Tag Archives: new york city ballet

In Which We Take an Epic Road Trip and Discover New Ballet Companies to Love

This summer we decided to take a road trip. It wasn’t going to be just any road trip; we planned to cover the entire Eastern seaboard, beginning at the Southern-most point in the US (in Key West, FL) and ending up in Maine. In a convertible Mustang. With a ten-year-old.

Did I mention we had 11 days to do it? That’s a lot of mileage to cover, with so much to see and do in between. While some may argue that this sounds like a recipe for disaster, we were either optimistically ignorant or just plain determined. As my sister-in-law always says, “Go big or go home.” Not a bad motto.

What we found was a whole new list of places to love and that we are, in fact, very good travelers. And I also discovered that many of these new favorite cities have world-class ballet companies as well. If I were starting out as a dancer today, I might seriously consider them.

  1. Philadelphia, PA. Pennsylvania Ballet celebrates its 50th season this year with an impressive lineup of Balanchine favorites Jewels and Serenade, works by William Forsyth and Christopher D’Amboise, and a world premiere by Trey McIntyre. Although I am embarrassed to admit that I had previously spent a grand total of three hours in Philadelphia (when I auditioned for the company in 1984), Philadelphia is a new favorite city. Where else can you see a living example of freemason building (City Hall, which took 27 years to build), the largest Rodin collection outside of Europe, the largest collection of Impressionist art outside of Europe and the “Rocky” steps (the scene of Sly Stallone’s famous run up the gigantic stone staircase outside the museum.)
  2. Charleston, SC. Charleston Ballet is a small company with big ideas. For its 26th season, the repertoire encompasses both classical and contemporary works such as Dracula, (choreographed by Jill Eathorne Bahr), and new choreography set to Gershwin and Latin Jazz music. Principal dancer Alexey Kulpin, originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, dances the lead in Don Qixote and Peter Pan. I have always loved Charleston since I first discovered it years ago while on tour with Miami City Ballet. The historical area of town is postcard perfect with beautiful Southern plantation homes in bubblegum colors and still features working gaslights after dark. It’s a town that easy to get to know and difficult to leave…  plus some say the climate is similar to that of Hawaii… dakine.
  3. Boston, MA. Coincidentally, Boston Ballet is also celebrating its 50th season… with Jewels on the roster. (Did they powwow with Pennsylvania on that?) This season also promises La Bayadère, Cinderella, five company premieres, a tour to London, Washington DC and New York, and Night of Stars on Boston Common (September 21st, 7:30pm), a free event, Boston Ballet’s gift to the city. Boston is rich with history, culture and more colleges and universities per capita than anywhere else on the planet. (postscript: Boston is also the home of the best canoli ever: Mike’s Pastry, located near Fenway Park).
  4. Chapel Hill, NC. Carolina Ballet, based in the next town over (Raleigh, NC) and launched in 1997,has staged 80 world premiere ballets, and toured internationally in China and Hungary under the artistic direction of Robert Weiss (former artistic director of Pennsylvania Ballet and principal dancer at New York City Ballet .) It appears there is a conspiracy afoot: this company also plans to perform Jewels… plus classics Romeo &Juliet and Sleeping Beauty and a world premiere set to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. One of the three points of the high-tech R&D hub known as the Research Triangle (along with Raleigh and Durham), Chapel Hill is known to be a large population with a small-town feel and liberal political outlook and nearby UNC and Duke University keep the culture lively. It was recently hailed as “America’s Foodiest Small Town” by Bon Appétit Magazine.
  5. Miami Beach, FL. Miami City Ballet. Oh wait. Already did that. I’m interested to see how the company blossoms under the artistic guidance of Lourdes Lopez. This season the company will offer a mix of Balanchine (Serenade, Concerto Barocco), classic (Don Quixote), and  theatric flavor (West Side Story). Miami has grown and changed dramatically since I lived there in the late 80s but I’m happy to report the beach is still clean and the ocean is crystal clear.

