Interview with Keith Saunders, Ballet Master of Dance Theatre of Harlem

Keith Saunders

by Julie Gervais

Dancepanorama had the opportunity to talk with Keith Saunders, Dance Theatre of Harlem Ballet Master, in advance of the Company’s arrival in Detroit for performances at the Detroit Opera House Feb 1, 2, and 3.

 

DP: It was shortly after the company’s visit to Detroit in 2004 that Dance Theatre of Harlem went on hiatus, suspending operations of the professional performing company. When dancers get injured, and rehabilitate, and then return to work, it’s an exciting time but a dancer is also changed by that process. Does the company feel something like that?

KS: It’s an interesting analogy – yes – we are changed by that process; we are strengthened by that process. There’s a renewal. We feel very much alive and excited to return to the national and international landscape. And the new Dance Theatre of Harlem is not the company of 2004. Almost all of the dancers are new, of course because eight years is almost an entire generation in the life of a ballet company. And there are other differences: one of the biggest being that the size of the company has gone from 44 dancers to 18, now. These dancers have been hand-picked from our second company, the DTH Ensemble, which has been touring nationally since 2009 [and visited Detroit during that time]. Some dancers have also been brought into the company from our national auditions.

DP: How many of your current 18 dancers remain from the pre-hiatus days?

KS: There are a couple of dancers on the current roster who were with us before, including one of our leading dancers, Ashley Murphy, who was an apprentice with DTH in 2004.

Ashley Murphy. Photo (c) Rachel Neville.

And Taurean Green was with us in 2004. He danced with other companies in the intervening years and now he’s back with us.

DP: What changes in repertory have resulted from the decreased size of the Company?

KS: Our Artistic Director, Virginia Johnson, did a very smart thing. Over the last three years, as we worked toward the return of the Company, and we’ve known for a while now that we were planning to go with 18 dancers, Virginia instituted a choreographic development program that she called ‘Harlem DanceWorks 2.0’. She invited choreographers in to develop, working with dancers we hired, new works that would form part of the rep of the new company. We are bringing one of the ballets that came out of this project to Detroit. It’s called ‘Far But Close’. It’s a narrative ballet, a contemporary love story of two people who meet in Harlem. Some of the other ballets we’ll be performing in Detroit have been developed just this season – world premiere ballets specifically for the company, or company premieres. We will be performing Alvin Ailey’s ‘The Lark Ascending’ – the first time any company other than the Ailey company will perform it – and this is the first time it’s being performed on pointe. We’re bringing two Balanchine ballets, his masterwork Agon [which was in Dance Theatre’s rep prior to hiatus], plus a lesser-known work: Glinka Pas de Trois, which dates from the 1950s and is a small gem of a work. We’re also bringing a Donald Byrd ballet called ‘Contested Space’, which was made on our second company last season and has been brought forward. Obviously right now we won’t do Giselle, or Serenade, or Four Temperaments…some of those bigger ballets that were staples of the former company, the size difference means we’re unable to do those now. So what Virginia has done is to develop ballets for this company at this size. We do retain some ballets from our previous repertoire.

‘Return’

‘Return’, by Robert Garland is one of these that we’ll be bringing to Detroit. It’s very popular and set to songs by James Brown and Aretha Franklin.

We’ll also be bringing the world premiere that Robert choreographed for us for this season, called ‘Gloria’ – a full-company ballet set to Francis Poulenc’s Gloria.

‘Gloria’ Photo (c) Matthew Murphy.

It was the first ballet seen when the company returned to the stage in October. We’re also bring the Swan Lake Act 3 Pas de Deux. So it’s a carefully selected balance; there are two complete programs. There are original ballets made on these dancers, there is repertoire from the former company, and there are company premieres. This is the Dance Theatre of the 21st century. We’re interested in continuing to grow and develop our dancers of course, but also interested in exploring the idea of what ballet in the 21st century means.

DP: In a recent interview, Virginia Johnson discussed the ongoing disparity between the diversity in our population and the diversity represented in ballet companies. How does DTH’s original mission fit into the 21st century?

KS: It’s still a necessity for DTH to have this sensibility. We’ve been having the same conversation for as long as I’ve been involved in ballet. I don’t that anyone has ever had a satisfactory answer, but if you look at ballet companies across America, it’s not really that different from what it was years ago; it’s frankly not that diverse. Dance Theatre’s mission to continue to provide opportunities for black dancers remains unchanged, and remains relevant.

