Category Archives: Ballet

Musings of a former ballet dancer who’s returned, years later, to the studio as a student.

Smuin opens 25th season with a winner

Smuin dancers in Ben Needham-Wood’s “Echo” — photo by Keith Sutter

That Smuin Contemporary Ballet is celebrating its 25th Anniversary season is a testament to so many things. To its founder, Michael Smuin, who died suddenly in 2007 while teaching a company class, weeks before a spring performance. To the company members who decided, in the spirit of their founder, that “we’ve still got a show to put on,” and went on to do just that, and do it well. To artistic director Celia Fushille, who has worked tirelessly since then to carry on Smuin’s vision and mission, cultivating a troupe of lively, engaged, talented dancers willing to work hard, embrace a diversity of dance styles, push boundaries, explore innovation, all while honoring the roots of classicism. It’s a mix that holds great appeal to audiences, and in this era of struggling arts organizations, one thing is certain: Smuin Contemporary Ballet has only grown stronger and better through its 25 years.

Five new dancers, two visiting artists and an apprentice have brought the company’s roster to nineteen dancers, and what is notable is how well they all blend as a company. Over and over I marveled at the pleasing synchronicity, not just in the steps but in the dancers’ intention. They looked polished and well-rehearsed on Saturday’s matinee performance. In a poignant touch, the program opened with Michael Smuin’s 2007 Schubert Scherzo, the ballet that premiered just weeks after his unexpected death. It’s a lovely neoclassical affair set to the third movement of Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major. Nicole Haskins and Max van der Sterre were Saturday afternoon’s lead couple, back by an ensemble of 8 dancers. It was here the cohesive element charmed me: five couples executing partnered pirouettes in perfect unison, no small feat. Later, too, the five male dancers jumped and leapt as one. As the lead couple, Haskins and van der Sterre delivered strong dancing with an easy grace. Maggie Carey, dancing later with Robert Kretz, had impressively soft, silent landings to her leaps and jumps. All five females offered  photo-perfect unison attitude turns. Smuin’s 1969 The Eternal Idol followed, a tribute to Rodin, a romantic pas de deux bathed in golden lighting. Set to the “Larghetto” movement of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2, it was sensitively executed by Terez Dean and Ben Needham-Wood, who arose as if from a sculpture, in skin-toned unitards, to intertwine and spin and stretch into languorous poses.

Peter Kurta, Erica Felsch, “The Eternal Idol” – photo, Keith Sutter

Fostering new choreographic talent from within the company was important to Michael Smuin, and Celia Fushille has carried on the legacy. The Choreography Showcase, first presented in 2008, allows aspiring choreographers among the dancers to explore and set their work on their fellow dancers. Featured in Saturday’s program were three such works, developed in 2016’s Choreography Showcase, by Rex Wheeler, Ben Needham-Wood and Nicole Haskins, respectively. Wheeler (since retired from Smuin) offered Sinfonietta, an engaging neoclassic work set to the music of Boris Tchaikovsky (no relation to the master). Susan Roemer’s costumes of white chiffon skirts and bodices with swaths of pale yellow-meets-green (men in similarly colored unitards) brought the “lovely” factor up even higher, emphasizing the expansive, flowing movements from the ten dancers, Wheeler’s efficient use of the stage space, too, added to the work’s artfulness. Notably good were Mengjun Chen (through the entire program), and lead couple Lauren Pschirrer and Max van der Sterre.

Tess Lane and Mattia Pallozzi in “Sinfonietta” – photo by Keith Sutter

In Echo (formerly titled Reflection), Ben Needham-Wood offered narrative invention, as the ballet opened with its spotlight on a bare-chested dancer in white slacks (Peter Kurta), representing Narcissus, of the Echo and Narcissus myth. A turntable beneath him was slowly rotated by five dancers in indigo blue (think: the sea). Valerie Harmon, as Echo, joined him on the turntable in what surely was a tricky balancing act of a pas de deux. Set to music by Nicholas Britell, this ballet brought movement, emotion and lyrical dancing from lead couple and ensemble alike, its ending repeating the beginning, like, fittingly, an echo.

