Huffington Post has an in-depth interview with Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Artistic Director, Peter Boal and Principal Dancers, James Moore & Kaori Nakamura about Jean-Christophe Maillot’s version of Roméo et Juliette.
Attention all you Beatles fans! The fabulous Paul McCartney has been tapped to write the musical score for an upcoming ballet. (Wow!)
No details yet as to what the “secret” ballet will be about, nor any information as to which company has been bestowed with such an honor, but I’ve got my suspicions–or shall I say “hopes”–pinned on a few. What do you think? Sound off below! We’re all ears–er, eyes.
Long before she became an Oscar-winning actress, Audrey Hepburn “…dreamed of only one thing: To be a dancer.” Audrey began her dance training at the age of five while attending boarding school in England. Little Audrey fell in love with ballet and was eager to attend each weekly class.
By the age of ten, Audrey moved from her English boarding school back to her family’s home in Holland where her mother, Ella enrolled her in the Arnhem Conservatory of Music and Dance. It was here that Audrey’s unique blend of artistry began to take shape under the experienced eye of her teacher, Winja Marova. “She was long, slender, very sweet, very eager to learn,” Winja said of Audrey. “She was willing to give everything for it. She was very musical. I always enjoyed teaching her…When she was on stage, even though she just knew a little bit, you immediately saw that a flame lit the audience.” Their respect and admiration was mutual. Of her teacher, Miss Hepburn is quoted as saying, “Winja was a beautiful, world-class dancer. (And she) helped this very young girl in Arnhem to believe that she could become one, too.”
Audrey’s talent was also readily apparent to others. She began receiving several glowing reviews for both performances and recitals. One particular review read: “As all of them are just at the start of their dance development, we do not want to mention any names except for Audrey Hepburn who, in spite of the age of only twelve, was noticed because of her very individual personality and performance. She danced the ‘Serenade’ of Moszkowski with her own choreography.”
Young Audrey was enchanted by the famous Margot Fonteyn, and had the opportunity of a lifetime to watch her idol dance on stage in May of 1940. This night to remember was made even more special when Audrey’s mother had a special taffeta dress fashioned for her daughter. “The reason she got me this, at great expense – we couldn’t afford this kind of thing –was that I was to present a bouquet of flowers at the end of the performance to Ninette de Valois, the director of the company.”
“I remember walking onto the bright stage, with the pretty ballerinas and their costumes. It was my first late night.”
However, things were not all sunshine and roses for Audrey and her family. Due to the growing hostilities inflicted by Hitler and the German army, the Arnhem Conservatory began putting on performances to help raise money to support the Dutch underground. Audrey also performed in secret “black out” performances in private homes with the windows locked and the blinds drawn. Her friend would play the piano, Audrey’s mother made costumes from old curtains, and Audrey happily entertained the audience with her own choreography. Instead of applause, the audience would offer “silent curtain calls” and pass around a hat. “The money we made helped saboteurs in their work against the Nazis.” The young dancer considered it a privilege to be able to use her training to contribute to a greater good.
However, the Nazi’s were not apt to take any form of resistance lightly. Therefore in 1944, the Nazi’s retaliated against the Dutch by abruptly halting the import of food into Holland. The residents, including Audrey and her family, did what they could to survive by eating nettles and grass, or baking bread made from flower bulbs or peas. Yet even their best efforts did little to battle the effects of starvation. “During the last winter of the war, we had no food whatsoever,” Audrey said. “I finished the war highly anemic, and asthmatic, and all the things that come with malnutrition.” She even developed a horrible case of edema, which caused her limbs to swell so badly that she had to greatly limit her dancing.
As the war continued to escalate, the Germans began forcing thousands of people from their homes. Audrey’s family continued to do what they could to help, often housing up to forty refugees at a time despite the fact that there was nothing to eat. Audrey herself offered free dance lessons to the girls in order to take their minds off their troubles.
Holland was liberated in 1945, and soon thereafter, Audrey and her mother would move to Amsterdam. Fiercely determined to continue her dance education, Audrey was referred to and subsequently accepted by Sonia Gaskell, a “premiere dance teacher who specialized in avant-garde choreography, modern and jazz dance.” For the next three years, Audrey studied under Sonia, determined not only become a top ballerina, but a great choreographer as well.