DP: The fact that we’re still having this conversation – is it good, in a way? In the sense that, if we’re talking about it, we’re acknowledging that there remains work to be done.

KS: I don’t want to say it’s exactly the same as years ago – there is some more diversity now, but change is slow. There are so many factors that go into it. So yes, perhaps the fact that we’re still talking about it is good, in that we need to continue to make people aware. Particularly people who serve on Boards of Directors and as Artistic Directors, it’s important that they know that there is still an issue of inclusion.

DP: Thank you so much for carving time out of a busy schedule, and we’re looking forward to seeing you next week!

KS: We’re looking forward to being there!

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: NEW YORK CITY BALLET MOVES

October 27-28, 2012 at the Detroit Opera House

by Julie Gervais

Whether you’ve seen this company before or this was your first time, there is no mistaking the singular style and energy of the dancers in the New York City Ballet.

As much as any company in the world, this company embodies the city where it lives – edgy yet not self-conscious, supercharged but not frenetic, self-assured in its central position in the artistic universe. NYCB is pure New York.

They brought enough newer work to give Detroiters a taste of what bigger cities get to see on a regular basis, and enough NYCB ‘tradition’ to give a sense of the company’s lineage – an important consideration in light of the fact that their last visit here was in 1961. The full company numbers over 90 dancers; this touring group collects 16 of them from all of the ranks, plus their own musicians. It’s a welcome innovation.

Polyphonia. (Shown here danced by The Royal Ballet (c) Alice Pennefather)

They opened with Christopher Wheeldon’s breakthrough work from 2001, Polyphonia. His initial image is arresting: the dancers’ arms and legs make a surgically sharp sideways diagonal slice through the air. The women wear leotards of rich concord grape and the men sport the same color – this costuming being both in line with NYCB leotard-ballet tradition, and a half-step away from it. The bold and unexpected start turns out to be a harbinger, as the work turns up surprise after delightful surprise. Unusual shapes and movements flow freely and never feel forced or gimmicky, and they serve as a bridge to the musical world of Gyorgy Ligeti, perhaps foreign territory for some. Wheeldon paces the work so that even on first view, there is time to see what’s happening – and this reads as an easy confidence by an artist who doesn’t feel pressed to throw every last thing at the wall and see what sticks (a tendency with some contemporary choreographers). Maria Kowroski (of Grand Rapids) gets some of the juiciest bits, and brings a quiet but assured star power to everything she does. She has one of the most beautiful classical bodies of any woman working today, and seems to be at a point in her career where she wields her powers lightly, dazzling without ever seeming to be impressed with the effects she creates.

Duo Concertant was created by George Balanchine in 1972 – before our current age of

Duo Concertant

irony. The piece starts with the dancers standing near the onstage musicians – a pianist and a violinist – looking appreciative, admiring. Many have noted that this seems kind of hokey now, and it’s a relief when the dancers finally get to step away from their reverie and…dance. But there is a point – one that was very dear to Balanchine – which was that you must really listen to the music, really hear it and understand it, before you can dance to it. Megan Fairchild and Chase Finlay illustrated this concept with total commitment. The allegro movement is breathtakingly speedy, and it’s easy to imagine the dancers in the first cast feeling unsure whether this could be done. Subsequent generations of NYCB dancers now have this kind of speed in their DNA, but it’s still astonishing.

Herman Schmerman was created for NYCB in 1992 by William Forsythe, an American who has built an illustrious career in Germany. Schmerman has an exploratory feel to it, in its deconstruction of classical pas de deux and traditional partnering work. It’s fun and light, and seems to say that sometimes people just can’t figure out what’s going on in their relationships. Maria Kowroski and Robert Fairchild try one thing and then another, give up, walk away, come back to each other. In the end, they settle on a finger turn – kind of an inside joke for dancers, but the audience seemed to get it.

The last two pieces came from Peter Martins, the Company’s Artistic Director. It was exciting to see that Tiler Peck would dance the first, Zakouski. Ms. Peck made a name for herself even before she graduated, as a crack turner with a killer jump – not a typical combination of assets. Then she became NYCB’s youngest principal dancer. In Zakouski and everything she danced in Detroit, it’s clear she is almost superhuman in her technical assurance. But none of her roles here offered us the chance to see her really dig in, and Zakouski itself is kind of a perplexing mashup of classical ballet, folk dance, and experimental noodling.

