Posts Tagged ‘Miami City Ballet’

Wanted: Artistic Director of a Ballet Company

Monday, September 21st, 2015

By Rachel Straus

Two mid-size ballet companies in North America are in search of artistic directors. Gradimir Pankov is leaving his post at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens of Montreal after 15 years. John McFall is departing Atlanta Ballet after 20 years. In comparison to the majority of the 140-odd ballet troupes across the North American continent, which have minimal seasons and only a handful of dancers, Les Grands and Atlanta employ between 20 and 30 dancers and commission in-demand choreographers for their seasons and tours. So, what is required to helm a mid-size ballet company? Les Grands recently posted the following criteria for their artistic director search:

  1. “It is important that the AD leads the company by working in the studio, as a teacher, coach, repetiteur, or choreographer.”
  2. “The AD reports directly to the Board and is responsible for the company’s look, repertoire, choreography, programming, and is an artistic leader.”
  3. “[The AD has] a mind to fiscal responsibility, and a vision that includes the community’s desire for entertainment [and] artistic achievement.”
  4. “[The AD should have] a reputation for artistic quality and the contacts and ability to bring the world’s greatest contemporary choreographer’s work to the repertoire of the Company.”

It seems, if one takes the Les Grands advert as more than wishful thinking, the search committee wants the AD to do everything in the studio, know everyone in the ballet world, and have a head for business. Does such a wunderkind currently exist?

Loudes Lopez, a former principal dancer with New York City Ballet, is perhaps the only person who fits the bill. She became the AD of Miami City Ballet in 2012, after serving for five years as the executive director of Morphoses. She kept this company afloat, even after its founder, the choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, jumped ship in 2010. Lopez achieved this feat by inviting guest choreographers to direct separate seasons and by keeping her wary board close. Prior to her work with Wheeldon, Lopez served as the executive director of the George Balanchine Foundation, which is concerned with educational outreach. As a New York City Ballet dancer for approximately 24 years, Lopez developed an intimate understanding of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins’ repertory, having performed their works while both choreographers were alive. Lopez is a particularly marvelous fit for Miami City Ballet because she was born in Cuba. She is able to fundraise in her native tongue and in a city, known as the gateway to Latin America.

While Lopez appears to be the dream AD, other recent AD hires reveal the more typical profile of a former principal dancer turned ballet master in chief. Take Madrid-born Angel Corella, who danced for American Ballet Theatre. He was hired by Pennsylvania Ballet in 2014. Because of various circumstances, he did not come with impressive executive credentials. After retiring from the stage, Corella returned to his native Spain and attempted to create a ballet company, first in the Castile and León region and then in Barcelona. Corella didn’t have experience fundraising and the Spaniards, especially in the wake of the financial crisis, vacillated about, and then declined to back his ballet company.

Then there is the Cuban-born José Manuel Carreño, another star of American Ballet Theater, who became the AD of Sarasota Ballet in 2011, upon his official retirement from the stage. He is now the head of Silicon Valley Ballet (formerly Ballet San Jose). Like Corella, he came to his first job with scant training in fiscal management, fundraising, or marketing experience.

It will be interesting to see who Les Grands and Atlanta Ballet will hire. In the recent past artistic directors of renowned ballet companies used to be choreographers, such as George Balanchine at New York City Ballet, Frederick Ashton at Royal Ballet and John Cranko at Stuttgart Ballet.  Thus their companies had unique artistic profiles. These days ballet companies are in the odd business of performing the same repertory as their fellow troupes. It makes for a homogenized ballet world. My hope is that Atlanta and Les Grands will hire a choreographer, one who puts a real stamp on the artistic “product” of their company. Perhaps this new AD will also be a woman. That would be doubly groundbreaking.

