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Challenges in business and life? To Ralph de la Vega, they’re just “opportunities in disguise.”
Part 1 — De la Vega’s story
Part 2 — De la Vega’s story
Power Breakfast Series – Ralph de la Vega
AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets CEO Ralph de la Vega believes in the American Dream. A Cuban native, he came to the U.S. alone at the age of 10, struggled and prospered, and now has written an inspirational book, Obstacles Welcome, about his formula for success. “America is still the land of opportunity,” he told PODER in an interview. “Mine is a universal story about how immigrants can succeed in this great country. That is our history. That is our heritage.” (more…)
Latin Nights! Dancercize! Salsa Aerobics! One of the many cultural benefits of the influx of Spanish-speaking peoples from the Caribbean, Central and South America is the immense surge in popularity of partnership dance. Part revival, part revolution, this interest has transformed the club scene across the U.S. with fresh venues springing up and old ones adding Latin nights to the dance mix scene. (more…)
The open mic phenomenon is sweeping the nation, so it is not too big a surprise that it thrives in Gwinnett County. In fact, if you want, you can visit an open mic venue every weeknight (Sunday through Thursday) in Gwinnett. I know. I’ve tried it. But here’s a word to the wise: if you seen one, you have NOT see them all. Each has a unique personality. (more…)
School of the North Carolina Dance Theatre’s Conservatory Program
It is a crisp fall morning in Charlotte, North Carolina, and fourteen year old roommates, Lindsay Woodall and Jane Yoon, are getting dressed – not for a day at school, but for ballet class. Charlotte, once a sleepy southern town, is fast becoming an arts mecca and mini metropolis, with the Balanchine-inspired dance company, the North Carolina Dance Theatre, co-directed by retired New York City Ballet dancers Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride at its center. It is here the two girls, among the youngest ever admitted to NCDT’s Conservatory Program, are headed for a day of big sweat and small glory, as they work their bodies and brains to the limit to achieve their mutual dream of a professional dance career.
“Only three months ago,” says Yoon, “my future seemed to be up in the air.” She was a student at North Atlanta Dance Academy, in Georgia, attending three different summer programs in widely dispersed areas of the country. She was a favorite with her teachers, dancing the only solo in her class at the Universal Ballet Academy Summer Session II demonstration. But she was becoming more and more dissatisfied with her work at NADA. “My teachers in Georgia were awesome, but I was too comfortable there. No matter how hard I tried, I always felt like I was slacking.” It was time for a change. But Yoon was also plagued by a worry that at just under 5’ 10”she was too tall to dance ballet. She would tower over her partners, she feared, and would end up scrunching down in the back row of any professional company that accepted her. So NCDT’s standard that welcomed tall dancers was the opposite of what she expected.
“Have you seen our company?” Darleen Callaghan, retired company principal and director of the school, asks. “More than half the women are in the 5’7” to 5’9” height range. Jane and Lindsay (Woodall is 5”7”) fit right in.” And NCDT is not the only prominent American dance company that looks for taller female artists. “San Francisco, New York City Ballet, Houston, Seattle, Canada’s National Ballet, all have lots of tall girls on their company rosters.”
Woodall, too, who started dancing at age nine and has been en pointe for only a year, was surprised by the sudden change in her life. “I danced at a tiny school in Arizona,” she says. “It was just for fun. Then we moved here, and I started taking classes at NCDT, and all of a sudden I had a big problem: homework.”
Any serious dancer who attends a public school knows what she means. “You come home from school and you have to rush to make the carpool on time. Then you take three hours of dance class. By the time you get back it’s nine or ten o’clock, and you still haven’t started your homework. Some nights you’re up till midnight or later.”
“I never seemed to get enough sleep,” Yoon agrees, remembering the juggling of her schedule that was so much a part of her life only a short time ago. “On Sundays, I’d stay in bed till 2 or 3 in the afternoon, I was so tired. That is, if I didn’t have rehearsal.”