Nicole Haskins’ Merely Players offered more contemporary fare with a jolt of indie-pop music, selections by Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver. Reminiscent of the choreography of Amy Seiwert and Twyla Tharp, the dancing from the ten-dancer cast was joyous, playful, quick-moving.

The program concluded superbly with Trey McIntyre’s Blue Till June, his fourth work for the company since 2010. Watching the vivid, endlessly inventive, entertaining choreography served to remind me what a master he is. The opener is dramatic: smoke, red overhead lighting, a dancer (Nicole Haskins) seemingly hewn from rock, cactus arms pointing up, looking like a Polynesian goddess. Rocks surround her as the music swells. Then, in the blink of an eye, she steps forward, and the rocks—dancers hidden beneath rock-colored cloth—roll away swiftly. It was so not what I expected to see, executed so efficiently, that I knew right away I was in for a rollicking good ride with McIntyre’s Blue Till June, created in 2000 for the Washington Ballet.

Haskins in her solo dancing was fierce, angular, proudly defiant. Smuin would have loved McIntyre’s choreography, the way it showed Smuin dancers at their finest, all high energy, high level of artistry, mixed with a certain rebel nature that seemed to define Michael Smuin as well. The soulful, power-infused ballads of Etta James provided the music. Her laments about love and life were an apt counterbalance to the humor and irony McIntyre injected into his work. One movement flowed into the next, like life, from high to low, despondent to energetic, casual to sharply precise, often with a whimsical or comic flair, even as the dancer maintained a serious expression. Erica Felsch was laugh-out-loud entertaining as a dancer rigidly opposing the intents of an amorous Robert Kretz. Their pas de deux, and its ending, was sublime. An ensemble of five delivered their number with slumped shoulders, a zombie demeanor, with an energetic counterattack. Ben Needham-Wood’s “One for my Baby” all but stole the show. Ian Buchanan and Peter Kurta offered an affecting, unconventional pas de deux, and Terez Dean and Ben Needham-Wood brought the ballet to a satisfying close.

These dancers are powerhouses. Not once did I ever see a sign of fatigue, although they had to have been damned exhausted by the end of the program. Not the audience. We left, happy and energized by yet another successful Smuin program. I think it’s safe to say the company’s 25thanniversary season is off to a fine start, indeed.

 

A DANCER’S GUIDE TO AFRICA is born!

Classical Girl Press is proud to announce the release of A Dancer’s Guide to Africa — recently named a quarter-finalist for the 2018 BookLife Prize! You can find it in print and electronic formats HERE or distributed through Ingram Book Company and Bookshop Santa Cruz. As a special in conjunction with World Dance Day 2018, enjoy A Dancer’s Guide to Africa at the discount price of $2.99 all month long!  After that it returns to its regular price of $4.99.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT

Fiona Garvey, ballet dancer and new college graduate, is desperate to escape her sister’s betrayal and a failed relationship. Vowing to restart as far from home as possible, she accepts a two-year teaching position with the Peace Corps in Africa. It’s a role she’s sure she can perform. But in no time, Fiona realizes she’s traded her problems in Omaha for bigger ones in Gabon, a country as beautiful as it is filled with contradictions. 

Emotionally derailed by Christophe, a charismatic and privileged Gabonese man who can teach her to let go of her inhibitions but can’t commit to anything more, threatened by an overly familiar student with a menacing fixation on her, and drawn into the compelling but potentially dangerous local dance ceremonies, Fiona finds herself at increasing risk. And when matters come to a shocking head, she must reach inside herself, find her dancer’s power, and fight back.

Blending humor and pathos, A DANCER’S GUIDE TO AFRICA takes the reader along on a suspense-laden, sensual journey through Africa’s complex beauty, mystery and mysticism.

I wrote a bit about the story’s inception HERE.