Her dedication soon led to an audition to Marie Rambert’s London ballet school, where she was accepted on scholarship with one condition; she had to pay her own living expenses. This was extremely disappointing news, as Audrey and her mother had no savings and were barely making it as it was. Other ballet schools’ tuition included room and board, including Sonia Gaskell’s. However, Audrey had overcome too much adversity to turn back now. The eighteen year old decided to seek whatever work she could find in order to cover her living expenses; a decision which paved the way to her future film career.
Audrey was cast as a KLM stewardess in a travelogue called “Dutch in Seven Lessons”, which then led to a variety of part-time modeling jobs. Audrey earned additional income by restyling ordinary hats to look like expensive designer ones, and then selling them to beauty shop clients.
By 1948, Audrey and her mother had earned enough to make the move to England. The world of classical ballet—a world Audrey had longed for and dreamed about for so long–was at last open to her. However her dream world came with a harsh dose of reality. Her classes highlighted her shaky technique which had suffered during the years of the war. But what troubled Audrey most was her height. At 5’ 7”, she towered over both her male and female dancing peers. “I was an Amazon, towering over the boys,” she once said. Yet Audrey did what she could to make the most of her statuesque physique. “Instead of working on allegro – little small tight movements—I took extra courses in adagio, so I could use my long lines to advantage.” Her efforts paid off as one reviewer commented three years later, “A girl with her potential star value can be as tall as a giraffe and still get by.”
But Audrey didn’t want to just “get by”; she wanted to be a prima ballerina. She finally decided to ask Marie Rambert about her potential as a ballerina, and her response was devastating. “It was because of her height that I couldn’t consider her for my own company. Even in classes it was always a struggle to find partners who were tall enough for her.”
Once again down but by no means out, Audrey did what she did best; continued to put one foot in front of the other. She began auditioning for cabaret night club acts in London, and was quickly cast as a chorus girl in High Button Shoes. The show ran for 291 performances and gave Audrey her first taste of the professional dance world. “I loved being in a musical show. I needed music in my life very badly. I loved sharing a dressing room with other girls. That brought me back to normal. From a young age, I was very aware of suffering and fear. For the first time, I felt the pure joy of living.”
She was then cast in Sauce Tartare, a show that opened in May of 1949 and ran for an impressive 437 performances. During that time, Audrey continued to take movement and separate barre classes, as well as diction courses. She also continued her modeling. These efforts, which may have seemed unnecessary to the casual observer, would prove instrumental in furthering Audrey’s blossoming career.
Audrey continued to land several small-time roles both on stage and in films, all providing her with further exposure and experience. In 1950, director Thorold Dickinson began casting for his new movie, “Secret People”.
Dickinson remembered seeing Audrey in Sauce Tartare and after her screen test, cast her in the role of Nora. Although the film received very little favor from critics, Audrey herself earned praise from both Variety and Sunday Graphic.
Ms. Hepburn next film, “Monte Carlo Baby”, proved to be a case of “being in the right place at the right time.” While Monte Carlo Baby bombed with critics and audiences, Audrey’s performance in her small role was the clear exception. She was cast as the title character in the Broadway adaptation of Colette’s novel, “Gigi”.
A series of starring roles followed, each building the young starlet’s successful portfolio; 1953’s “Roman Holiday” was a smashing success and earned her an Academy Award; “Sabrina” which became the number three top grossing film of 1954, and Tolstoy’s “War & Peace” which provided Audrey with a glowing review from Variety magazine which said in part, “(Audrey Hepburn is) the epitome of wholesome young love under benevolent aristocratic rearing.”
“Funny Face” with Fred Astaire proved to be Hepburn’s next big break, which began filming in 1956. Astaire had been one of Hepburn’s childhood icons and the day she met him, Audrey was petrified. “One look at this most debonair, elegant, and distinguished of legends and I could feel myself turn into solid lead, while my heart sank into my two left feet.” Fred immediately erased all her fears when he swept her off her feet. Literally. “Suddenly I felt a hand around my waist, and with his inimitable grace and lightness, Fred literally swept me off my feet. I experienced the thrill that all women at some point in their lives have dreamed of – to dance just once with Fred Astaire.”