Dancers Discuss Life After the Stage: Interview With Zippora Karz

Zippora Karz is a former soloist ballerina with the New York City Ballet where she performed from 1983 through 1999. She was featured in a variety of roles choreographed by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins (The Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker being one of her favorites) as well as works choreographed for her by such choreographers as Peter Martins and Lynne Taylor Corbett. Diagnosed with juvenile diabetes in 1987, just as she was being featured in solo roles, she found a way to continue to live her dream despite her illness. She now serves as a teacher and repetiteur for the George Balanchine Trust, rehearsing and staging Balanchine’s choreography for a host of national and international dance companies. She is also a diabetes spokesperson and educator who regularly addresses major diabetes conferences and organizations worldwide. In addition to her memoir, The Sugarless Plum, published in 2009, Zippora writes a regular column for the Huffington Post. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

 

 

photo by Mark Harmel

Which tools have been the most helpful during your most challenging moments?

I have always been passionate about health, physically and emotionally, long before I was diagnosed with diabetes. So when I was diagnosed I set out to learn everything I could about how to take care of my body. But equally important was learning to accept the things I could not control, as my life took an unexpected turn and I felt my dreams slipping away. It was a very long process, one I am still on, desiring to fulfill my personal potential, but having to redefine what that potential might encompass. For example, my potential as a ballerina before diabetes was different than my potential after my diagnosis. I had to learn to let go of the perfectionist voice in my head and heart that wanted to be the best I could be as I was before my diabetes, even though everything was now different. My new best would have to be good enough.

Describe the happiest moment(s) of your dance career.

I’m not one to get ecstatic over certain experiences. A sense of peace came about when I accepted my situation and found myself able to maintain my life as a soloist with NYCB, and as an insulin dependent diabetic.

But I will say that those youthful “happy” moments, if I looked for them, I would have to be before I joined the company, my school years at SAB (official school of NYCB). George Balanchine was still alive, as were many of the great teachers on faculty, like Stanley Williams, Suki Schorer (still there today) and Alexandra Danilova. Every day, in class, I felt inspired. The future held unlimited possibilities. It was a magical time in the ballet world. As that generation of greatness passed away, I felt personally less inspired.

What was your next step once you decided to retire from performing?

Upon retiring from The New York City Ballet in 1999, after 16 years of performing, Zippora was asked to represent the George Balanchine Trust as repetiteur of his ballets. This took her across the globe staging the great ballets she was blessed to dance and coaching professional dancers. She has staged Serenade, Concerto Barocco, Sonatine, and Valse Fantasie internationally as well as serving rehearsal mistress for Agon and Symphony in C.

Zippora teaches master classes for numerous ballet academies and companies including the Spotlight Awards in Los Angeles from 2003-2009.

In 2000 Zippora helped create an interactive, school age educational program with NYC Ballet’s education department about the history of music and dance. Representing the NYC Ballet, Zippora taught the program for school systems throughout Edinburgh, Glasgow and the surrounding areas of Scotland.

As dance lecturer Zippora spoke at the Music Center before performances for the New York City Ballet and The Joffrey Ballet as guest speaker to the Music Center’s Dance Arts board on being a “Balanchine Dancer.”

Zippora has devoted herself to motivating and inspiring people to become healthy and active, sharing her personal story of overcoming obstacles and inspiring people to move through her series of gentle dance like movements, which she shares at diabetes conferences around the world.

Diabetes organizations she is affiliated with as a motivator, teacher and speaker include Children with Diabetes, The American Diabetes Association, The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and Taking Control of Your Diabetes. She has worked with Dr. Fran Kaufman, head of pediatric endocrinology children’s hospital LA, at her diabetes retreats as well as sharing her program with the Hollygrove Orphanage facility in Los Angeles.

How has your background as a dancer helped you with the work you are doing today?

The life of a dancer is full of discipline and rewards for hours of practice and focus. Dance teaches us that it is the process that is important. That the transition from one step to the next, not just how high you jump or how many turns you do are important. And so in life, it is the moments in between, not just the big events that hold great meaning.

How did you find the strength and willpower to continue dancing while you were struggling with diabetes?