Acceptance with NCDT’s Conservatory has put an end to this dilemma, for both girls. Now, instead of waking up at 6:30AM to get ready to catch a school bus, they can sleep until 7:30 or 8:00. Technique class begins at 9:30, followed by courses in pedagogy, Pilates, floor barre, composition, or dance history. Frequently they are joined in these classes with company trainees, apprentices, and, occasionally, full-fledged company members. Afterwards, they shower, eat lunch, and spend the afternoon completing their high school credits through Indiana University High School’s Independent Study Program.
“It’s an excellent choice for any serious dancer,” says Callaghan, who helped in getting the two programs – the NCDT Conservatory and Indiana University – together. Students work at their own pace, completing assignments, essays and tests either through the web-based option, where students to work on line and submit assignments via the internet, or the more traditional, paper-based option, where they send finished work to their instructors by mail. If they have to stop working on assignments to get ready for a performance, there is no penalty and no catch up.
“You just pick up where you left off,” says Yoon.
A further benefit of completing a high school diploma through Indiana University is that for many courses students can take advantage of dual enrollment. This means the credits they earn count for both high school and college. It is possible, therefore, for IU students to finish a diploma with a year of college under their belts – a great leg-up whatever future they opt for.
In the evenings, Woodall and Yoon return to the NCDT studios for their classes in ballet, pointe, modern, partnering, variations and jazz. It’s a full day of dancing, and that’s not including rehearsals. Casting assignments and performance practices are posted on the bulletin board, usually with only a few days’ advance notice before rehearsals begin.
Being able to work with choreographers like Dwight Rhodens, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Michael Pink, Mark Diamond, Jeanene Russell and Heather Ferranti-Ferguson is a second important benefit of the program. “When I began studying at the School of American Ballet,” Associate Artistic Director Patricia McBride explains, “I was fourteen years old, the same age Jane and Lindsay are now, but I didn’t have the advantage of working with a company. All we had was class – which is great for developing technique – but for discovering yourself as an artist, developing artistry, working with choreographers on new pieces can’t be compared with any other way of studying dance. It’s simply the best.”
It’s also a good way to find out if a career in dance is what you really want. “Our students live and breathe dance all day long,” Darleen Callaghan says, “and are fully prepared for employment in this profession – as performers and teachers, choreographers, program directors – they’ve even been exposed to the advertising and marketing and fund-raising aspects of a dance organization. They understand what’s involved. Of course there are no guarantees. But there is a significant value in training at a school that is affiliated with a company, and an advantage in seeing dancers every day in rehearsal and performance. It’s a whole different exposure.”
Woodall and Yoon are discovering exactly what it’s like to work with a professional choreographer. “I love being with the professionals, having them as fellow students in my classes, and being able to learn from them, as my teachers,” says Woodall. Currently Mark Diamond is rehearsing the girls for a revival of his dynamic and trend-setting Allegro con molto, Yoon as an understudy and Woodall in the cast. Both young women are also performing in Ferranti-Ferguson’s and Russell’s new pieces, which will premiere at one of several dance events in the upcoming year: the Winter Festival of Dance, in Gastonia, North Carolina, The North Carolina Dance Festival in Winston-Salem, The North Carolina Choreography Showcase, and SERBA (the South Eastern Regional Ballet Association) in Raleigh. “It’s exciting to be chosen,” says Woodall, and the work is so interesting you forget how hard it is.”
Yoon shares a page of her diary, written on the day she found out she had gotten the part:
Mr. Diamond’s class went well this morning, apart from my knee pain. He has decided that he would like Pauline [Huron], Alyssa [Botelho], and me to understudy his piece, Allegro, and Lindsay has the opportunity to perform it. I feel incredibly privileged, and see it as a sign of his interest in us.
Diamond’s choice reveals NCDT’s confidence in the commitment these young people demonstrate. “Our mission is to offer serious dance students the opportunity to incorporate college-preparatory academics with excellent dance training,” Callaghan maintains. “So we look for kids who are not only motivated to pursue a career in dance, but who have the focus and the discipline to do the work.”
Right now, there are eleven students in the Conservatory, and another six in the University of North Carolina Charlotte Dance Certificate Program, a course of study that allows them to obtain a certificate in dance while earning a college degree. “There’s a historical advantage in training in North Carolina,” says Callaghan. “It’s been just great for dancers. We perform Balanchine repertory, and we’ve also worked with a large number of upcoming and established of choreographers. With generous state funding and all the NEA touring grants – in the eighties NCDT was the number one touring company in the U.S. – we’ve always been financially secure, and consequently the company is very stable. We don’t see a lot of turnover among the professionals.”