HERE’S WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING…

“Vivid prose and rapt evocations of the African surroundings make the story come alive.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Hilarious and poignant, with a frank, observant narrator who seems forever on the outside looking in, and all the more lovable and relatable for that.”
— Sarah Bird, bestselling author of The Yokota Officers Club and Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen

“Terez Mertes Rose knows dancing. She can make us feel its soulful allure. And in A Dancer’s Guide To Africa she captures the wonder, the culture divide, the longing and loneliness of being an outsider in the nation of Gabon. Better still, she delivers a cast of characters and a story that holds our attention from beginning to end. With this novel, Terez Mertes Rose, a savvy, insightful and entertaining writer, has come into her own.”
— John Dalton, award-winning author of Heaven Lake

“Rich with the smells, sounds, sights and culture of Africa, this novel takes us on an exquisite journey, through the eyes of a ballet dancer turned Peace Corps volunteer. A Dancer’s Guide to Africa is at once funny and dark, and superbly nuanced.”
— Marika Brussel, choreographer and former dancer

“A textured, sensuous, coming-of-age story that had me turning pages until the very end. I could almost hear the drums and see the firelight as I followed these believably drawn characters through their cultural and romantic escapades in this wonderful novel.”
— Anne Clermont, author of Learning to Fall

“Terez Mertes Rose has drawn on her considerable passions—dance, music, and storytelling—to take readers on a sometimes mystical and often suspenseful journey. The spiritual, visceral, and sensory-laden beauty of Gabon was a believable and riveting backdrop for this touching story of a women discovering her truth and power. A Dancer’s Guide to Africacommanded my attention from the first page to the last sentence.”
-– Jennifer Haupt, author of In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills and curator of the Psychology Today blog, One True Thing

Join me on my blog tour this week, hosted by Sage’s Blog Tours! Here are my stops:

October 2nd Corinne Rodrigues ~ BOOK SPOTLIGHT
October 4th Viviana MacKade ~ AUTHOR INTERVIEW
October 6th Reecaspieces ~ AUTHOR INTERVIEW
October 7th Jessica Rachow ~ BOOK REVIEW
​October 8th  The Book Adventures of Emily ~ BOOK REVIEW

World Ballet Day 2018

What a day World Ballet Day was! Did you miss it? Fret not! Archived footage links are below. And to help the celebration continue, enjoy Off Balance  for FREE all week long! The award-winning Outside the Limelight is $2.99 and the brand new, just-released A Dancer’s Guide to Africa is only 99 cents today (tomorrow it will revert to its regular price).

Royal Opera House, The Royal Ballet, London
12:00-17:00 BST (UTC +1hr)
This year’s 5-hour segment is available on YouTube  HERE

The Australian Ballet, Melbourne
This year’s 5-hour segment is available on YouTube HERE

Большой театр России / Bolshoi Theatre of Russia, Bolshoi Ballet, Moscow
09:00-14:00 MSK (UTC +3hrs)
This year’s 5-hour segment is [partially] available on YouTube HERE.

Dutch National Ballet
This year’s 45-minute segment is available on YouTube HERE

Here’s the original post from September

Prepare yourself, dear readers, because World Ballet Day is here again! Save the date: Tuesday October 2nd, around the world. (Note! Oct 2nd in Australia is Mon evening, Oct 1st in North America!)

There is some good news and some bad news for 2018. The good: well, it’s obvious. There’s yet another World Ballet Day! The bad news: the San Francisco Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada won’t be participating. {{Sobs!}} But I have a hunch it’s still going to be a rollicking great day, filled with the kind of stuff we ballet fanatics can’t get enough of: watching company class at the Australia Ballet, The Bolshoi, London’s Royal Ballet and guest companies. There will be interviews, rehearsals, footage from other ballet companies around the world, more rehearsals, more interviews, and lots and lots of exposure to the professional ballet world behind the scenes, which is my favorite part of all. Really, where would be all be without World Ballet Day, now in its fifth year? A big shouted out THANK YOU, to Royal Ballet, without whose efforts there wouldn’t be this amazing event.

This year’s event will be streamed live on Facebook; simply go to the [Australian, Bolshoi, Royal] Ballet’s Facebook pages that I’ve linked above.

New info on 9/22: here are the guest companies who will be making an appearance during the event: Houston Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico, Acosta Danza, Bayerisches Stattsballett, Dutch National Ballet, Paris Opéra Ballet, Polish National Ballet, Queensland Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Northern Ballet, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, Scottish Ballet, National Ballet of Japan, Norwegian National Ballet, Royal Swedish Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, Vienna State Ballet and West Australian Ballet. You can find times for these companies way down below. Just scroll to the end.

