If medals were awarded for the number of ballets that take a particular opera as their text, Bizet’s well-worn Carmen would carry the prize away, far and away in the case of Kent Stowell’s multimedia work for Pacific Northwest Ballet, premiering January 31, 2002 at the Mercer Arts Arena, in Seattle. Like other Carmens of recent note (Matthew Bourne’s gratuitously bloody Car Men, or Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal’s hip and world-wise treatment of 2001, for example), Stowell’s choreography illuminates the original work while exploring a thematically related aspect of contemporary culture. Discovery is achieved through the recorded element, created by video artist Iole Alessandrini.
It is a remarkably literary ballet. It places Carmen among several other familiar dance pieces in a frame story of love, loss and disenchantment that unfolds in a dance company (a dance factory, rather than a cigar factory). Stowell depends largely on flamenco for choreography of ensemble dances: bravura and sexuality rooted in conflict. The set is made up of tubular, movable frames with a video screen backdrop. These structures delineate, alternately, studios and performance venues. Within them, dancers practice and perform, in addition to Carmen, Five Tangos and Le Corsaire; Balanchine’s La Valse, Chaconne and Apollo; and Stowell’s own Romeo and Juliet, and Cinderella.
Like the cast of Bob Fosse’s Cabaret, dancers in practice clothes leak onto the stage before the house lights are dimmed. Their warm up is paralleled by an orchestral tune up, and a collage construction of live video and rehearsal tapes fills the screen. The goal is to bring the audience on stage with the dancers, showing the action from angles it otherwise could not possibly see, and to foreshadow events.
During the Habanero, for example, as Ariana Lallone, in character as Carmen awaits the attention of Jeff Stanton’s Jose, the rehearsal tape behind them is run in reverse. Therefore, on video, the characters are already making love, and we see something of motivation, and the psychology of intent. This juxtaposition also reflects upon – if choreography is a form of contemplation – the nature of time. Stowell shows us a smear in which multiple versions of the present moment occur simultaneously, rather than unwavering forward progress.
The other dancers in the piece serve as foils to the central characters. The superb technician, Patricia Barker, as Michaela, in a Nocturne of poignancy and tenderness, captures our hearts, and nearly steals the show. Stanko Milov’s Escamillo, in a pyrotechnical portrayal of the insouciant matador, is a flashing mirror of the heedless Carmen. An interesting element of characterization is that Lallone’s in-the-studio Carmen, the ballerina en alter ego, is reserved, thoughtful, cautious. In the coda, Lallone is ahead of the corps by one beat, out of sync with her society. Stanton’s martial performance with a mini-corps of picadors reveals him as a boy among boys, and draws attention to his sense of entitlement as the real source of his love and sorrow
The second cast, with principals Carrie Imler and Olivier Wevers in the lead roles convey different personalities. Imler is a cupie-doll Carmen, and Wevers, her would-be lover, an adolescent egoist. Lallone’s Carmen neither asserts nor embodies, but simply is mystery. She exists outside of what is knowable, and her abandonment, her wildness, and her independence finally elude us.
For many teens, summer means relaxing days by the pool. But thousands of
serious, young dancers spend their summer vacations in the studio
working harder than ever. Intensive summer training sessions are a great
way to try out new teachers and styles—or to delve more deeply into the
technique you enjoy most. They can also give you a feel for what
rigorous, conservatory training is like. Indeed, some young dancers use
summer programs to sample schools they might want to attend year-round.
That’s true for twelve year old Jane Yoon. The fact that she was
shopping for a great summer program that might also become her
year-round school made her choice especially exciting and challenging.
“I know I’m choosing good places to audition,” said Yoon, “but sometimes
it feels like I’m just going by the pictures in brochures. I’m glad my
parents helped me figure out what I really want. All schools have
hierarchies, and things that go on under the surface. I’d like to know
in advance if those things are ones I can handle, or maybe even ones I’m
looking for. How competitive will it be? Will I make friends easily?”