Hallelujah Junction

Mr. Martins’ Hallelujah Junction, commissioned from its native son by the Royal Danish Ballet in 2001, really moves. It is jubilant and very, very busy with comings and goings, in the manner of Twyla Tharp’s In The Upper Room. Indeed the structure of delayed repetition between the two pianos (composed by John Adams) also feels similar to a Philip Glass work. It’s the biggest piece of the night in terms of personnel – eight corps dancers and three soloists, including Daniel Ulbricht, who brought this work the electricity it needed to come together. The fullness of his expression of each single step, and the clarity of shapes at lightning speed was thrilling. As much as anything we saw here, Junction was a good way to re-introduce New York City Ballet to a city that needed a re-introduction.

Thanks is due to Marlene Boll, Joanne Danto, and Nora Moroun for making these performances possible.

 

 

REVIEW: Stars of Russian Ballet Gala

By Julie Gervais

Power Center for the Performing Arts

August 18, 2012

Alisa Sodoleva. Stars of Russian Ballet Gala 08.18.12 (c) Gene Schiavone

With the presentation of its third Gala on Saturday night, Russian Artists International/Ballet Russe took another graceful step forward.

Its mission, the presentation of classical ballet in the Russian tradition, is unique in the area and thus requires some clarification. Does it mean, as some in the audience wondered, that all of the dancers come straight from Russia? No. Does it mean that inclusion of new work by contemporary choreographers is a departure from the mission? Again, no. It means, as the work illustrates, that dancers trained in the exactingly specific Russian method continue to dominate the ranks of the world’s major ballet companies for a very good reason. And, that no matter where they were born or where they dance now or what work they perform, they do ballet like no one else. The crowd at the Power Center seemed to appreciate this.

The structure of a Gala evening is ultimately a tease, and no doubt many people look forward to the day when the Company will be able to present work in longer formats. That said, the only choice is sit back and enjoy the rapid-fire assortment of greatest hits. Those hits were interspersed this year with several excellent contemporary works, following the kickoff with two dances performed by the excellent students of the Russian Ballet Intensive. There were many wonderful moments.

Maria Kochetkova and Gennadi Nedvuigin, Stars of Russian Ballet Gala. 08.18.12 (c) Gene Schiavone

Maria Kochetkova is a Principal Dancer at San Francisco Ballet, and has a most remarkable movement style, velvety even in her sharpness of attack. She is precise without being perfunctory, full of care for every step yet simultaneously somehow carefree in her overall impression. Her first appearance was in a contemporary piece, Yuri Possokhov’s ‘Diving Into the Lilacs’, a title that reportedly has symbolic significance to Russians (and sounds like some kind of outdoor misadventure to the rest of us). The piece is kind of inscrutable in this excerpted section. There’s a lot of yearning and angst and swoopy lines and mysterious events, like when she lies down flat on the floor for a while. In the absence of context, the dance serves as a sort of physical manifestation of emotional state – and that’s plenty.

Sergei Sidorskyi, the leading Principal of the National Ballet of Ukraine, is similarly

Sergei Sidorskyi

confounding – how can a dancer be simultaneously so gallant, yet totally nonchalant? How does he take total command of the stage with confident authority, yet also come across as a most affable fellow? In addition to his classical work in La Bayadere and Don Quixote, he showed a solo that he choreographed for himself. It’s a fair guess that A. Vivaldi would be either very pleased by it, or rather envious, as the whole theater kind of gasped when Mr. Sidorsyki’s open shirt came all the way off.

Keenan Kampa

A fair amount of buzz anticipated the appearance of Keenan Kampa, a young American dancer who graduated from the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg and has just become the first American to join the famous Mariinsky Theatre there. She’s another study in contrasts – so young and American in her look (I would say California, except that she’s from Virginia) yet self-possessed with the formal polish of Russian training. It will be fun to follow her trailblazing career.

Courtney Richardson (a Detroit native) and her partner Ernesto Boada showed two contemporary pieces: Christopher Wheeldon’s ‘After the Rain’, and ‘Sweet Spell of Oblivion’ by David Dawson, who is the choreographer-in-residence at the Royal Ballet of Flanders. Their work together seems highly charged, and

Ms. Richardson is shocking in her beauty and in the luxuriousness of her shapes and lines. As ‘Sweet Spell’ got underway, I felt my jaw drop open and stay there. It’s sexy and gorgeous and urgent and a little crazy; seeming only tethered to reality by Bach’s music. This is a great example of the kind of innovative work well underway in Europe, where the developed tastes lead to more open experimentation that our American free market will support.