(For a real-time version of the above, click HERE.)

Here’s the biggest question I get asked over and over: “When does it begin and what are the times for each company? And what is the time in my time zone?” 

Stop 1 is Melbourne and the Australian Ballet. When the world-wide event kicks off at 11am in Melbourne on Tues Oct 2nd it looks like this for the rest of the time zones:

  • Moscow          4am Tues Oct 2
  • UTC/GMT*      1am Tues Oct 2
  • London            2am Tues Oct 2
  • New York        9pm Mon Oct 1
  • San Francisco 6pm Mon Oct 1

*In case you’re scratching your head, “UTC” is what Greenwich Mean Time is now called. I’m thinking it stands for “Universal Time Coordinated.”

Stop 2 is Moscow and the Bolshoi on Tues Oct 2nd. After the Australian Ballet streams its five-hour segment, this portion will begin at 9am local time, which looks like this for the rest of the time zones.

  • Melbourne      4pm
  • UTC/GMT        6am
  • London            7am
  • New York       2am
  • San Francisco  11:00pm (Oct 1st)

Stop 3 is London and the Royal Ballet. After the Bolshoi completes its five-hour segment, the Royal Ballet’s 12 noon start looks like this for the rest of the time zones:

  • UTC/GMT        11am
  • Melbourne      9pm
  • Moscow          2pm
  • New York       7am
  • San Francisco  4am

… But wait, there’s more!

Remember how we were bummed upon learning that National Ballet of Canada and San Francisco Ballet weren’t able to participate this year? The good news is, these companies are stepping up to the plate to contribute. Yay! The bad news is that you have to now figure out the times for yourself. (Remember what I said about UTC? If you’re confused as to what that looks like compared to your time zone, here’s that nifty clock comparison link HERE.)

Ballet Concierto De PR, San Juan – 10:00-10:15 AST (UTC -4hrs)
Acosta Danza, Cuba – 12:00-12:40 EDT (UTC -4hrs) (Technical difficulties – boo hoo!)
Houston Ballet, Texas – 12:30-13:30 CDT (UTC -5hrs)
Pacific Northwest Ballet , Seattle – 11:00-11:30 PDT (UTC -7hrs)
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, New York – 15:00-15:30 EDT (UTC -4hrs)
Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal – 16:00-17:00 EDT (UTC -4hrs)

To reiterate, each company’s segment will run live on their Facebook page. After the event is over, we’re being told that the archived footage will be available on YouTube. Whether that’s three minutes after the event, or three hours, or three days, we will find out on The Big Day.  Check with me here after the fact and I will share any links I find. Meanwhile, want archived footage and/or details and descriptions about past World Ballet Days? Check out my coverage of the event for 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014 (just click on the year).

And one last bit of exciting news. Coincidentally, Oct 2nd is the release date for my newest  novel, entitled A DANCER’S GUIDE TO AFRICA. What could be more perfect? Two reasons to celebrate the day! In fact, let’s start the celebration early, shall we? My publishers have agreed to lower the price to 99 cents from now (on preorder) through World Ballet Day. Take advantage of this offer while you can, because after that day (and maybe we’ll throw in one extra day to be nice), the price will return to $4.99. And hey, check back on World Ballet Day for some news on can’t-miss-this bargains with my other two ballet novels. OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT and OFF BALANCE.

                                  

**Update on more times for guest companies. And once again, that clock link HERE.

The National Ballet of Japan, Tokyo – 11:00-11:15 JST (UTC +9hrs)
West Australian Ballet , Perth – 14:30-14:40 AWST (UTC +8hrs)
Queensland Ballet, Brisbane – 15:00-16:00 AEST (UTC+10hrs)
Royal New Zealand Ballet, Wellington – 15:00-16:00 NZST (UTC +12hrs)