What does this stability mean for trainees who dream of a dance future with NCDT? “We encourage the Conservatory students to take advantage of opportunities to prepare for employment with a dance company,” Callaghan affirms. “Maybe it will be North Carolina, but often not. Conservatory students attend every summer program audition that’s held in our studios. We believe that such exposure can only benefit the dancer.
“When you work with a variety of teachers and directors, you broaden your horizons, and the more you’re seen, the more opportunities you’ll have to do just that. We never hold students back. What would be the point of that? When a school or company shows interest in one of our students, it’s an affirmation for us. We know we’re doing good work. And we take part in the student’s decision to move on. Are this student and this company a good match? We counsel, we recommend, and we work with the dancer’s family. People want to know how to get into big companies. This is the way it’s done.”
This past year, several NCDT students distinguished themselves with substantial moves. One accepted a contract with Houston Ballet’s second company. Another was offered a full scholarship to Miami City Ballet School. A third, only twelve years old, has moved to the year-round program at Canada’s National Ballet School. “These are the success stories that tell us how well we’re doing,” says Callaghan.
As for the immediate future, NCDT is looking to start construction of a new building with state-of-the-art studios, classrooms, a student center, comfortable dressing rooms, and possibly, dormitories. Currently, there is another plan afoot to establish dorm arrangements with a nearby community college. Yoon, an out-of-stater, lives with a host family, the Woodalls, which is a clear advantage for her and Lindsay, since they attend the same classes, and even study the same courses together through IU. But many people prefer the convenience of living in a dorm, an alternative that will soon become a viable choice for students at NCDT.
For more information about NCDT’s Conservatory Program and Indiana University High School’s Independent study Program, please contact Darleen Callaghan at (704) 372-0101.
Reprint Rights Available
Published February 2004 in Dancer Magazine
Bring it On, Savion
It’s a sunny November afternoon in Atlanta, Georgia, and Savion Glover, possibly the greatest living tap dancer, and a national treasure, is visiting the Children’s Museum to do one of the things he does best – perform for and teach a group of 30 – 40 people, most under the age of nine.
The event is unadvertised, and only a dozen kids are wearing tap shoes. But Savion is in his element. He presents a side view of his lean frame (5’ 9”, 162lbs), and taps out a hello. He spends about two minutes dancing before he calls on the children to join him. “Do you want to do a tap dance for the audience? Come on. Show me what you’ve got. Follow me. Right foot.” And soon, Savion and the kids are performing together, to the delight of everyone present.
Savion’s breakout style ventures far afield from formulaic tap practiced by great hoofers Bojangles Robinson, Fred Astaire, and Gregory Hines. For Savion, tapping is a way of teaching. Sound is experience: it communicates ideas. He was a regular on PBS’s Sesame Street, as a tap-dancing character named Savion “I would say one of the most influential experiences I’ve had, thus far, and I was really totally blown away, and amazed,” he drawls, as much an expert of comic timing as he is of dancing, “was when I got the chance to work with Big Bird.“
After the children’s show, he takes a few questions from the tiny audience. When one person asks, perhaps because Savion has made videos with rap artists Sean Combs and Red Man, “How important to you is the relation of tap dance to hip hop culture?” Savion takes the opportunity to slam what he clearly considers a narrow vision of art categories. “The art of tap dancing has nothing to do with the hip hop culture. The art of tap dancing is a culture in itself. There’s always the chance that I might use that music, but I was tap dancing when hip hop wasn’t so popular. I’m like Kool Herc.” Hip hop artist Kool Herc performed on the streets of New York before the style was picked up by record companies, before it was cool.
The visit to the Children’s Museum is the first event leading to a new show premiering at Atlanta’s Rialto Center for the Performing Arts, November 11 – 16, 2003, and continuing, beginning December 16, for three weeks at the Joyce Theatre in New York. The program isa jazz jam set to a medley of Broadway tunes, including “Singing in the Rain;” “My Favorite Things;” “Midnight,” from Cats; “Hey Big Spender,” from Sweet Charity; and Miles Davis’s “Seven Steps to Heaven.” The six-member band, including jazz piano great, Tommy James, and bass violinist Andy McCloud, whose CD Blues for Bighead earned Soundstage’s Best Jazz Album of the Year Award, in 2001, sit behind plexiglass screens to temper their instruments against the sounds of Savion’s tapping feet.
