Ballets about Ballet: Les Sylphides and Theme and Variations at ABT

The opening tableau in Les Sylphides. Photo by Gene Schiavone
The opening tableau in Les Sylphides. Photo by Gene Schiavone

At the Saturday matinee, ABT presented a program consisting of Fokine’s Les Sylphides, Stanton Welch’s Clear, and Balanchine’s Theme and Variations. The most interesting aspect was seeing the contrast between Sylphides and Theme. Two sumptuous works about the nature of ballet itself. I reviewed the show here.

A short excerpt: “In many ways these two works illustrate what we think about when we think about ballet. The first is a vaporous homage to the aura of mid-nineteenth century works like La Sylphide and Giselle. The latter, a luminous affirmation of the classical style, specifically the high classicism of the Russian Silver Age and its exemplary ballet, Sleeping Beauty.”

Virginia Johnson, DTH, and the Question of Race

Virginia Johnson with her DTH dancers. Photo by Andrea Mohin for the Times.
Virginia Johnson with her DTH dancers. Photo by Andrea Mohin for the Times.

This summer, I spoke with Virginia Johnson, the longtime star of Dance Theatre of Harlem, who is now the troupe’s Artistic Director. You can see the interview, on DanceTabs, here.

Under Johnson’s tutelage, the company has returned from the brink for a successful first season. This fall, her dancers will perform at Fall for Dance in New York. In our interview, we talked about her life in dance, the rise, fall, and rise of Dance Theatre of Harlem, and the very real challenge of diversity in ballet. Here’s an  excerpt: “I look at these dancers and I see that they’re not being corrected. There are some very basic things going on that reveal that they’re being ignored. And we see changes in them so quickly because they are finally getting corrections. The schools need to not only embrace the fact that ballet doesn’t have a color but actually work with the material in the room.”

The question of diversity in ballet is finally coming to people’s attention. Benjamin Millepied mentioned it in an interview related to his upcoming directorship of the Paris Opera Ballet, in comments that pissed off the French media. (He said, “I can’t run a ballet company now, today, and not have it be a company where people in the house can relate to, and recognize themselves in some ways.” Shocking.) ABT has just announced a new initiative whose mission is to reach out to minority communities through Boys and Girls Clubs across the us. (ABT’s Misty Copeland will be the ambassador for the program, which is called Project Plié.) Meanwhile, DTH will be there.

Edward Villella, Unplugged

Edward Villella at a café in his new 'hood, Hamilton Heights. Photo by yours truly.
Edward Villella at a café in his new ‘hood, Hamilton Heights. Photo by yours truly.

Edward Villella is back in town, unbowed by his Miami City Ballet experience and ready to begin the next chapter of his life. I sat down with him recently at a café around the corner from his Hamilton Heights brownstone to talk about his life in dance, Balanchine, his experiences in Miami, and his plans for the future. You can read the interview here, in DanceTabs.

An Interview with Nancy Reynolds (DanceTabs)

Nancy Reynolds and George Balanchine in 1977.

I recently sat down with the dance historian Nancy Reynolds to talk about her life in dance, which began in 1957 when she joined the New York City Ballet. After five difficult years in the company she went on to study art history, edit Lincoln Kirstein, collaborate in the creation of the International Encyclopedia of Dance, and write a series of essential dance books including Repertory in Review and No Fixed Points. Since 1994 she has been involved in the Balanchine Archives, a project which she conceived and which consists of filming working sessions with the original creators of Balanchine roles as they pass on the choreographer’s instructions to a new generation of dancers. She has filmed Maria Tallchief coaching  Firebird, Alicia Markova recreating her solo from Le Chant du Rossignol, Frederic Franklin remembering steps from the version of Baiser de la Fée that he danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and many others.

Here is a link to the interview.

And here is a short excerpt:

“Balanchine was a god. Everybody says that, but it’s absolutely true. Most people who were there just worshiped him. I knew Stravinsky was around, and I saw some Agon rehearsals. It was obvious that Agon was an extraordinary event. Balanchine was around all the time; it was nothing special to see him in the hall. But I will tell you, there were lots of empty seats at City Center. We had Sunday evening performances, and from the stage you’d see rows and rows of empty seats. Balanchine said the same thing about Diaghilev’s company: there were full houses on glamorous opening nights, but often many empty seats after that. I was always a little embarrassed to say I was with NYCB, because the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and Ballet Theatre seemed like much more important companies. But I felt I was a pioneer, bringing Balanchine to the great public.”