Nasjonalballetten UNG / Norwegian National Ballet 2, Oslo – 14:00 – 14:30 CEST (UTC +2hrs)
The Royal Danish Ballet, Copenhagen – 14:15-14:45 CEST (UTC +2hrs)
Bayerisches Staatsballett, Munich – 14:30-15:00 CEST (UTC +2hrs)
Das Stuttgarter Ballettt, Stuttgart – 15:00-15:30 CEST (UTC +2hrs)
Wiener Staatsballett, Vienna – 15:15-15:45 CEST (UTC +2hrs)
Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris, Paris – 15:30-16:00 CEST (UTC +2hrs)
Het Nationale Ballet – Dutch National Ballet, Amsterdam – 16:00-16:30 CEST (UTC +2hrs)
Kungliga Svenska balettskolan/ The Royal Swedish Ballet School, Stockholm – 16:15-16:45 CEST (UTC +2hrs)
Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa, Warsaw – 17:00-17:30 CEST (UTC +2hrs)

Scottish Ballet, Glasgow – 11:00-11:30 BST (UTC +1hr)
Birmingham Royal Ballet – 13:00-13:30 BST (UTC +1hr)
English National Ballet, London – 14:00-14:30 BST (UTC +1hr)
Royal Academy of Dance, London – 14:30-15:00 BST (UTC +1hr)
Northern Ballet, Leeds – 16:00-16:30 BST (UTC +1hr)

Ballet Concierto De PR, San Juan – 10:00-10:15 AST (UTC -4hrs)
Acosta Danza, Cuba – 12:00-12:40 EDT (UTC -4hrs)
Houston Ballet, Texas – 12:30-13:30 CDT (UTC -5hrs)
Pacific Northwest Ballet , Seattle – 11:00-11:30 PDT (UTC -7hrs)
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, New York – 15:00-15:30 EDT (UTC -4hrs)
Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal – 16:00-17:00 EDT (UTC -4hrs)

Khachaturian’s Sizzling Piano Concerto

Nothing in the classical music repertoire says “summertime” more to me than Aram Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto. I discovered this Soviet era gem three summers ago and my first thought, (after “WOW!”) was, How did this elude me up to now? Blame it on the fact that it’s rarely performed in concert halls these days. But make no doubt, it’s a sizzler. It’s decisive, flamboyant, arrives and departs in a pyrotechnic dazzle. Its first and third movements are a textured, color-filled feast for the ears. Its second movement melts your heart. Does the concerto lack a certain nuance found in other composers’ piano concertos, as some will argue? I’ll throw my analogy back at you: does the height of summer lack nuance? Hell, yeah! Nuance belongs to fresh, early May mornings and golden, late September afternoons. Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto belongs right here, with the heat, the direct, can’t-escape-it sunlight, the sultry evenings luring you outdoors to regard the massive, star-studded sky, where you think, “Wow.”

 

Khachaturian was born in 1903 to ethnic Armenian parents in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, where he was also raised. He was self-taught on the piano in his youth, and only later did he receive formal training, in Moscow. I’ve always grouped him in my mind with two other well-known Soviet era composers, Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev. But a little background research on him revealed quite a different kind of Soviet. The other two composers frequently railed against the constraints of the Soviet regime, its stronghold on the arts. Khachaturian, on the other hand, embraced Communism and its ideology. Age fourteen at the start of the Russian Revolution, which soon established Soviet rule in Armenia (1920) and Georgia (1921), he took to it all with a teen boy’s fervor, signing on to join the propaganda tours via trains that traveled up and down the newly created Soviet corridor and pounded out ideological speeches and songs. The powerful connection between music and message exploded within him and he decided to embark on a musical career. Although he’d enrolled in the study of biology at a Moscow university, he nonetheless applied to the Gnessin School of Music, where he was accepted as a student of the cello. Music and composition became all that mattered in his world, and when the Moscow university expelled him from the biology program, he likely only thought, “Whew.” Thereafter, he moved on to the Moscow Conservatory, intent on creating music that “expressed the Soviet people’s joy and pride in their great and mighty country.”