“Funny Face” was a great success, with the New York Times declaring, “It is reasonable to reckon that you won’t see a prettier musical film –or one more extraordinarily stylish – during the balance of this year. Miss Hepburn has the meek charm of a wallflower turned into a rueful butterfly.”
But for all the acclaim Funny Face received, it paled in stark comparison to Hepburn’s next film. In 1961, Audrey Hepburn went from rising star to Hollywood icon with the release of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Her role as Holly Golightly –with her signature long black dress, oversized sunglasses, opera gloves and long cigarette – became the defining character of her career. The New York Times stated that, “Above all, it has the overpowering attribute known as Audrey Hepburn, who, despite her normal startled fawn exterior, now is displaying a fey, comic talent…In the person of Miss Hepburn, (Holly) is a genuinely charming, elfin waif who will be believed and adored when seen.” Variety also sang the praises of Hepburn’s Golightly as “a charming, wild and amoral “free spirit” with a latent romantic streak. In the exciting person of Audrey Hepburn, she comes vividly to life on the screen.”
In 1964, Hepburn starred in “My Fair Lady” alongside Rex Harrison, who would later describe Audrey as his “favorite leading lady of all time.” With her position secured in the hearts of both critics and audiences alike, Audrey managed to shed some of her lingering childhood fear and embraced her unique talents with open arms.
Audrey Hepburn would go on to play several successful roles, both on and off-screen. She felt privileged to work with such names as Cary Grant, Shirley MacLaine, Rex Harrison, James Garner, and Alan Arkin to name but a few. She was an honored recipient of Academy, Tony and Grammy Awards, and was named #3 on The American Film Institute’s 50 Greatest Screen Legends. Yet her greatest triumph in life was that of mothering her two sons, Sean and Luca. Her children were her life’s greatest achievement, and she relished her role as mother more than any other.
From her humble beginnings in Holland, to her humanitarian efforts as a UNICEF ambassador, Audrey Hepburn was more than a cultural icon. She is a role model for dancers everywhere to embrace hard work, live life to the fullest, and strive to turn adversity into triumph. She was the voice for those who have no voice, and did what she could to ease another’s burden. We would all be wise to embrace Hepburn’s legacy which is summed up in the following quote: “I feel so strongly that’s where it all starts, with kindness. What a different world this could be if everyone lived by that.”
*Bibliography: The Audrey Hepburn Treasures, by Ellen Erwin & Jessica Diamond
Olivier Wevers and his newly formed company, Whim W’him have done what no other dancer, choreographer or company has done before. The Seattle-based tour de force has shattered the glass barricade that once stood as the dividing wall between the world of ballet and the realm of modern dance, ushering in a new era of collaboration and artistry.
Whim W’him’s sold-out performances at On the Boards this past weekend packed an intoxicating punch of sound, light and movement. The triple bill featured Wevers previous works, X-Stasis (PNB’s Choreographer’s Showcase 2006) and Fragments (Spectrum Dance Theatre 2007), as well as the world premiere of 3 Seasons, Wevers first major collaborative effort.
X-Stasis is comprised of 5 couples making a unique statement about their world and their relationship to one another. Standouts from this performance include Jonathan Poretta and Lucien Postlewaite’s pas de deux which sizzled with poetic tension. Their execution was both complimentary and contradictory; a raw, edgy rendition of the proverbial yin and yang.
Chalnessa Eames dazzled in a delightful piece that felt a bit like an avant-garde rendition of Coppelia. Let’s just say her partner, the helpless mannequin, was no match for her seductive charms!
Kaori Nakamura and guest artist, Karel Cruz (PNB Principal Dancer) were utterly spectacular. Their pairing was exuberant, crisp and well-balanced; the perfect blend of power, delicacy and joy.