Whether your main interest is great summer experience or a long-term
program, deciding where to go can be a daunting task. There are many
great schools and programs that differ widely. Becoming familiar with
their different focuses and offerings will help you find a program that
meets your goals and interests.
At Idyllwild Arts Academy, for example, the emphasis is development of
the individual through the arts. Summer programs for students in every
age group are offered: ballet, jazz, tap and theatre dance among an
abundance of other art forms. Situated in the mountains above Palm
Springs, California, the academy’s curriculum concentrates on classical
technique and artistic expression. All dance students takes courses in
ballet, modern, and jazz. Says Tia Dionne, a senior in the year-round
program, “It’s not competitive. It’s all about inspiration. I’d like to
get into a company, but there are a lot of other things I’m planning,
too. The teachers here give you the tools you need to make it.” Most
graduates of the year-round program go to college and into a variety of
According to William Lowman, Headmaster, “Idyllwild students are highly
individualistic. They represent a cross-section of the world, but they
share one important character trait: a burning desire to do something
different with their lives.” Students view themselves as valued members
of an artistic community, and explore multiple avenues for
self-expression. Nearby Los Angeles, a 45-minute drive away, provides
opportunities for year-round students to view performances and enjoy the
Interlochen Center for the Arts, in Michigan, is distinguished by its
affiliation with University of Michigan, and its 1,200 acre rural
setting. Although more than 2,000 students attend summer camp, just 100
are dance majors. The rest study creative writing, music, theater and
visual arts. Dancers live in cabins with students from any or all of
these programs, and in addition to dancing 5 to 6 hours per day, engage
in a variety of outdoor activities. The focus of the dance program is
modern and ballet, with courses in improvisation, composition, and
repertory. For school-year students, the academy offers an outstanding
academic education to students in grades 3 -12. Distinguished alumni
include: Mike Wallace, CBS News Correspondent; Tom Hulce, who played the
title role in the film Amadeus; and Tom Rawe of Twyla Tharp Company.
Each year, Interlochen presents more than 750 performances involving
students. Summer dancers are involved in two performances during each
four-week session (there are two dance sessions each summer). The school
also hosts prominent guest artists during the summer who perform and
offer master classes.
The Kirov Academy of Ballet offers a more urban experience. Located in
Washington, D.C., the school shares facilities during the summer
(swimming pool, residence hall) with nearby Trinity College. The
five-story building contains two large, world-class studios and three
smaller ones, air-conditioned dormitories, library, Pilates studio,
costume shop and classrooms.
Of the approximately 280 dance students who attend summer school, ten
percent continue in the year-round program. There are classes in ballet
(Vaganova method), pointe, character, Spanish, hip-hop, jazz and, during
winter months, Russian. SAT scores of graduating students are high,
averaging between 1100 and 1300, and most go directly into dance
companies. Students view one another as ‘family,’ and older students
look after younger ones.
Kirov is unique in its affiliations with the Kirov-Mariensky Ballet and
Universal Ballet companies. Many Kirov Academy graduates have gone on to
dance with Universal Ballet Company, or to study dance for another year
in St. Petersburg. Summer school students get the benefit of taking
classes with the same teachers who work with academy students year
round. One of these, Angelina Armeiskaya, was a student at the Kirov
Maryinsky Theatre School, and the lead character in the 1977 documentary
film, The Children of Theatre Street. Summer and academy students alike
become the beneficiaries of a tradition, transmitted from student to
teacher to student again—minds meeting minds across the years. The
academy also boasts a string of Prix de Lausanne and Varna medallists,
including Michele Wiles, who presently dances for ABT, and Rasta Thomas,
Canada’s National Ballet School, set in the vital arts community of
downtown Toronto, provides access to overseas exchange in an
international setting. The school has partnerships with 12 other ballet
programs, including the Hamburg and Royal Ballet schools that offer
year-round senior students the opportunity to spend a summer in a ballet
academy abroad. The program has evolved its own style, combining
Vaganova, Bournonville and Cecchetti, giving graduates a “clean line and
exciting style, outstanding preparation for dancing with any company,”
says director Mavis Staines.