Justin Peck’s New Graffiti Ballet

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

By Rachel Straus

Justin Peck’s ballets are athletic, spirited, musical.  The 27-year-old choreographer is pushing the technical envelope of today’s dancers. Far from looking stilted in ballet’s three-century-year old language, Peck’s dancers appear unleashed by, and often euphoric in, his ballet-rooted aesthetic. Yet despite Peck’s adherence to tradition, he is nothing but a contemporary choreographer. His combination of steps are so complex that 20 years ago the dancers might not have been able to realize them.

Peck, who has been dancing with New York City Ballet since 2007, was named resident choreographer of the company in 2014. His third first piece for City Ballet was Paz de la Jolla, inspired by and is set to Bohuslav Martinů’s Sinfonietta la Jolla. Peck is returning to the music of Martinů for his first commission from Miami City Ballet, a company founded by the former Balanchine principal Edward Villella and now heralded by former Balanchine ballerina Lourdes Lopez. Yet the inspiration for the work, which will premiere at Palm Beach’s Kravis Center on March 27, appears to be less about Martinů’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in D Major (1925) and more about the graffiti art found in Wynwood, Miami. That is, if the promo-video for the new ballet, called Heatscape, is an accurate rendering of the spirit of the work.

Justin Peck and Miami City Ballet dancers in Wynwood

Justin Peck and Miami City Ballet dancers in Wynwood

In the first moments of Ezra Hurwit and Peck’s Heatscape video, Peck puts on his ear phones, we hear Martinů’s concerto, and we see the tall, boyish choreographer enter Wynwood Walls graffiti park, created by the late real estate mogul Tony Goldman. What follows is the appearance of Miami City Ballet dancers, sailing through the air like dolphins in front of various graffiti murals.

One wonders whether Peck, who is not a Miamian, knows the story behind Wynwood’s recent and massive gentrification, and if he did know it, whether he would choose this place as the backdrop for his promo video.

The story of Wynwood begins in the 2000s. Looking for a place to invest his money, the real estate mogul Goldman took note of the creativity of area’s graffiti muralists. They were illegally using the sides of Wynwood warehouses to showcase their art. Goldman decided to give them legal wall space for their work. And, so, Wynwood Walls were born. More recently, another real estate mogul named David Edelstein began buying up Wynwood’s warehouse neighborhood. Thanks to Edelstein, the working class area has become a hipster mecca. Edelstein’s approach is as follows: buy large swaths of a poor neighborhood, promote urban artists as the symbol of the neighborhood, rapidly gentrify the area into a playground for nightlife and the bourgeois consumption of art, and then kick out old residents. All of this is described in Camila Álvarez and Natalie Edgar’s Right to Wynwood, which won the Best Documentary Short at the 2014 Miami Film Festival.

With this in mind, Peck’s decision to put ballet and Miami graffiti together is problematic. His joining of the two arts occurs not just in his promo video, but also in the soon-to-be-completed stage version of Heatscape. Shepard Fairey, a former graffiti artist, known for his Barack Obama “Hope” poster, is creating the work’s graffiti-esque set design.

Putting ballet and graffiti together is hardly new. The first graffiti ballet was Twyla Tharp’s Deuce Coupe (1973) for The Joffrey Ballet. Back in the 1970s, when Tharp was making Deuce Coupe, graffiti was still considered anti-social. It illegally altered public spaces. By hiring graffiti artists to spray paint the stage backdrop, while Tharp’s ballet-meets-social dance unfolded, she threw into question the notion of high and low art.

Peck, who is a classically trained ballet dancer, rightfully wants to mix the “high” and the “low”; to blend sanctioned and rebellious art forms together. Unfortunately, graffiti is no longer a rebellious art. The establishment has embraced it. In the case of Wynwood, real estate moguls are using graffiti to gentrify the neighborhood. Consequently, Peck’s Heatscape video promo doesn’t express bohemian culture as much as it reveals the corporatization of culture, marketed to young people in spaces owned by real estate titans. Let’s hope Peck’s actual ballet doesn’t fumble so drastically into contested urban spaces, where art and big business are meeting. Let’s hope Heatscape is just a hot dance.