Courtney Richardson and Ernesto Boada, Stars of Russian Ballet Gala. 08.18.2012 (c) Gene Schiavone

Olga Pavlova is a consummate Russian ballerina. In dance training, one is often coached to ‘fully commit’ to the movement and I know of no other ballerina that shows this idea so clearly. She and Andrey Ivanov had one of the most difficult spots on the program when they had to swing the audience back to hardcore classical directly following the Wheeldon piece. It would intimidate all but the best.

Olga Pavlova

Mr. Ivanov, a soloist of the Mariinsky Theatre who also danced with Ms. Pavlova in Carmen near the top of the show, is credited with the choreography for the Finale, but unmentioned as the possible architect of some highly mischievous shenanigans taking place in the last parts of the Don Quixote pas de deux sequence. Suffice it to say that the Russians, contrary to what some believe, have a highly developed sense of humor and don’t take themselves all that seriously.

Mark your calendars for next year’s Gala: August 17, 2013. The students of the Russian Ballet Intensive and the Stars of the Russian Ballet Gala look forward to surprising you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Bunheads” Season 1, Episode 2

By Debra Schreiber/Pittsburgh

Two episodes of “Bunheads” down and already one character down.

Courtesy of Crushable.com

R.I.P Hubbell.

So what’s going to happen to Michelle? Nothing as of yet, with Fanny aggressively going about planning his memorial service.  Luckily, Fanny has some friends to help – and maybe keep her under control. An odd mix indeed, but the ladies kept up the humor in this episode.

“I don’t do funerals. There’s no celebration,” Fanny said. “Buddhists believe everyone comes back.” Which translates to party. But what starts out as a traditional Buddhist ceremony slowly turns into a circus – Barnum & Bailey’s tent included.

Michelle thinks Hubbell’s death was her fault, and seeks solace in Fanny’s dance studio…and the bar.

Since Fanny’s in full grief mode, no one’s around to teach the girls, who Boo makes stay in the studio, just in case their teacher shows up.  When Fanny doesn’t come around, Shae takes it upon herself to go and find her, which she does, sad and alone. She also finds Michelle, sad and alone, and tells her that someone needs to act.

So act Michelle does. No more tent. No more plane. No more excessive amount of lilies. No sitar. No more 500 guests. Just candles, a whole lot of tulle, and a dance for Fanny.

Courtesy of Afterellen.com

Fanny seems to warm back up to Michelle, but then comes the news that Hubbell has left everything to her.

Catch this past week’s full-length episode for a limited time only here.

“Bunheads” Season 1, Episode 1

By Debra Schreiber/Pittsburgh

Courtesy of ABCFamily.go.com

ABC Family’s new series “Bunheads” premiered on Monday, June 6.

The show, from executive producer Amy Sherman (“Gilmore Girls”), follows Vegas showgirl Michelle (Sutton Foster) from Sin City to a small town (called Paradise), where there is apparently no movie theatre, for her new husband. But there is a dance studio.

The studio is owned by her mother-in-law Fanny (Kelly Bishop) and home to bunheads. What exactly IS a bunhead?

“Anyone who devotes their life to dance,” said Emma Dumont, who plays Melanie Segal on the show.

“Just someone who … ballet consumes them,” added Bailey Buntain, who plays Ginny Thompson.

“Just kind of an obsessed ballerina,” agreed Kaitlyn Jenkins, “Bettina ‘Boo’ Jordon.”

(Watch the interview HERE)

And then there’s the obvious: a ballerina. Ballerinas wear buns.

But Vegas showgirls wear glitz outfits with big feathers.

The costumes in the opening scene, when Michelle was still in Vegas, were brilliant.

Courtesy of Insideetv.ew.com

As the show opens, she loves her job, but hates that topless girls who follow her act, saying that it’s a terrible message to the girls of America, “Hey girls, forget about actually learning to dance, just take your top off and stand there.”

After the show Michelle tells her BFF that it sounds like she’d be leaving her Vegas job soon for a role in “Chicago.” Then love steps in. Or, rather, a present-toting, flower-wielding admirer who appears once a month to court Michelle. We are led to assume that this has been happening for an entire year.  “Stalker” was probably an adept title for Mr. Hubbell. Michelle quickly ditches him. Quick time lapse to the a.m. and then, as Michelle put it, “show time.”

