kids will take that challenge and some of them will become professional dancers. Over 70% of Ballet Austin’s professional company of dancers started right here in the Summer Intensive. For them, and many others, the sweating, struggling, laughing and learning ended with the ultimate goal, a professional contract and the realization of so many dreams and aspirations.

This is how I’ve spent my summer for the past 24 years. It may not be as relaxing as going to the coast, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

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.

 

Inside a Sugar Plum Fairy’s dance bag

With our Golden Anniversary production of The Nutcracker opening in a mere few weeks, I thought you might like a peek inside a Sugar Plum Fairy’s dance bag.

ballet-austin-the-nutcracker

Twelve-year Company Member Aara Krumpe really likes “the familiar.” Whether it’s wearing warm-ups she’s owned for years (pictured above), standing at “her” spot at the barre, or eating oatmeal for lunch every day, tradition is the name of her game.

How very fitting for a Sugar Plum Fairy…

ballet-austin-the-nutcracker

Since Aara was 15, she’s warmed up every day at the barre in a pair of old, soft pointe shoes. As her rehearsal and performance pointe shoes “die”, she cuts off the laces and saves them for barre work. In her words, ‘they just feel better than wearing ballet slippers!’

Something else Aara can’t live without is her yoga block, which she uses to do splits, stretches and to lay flat. In another note on tradition, Frank Shott – with whom Aara will dance for the 7th year and her barre mate since 2001 – constantly steals the block.

ballet-austin-the-nutcracker

Aara brings her ballet bag, originally a diaper bag given to her by Trainees, to and from work each day and then keeps a smaller separate bag in the studio for rehearsal. Her must-have dance bag essentials? A surprisingly small number of things:

  1. Cheap White Rain hairspray (she is the “wispy tamer”)
  2. A tupperware of oatmeal for lunch each day – “I realized I’m not a protein person. I need carbs. Oatmeal gives me enough energy and stays with me all day.”
  3. Emergen-C, just in case
  4. At least one unsewn pair of shoes and her sewing bag
  5. Thera-band for stretching and strengthening

ballet-austin-the-nutcracker

With The Nutcracker rapidly approaching, I asked how long a pair of pointe shoes – which take her 30 or 40 minutes to prepare – will last. Her answer? “Two run-throughs.”

Last but not least, I asked Aara if she has any secret tricks or tips. She had two suggestions for me:

  1. Elasticized pointe shoe ribbons (available at Discount Dance Supply), which are more comfortable over her Achilles tendon
  2. Perry’s Pork Chop Fridays. See you there?

 

You can see Aara on stage this holiday season dancing as Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. For tickets, click here.

From Angel to Sugar Plum Fairy

From the children who perform as Angels to the professionals who dance the principal role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, The Nutcracker is as much a part of ballet as tendus and pliés.

This year, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating the Golden Anniversary Production of Ballet Austin’s The Nutcracker. Tickets here.