Savion dances the first half-hour of the show with his back to the audience, and when he at last turns to face us, his eyes are shut. This is dance that is much less about the visual – what we see – than it is about sound. Rather than performing tap tricks, in a look-what-I- can-do display, he listens – and invites the audience to listen with him – as he corners an area of the floor and explores it. The movement is tight and centered; Savion rarely becomes expansive or takes over the stage in a broad way. This is dance that is about music, not about a star, and Savion’s body, like the body of a Balanchine ballerina, is an instrument.
Andy McCloud, who plays bass violin at St Nick’s jazz club, in Harlem, which is also where he met Savion, was hired both for the Atlanta and NewYork runs. He told me: “Savion made a rough sketch of the music for the first night, and since it worked, he kept it, adding in only a few things.”
I saw the Rialto show twice, on opening night, and then the following Saturday, and there were distinct differences in the two performances, especially in the work of Savion’s cast, tap dancers XX, XX and XX. On opening night, each of the three young people entered the stage alone and did a rehearsed routine. By Saturday, Savion had refined this section of the performance to reflect his personality: his joy in hoofing, his commitment to teaching a new generation, and to movement that is conversation. Savion tapped out a melody, and the dancers returned it to him. He played it again, and they sent it back to him one more time. The next review contained bright embellishments, tapped out with spirit and vigor. In the final turn, Savion, musicians and cast joined together in a jam that the impromptu, call and response routine had brought into being.
Up until now, Savion has communicated his artistic vision in original programs like Savion Glover’s Nu York and Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk, entirely with his feet. But for Savion at the Rialto, he sang “The Way you Look Tonight,” joyously, with a promising rhythmic awareness and graceful, thirties style. When I caught up with Savion at the Children’s Museum, November 4, I asked him what was new for him in this performance.
SG: To give you [an] aspect of my performance that you’ve never witnessed before, and just work on what I know. I’m just the same old dude. What’s new is basically my association with the Nederlander. This show is letting the audience in on what I really do, at the same time I’m thanking the Nederlander for letting me be a part of what it is they do.
CMP: Can you tell me what the effect of Greg Hines’s transition has been on you, on your work?
SG: I really can’t explain it. I haven’t figured out the words. It’s just something that has affected the rest of my life, sooner than anticipated. It was like he was my father, you know.
CMP: Now it’s like you have two pairs of dance shoes to fill.
SG: No. No, I don’t feel like that.
CMP: Why did you choose dance over music? Music seems like the obvious choice, something anybody would pick. Why go for dance, instead?
SG: Dance sort of picked me. I started out as a drummer. But once my moms started us in tap class it was like boy scouts. We went to boy scouts, we went to vacation Bible school and we went to dance class. It was something to do. I didn’t know it would lead to this, or what type of impact it would have in my life. You know – this wasn’t my plan, and I didn’t choose it. It chose me.
CMP: When did you know that you were just going to keep on dancing?
SG: Um – yesterday. [Laughs].
CMP: What do you think that means, as a dancer, being independent? Is it important? SG: To be a good dancer amongst a company of course requires a strong level of independence. To be in a group allows you to exercise everything you know as an individual. Not only being able to perform, but being able to perform with – to listen to what’s going on, on the other side of the room. To be a solo artist is another sense of independence.
CMP: From the outside, you seem to have led a charmed existence. We perceive you as someone the world has never said “no” to.
SG: What? Say that again?
CMP: Someone the world has never said ‘no’ to.
SG: Oh, wow. [Laughs]. Wow.
CMP: Have you encountered obstacles?
SG: Just living, there are obstacles. But you know, I’m here. I’m here now. I think I’ve just completed a cycle in my life, which has made the next cycle clear. Clear with myself, clear with God, and with what I am and why I am. It’s just as clear as – air. I’m able to attack with clarity. I can punch [the age of] thirty right in the eye when I see him next week. Bing bing.