The “Chicago” dream came to a quick end (a.k.a. a “no” the first time the director laid eyes on her). Back to a run-down apartment Michelle went. Back to the Vegas show. And back was Hubbell, this time with jewelry and another dinner invitation. This time, Michelle went.

During dinner, Hubbell proposed, prompting a humorous no from Michelle… followed by a very drunk yes. Then, hello Paradise, and hello mother-in-law who was trained by Balanchine and runs a ballet studio that looks to have been converted from a barn in her back yard.

At the studio, Michelle meets several of the bunheads. Only the first episode and we’re facing body image and dieting issues for ballerinas. Though bunhead Sasha is thin, the others girls are a tad more shapely, with one constantly complaining that her breasts are simply too big.

“But none of that means you shouldn’t try,” Mother tells a sad, “big-boned” Boo.

Mother is also on the hunt for a missing tutu. If not found, “The Nutcracker” won’t have a Clara. She is preparing her students for a visit from the head of the Joffrey Ballet School as well. And she has to handle Michelle joining her and Hubbell in their home.

Mother provides a less than warm welcome (though she does offer to through Michelle a wedding party) and neither does anyone else in town, especially a sales associate from Sparkle who claims that Hubbell was the only man she ever loved. Michelle and Mother eventually warm up to one another in a sort of “Gilmore Girls” mother/daughter relationship spin.

Courtesy of Poptower.com

However, Michelle doesn’t love Hubbell. And she tells him at their party. He seems to think she will grow to love him. I think he loves her because she reminds him of his mother.

But will we get to see their relationship blossom? Find out next Monday at 9/8c.

Watch “Bunheads” anytime on ABCFamily.com.

Breaking Pointe, Season 1, Episode 2

By Debra Schreiber/Pittsburgh

After the dramatic premiere of “Breaking Pointe” last week, where dancers were on edge about contracts, what could possibly happen this week?

Plenty.

Adam wants his company, Ballet West, to be at the top, and that could depend on who stays or goes.

In this episode, the time arrived for dancers to accept or reject their new contracts.

Ronnie had still had not signed his contract. He went to dancers in the company for advice: they urged him to accept. Ronnie said he feels as though he has paid his dues and deserves the principal position. The girls didn’t seem to want him to go – they like his abs.

Ronnie and Beckanne/Courtesy of sheknows.com

We did get to see the guys let loose at some sports management treatment and Rex and Ronald relax in San Francisco with their family. Ronald’s family loves Katie, whose contract was not renewed, but thinks it would be smart for Ronald to keep his contract.

Romance, flirtation, drama, all were heavy in the air. And so was the stress of rehearsing for the ominous spring program, mentioned but not really paid attention to in the first episode. The company will perform three ballets for the program.

“Petite Mort” is one of these ballets. It’s modern, it’s sexy, and it involves swords, which Ronnie said he thinks represent penises.

The love stories in the ballet must be believable.

Christiana’s husband is also a dancer at Ballet West. She thinks it’s “sweet” when he gets jealous. She believes that all dance partners must have some level of intimacy.

Allison, again, distracted one of Rex’s rehearsals; he remains hopelessly confused about their relationship.

Rex and Allison/Courtesy of ontheritztumblr.com

Allison spoke to fellow female dancers after rehearsal. Some seemed to think that dating someone outside the ballet world gives a “fresh perspective.” But Allison hasn’t seen that. Her partner of seven years believed Allison loved ballet more than him. Perhaps that’s why Allison keeps Rex around.

Katie, back from Idaho where she auditioned for the Idaho Ballet and was offered an apprenticeship, felt horribly uncomfortable at rehearsal. Even though she was let go, she still has several months left with the company. She said she still secretly wishes Adam would ask her back.

“The thought of leaving just kills me,” she said, crying.

Sometimes long, drawn-out decisions are the most difficult.

In the end, Ronald renewed his contract.

“Not matter what, I’m going to be with you,” Ronald assured a scared Katie. She seemed understanding: dance careers are hard to start and hard to keep.

Next week : who will get the leads?

11 Questions: Angel Corella, Artistic Director/Barcelona Ballet and Principal Dancer, American Ballet Theatre

by Julie Gervais

Angel Corella

Dancepanorama had the exciting opportunity to interview Angel Corella while his company, Barcelona Ballet, was spending an extra week in Detroit following their performances at the Detroit Opera House. Listen below as he discusses his transition to full-time Director, his Company’s work, and his outlook on ballet and its place in our contemporary culture.

dp: This a very special time for you. You have made an announcement that you will retire from American Ballet Theatre as Principal Dancer, this June. Was it a tough decision?

