WE WANT THEM TO BE THE BEST HUMANS THEY CAN BE: Jenna Lavin

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Returning to our recording studio, we had a great chat with Jenna Lavin, the newly appointed Principal of the Pre-Professional Division at Ballet Academy East (BAE). Jenna gave us a clear sense of how the BAE teaching strategy and philosophy uniquely prepares students to excel in a range of styles and techniques while cultivating a supportive, non-competitive atmosphere. We were particularly impressed to hear that BAE prioritizes not just technical prowess but also instilling students with a value system centered on human kindness and community. Jenna also spoke about her connection with the students as she nurtures their growth over the years. The advanced students perform several times a year, including an end-of-year program featuring a student-choreographed ballet in collaboration with Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Make sure you’re following Pod de Deux for updates on performance dates!

Jenna Lavin danced professionally with the Chicago City Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Los Angeles Ballet, and as a soloist with the Miami City Ballet under the direction of Edward Villella where she danced principal roles. She began her ballet training with Mme. Gabriela Darvash and Jody Fugate, and later graduated from the School of American Ballet where she studied with such teachers as Alexandria Danilova, Antonia Tumkovsky, and Stanley Williams. Jenna has worked with numerous choreographers, creating principal roles in ballets by Alonzo King, Lisa de Ribere, and Stanton Welch, to name a few.

The BAE Pre-Professional Division is celebrated for producing technically strong and artistically expressive dancers who are sought after for their professionalism and ability to adapt to a broad range of styles demanded of today’s dance professionals. Alumni include Ariel Rose and Petra Love (Miami City Ballet), Siobhan Howley (Pennsylvania Ballet), Hannah Marshall (American Ballet Theatre), and Erica Pereira (New York City Ballet), to name a few. The comprehensive ballet training is combined with professional-caliber performance opportunities.

WE HAVE A GREAT TIME: TERE O’CONNOR

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Jessica interviewed choreographer Tere O’Connor leading up to his NYC premiere of Long Run at NYU Skirball (10/12 & 10/13).  They talked about how Tere’s fascination with structure led to the multi-layered aesthetic he has become known for. Tere revealed some of the processes he uses to convolute movement phrases, focusing on rhythm, the mixing of dance techniques, density, and invalid structures. (Learn more about all of these in the interview!) Tere related his choreographic processes to the nature of the mind itself, which remains in and out of a constant episodic flow of consciousness.

Tere O’Connor is Artistic Director of Tere O’Connor Dance. His works bring formal and conceptual concerns into direct dialogue. Engaging the tension between the geometries of the rectangular stage, the organic forms of nature, and the vast terrain of human behavior, he reconsiders abstraction.  O’Connor has created over 40 works for his company and toured these throughout the US, Europe, South America and Canada. He has created numerous commissions including works for Mikhail Baryshnikov, Jean Butler, and the Lyon Opera Ballet, to name a few. He has received three Bessie Awards and is a Center for Advanced Studies Professor in Dance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Visit tereoconnordance.org to learn more. 

NYU Skirball will present the New York City premiere of Tere O’Connor’s Long Run, playing for two performances on Friday, October 12 and Saturday, October 13 at 7:30 pm.  Long Run (2017) pushes the emotional content of O’Connor’s movement to new physical extremes, allowing time-based elements like polyrhythms, velocity and duration to become external forces in the work, overtaking the eight performers as they repeatedly struggle to bring their bodies into a state of calm. O’Connor’s score enhances the referential potential of the work and drives its rhythmic trajectory.

Images from Long Run:

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THERE IS SUCH POWER IN BEING YOURSELF: Harper Watters

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After a brief summer hiatus, we got back into the studio and conducted a Skype interview with Houston Ballet’s Harper Watters. Harper has made a name for himself on social media with comedic videos and brand partnerships, as well as a web series of his own creation. We spoke to him about the importance (personal and professional!) of being completely oneself, what it means to represent ballet, and how dancers can seek opportunities beyond the company structure through social media and proactive exploration of their individual interests. The message that emerged was an empowering one of escaping rigid stereotypes through individuality. We will be sure to post on social media when Harper’s upcoming documentary, Danseur, is available for viewing!

Harper Watters is a Soloist with the Houston Ballet, one of the top 5 largest professional ballet companies in the US. In 2011 he won the prestigious Prix De Lausanne and in 2015 he won the Princess Grace Award for Dance Achievement. He’s worked with leading choreographers such as George Balanchine, Wayne McGregor, William Forsythe and Tony award winner Christopher Wheeldon. He’s accumulated over 143 thousand followers on Instagram and created the web series ’The Pre Show’ which highlights the behind the scenes stage life of professional dancers on his YouTube channel. His videos have been featured on numerous media outlets, and his social media presence has allowed him to work with photographers such as Mike Ruiz, Gerardo Vizmanos, and Ryan Pfluger for the New Yorker. He’s been featured in the pages of fashion magazine, ‘Risk Magazine,’ ‘Dance Magazine,’ and ‘Pointe Magazine,’ and he has even graced the cover of DanceSpirit’s February 2018 issue. You may also have seen him in his viral videos in heels on a treadmill as well. Harper will be featured in the forthcoming documentary, Danseur, which explores why there are so few males in dance and sheds light on the difficult subjects of bullying and homophobia while illustrating the vitality of ballet.