My struggle was for many years. In part denial fueled my strength, and in part my passion for dance kept me going. In the beginning years I had absolutely no idea what I had ahead of me. Once I accepted my diabetes and realized how difficult it was to try to perform and dance all day on shots of insulin, even though I often wanted to quit, I just couldn’t. I had to try everything I could before saying I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to regret chances not taken. To dance was to live.

What are some of the key points that you share with people during your public speaking engagements?

I talk about my denial and the ways it put me in harms way, mis- judging how to manage my diabetes. How my denial affected my ability to properly discuss my struggles with my doctor. How vitally important it is for us to tend to our physical and emotional health. And of course how important dreams and passion are in life, and that by taking care of our health we can better achieve those goals.

Do you use dance when you work with people who have diabetes? If so, how do you use it?

Not always, but sometimes I do little routines, simple exercise that get people up and moving. I like to remind them how fun it can be to move, exercise does not have to be something you have to do, and are in trouble with your physician if you don’t. It can be fun and a joy! Of course the kids love to move, so with them I like to challenge their balance and also push them with some fun yet difficult moves.

How did you deal with feelings of fear when you received your diagnosis? How were you able to move past those fears?

I was in such denial I didn’t really feel fear in the beginning. And when the denial wore off I didn’t feel well, so I’d say I felt more defeated and overwhelmed than fearful. It was daunting to imagine how I’d ever get back to feeling strong enough to dance the schedule demanded of me. Of course that changed as I learned to manage my diabetes and get my health in some semblance of control. Once I was on track the fear was in the form of a low level of worry, could I maintain this life as an insulin dependent diabetic? Everyday I wondered that.

And then, when I had a low blood sugar attack while performing the fear was much more immediate, throwing fast acting sugar in my mouth between entrances hoping I would not pass out on stage.

In your opinion, what are the most effective ways of dealing with diabetes?

Anyone with diabetes must check their blood sugar levels, take their medication (insulin or pills), eat a healthy diet, and tend to their emotional health. I find people have trouble sticking to a program, often due to emotional issues. The clearer we can be with what is in our hearts, the more we will be able to follow what our brain knows is the right path. But keeping close to normal blood sugar levels is important to avoid the devastating complications related to diabetes.

How and why did you decide to write the Sugarless Plum? How long did it take you to write the book?

I’d been sharing my story for about 10 years, and been told so many times I should write a book, that I had it in my mind to do one day. But it was only after my mother was diagnosed with Cancer that I sat down and began writing. Watching her go through many of the same issues, the denial, the mis-diagnosis, all the conflicting information, and the emotional confusion, I realized my story is not just a diabetic one, that the issues involved are universal.

Finding an agent who believed I had a story took 2 years. Actually I wanted to write a diet and exercise book, but could not find an agent. When I met my agent, she said she could not sell another self help book, but she could sell it as a memoir. The actual writing process took about 1 ½ years.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Finding a passion in life, something that makes us feel connected, that has meaning and value is important for us all. And we must take care of our physical bodies to be able to experience that magic that life can offer.

To find out more about Zippora or her book, The Sugarless Plum, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

A School of American Ballet Evaluation To Remember

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of every School of American Ballet summer intensive there comes a moment of reckoning. This is true for every dancer who sets foot in the studios. At this point every dancer is observed, evaluated and discussed so their potential futures can be determined. It’s a make it or break it kind of moment.

Of course it’s nothing personal…

The day arrived. The elegant and diminutive Ms. Nathalie Gleboff, the quietly stern executive director of the school (she was the last of the women of Russian background hired by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein to run the school. Peter Martins said, “She did it humanely — with moral fiber and an iron fist.”) entered and crossed the room silently (in heels… she always wore heels, so how she did it silently was anyone’s guess) to take her rightful spot next to Madame Antonina Tumkovsky(known affectionately to her students as “Tumy”)

The two women appraised each student one by one, their heads bent together as they conversed in Russian.