Will you continue to appear with your company?

Your Company has just recently made a new home in Barcelona. What is the significance of this move?

Teaching Class

You just mentioned, and have spoken before about, your desire for the company not to be known as ‘Angel Corella’s Company’. What do you want the Company to be known for?

And, all of this rapid growth despite the fact that you launched the company just as the world was falling to its knees in financial crisis, and there are still many unresolved global finance problems. Did you ever question whether it would be better to wait until the economy improved?

A Fantastical Depiction of Swan Lake

You have the rare perspective of someone who has danced a rich variety of top-shelf repertoire, on big stages around the world. What trends do you see in ballet repertoire, and what differences do you see among countries and even regions, such as the American coasts vs. the heartland areas?

Speaking of audience development, it’s great that you have such a clear vision. Because everyone is looking for the answer to the question: how do you get people out of their living rooms and into the theatre?

You have dancers from all over the world, but the majority are from Spain. Is there a special quality – a Spanish energy – that you are excited to show to the world?

How have audiences been responding, as you’ve been touring around?

The television dance show explosion: do you feel like it’s a positive thing?

Finally, what else – because this question is what dancepanorama is all about too – what else can we do to get people more interested in dance?

 

(c) Rosalie O'Connor

Barcelona Ballet gives Detroit first look at its ‘Swan Lake’ [DETNEWS]

A breathtaking beauty is cursed by an evil sorcerer to swim a lake by day as a swan and to take human form only at night.

 

You’d think this would make finding true love rather difficult for a girl, but not when it comes to the ballet “Swan Lake.”

 

The Barcelona Ballet will perform the bittersweet love story at the Detroit Opera House Friday through Sunday.

For Full Article CLICK HERE The Detroit News

Patricia Zhou of Canton, MI to Perform in ‘Stars of Russian Ballet Gala’

Patricia Zhou was born in Canada but raised in Canton, MI. She left home at age 13 to attend the renowned Kirov Academy in Washington, D.C., beginning her serious ballet training so late, by ballet’s timetable, as to put a professional career out of reach to all but the most gifted of dancers. The swiftness of her progress is a testament to what can be achieved when extreme talent is met by unrelenting hard work. She has amassed a startling collection of awards in international ballet competitions, including at the Prix de Lausanne in 2011, the 2010 Beijing International Ballet Festival, and the Youth America Grand Prix. She has been featured in the national dance publications Pointe and DanceSpirit, and made her national television debut in May on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. She begins her professional career in the fall as an apprentice, with the title of Prix de Lausanne dancer, in London’s Royal Ballet. She will perform in Saturday’s Ann Arbor Gala in the Act II adagio from Swan Lake, a variation in the Don Q suite, and in one of the Odalisque variations from Le Corsaire.

 

dp: What was your dance training prior to leaving MI?

PZ: I started dancing when I was seven, very recreationally. I did tap/ballet combo, and slowly over the years i started doing jazz, lyrical, acro, etc. I competed as a lyrical dancer for a few years before I started really getting serious about dancing at 13, and considering a professional career in ballet.

 

dp: Then…

PZ: I then was introduced to the Kirov Academy. Knowing nothing about ballet, I just decided to audition and see if I could even get in. To my surprise, I got in with a 50% scholarship half-way through the audition. I decided as soon as I got out of the audition that I wanted to go there and study.

dp: What was it like there, both at first and once you got used to it?

PZ: At first, I was so in awe. All of the students were so proper and poised-very different than the teenagers I was used to seeing. I soon got used to the environment, and I feel it was a very good place to grow up. In ballet, I was always so nervous. I was in the lowest group, with all of the youngest students. I still had very little experience and it took me a while to learn all of the terms and pick up the combinations. After a few months, I was moved up a level, and I started to slowly get it more and more.

dp: How old were you when you made the decision to be a dancer? I mean, I know a lot of little girls get that idea, but mostly it fades away, while those that are serious eventually make an “informed” decision, i.e. when you really understood how much work it is and how tough the odds are.

PZ: I was 13 when I realized that I actually liked dancing and want to pursue a professional career. It was very surprising for my parents-even for me. It kind of came out of nowhere!! I didn’t really understand how competitive it was and how much hard work it took until quite recently when I got to work with and compete against dancers my own age from all over the world. Seeing what others have accomplished made me realize what I wanted, and needed, to accomplish in order to make it.

dp: Was the idea of leaving school and entering the professional world a bit scary at first?