The expanding facility includes residences, nine studios, a theater,
pool, computer room, and physiotherapy clinic, all available for
supervised use by summer school students. For year-round students, the
academy offers a full curriculum of requirements and electives,
including French. In addition, students take courses in nutrition and
overall body fitness. All students who wish to attend the academic
program must audition and attend summer school first. It is a way for
the dance school and the potential student to try each other out. “The
atmosphere of learning is highly supportive,” says one administrator.
“The total package is a ‘home-away-from-home’ along with exceptional
National Ballet School alumni are in high demand. Currently, graduates
dance at more than 35 companies around the world. Audition tours are
held in each year, and approximately 25% of students admitted to the
summer program are invited to attend the school.
Another school that turns out sought-after graduates is the North
Carolina School of the Arts. The campus sits in a mixed
residential/warehouse district near historic downtown Winston-Salem, and
offers both a college-preparatory high school diploma and a BFA. The
dancers occupy a large building shared with both drama and music
students. Since summer programs are offered in other areas of
concentration besides dance, students meet contemporaries in other
fields and share ideas. (During the school year, students from different
disciplines even share dorm rooms.) At the conclusion of the 5 weeks of
summer study, there’s a demo performance, mostly for friends and
families. In the year-round program, however, dancers perform for the
public, both on campus and in a downtown theater. NCSA stages eighteen
performances of The Nutcracker each December. Revenue from these
performances funds scholarships. The department is also endowed with
Lucia Chase and Nureyev Guest Artist fellowships.
A distinguished faculty, including NYCB’s Melissa Hayden, Varna
medallist Gyula Pandi, and Kirsten Simone of the Royal Danish Ballet,
represent a variety of dance and teaching styles. “Most schools focus on
a single style,” says the school’s dean Susan McCollough, “Bournonville,
Vaganova, Graham, Limón, Arthur Mitchell. We do that [ALL THOSE?] and
more. Our faculty is diverse, and students show the effects by
developing strength in multiple areas.” The real focus is on perfecting
technique, from step to movement. “Your knees have to kiss each other,”
Hayden told one group last summer. “Otherwise, it’s not doing you any
good.” Students emerge with experience in Balanchine, RAD, de Mille and
Ailey among others. “It makes you flexible to change,” one student said.
“I’ve gotten a lot stronger.”
Summer school is used for recruitment, while year-round students tend to broaden
their horizons in other programs during the summer months. Graduates include Deanna
Seay, Miami City Ballet; Lynnette Hitchens, Pacific Northwest Ballet; Jeanne Ruddy,
Martha Graham Company, Mark Dendy, and Mark Dendy Dance.
So once you gather all the facts, how do you decide? One thing to think
about is whether you’re looking for exposure to a plethora of dance
styles or in-depth concentration on one. Many bright, talented dancers
with academic potential are happy in more diverse, less focused
programs. Also, every school has a “personality.” Administrators and
teachers create a culture that is modeled in class and even in the
dorms. You should look for programs that will challenge you—but that
also create an atmosphere where you enjoy learning and feel comfortable.
Attending summer study program auditions is a good way to check this
out. Trying out for a program can teach you a lot, even if you don’t get
And once you find the ideal place, it’s important to remember that you
still have to take responsibility for learning what’s taught. “It’s not
enough just to appear,” says Yoon, who decided to attend Kirov last
summer, and to put off year-round academy study until she’s older. “It’s
hard, but it’s fun, too. I don’t think I really knew how much I love
dance until I went there. If you’re lucky, you get a lot of corrections.
And nothing’s better than hearing, after all that work, ‘That’s right!’”