CMP: Many dancers feel they have to make a choice between a dance career and college.
SG: I come from a generation of dancers who weren’t afraid to take a nine-to-five that paid six dollars. We live in a generation now where – five, six dollars? For a nine-to-five? You’re out of your mind. I need twenty thousand. [Laughs]. But I come from a generation where they knew how to work, go to school, and take dance class. Now, this generation is like [snaps fingers, taps feet] – pop – quick pop – quick pop. Instant. Everything’s instant. So that makes it kind of hard for the kids. They think New York is where it is. I tell the kids: You are where it is. If you’re in Witcheta, that’s where it is. It’s in Witcheta. That’s why I big them up – all these kids that come to New York, and just want to dance. They’re so powerful. They’re so strong. Knowing who you are, and what you have to do in order to maintain who you are – it takes awhile for some people. You can put some people in New York and they know just [snaps] they’re just like that to everything. Uptown, downtown, the movie scene, the club scene, the entertainment field, the music. And then you put some people in New York, and – Alice in Wonderland. They don’t know what to do, get nervous, oh it’s too much, break down, they had an audition, the producer said: ‘You will be nothing,’ duh duh ta duh, oh my whole career’s – debauchery! [Laughs]. I’m over! Dance is a matter of seriousness, devotion, love for the craft. It costs more to be focused, to give it your full attention, [to] say this is what I’m doing. This is what I am.
CMP: People like to talk about the price of fame, how growing up in the limelight takes its toll. You haven’t fallen into any of that. How have you managed it?
SG: All this stuff is cool – the press, the newspaper, tv. It’s cool, but we would still be doing this somewhere in the dance studio, somewhere in somebody’s basement, somewhere up in the club, when there’s five people around. I guess my head is just not set on fame and fortune. I’d rather teach the kids who Jimmy Slyde is. I’d rather teach this person who Lon Chaney was – not the actor or the boxer – the tap dancer. These are our heroes. These are our pioneers of the world. I’m a part of that, just passing it on.
New York-based choreographer Christian Holder had accepted a proposal to create a new ballet from Atlanta Ballet’s Artistic Director John McFall and was searching a website, skimming through titles for appropriate music when he discovered the 18th century John Marriot hymn, “Let There Be Light.” He had just reviewed a tape of his 3-day workshop with Atlanta Ballet dancers, and had in hand a cd of representative gospel music compiled for him by New Birth Missionary Baptist Church music director Kevin Bond.
“Bond recognized it immediately as the lyric for the Negro National Anthem,” Holder continues. “I’d never heard [it], but in fact it turned out to be thematically almost a blueprint for the ballet I was trying to create.”
Holder was looking for music that would be “all-inclusive, that the audience could relate to,” and that would also bring out the varied qualities he had discovered in the dancers. “It’s a classically trained company, but culturally it’s completely mixed,” he says. There are dancers from Mongolia and South America, all over the world. “I knew that to reveal these dancers strengths, I wanted a broad human story, but something that heals, something that transcends our human plight,” Holder explains. “Let there Be Light” is essentially a prayer for “the light of the gospel to shine into the darkest areas of the human void, into hate, into turbulence, into times like our own. It is a prayer for peace.”
This ballet, Transcendence, has its world premiere at The Fox Theatre April 24–27 and may be one of the most unusual and innovative collaborations of its kind in Atlanta Ballet’s history, indeed in the history of dance. About a community in turmoil redeemed by a spiritual messenger, Transcendence is not a story ballet in a traditional sense. Made up of series of episodes held together by the presence of a single character, it contains narrative elements like adversity followed by triumph, and struggle leading to redemption. The idea is to illustrate the place of the artist in the universe. “After 911, people drew together, and all of the gatherings were around music and dance,” says Holder. “This is because music and dance heal. The essence of art is to communicate [that healing, because] the artist is the line between the human and the divine.”