PZ: Yes it was definitely very scary for me. I am still transitioning because working is definitely very different than studying. Most of the dancers have been with the company for a while so I am still trying to find my place in the company. I was very worried about not having a teacher hovering over my every move, making sure it was done correctly, but after a few days with the company, I am finding class very enjoyable, and I feel like my technique is still improving because now I am learning from watching the other dancers around me.

dp: How many dancers are in the Royal Ballet, and can you pick something that most exciting about being there?

PZ: There are about 90 dancers….[most exciting] dancing and working with such famous, world-class dancers, working at the Royal Opera House… It is so beautiful and grand!!

dp: Did you both know that you’d likely end up working outside the U.S.? And do you feel that the companies have kind of an international feel, so being a “foreigner” isn’t too big of a deal, or are there any issues that go with this?

PZ: I always wanted to dance in Europe. I feel like the dancers are treated better and more respected. I also like the repertoire of the European companies more, and they tend to do more full-length ballets. There are also dancers from all over the world, so I think it is more accepting to different cultures.

dp: . You’rejust starting out, and I know dancers are modest, so I’ll ask about short-term goals rather than long-term. What would you like to accomplish over the next couple of years? Do you have some dream roles you’d like to learn?

PZ: I would love to dance special parts and soloist roles. That would be amazing, especially performing at the beautiful Royal Opera House alongside such incredible dancers. I would love to dance “Giselle” and “Romeo and Juliet” someday as well as Forsythe’s “In the Middle Somewhat Elevated”. I would also enjoy learning Balanchine repertoire and working on new contemporary works.

dp: What is the most fun thing, or your favorite thing, you’ve done so far as a dancer?

PZ: My favorite thing about being a dancer is when you go on stage and just forget everything and dance. It has only truly happened a few times, but it feels incredible: like your body is dancing on its own, and all you have to do is enjoy the feeling of being onstage.

dp: Is there something you’d like to say to a young student who may be considering the same path?

PZ: My only advice is to work hard and never give up. If your mind is truly set on becoming a dancer, it’s necessary to understand that it will be incredibly difficult-physically, but even more so mentally. Dancing can be very discouraging and at times it may look hopeless, but those are the times you have to keep pushing yourself and just believe that you can achieve anything you’ve set your mind upon.

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Haley Schwan of Howell, MI to Perform in ‘Stars of Russian Ballet’ Gala

Haley Schwan is from Howell, MI and became a member of the Corps de Ballet, Staatsballet Berlin in 2010. On her way to Berlin, she spent two years as a full-time student at the legendary Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia. Founded in 1738, the Academy and the training method that bears its name have given to the dance world most of its superstars. To say it is extremely selective is an understatement. Among the thousands of children that audition for a place in the beginning class, approximately 60 are selected each year. Only recently have they begun to admit a few foreign students. Look for Haley on Saturday night in a variation from Don Quixote, and in the contemporary work ‘Come Neve al Sole’, choreographed by Rolando d’Alesio, which she will dance with Ludovico Pace.

 

dp: Where did you study dance prior to leaving MI?

HS: I studied primarily at Glenn’s School of Dance in Howell, Michigan. And actually, ballet was my least favorite class until Sergey [Rayevskiy, of the Academy of Russian Classical Ballet in Novi, MI] started teaching classes at Glenn’s.

dp: Then where did you go?

HS: Looking for a way to improve my technique for jazz, I went to a summer program at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C. and after about a week into the intensive I fell in love with ballet. The following September (2004) I began my first year [there as a full-time student], and I stayed until 2008. In September 2008, I went to St. Petersburg, Russia to study at the Vaganova Ballet Academy. After studying there for two years, I graduated and moved on to work for Staatsballet Berlin in August 2010.

dp:What was it like there, both at first and once you got used to it?

