Tag Archives: 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.

 

Dancer Preview: Taking “Light” to Miami

Today, Ballet Austin heads to Miami to perform Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project. See what’s going through Company Dancer Anne Marie Melendez‘s head as she prepares.

There has been a buzz of excitement around the Ballet Austin studios over the past couple of weeks. There is something about touring that charges us dancers up like few other things. The idea of traveling somewhere, all expenses paid, sounds glamorous at first glance. But going on tour can definitely bring its own set of challenges, obstacles, and concerns especially when it involves a ballet such as Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project.

Having performed Light as recently as March certainly aided in putting the ballet back together rather swiftly. Still, we took it section by section, reviewing the mechanics of the movement as well as the musicality. These elements are so important when presenting a ballet like Light because those pieces have to be so clear and must lay the foundation for the narrative and the emotional element that comes with performing the ballet.

In addition to rehearsing Light, we have also been busy revisiting The Nutcracker, as it will be fast on our heels once we return from Miami. The two ballets couldn’t be more different from each other as I literally spent a few days going from being the Snow Queen in a tutu, to running around barefoot and being dragged across the floor by my arms. It was quite confusing for my body – my calves and ankles would be tight and sore from the classical work, and my back and neck would be stiff from the more modern movement. Let’s just say there were quite a few hot baths, ice buckets, yoga sessions, etc…

As we prepare to leave for Miami on Thursday, I have a list of logistical concerns. What do I pack? In addition to what I would normally pack for any other trip like clothing and toiletries, I also need to bring an entire list of things that are dance and performance related. Outside of the obvious leotards and tights, I need my performance shoes, extra shoes for my understudy duties (which of course I won’t need – *knock on wood* – but they must be packed!), stage makeup, dance bag and all associated peripheral devices like my calf roller. And yes, yoga mat, you WILL fit in my suitcase. I have a list, and I’m checking it twice!

My other concern is food. Yes, clearly there is food in Miami, great food no doubt, but this is not a vacation. Just as most sports athletes have their eating, sleeping, and training routines leading up to events, dancers are quite similar. I normally take into consideration what I eat, but I am never pickier than I am during performance week. It’s not so much of a superstition as it is a need to efficiently fuel my body so that it can function as best it can when the time comes. Performance week is not the time to try something new, so my concern, being out of my element and out of my own kitchen, is how to maintain my routine. So far I’ve decided to bring Clif Bars, instant oatmeal, and head to the market once we get to Miami to stock up on some bananas and other easy to grab snacks.

All of these logistics are not unlike the mechanics of the choreography – they are the foundation of what we are ultimately trying to present. Overall, I am both nervous and excited. I think a certain amount of nerves is healthy, it means you care about the outcome of something. I’m excited to share Light and Ballet Austin with a new community, and I’m curious how both the company and the work will be received.

This evening, Paul, Ashley, and I just finished watching the documentary “The Last Days.” I think continuing our education is an important way to prepare before we leave on Thursday, as it continually informs the work we are doing in the studio and on stage, and most importantly, it reminds us of how vital it is to keep telling this story.

 

In Miami? You can see Anne perform Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project on stage this Saturday and Sunday. Tickets here.

“Light” in Miami

This weekend, Nov 3-4, we are presenting Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project at the Arsht Center in Miami.

The past few weeks, our Company Dancers have alternated between rehearsing the siren-filled Light and joyous Nutcracker. If you, friends or family are in Miami, you will not want to miss this:

“Art can only start a conversation; people solve problems. But hopefully art can be a catalyst to get people thinking about things in a way they don’t ordinarily.” – Stephen Mills in this Associated Press article.

Below, watch our two :30 video promos, “From the Darkness” and “Into the Light”:

For tickets and information, please visit the Arsht Center‘s website.

My Nutcracker Moment

A few weeks ago, we premiered this video at Fete 2012 – our annual gala and biggest fundraiser of the year. Watch below to learn a little bit more about what The Nutcracker means to the Central Texas community.

For more information on how to make a difference with Ballet Austin, visit www.balletaustin.org/mygiftatwork.

Dancer Preview #2: Balancing Swirly Spins with Comedic Timing

Company Dancer Michelle Thompson reflects on the musicality and hilarity of The Taming of the Shrew. Let us know if you can hear her laughing from the audience.

Tonight we are going to the Long Center to prepare for Stephen Mills’ The Taming of the Shrew, and I am looking forward to putting this production on the stage again. I was in the original cast 10 years ago, toured the production to Washington D.C., performed it again 7 years ago, and now will be performing it this coming weekend – making this my fourth opportunity. There are so many things that make this production special. The story, the humor, the sets, the music, and the joyful movement are all lovely ingredients for an extremely entertaining evening.

The choreography is filled with quick jumps, swir­ly spins, humorous gestures, and intricate patterns. Mills’ choreography relates directly to the music, which swoops and swirls around you encouraging you to jump, spin, bend, and run with energy. I am one of the Commedia dancers, and there are very few times of stillness throughout the ballet. The Commedia dancers form intricate patterns and lovely movements, but they also shift the scenes and become part of the narrative that helps drive the story forward. It is important when dancing in a corps de ballet and when moving sets that your timing be precise. Musicality and awareness are essential as you move through the ballet, but all this must be done with a mask on that includes a large beak. So not only do your toes have to be in line, but so does your beak. Ha!