“At first I thought ‘Let There Be Light’ would be recited over the music. We were in a production meeting at a hotel in New York, and I started to read it aloud. ‘Oh, I know this,’ said Bond.” By now Holder had chosen the sequence of songs and had a treatment for the ballet. “It turns out, Bond knew the pieces I’d chosen and felt they would work for New Birth’s voices, that the choir could take these things and make them their own.” The challenge then was for the dancers who would rehearse to the choir’s recordings, but perform at the Fox to live music that to some degree spontaneous. As such, each performance is a unique work of art that come into being at the moment it is performed and can never be repeated in exactly the same way. “The truth of the gesture can change from performance to performance,” Holder says.
When ballet directors choose choreographers, they consider the history, the ingredients, the chemistry an individual can bring to a project. In this case, having selected the music, although not in comprehensive way – McFall didn’t want to inhibit the artistry of his team, Holder, Bond, and composer Paul Chihara who brought the various elements of the piece together musically – he looked at Holder’s international experience. “ Holder has a spectral overview. He doesn’t have the limits some people might. I watched him for years in performance and then when he started to make ballets. Given his body of work, I was curious about how he would approach this music and our mission” to develop a dance that could convey “the spiritual resonance we find in this region.” Likewise, the New Birth Baptist Missionary Choir, whose contemporary sound, with the rhythms and cadence of traditional gospel music but plugged in to the various new technologies for conveying it, including electronics and computer imaging, celebrates Atlanta’s spirituality. This music, McFall explains, is like the city itself, “enjoying a respect for tradition without being cemented in the past.”
Transcendence combines the talents of Atlanta Ballet, the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church choir and the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra—more than 200 artists sharing the stage for the first time ever—in a performance that mixes ballet, African-American religious music, Anglican prayer, Japanese drumming, contemporary dance, Bach and the blues. It is part of an ongoing effort by Atlanta Ballet to incorporate innovative, collaborative productions, as evidenced by the September 2001 concert with the Indigo Girls and last fall’s Ramblin’ Suite with The Red Clay Ramblers.
“We’re not a museum,” says McFall. “The well-spring of the creative mission at ballet is to collaborate with the community of artists we find in Atlanta,” in the hope that by mixing the ballet form with a variety of genres “we discover ourselves as we enrich the city.” Transcendence meets this goal as a “new work that represent our time, what Atlanta is today,” he continues. “The New Hope is one of many congregations in Atlanta that propels people in our community. It speaks to our present with vivid, emotionally charged music, and has been a clear choice in fulfilling our passion to express ourselves, with our artistic colleagues in the community, through collaboration.”
The blend of forms, sometimes called fusion or multimedia ballet is increasingly popular across the country. It has fueled the creation of regional companies like Complexions, in New York, Alonzo King’s LINES, in Oakland, California and Ballethnic here in Atlanta. Its concepts are also the basis for a broad spectrum of inventive ballets that employ video and computer-generated images and backdrops, ethnic and tribal music from around the world, and a wealth of critical stances from every field that offer new interpretations of old stories and ideas. A source of this dance style’s popularity may be the joy, novelty and challenge dancers and choreographers feel in putting together what seem to be oppositions.
Holder was intrigued by the opportunity to reach audiences who might not necessarily attend ballets, and to do so with music and with a company he fell in love with. John McFall, in allowing Holder 5 months to work on the project gave him “a rare combination of security and freedom.” Certainly dance set to religious music has been done before. McFall’s own Requiem (also on the program at the Fox) is an example, as are the various Carmina Buranas done around the country. Transcendence is distinguished musically from others by the progression Holder terms “generational layering.” From Bach’s Cello Suite No. 4 in E flat major through spirituals and soul music to Bond’s own ”Bless the Lord,” whose technological currency and urban funk Holder describes as “in the moment,” the audience has a unique view of the richness and nobility of dance and history.
Holder grew up in Trinidad and London in a family of artists, writers and musicians and enjoyed a successful career as leading dancer with the Joffrey Ballet, where for many years he was the only black artist. He has choreographed and designed costumes for Washington Ballet, Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico, Ballet Théâtre de Bordeaux, and American Ballet Theatre, and taught ballet for Steps on Broadway and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. In June 2001, Holder choreographed the San Francisco Opera’s production of Aida. But he has found tremendous pleasure in working with Atlanta’s premier dance company, a group he found to be “beautifully trained and artistically astute.”