HS: The Kirov Academy became a second home to me over the four years I was there. I was quite an outgoing kid, so leaving home at 12 years old, I’m not sure I fully understood what a big step I was really taking, it was more like an adventure. But by the end of my time there, the people of the staff were like aunts and uncles, classmates like brothers and sisters. Moving to Russia was a huge shock at first, it was definitely the most challenging experience I’ve ever had. But I grew up a LOT as a person and as a dancer from going through it – In such a situation you can realistically fathom how important dance is to you. When you’re living unbelievably far away from home, almost no one speaks English, and you’re being yelled at and worked to the bone everyday…. You’ve got to either love dance or be a masochist. And so there is where i really understood how much I want this, and luckily I was in the absolute best place to nurture that. Not being able to understand the people or the culture was something that obviously took time, but I would say that by the beginning of my second year I was comfortable there.

dp: How old were you when you made the decision to be a dancer? A lot of little girls get that idea, but mostly it fades away, while those that are serious eventually make an “informed” decision, when you really understood how much work it is and how tough the odds are.

HS: I kind of got ahead of myself in the previous question about this, but I would say I was 16 – when I moved to Russia. It was there that I really saw how much goes into succeeding in the dance world. I’ve always been quite a hard worker in class, but there are so many things that you need to do outside of the studio to keep your body in shape. It really is a full time job.

dp: Was the idea of leaving school and entering the professional world a bit scary at first? HS: At first, yes it was scary….but I was more scared before I started to audition places. I didn’t feel ready to begin working and there were still a lot of things I wanted to work on before becoming a professional. But then I went to my first audition, in Berlin (which was actually a company that I had wanted to go to), and they offered me a contract. From that day on, I was honestly just really excited to start working and have more time on stage, which is what I’d been working for! :)

dp:How big is SB, and can you pick something that is most exciting about being there:

HS: About 90 people. I am not sure what the most exciting thing is….but I love working with choreographers on a new creation. You have long days in the studio just trying different movements and piecing them together until you’re dead – then you come back the next day and keep going! Starting from raw movements and watching as it all comes together bit by bit is exciting, it’s like you also grow with the piece and your name will always be there as the original cast. Kinda cool :) I also love just being on stage. In school you were always working for months and months at a time for one weekend of performances twice a year. It was just never enough! The thrill of being able to perform so often keeps me on my toes (literally) and excited to come to work the next day.

dp:Did you know that you’d likely end up working outside the U.S.? And do you feel that the companies have kind of an international feel, so being a “foreigner” isn’t too big of a deal, or are there any issues that go with this?

HS: Honestly, I have always wanted to end up in Europe. I find that ballet is much more appreciated outside of the U.S., and the repertoire tends to be a bit more my style. I have also always found Europe more appealing as a place to live because it’s so inspiring and charming. There is a different feel to ballet when it’s in an original opera house, or when you walk on your way to work you see beautiful historical architecture. There is so much to learn from other forms of art and Europe is just like a walking museum. In the company I don’t feel like a foreigner at all because there are actually only 3 or 4 Germans! Even though we are in Germany, all the classes and rehearsals are given in English, but of course outside of the studio some people tend to hang out with other people who speak their native language. But I don’t mind because it’s a good opportunity for me to keep up with my Russian and learn other new languages!

dp: You’re just starting out, and I know dancers are modest, so I’ll ask about short-term goals rather than long-term: what would you like to accomplish over the next couple of years? Are there some dream roles you’d like to learn?

HS: I would have to say that some of my short term goals would be for this next season to be able to dance the roles that I was given the opportunity to rehearse last season, but didn’t dance. This includes things like 11 couples in Caravaggio (Mauro Bigonzetti), 4 friends in La Esmeralda, etc. Other than that, I would just say that my goals would be to keep working and improving my technique and hope that brings some exciting roles to work for! As far as dream roles…I would say Tatjana from Onegin (John Cranko), Juliet from Romeo and Juliet, death in Le Jeune Homme et La Mort (Roland Petit) and be able to work with choreographers such as Jiří Kylián and William Forsythe.

dp: What is the most fun thing, or your favorite thing, you’ve done so far as a dancer?

HS: I think that as a dancer you have a lot of opportunities to have a good time. Of course work is work, but when you are at work surrounded by people like you everyday, things can be really fun. Everyone always says that dancers are really their own kind of people – we’re artsy people and so on stage there almost always seems to be a little joke or even a change of your character that keeps things entertaining. But one thing that no one can ever take away from me, are the moments I had on the Mariinsky stage. Having the opportunity to dance on such a historical stage was exhilarating and gave me this amazing feeling of success.

dp: Is there something you’d like to say to a young student who may be considering the same path?
HS: Work until you feel like there is nothing more you could possibly do, but make time in your day to relax and take care of yourself – there has to be a balance in your body. Always be respectful and listen to your teachers, but don’t ever let someone discourage you – If you want something, nothing should be able to get in your way.

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