“Wait,” you’re probably saying. “He’s an Armenian composer. Or is he a Soviet composer? Or Georgian—wasn’t he native to there?” Good point. Because, to complicate things further, although he is known as Armenia’s greatest composer, and is one of that nation’s greatest cultural heroes, he never set foot into Armenia until the period of the propaganda train tours, in his late teens. And he didn’t make an official visit to Armenia until 1939, three years after he composed his Piano Concerto. But make no doubt about it—he saw himself as an Armenian composer first. See, this was during the Armenian diaspora, and he and his family were part of an Armenian enclave in Tbilisi. Actually, all of it was part of a region called Transcaucasia, that included Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. In a 1952 article entitled “My Idea of the Folk Element in Music,” Khachaturian wrote the following:

“I grew up in an atmosphere rich in folk music: popular festivities, rites, joyous and sad events in the life of the people always accompanied by music, the vivid tunes of Armenian, Azerbaijani and Georgian songs and dances performed by folk bards and musicians – such were the impressions that became deeply engraved on my memory, that determined my musical thinking.”

The Soviet regime adored Khachaturian, his work, his powerful commitment to his Armenian heritage and Communism both. In him they found the perfect vehicle to demonstrate how the Soviet nations outside Russia were equally valued, and delivered an equally strong message that matched theirs. Which was hugely important for a composer during this time. (just ask the less obliging Shostakovich.) In Joseph Stalin’s own words, a composer in Soviet society had to be “an engineer of the human soul by writing music that communicates directly with the common man and instills in listeners loyalty to the ideals of Communism, love for the Soviet Union, and pride in the working class.”

Khachaturian’s piano concerto was composed in 1936, while he was a post-grad student at the Moscow Conservatory, under the tutelage of the great pedagogue, Nikolai Myaskovsky, who encouraged Khachaturian’s use of folk music and ethnic flavors in his compositions. It premiered in 1937. With its driving rhythms, distinct flavors, accessibility and charm, it was an instant success. Khachaturian garnered high Soviet honors and his career instantly took off. He would continue in his highly successful, highly public career, to give the Soviet regime what they wanted, and they would continue to reward him for it. Between 1936 and 1946, Khachaturian wrote a set of three concerti for the piano trio of Lev Oborin (piano), David Oistrakh (violin), and Sviatoslav Knushevitsky (cello).

Give the first movement a listen, and we’ll talk more afterwards. it features pianist Alicia de Larrocha with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Rafael Frückbeck de Burgos conducting, who  all balance nicely the bombastic with the thoughtful. And there’s a treat in store: this is one of the few recordings that, in the second movement, utilizes the flexatone, a strange little steel instrument invented in Britain in 1922, which produces a sound like what you’d get if you mixed a musical saw with a poorly-tuned (and played) glockenspiel. (Stop scratching your head in confusion and just go LISTEN. And if you can explain it better, in the comments section below, I will give you a prize. Pinky swear.)


What did you think? Even though I’m a strings person and would normally gravitate first to the violin concerto, or its cello counterpart, it’s this Piano Concerto that has stolen my heart. I’m so intrigued by to those delicious, slightly dissonant chords — Khachaturian loved incorporating intervals of the second. He also embraced the Oriental music idiom, which surely pairs well with Armenian folk music.

And that second movement — oh wow, it never fails to cast a spell on me. It creates such a vivid inner state, the way the full moon on a warm summer’s night makes you feel like you’ve stumbled into another realm. Lying in the grass, looking up at the stars, everything tight in you eases and the world of imagination and possibility unfurls before you like a grand, endless, magic carpet. Story has it, it’s based on a Transcaucasus melody. A bass clarinet introduces and ends the movement. A new instrument for me; I’d been so sure it was a double bassoon, so deep and gorgeously brooding, but nope. Here, the bass clarinet is utilizing its full range—an octave below the more common soprano clarinet. It lends the movement its unique sound (the bass clarinet is more common in concert bands than in classical orchestration), along with that flexatone. Most recordings don’t use the flexatone, and instead let the violins carry the melody, which is a shame. Once you’ve heard a recording with the flexatone, without it, the strings seem to muddy what was mystical and wonderfully spooky. And the piano dialogues differently with a solo instrument. But, with or without flexatone, the movement is just stunning. Lush, spacious and so viscerally satisfying. And again, there’s that dissonance in the chords that works so deliciously. Remember what I said above about Khachaturian’s love of incorporating intervals of the second” ? That’s what you’re hearing.