Fragments begins with a sweeping aria playfully mimicked by an amusing pair of friends. Kelly Ann Barton’s (Spectrum Dance Theater) and Vincent Lopez’s movements were light, fluttering, and beautifully in sync. Together they encompassed all that is childlike and well–whimsical, from their “twittering” hip rolls, to their playful dashing about the stage.
Following the playful antics, Vincent Lopez gave a commanding solo performance as a tortured soul, longing and yearning to be free. Moving effortlessly through a series of well-crafted poses, Lopez is transformed into a living sculpture, relishing in its temporary freedom. Costumes by Christine Joly de Lotbiniere provided a delicious hint of Baroque flair, while Michael Mazzola’s thoughtful lighting cast the entire piece in a distinct, Renaissance glow.
Never have I seen such a decisive take on our modern world that fused together the elements of style, wit, humor and hope so beautifully. In fact, I have a feeling that this piece will serve as the springboard by which all other collaborative efforts will be judged, and provide Whim W’him with a prominent position in the annals of dance history.
The musical score consists of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons paired with a live corresponding movement by Byron Au Yong, which was nothing short of perfection. The tinkling of a toy piano, the hum of the violin and gentle percussion created a fun, exciting, youthful energy.
Designer Michael Cepress’ vision of pairing vibrant splashes of red on ruddy, human earth tone canvasses provided the perfect backdrop for this piece. The use of his re-designed sculptural collars, wire hanger skirts, and sullied leotards made for a stunning artistic display.
Jim Kent’s portrayal of the covetousness of human nature was thrilling. The object of his desire changes with whatever is put before him; a pillow, a lamp, a keyboard to finally a bird cage, which has to be placed on his head because there’s no more room in his hands. Kent—like society itself—is never content with what he already has, and is continuously seeking, grasping, and vying for more. The act was played for humor which the audience responded with more than a few “been there, done that” laughs.
Kaori Nakamura is used, abused and finally discarded and yet—she still manages to come out looking like the victor. Her stage presence leaves its own indelible mark of beauty behind.
Chalnessa Eames was effervescent and sensual. Vincent Lopez was completely brilliant and charming. Jonathan Poretta and Lucien Postlewaite were riveting, powerful, dominating, and fierce.
Ty Alexander Cheng and Kylie Lewallen were saucy, flirty and breathtaking. Their endless kiss reminded me of a pair of butterflies; lips locked with wings (arms) continually unfurling yet never intertwining.
Hannah Lagerway and Lucien Postlewaite writhed about in geometric splendor. I was impressed with Postlewaite’s skillful control and Lagerway’s incredible range. Indeed, her presence within this company is the icing on the cake.
With everything this company has going for it—excellent dancers, respected Artistic Director, dedicated fan base, and a growing list of collaborators—Whim W’him stands poised on the edge of a divine precipice, ready to be launched into the stratosphere.
by Denise Opper
The magic of the holiday season has descended upon McCaw Hall, ushered in on the wings of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s annual treat, The Nutcracker. The air inside the theater was alive with anticipation, and the excitement emanating from all the hundreds of children present was palpable.
The ballet is based on the original story written by E.T.A. Hoffman and brought to life by the choreography of former PNB Artistic Director, Kent Stowell. The sumptuous sets designed by Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are) play a crucial role in the success of this stellar production. They not only envelop the stage like a lush, Victorian picture book, but also provide a sense of pure magic. Everything from the massive growing Christmas tree and the enormous Mouse King that wickedly encircles the stage–to the realistic boat ride along the sea, leaves audiences captivated and riveted to the edge of their seats.
The role of young Clara was marvelously played by PNB student, Eileen Kelly. Kelly’s mannerisms and characterization were both impressive and believable.
Carrie Imler , Principal Dancer, PNB, as adult Clara was nothing short of outstanding. Imler’s Clara provides a stunning portrayal of a maiden whose heart is laced with the charms and emotions of girlhood. She is her Prince’s devoted equal in terms of bravery, and wants nothing more than to remain locked within the confines of this beautiful dream with him forever.