I am also excited to perform as one of the Street Women who starts off as a thief and then ends up happily ever after with one of the suitors. Playing alongside Beth Terwilleger, we get to take off our beaks and put on outrageous wigs creating a rush of excitement for Petruchio. Our Petruchio, Paul Michael Bloodgood, falls for our flirtatious moves and silly trickery and loses all his money. Our journey doesn’t end there, though. We come out later in the third act without the wig and dance happily at the Garden Wedding. The third act is extremely joyful and full of celebratory dances and my suitor, Jordan Moser, partners me in many twirls and jumps as we happily dance the evening away.

Throughout this ballet the steps and patterns must be precise, but the acting and comedic timing are vital. Our bodies and faces must communicate the frustration, the joy, the disgust, the flirtation, and the joke so that the audience can fully appreciate the story unfolding. It is important to be aware of your fellow Commedia dancers, your partner, the music, and the audience to communicate the story and to capture the greatest laugh. I always find myself cackling loudly during Petruchio’s house. I hope you will join my cackle this weekend at the Long Center.

The Taming of the Shrew opens FRIDAY, for one weekend only. Tickets available here.

Dancer Preview: The Shrew and her Suitor…

Company dancers Frank Shott and Jaime Lynn Witts discuss comedy, chemistry and what it’s like to dance together as Kate and Petruchio (when they’re already married!)

ballet austin the taming of the shrew

There is always a sense of anticipation just before casting is posted for any show. Story ballets, like The Taming of the Shrew, hold a particular excitement, and the chance to develop and portray a character on stage can be incredibly rewarding. There are so many different things to think about besides just the dance steps. The story needs to be clear and in the case of Taming, so do the jokes – everything from slapstick to sarcasm needs to read all the way to the back of the audience. It is no easy feat to be believable, funny and dance well all at the same time.

So much of comedy is onstage chemistry between the two leads. The chance to do this with someone that you already share so much with is an indescribable joy. While Jaime and I have had a couple of other opportunities to dance together before, this is the first time that we have gotten to do so in a story ballet. I have always wanted to play a part opposite her in a character-driven piece. She has a sense of comedic timing and theatricality which lights up the stage. Jaime also has a strong personality (just ask around) that when coupled with my own particular “charms” makes The Taming of the Shrew seem like a natural choice.

When casting was posted for The Taming of the Shrew, I was stunned. Not only was I going to get the opportunity to play Kate, but I was going to get to dance with my husband, Frank, as Petruchio. I could already hear the jokes from our friends and co-workers. I guess I have a strong personality and am the oldest of three girls, so Kate and I have a couple of things in common. It has been so much fun getting to work on this with Frank. Comedy is challenging, but we have been able to take advantage of the chemistry we have while working on our characters in the studio. Frank and I have a particular way we banter back and forth, a little like Kate and Petruchio toned down, and it’s so fun to look over and see him making a face I know I would see at home. Sometimes there’s just not that much acting involved – it’s just like us!

ballet austin the taming of the shrew

We do go home and discuss the scenes we rehearsed that day when we get a second after school, teaching Academy class and putting our daughter to sleep. We talk about what is working, what isn’t working, and where we would like to go with our characters. Jaime’s insights and impressions always give me new ideas of where I could go. Frank sees things from a very different place than I do, so it’s great to have his opinion. It has been such a fun and unique experience so far. We do both have to laugh at the situation sometimes, particularly when I keep telling him I won’t marry him. We can’t wait to see where exactly our characters end up when we get to the shows!

(Oh, and by the way, thankfully Jaime didn’t laugh in my face when I asked her to marry me!)

Don’t miss The Taming of the Shrew Oct 5-7 at the Long Center. Jaime and Frank perform Saturday at 8pm. Tickets here.

 

Sneak Peek: The Taming of the Shrew

Just two and a half weeks until The Taming of the Shrew opens at the Long Center. In anticipation, enjoy this exclusive sneak peek of the production:

Would YOU take this woman? The Taming of the Shrew opens Oct 5-7. Get tickets today!

Modern day “The Taming of the Shrew”

If you’re like me, it might just be possible that you never read The Taming of the Shrew in school. But never fear, we put together a handy reference guide to get you up to speed.

Meet Petruchio and Kate (the shrew) from the Ballet Austin version. Their relationship is a tad bit rocky at first…

Petruchio has promised to marry Kate, the shrew, and take her off her father’s hands. Would you take this woman? Let the taming begin.

Movies more your thing? Maybe you’ve seen one of these modern versions:

10 Things I Hate About You:

Based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, this version takes place in a modern day high school. As for the unusual title? It’s taken from a poem Kat (Julia Stiles) writes to describe her relationship with (Patrick) Heath Ledger in the movie.

Kiss Me, Kate:

The 1948, Tony award-winning musical features music by Cole Porter and provides a whole different style to the story. The original production starred Alfred Drake, Patricia Morison, Lisa Kirk and Harold Lang.

Prefer the classics?

This 1967 version of The Taming of the Shrew features Elizabeth Taylor as the Shrew and is not to be missed.

All images courtesy of IMDB.

 

Ballet Austin’s version of The Taming of the Shrew opens Oct 5-7 at the Long Center. Tickets still available.