Here is the second movement on its own. Very much worth a listen even though it doesn’t have the flexatone. The soloist is Aram Avetyan, it’s the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Eduard Topchjan.

Khachaturian has got a rollicking good violin concerto too, and a cello concerto that doesn’t strike me as mind-blowing as the piano concerto, but let me know if you disagree. Khachaturian was more prolific than a lot of people realize, probably because, as a Soviet composer, much of his work found a home only in the (former) USSR. He composed quite a few film scores, which I hadn’t realized. In later years, he composed another set of three concertos — actually, concerto rhapsodies, which are a “single-movement, multi-sectioned concept balanced between cadenza and fantasy.” My ballet readers will know and love more than one Khachaturian composition, maybe not even realizing who the composer was for the Bolshoi’s ballet, Spartacus, and its gorgeous, romantic Adagio pas de deux. And the sweeping “Masquerade Suite.” And the Soviet ballet, Gayaneh.

Here are links to some of the things he composed (some of which might surprise you):

  • The Sabre Dance. You’ve heard it. Trust me. Head’s up: if Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Flight of the Bumblebee” kind of annoys you and/or gives you a headache, well, brace yourself. This one’s worse. https://youtu.be/gqg3l3r_DRI
  • The 1942 ballet, Gayaneh https://youtu.be/_JlGS1m1PL4
  • From the above ballet, this stunning violin adagio: https://youtu.be/K6ZBSdjzKfk It’s featured in Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and also heavily borrowed from by James Horner for his soundtrack to Aliens.
  • Violin Concerto (features violin legend David Oistrakh, and Khachaturian himself composing) https://youtu.be/TeKZAbFj83I
  • Cello Concerto https://youtu.be/HbkWS8wXqMg
  • Spartacus Ballet, the Bolshoi production, the Adagio pas de deux. (A MUST CLICK for any ballet dancer reader – the music plus movement will utterly transport you.) https://youtu.be/gVX0BoXc_Jk 
  • Adagio from Spartacus for music purists https://youtu.be/LZLMKkEGFRo This one is all sound, no ballet, and I think its sound says it all. A more nuanced listening experience than the above.
  • Here is my absolute fave, “Masquerade Suite.” The ballet dancer in me was instantly smitten upon hearing this, decades ago. The love has never abated. In fact, let’s embed so all can enjoy.

Sibling rivalry – when your sister’s a dancer too

The story is as familiar as it is painful to many a dancer. A promotion or a lead role, just within reach, is irrevocably lost, given to another dancer. Someone you admire and respect, someone you might have toiled and danced alongside for years. Now you’re hurting, and all you want to do is go home, grieve, cry, vent, in the security of your home. Only this time it’s more complicated.

This time the other dancer is your sister.

While I myself have five sisters, none shared my passion for ballet while growing up, so as an adult, I decided to explore the situation fictionally. In my 2016 novel, Outside the Limelight, professional dancer Dena, three years her sister Rebecca’s junior, gets the promotion to soloist that Rebecca had been anticipating. The story, if you haven’t yet read it, follows the sisters’ ensuing relationship, through its bumps, challenging circumstances, dramas and traumas, and the ultimate realization that the bond of sisterhood surpasses all others

Real-life ballet sister scenarios play out quite frequently, I’ve since discovered. In a 2013 New York Times article, Patricia and Jeannette Delgado, both principals with Miami City Ballet, discussed their own situation. Much like in my novel, younger sister Jeanette, after years of being the subordinate, excelled extravagantly, prompting dance critic Alastair Macaulay to call her “one of the world’s most marvelous ballerinas.” Patricia, older by two years, was taken aback. In the article, she shares that, “I closed my eyes and opened them, and said, ‘Oh, my God. My sister is amazing,’ I knew she would have opportunities I wouldn’t get, and that was the first time I was dealing with that.” In the long run, however, Patricia credited Jeanette’s success as helping her to elevate her own dancing. “She was blowing me away, and I said, ‘I’ve got to turn it up.’ ” And she went on to do just that. (Read the full article here.)

Ballet sisters Zippora and Romy Karz, who both danced with the New York City Ballet (shown below together, and below that, with their other two siblings) offered their own perspective.