Batkhurel Bold, Principal Dancer, PNB, gave a powerful performance as the dashing Prince. His movements were breathtaking, his character regal and confident. Bold not only captivates audiences with his impressive strength, but sweeps them off their feet as Clara’s faithful protector, companion, and hero. Their gorgeous, sweeping pas de deux conveys all the beauty and promise of young love.
Jordan Pacitti shines in the dual role of Herr Drosselmeier/Pasha. As Drosselmeier, Pacitti is teasing yet harmless, a classic example of a man who is “a little boy on the inside.” He not only revels in his ability to shock and amaze the party guests, but takes the most delight in getting a rise out of young Clara. Later, however, as the Pasha, Pacitti transforms from a fiendish eccentric, into a protective father-figure, possessive of both Clara and her affections.
Sarah Ricard Orza gave a lovely performance as the wind-up Ballerina Doll. Her masterful display breathed new life into this well-loved character, one who is sure to star in many little girls’ dreams.
Act Two whisks Clara and the Prince along to an enchanted land where they are greeted by a lavish display of hospitality, courtesy of the Pasha. Moors dance about with bright, energetic flair. A dancing Chinese tiger, charmingly played by Ryan Cardea, received more than a few giggles and squeals of delight. The Commedia (Liora Reshef, Benjamin Griffiths and Rachel Foster) were reminiscent of a precious music box or toy shoppe window. Griffiths’ acrobatics and technical prowess were evident both here and during his role as Sword-Dancer Doll in Act One.
Lesley Rausch, soloist, PNB mesmerized in her role as the fluttering, sensuous Peacock; a winged beauty transported via gilded cage. Rausch’s expert characterization was daring, captivating, and hypnotic.
The three whirling Dervishes (Barry Kerollis, James Moore, and Josh Spell) were absolutely thrilling. These fantastic dancers created a spectacular “tour de force” that left every little boy in the audience inspired and awe-struck.
Lindsi Dec, soloist, PNB, soared to new heights as the beautiful blossom maiden, Flora. Dec gave herself completely over to her role, and that coupled with her long, gorgeous lines and jubilant expression, made her performance exhilarating to behold.
PNB’s corps de ballet performed beautifully as a chorus of swirling, icy snowflakes glittering in the moonlight. Their dazzling display literally made a chill run down my spine. Later during the Waltz of the Flowers, I could almost smell a hint of jasmine and rose being carried along on a soft, spring breeze.
I was once again impressed with the caliber of dancing and characterization offered by this amazing company, as well as the talent that exuded from its students. Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker is a must-see and should be a part of every family’s holiday tradition.
I recently had the privilege of viewing the matinee performance of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Roméo et Juliette. I was prepared to be delighted and entertained, being a tremendous fan of PNB already. However, I must admit I was not prepared for the high caliber of dancing coupled with such flawless character interpretation as this.
The PNB dancers breathed new life into Jean-Christophe Maillot’s intricate adaptation. From the moment I saw actual credits rolling across the screen, I knew this would be no ordinary ballet with a modern twist. This was history in the making.
The scrawling black and white credits soon gave way to sets that were clean, pure and abstract. The lighting played a greater role than I’d seen in the past, able to change the entire feel of a scene from a misty dream-like state one minute, to a cold starry night the next.
The dancers were so in tune with their characters, you easily became lost in the performance.
Kaori Nakamura’s Juliette was young, fresh and a bit of a “spoiled, wild child”. From “flashing” her nurse (bad girl!), to her refusal to obey her Mother’s wishes and marry Paris, Nakamura successfully channels all the feisty rebelliousness of the teen years. This is Nakamura’s first time performing as Juliette, and she beautifully exceeds all expectations.
James Moore’s Romeo is everything you’d expect from a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. He’s playful, rambunctious, headstrong, and a bit of a show-off, especially with the ladies. Yet for all his flaws, Moore’s Romeo was a character you couldn’t help but fall in love with.
Olivier Wevers did a superb job as Friar Laurence. As both a silent narrator and active participant to this tragedy, his performance is raw and heartbreaking; his anguish palpable. He is forever trapped in a nightmare of his own making, desperate for forgiveness that will never come.