THE MUSIC TAKES OVER AND DRIVES ME: Tiler Peck

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Jessica and Clara interviewed Tiler Peck leading up to the premier of her new documentary, BalletNow, which will be available for streaming on Hulu on Friday, July 20th.  The film, directed by Steven Cantor (who directed Sergei Polunin’s DANCER) and produced by Elisabeth Moss, shows Tiler assume many roles as curator, artistic director, rehearsal director and dancer in preparation for a performance at the Music Center in Los Angeles last July. In the interview, Tiler revealed what it was like rising to the greatest challenge of her life in preparing for a production that included 15 ballets in three programs, all while dancing in eight pieces. Tiler spoke about her curatorial rationale for the performance, which featured choreographers Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon, Michelle Dorrance, Bill Irwin, and more. Beyond BalletNow, we talked about Tiler’s enthusiasm for stepping into a new role as choreographer this summer at Vail Dance Festival, how leadership at City Ballet is developing after the departure of Peter Martins, and how she has become known as “the ballerina who stops time.”

More about Tiler Peck:

Tiler Peck was born in Bakersfield, California. She began her dance training at the age of two at her mother’s dance studio, Bakersfield Dance Company. At the age of seven, she began studying privately with former Bolshoi Ballet principal dancer Alla Khaniashvili in Hollywood. At the age of 11 she began studying at Conjunctive Point in Culver City, California, with former New York City Ballet dancers Colleen and Patricia Neary. During this time she also studied with former NYCB principal Yvonne Mounsey at Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica. At the age of 12, Ms. Peck entered the School of American Ballet, the official school of New York City Ballet, for most of the 2000-2001 Winter Term. She returned to SAB during the summers of 2002 and 2003, and that fall began as a full-time student. In September 2004, Ms. Peck became an apprentice with New York City Ballet. In February 2005 she joined the Company as a member of the corps de ballet. She was promoted to soloist in December 2006 and principal dancer in October 2009.

 

IT’S NOT GLAMOROUS: Rina Saltzman

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In this episode, Clara sits down with Rina Saltzman, Company Manager on Broadway and former Company Manager for American Ballet Theater. We learn about what a Company Manager does, how the inner workings and funding structures of the ballet world contrast with Broadway, and how we might see more in-depth mixing of the two going forward. It was great to hear that business is booming on Broadway! Rina’s current show, Pretty Woman, will have its New York preview on July 20th and open officially on August 16th!!

Rina L. Saltzman has been a Company Manager on tour and on Broadway since 1986.  After 6 seasons with the American Ballet Theatre, she went on to manage tours of CATS, SUNSET BOULEVARD, RAGTIME, FOSSE, MAMMA MIA! , BILLY ELLIOT and BEAUTIFUL THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL, visiting over 150 cities in the US and Canada. She was honored by the Broadway League in 2017 when she was given the George MacPherson Road Award.  On Broadway, she has managed MAMMA MIA!, CHICAGO and WAR PAINT.

In 2015, she had the honor of managing AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, the first Broadway show to do a pre-Broadway try-out in Paris, France.

Currently the Associate General Manager of the  upcoming Broadway musical, PRETTY WOMAN, Rina is a member of the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers (ATPAM) and sits on its Board of Governors.  

I LOOK FOR A CLEAR ANCHOR IN THE WORK: Christopher LaPlante

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In this episode, Clara connects with fellow Minnesotan dancer Christopher LaPlante. We learn about Chris’ experience independently navigating the dance world, guided by his innate passion for dance. He talks about growing up in competition school, discovering break dance in his early 20s, and the magical way in which he achieved his dream of dancing with TU Dance (with former PDD guest Uri Sands!). Chris also expresses his philosophies of seeking intention in choreographic works, and bringing dance to public spaces where it can be seen by people who may not otherwise engage with the art form. We hope you enjoy the conversation as much as we did. (more…)

DREAMS DO COME TRUE: PAUL HAMILTON

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In this episode, Jessica and Clara interviewed dancer Paul Hamilton about his experience collaborating with a diverse range of choreographers including Alonzo King, Elizabeth Streb, Reggie Wilson, Ralph Lemon and Keely Garfield.  He shared a bit about each choreographer’s style and process and talked about his own journey of discovering and re-discovering dance as his passion and joy.  He also let us in on some of the fascinating dramaturgical processes behind Reggie Wilson / Fist and Heel Performance Group’s production of Moses(es), and Ralph Lemon’s Scaffold Room (from which the above image derived).

Soul Train was one of the influences behind Paul’s Bessie-nominated performance of Scaffold Room.  Enjoy this video homage to Soul Train! (more…)