“I am blessed—my sister is my best friend,” said Zippora, the eldest, who rose to soloist rank. “We went through growing-up years, for sure, and I didn’t always turn to her, but she was always there. Romy and I were very different dancers and personalities, and different life happenings, so I don’t think we ever compared ourselves to each other.”

Romy, three years younger, agreed. “I never put myself on her level, and so the competition was not a struggle. I loved being her sister. When I first started at the School of American Ballet, she wouldn’t let me live with her. She wanted me to carve my own place, and for her to have hers, without taking care of me. Within a year, we found great comfort in our relationship with each other, and the desire to live together because we actually wanted to. Being her sister felt like a great honor to me.”

Challenges for ballet sisters can come in other forms. Zippora, who wrote The Sugarless Plum, a memoir chronicling her battle with Type 1 diabetes while dancing, did not share her illness with the other dancers. This increased the sisters’ closeness. “I knew of her incredible struggles with her health,” Romy said. “I knew how hard it was, so I worried a lot about her. That was stressful for me. It was hard to separate from my connection and caring of her, within company life.”

Lauren Jonas, artistic director of Walnut Creek-based Diablo Ballet, had not one but two ballet sisters, growing up. From the family’s home base in San Rafael, the three of them trained at the Marin Ballet. Mindy was five years older than Lauren, Corinne two years younger. All three went on to dance professionally, although Mindy was forced to retire at a very young age due to a bad foot injury that never healed properly. Lauren joined the Milwaukee Ballet after completing training, and Corinne joined the Houston Ballet.

Here, then, is another challenge ballet dancer sisters face: the prospect of being geographically separated. Cuban sisters and principal dancers Lorena and Lorna Feijóo spent their professional careers in San Francisco and Boston respectively. Sisters Maria Sascha and Nadia Khan, Montana natives, are based in Russia and Rome (and have two brothers, also professional ballet dancers, based in London and St. Petersburg). The Jonas sisters dispersed to New York, Milwaukee and Houston.

“It’s hard being in different companies,” Lauren admitted. “Living far apart, not being able to seeing the other dance, after those years of training together. You’re used to having that support right there, and then it’s gone.”

Years later, in an intriguing twist, Lauren co-founded Diablo Ballet, and a few years later Corinne joined the company, the two younger sisters finally dancing together on the same professional stage. This did, however, bring new sister-related challenges: Lauren had to refrain from showing any administrative favoritism toward this new dancer who was also her sister.

Lauren and Corinne Jonas. Photo by Ashraf

I asked Lauren what helped the two of them overcome any sense of competition in their youth. “It helped that we were very different dancers,” she replied. “I was very Don Q, good at fouettés, jumps, pirouettes. Corinne was more Juliet, lyrical and flowing. Although, we looked alike and choreographers liked playing around with that.” In choreographer Sally Streets’ 1997 ballet, Encores, Lauren danced in front of a mirror, where she encountered her mirrored self: her dancing sister.

I asked these ballet professionals what kind of advice regarding sibling rivalry they might offer today’s aspiring ballet dancer sisters. All were in agreement: figure out what you yourself are good at, what makes you unique, and work to improve and refine that.

“We all have to carve out who we are,” Romy said. “It’s a natural thing to feel jealous of someone who has what you want, and that may be better arches, extensions and parts in a ballet, and that may be your best friend, your worst enemy or your sibling. I think it’s healthy to feel what you’re feeling, and then to examine what you can do about it. Harboring those feelings won’t bring you closer to your own goals, but focusing on your own work and keeping your focus on your own goals will.”

Classical Girl (in orange) with her own sisters.

Here are but a few names of professional ballet dancer sisters through the past generation. Can you add to the list?

Maria and Marjorie Tallchief
Patricia and Coleen Neary
Johnna and Gelsey Kirkland
Tina and Sheri LeBlanc
Kathleen and Margaret Tracey
Laura and Elise Flagg
Svetlana and Yulia Lunkina
Leigh-Ann and Sara Esty
Mary Mills Thomas and Melissa Thomas
Zenaida and Nadia Yanowsky

This article first appeared at Dance Advantage with The Classical Girl’s permission.

© 2017 Terez Rose