Even though it was impossible to understand a single thing they were saying, it was glaringly (sometimes painfully) obvious exactly who was being scrutinized.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ms. Gleboff was just in time to catch us in the middle of jumps.  Her gaze was so intense and intimidating to my 13-year-old self that I immediately went in overdrive. Even though I worked hard every day, on that day I found reserves I didn’t know I had. Jumps had never been one of my strengths (I was tall for a dancer- and super-skinny in my teens) I caught a quick glimpse of my reflection in the mirrors lining the front of the studio and saw myself defying gravity, half a head above most of the group.

I could actually jump. It’s amazing what a healthy dose of fear-related adrenaline can do to a body.Who knew?

Whatever was discussed and decided between the two Russians was never directly related to me. It was all relayed in strictest confidence behind the closed door of Ms. Geleboff’s office to my Connecticut ballet teacher and mentor, Miss Wiley.

An eternity and a half later, Miss Wiley came out, shaking her head. My heart plummeted into my heels. Another eternity later her mouth twisted into a wry grin. “Well, they like you,” she said, “and they want you back next summer.”

My heart grew wings and fluttered back up to a level above where it normally sat.

Miss Wiley lead the way out. Several steps later she turned back to face me, a quizzical look on her face.“Oh yes, there was one more thing that surprised me. They say you can jump.”

 

 

Dance Film Favorites, Part II

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those times when you just can’t make it to St. Petersburg for opening night at the Marinsky Theater or you’re double booked for top-notch Canadian choreography and your budget doesn’t allow for cloning yourself there is an option: dance on film. While some might call it second best it beats missing out entirely, plus you can watch it in the comfort of your own home.

FIlms are always better with snacks. Make sure to break out the popcorn. Drizzle liberally with olive oil, garlic powder and spices. Dig in.

1. Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School. Disregard the somewhat odd title of this movie because I promise this film will be well worth your while. The story follows a widowed man whose life turns upside down when he embarks on a journey to find a dying man’s long lost love… hint: dance is the catalyst of change.The stellar cast includes John Goodman, Robert Carlysle and Marisa Tomei.

2. Mao’s Last Dancer. Based on the autobiography by Li Cunxin. At the age of 11, Li was plucked from a poor Chinese village by Madame Mao’s cultural delegates and taken to Beijing to study ballet. In 1979, during a cultural exchange to Texas, he fell in love with an American woman. Two years later, he managed to defect and went on to perform as a principal dancer for the Houston Ballet and as a principal artist with the Australian Ballet.

3. BallerinaFrench filmmaker Bertrand Norman follows the careers of five Russian ballerinas in their career path from the acclaimed Vaganova Academy to the stage of the famed Kirov Ballet. Using magnificent perormance footage, as well as behind the scenes shots and candid interviews, Bertrand gives audiences am insider glimpse of the extreme discipline and dedication demanded of ballerinas.

4. Bringing Balanchine Back. Under the guidance of Ballet Master-in-Chief Peter Martins, the New York City Ballet travels from its home base in Manhattan to St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater, to perform at the legendary Mariinsky Theater, where George Balanchine, a founder of the acclaimed NYCB had begun his own career. This documentary captures some spectacular sequences of the New York City Ballet’s performances of choreography by Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Peter Martins.

5. LaLaLa Human Steps’ “Amelia”. Quicksilver footwork. Chic elegance. Spidery sets and black net costumes cool enough to belong on the cover of Vogue. La La La Human Steps is where ballet and high fashion collide; where traditional movements are redefined into present-day relevance. The choreography is an interplay of speed and extremes, physical challenge blended with lyricism that has brought the Canadian ballet company to international renown. But it is their unique blend of innovative dance vocabulary, contemporary music and cinematic effects that differentiates them from other ballet companies of their caliber.

Happy viewing! I leave you with a quote from Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School:

Dance is a very powerful drug Mr. Keane. If embraced judiciously, it can exorcise demons, access deep seated emotions and color your life in joyous shades of brilliant magenta that you never knew existed. But, one must shoulder its challenges with intrepid countenance if one is ever to reap its rewards.