Dancer and Atlanta native Emily Cook, who trained at Rotaru and Atlanta’s Center for Dance Education has found mastering Holder’s hybrid approach and cultural bilingualism rewarding. “Christian’s style is very fluent, very organic. Movement from one sequence to another just feels natural. I love dancing classical pieces, but when the performance has a deeper meaning, when it’s not just dance for dance’s sake, you reach another level of passion.”
SPENDING YOUR SUMMER IN NEW YORK CITY MAY SOUND LIKE THE PERFECT WAY TO EXPLORE THE ULTIMATE DANCE SCENE, BUT FOR NEW YORK CITY BALLET, IT’S JUST NOT ON THE PROGRAM.
Think you’re the only one who counts down to summer? This year, members of the New York City Ballet looked forward to June 30, the day of their final spring performance. Though not the beginning of a real vacation, the date marked the start of an annual getaway from the city, to Saratoga Springs, NY, located In the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. On July 9, the company opens Its 37th summer season at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, with George Balanchine’s Serenade, Ago” and Who Cares?. With little time to waste following their demanding spring schedule In Manhattan, you might wonder what keeps them motivated. So, Dance Spirit asked NYCB members to share the secrets of their summers.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
During the regular season, the company dances at the New York State Theater in Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. In contrast, SPAC is surrounded by acres of woodland park and has an open-air stage that exposes the dancers to elements they normally aren’t aware of indoors, like changes in temperature, the sky, stars, mosquitoes and a truly live audience-many observers picnic on a lawn behind the amphitheater seats. As Pauline Golbin, a NYCB corps member since 1994, says, “It’s a wonderful treat, coming to Saratoga. Summer audiences are laid-back; it’s a good feeling.”
THE DAILY GRIND
Every afternoon during their summer engagement, company members will rehearse one of the 26 ballets included in the summer repertory. Over the three-week residency, there are performances every night and matinees on Saturdays. “[This is] about the same number we do normally,” says Principal Jenifer Ringer. “There’s no real break from our busy schedule.”
With various NYCB alums teaching company class, Ringer says, “Summer is a great time to learn. Trying new things, taking time with no distractions, can enrich your life as a performer.” Some dancers, like fellow Principal Damien Woetzel, choose to be on the giving end of this summer study hall by teaching in the mornings. Woetzel is also the artistic director of the nearby New York State Summer School Of The Arts’ ballet program, whose facilities on the SPAC grounds train 60 students every summer.
With mornings free and no commuting hassle, there is time for fun. Some NYCB dancers swim every morning, and the National Museum Of Dance in Saratoga is open year– round for browsing. Plus, there are the horse racing tracks-the city’s claim to fame. “The races are truly fantastic,” says Ringer. “It’s amazing to see those horses move.” As Golbin knows from many summers spent in Saratoga, “Almost everyone goes [to the tracks], but the dance and racing seasons don’t always overlap. If you want to see races it sometimes means staying on after the company leaves.”
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Each company member finds his or her own place to stay and usually comes back to the same spot summer after summer. “I stay in a condo close enough to the theater so I can walk,” says Golbin. Many of NYCB’s dancers enjoy the fleeting privilege of small town living, complete with walks down quiet streets, before gearing up for another year of hard work and city life.
ON THE ROAD TO R & R
This year, the transition between their two worlds is different from years past. After Saratoga, NYCB traditionally embarks on a summer tour, offering the dancers a great opportunity to travel and perform abroad. For instance, two years ago, after the company performed at the Verdi Festival in Parma, Italy, Ringer and her husband, Soloist James Fayette, stayed on for an extra 10 days to travel through Spain. This year, however, the company members will have time to plan even longer vacations, since they’re off from the end of the Saratoga season until The Nutcracker rehearsals begin in early fall. For more on NYCB’s summer season, see http://www.nycballet.org.
“Summer is a great time to learn. Trying new things, taking time with no distractions, can enrich your life as a performer.”
-Jenifer Ringer,principal, New York City Ballet
“Summer audiences are laid-back; it’s a good feeling.”
-Pauline Golbin, corps member, New York City Ballet
Colleen teaches English and humanities at American InterContinental University in Atlanta, and writes about dance, music and culture both here and abroad.