Equally magnificent was the athleticism of the Friar’s two Acolytes, played by Jordan Pacitti and Sean Rollofson. So much of their movement was done in slow, exaggerated motion: the turns, lifts, and carefully executed rolls off the stage were riveting and poetic.
Her Nurse, expertly played by Chalnessa Eames, was clearly outwitted–and at times overwhelmed–by her young charge’s antics. Although the Nurse’s movements were silly and comedic, they carried an undertone of seriousness to her tasks at hand. There was no question regarding her devotion to Juliette.
Mara Vinson’s Lady Capulet was simply magnificent. From the moment she came into view she exuded superior control and confidence. Every inch the powerful matriarch, Vinson gave a performance so compelling I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.
Seth Orza was a very convincing Tybalt. He successfully conveyed his character’s anger, sense of family pride, and deep loathing of the Montague’s. His movements were commanding, intimidating, and breath-taking.
Mercutio and Benvolio played by Barry Kerollis and Josh Spell, round out the obnoxious Montague bunch. They live to aggravate and annoy the Capulets, most especially Tybalt. They played their roles as troublesome, arrogant pests with a hint of boyish foolishness, to the fullest.
Jeffrey Stanton’s portrayal of Paris was perfect. He was quiet, unassuming, gentlemanly; a stark contrast from Tybalt and Romeo.
Lesley Rausch played a sexy, sassy Rosaline. Her character is well-aware of her beauty and uses it to full advantage.
The attraction between Romeo and Juliette was undeniably beautiful. The Balcony scene served as an exquisite moment of foreplay, aching with longing. Their wedding was simple and elegant; their wedding night resonating with passion and joy. It was in that moment that Juliette became the pursuer, with her Romeo succumbing to her charms. Watching these two, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was witnessing pure magic.
With the dramatic fight scene at the end of Act II, the audience is suddenly catapulted into the midst of Friar Laurence’s nightmare. Like one possessed, he digs his fingers into the set as it moves eerily across the floor, trying in vain to stop the next chain of events.The terror unfolds in slow motion as the distraught Friar Laurence watches on in agony. This is the moment he was dreading. This is the moment when everything falls apart.
As the action resumes normal speed, the brutality and its aftermath hit you full-force. Lady Capulet flails about in a wild rage, her grief unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Paris must half-carry, half-drag her away from Tybalt’s lifeless form. Her heart takes another devastating blow with the loss of her daughter. She bitterly clings to the walls as if to say, “Take me now! I can’t bear this any longer!” As a mother, you feel her cries echo through your heart as she doubles over repeatedly in anguish. Yet her reaction is nothing compared to Romeo’s. As we know, Friar Laurence’s letter has not reached him in time. Romeo cannot—will not—bear this excruciating loss.
As Juliette awakens from her slumber and discovers that her cherished Romeo is no more, you feel her gut-wrenching loss. Her body is wracked with sobs, her horrified expression crying out, “This was not how it was supposed to be!”
Unable to bear the scene before him, Friar Laurence turns his back toward the grief-stricken Juliette and clings to the wall in shame and helplessness. Juliette then strangles herself and gently falls across her beloved’s body.
I was absolutely enthralled by this performance. It was magical, poignant, thrilling, devastating and beautifully complex. The dancer’s dramatic expressions, the careful subtleties of movement, and the striking character development work together to provide a rich, new layer to this Shakespearean tragedy. I’m so thankful to Peter Boal for adding this production to the company’s repertoire.
What may have initially felt like a bold move to my “classically inclined” mind, the performance left me with an even deeper respect for PNB as a whole. This is a company that is clearly up to any challenge a choreographer or director may throw their way.
My co-worker and companion on this trip, Lisa-Marie, also found the performance captivating. In fact, this was her first time ever seeing a ballet so I’ll let her reaction speak for itself: “I am spoiled for life! I can never see another ballet again without comparing it to Romeo et Juliette.”
Run—do not walk—to McCaw Hall and get your tickets to see Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Romeo et Juliette. You will not be disappointed.
By Denise Opper