Throwback Thursday: Nut edition #tbt

RB living the part as Snow Queen.

I know The Nutcracker is over, but since it’s been snowing for the past few days, I’m putting up one more pic of me as Snow Queen. Yes, those are snowflakes on my warm up sweater. I lived in that thing for the entire rehearsal periods and performances each time I was SQ. Gotta get in the mood! And there are snowflakes in my crown and my earrings are big snowflakes too. (Shoes by Freed.)

Let it snow!

Throwback Thursday: Nut edition #tbt

RB as Snow Queen w/ Alexei Khimenko.

…where I was the “Snow Queen” for the umpteenth time.  Don’t get me wrong, it was my favorite part and a bit of type casting since I can be…well, icy.

That year my partner was Alexei Khimenko, orginally from Leningrad, but had been dancing for a while in Nashville, TN. Everyone loved Alexei. He was fun, charming and an intuitive and helpful partner. He was SBC’s own Baryshnikov!

He taught us a lot, even some Russian. Most wanted to learn how to count to ten, but I wanted to learn something I could use, so I politely asked him to teach me how to say “F*$# off!”. After laughing, he obliged. Before we went on stage each show for our pas, instead of wishing him “Merde”, I would tell him – lovingly – to “F*$# off”.

In the picture above, I not only certainly have a cramp in my hamstring and back, but I’m pretty sure I’m telling him (through clenched teeth) that my boob was falling out. Photo shoots are a bitch.

Throwback Thursday: Nut edition #tbt

SBC gals post-Nutcracker sometime after electricity was invented.

Oh Nutcracker…and memories.

Pictured: the “Trinas”. One’s husband is in the background (Hi Chad!), one had recently given birth, one was kinda, sorta, not-so-secretly dating my boyfriend (or maybe that came later), and I just had knee surgery. But, we pulled off a great show. Although we did change the entire pas to be on my left leg and I wasn’t a very dainty Sugar Plum – just ask my poor partner (Sorry John).

Good times.

Throwback Thursday: Nut edition #tbt

RB as Snow Queen in "The Nutcracker" with Ben Houk.

That one time where I backhanded my partner in the face on stage. Oopsie daisy.

It was an almost perfect performance. Almost. It was the very end of the pas after we “make it snow” calling the snowflakes on to dance. All that was left was a a back attitude/penche promenade and a lame duck/step over turn into another promenade, then exit. I was stoked because the pas went so well thinking we’d just take it easy and do a few pretty floating turns to finish. My partner was thinking let’s do 15,000 pirouettes and finish with a bang!

I wasn’t ready for the major push off he gave me – add in the fact that I’m not a good turner with spotting issues – and I went all cattywhampus and smacked him in the face hard. We recovered enough to finish, but our slow romantic walk off turned into a grab-the-back-of-the-tutu shove/run exit. Boo.He was pissed.

The rest of Snow Scene went well with a stoic smile etched on my face, but the screw up left a mark on me…and his face.

Throwback Thursday: Nut edition #tbt

RB in Arabian and my bestie as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

NUTCRACKER!

And so it starts…

Tomorrow is opening night of The Joffrey Ballet‘s run of The Nutcracker. Since I now work for them, if you need me, I’ll be at the Auditorium Theatre for the next month. :)

Over Thanksgiving weekend I was lucky – and thankful – to have dinner (which consisted of lots of fried things!) with two of my BFFs from back home. While catching up, we brought up one particular Nutcracker that was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

While breaking in a new brand of pointe shoes, my friend developed blisters on the back of her heels. Tech week is hard core, so those blisters soon ripped and she found herself with large, deep holes that were bleeding and raw. Obviously there was no time to heal, so she powered through – I’m not sure how – by having Lidocaine shot directly into the wounds before the perfomance. It was painful to watch. I can’t imagine how it felt. However, she danced a beautiful pas and Sugar Plum variation complete with a dazzling array of turns and a big goofy smile. She insists she has no recollection of even dancing. Good drugs, I guess, but that was her final Nutcracker. Hmm…I wonder why?

 

Ballet Legére Nutcracker Auditions

The Battle Scene in Ballet Légere's "The Nutcracker".

River Forest company Ballet Légere is holding auditions for their 29th annual performance of The Nutcracker on Saturday, August 17 and Sunday, August 18 at the Légere Dance Centre, 7377 W. North Ave., River Forest, IL.

All roles are available. Dancers need to bring a photo with them to the audition. Gymnasts and tumblers (8+) should call to set up an appointment.

 

A detailed breakdown of audition times is below. For more information, call 773.237.1874 or email balletlegere@yahoo.com.

Saturday, Aug. 17 at 8:30 am: girls, ages 4.5+, under 45″

Saturday, Aug. 17 at 10 am: girls, 46″-48″

Saturday, Aug. 17 at 11:30 am: girls, 49″-52″

Saturday, Aug. 17 at 1 pm: girls, 53″-57″

Saturday, Aug. 17 at 2:30 pm: girls, 58″-61″

Sunday, Aug. 18 at 9 am: boys, ages 5-12

Sunday, Aug. 18 at 10 am: Male and female dancers, teen thru adult, pointe and non-pointe roles

 

Auditorium Theatre 2013-2014 Highlights

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre in "Songs of the Wanderer". Photo by YU ui-hung.

The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University (ATRU) just announced its 2013-2014 season. Here are a few things I’m excited about:

Ballet West – former Joffrey Ballet dancer Adam Sklute’s company will be presenting Sleeping Beauty (classic, long, but beautiful w/ gorgeous music) and Val Caniparoli’s The Lottery. Caniparoli created Incantations for Joffrey in 2012 and has received great reviews for the premiere of The Lottery which has a unique twist where the audience finds out the “secret” before the dancers (who don’t know who will perform the final solo until it happens live!). Cool beans.

Houston Ballet – In another local connection, Joffrey premiered Artistic Director Stanton Welch’s Son of Chamber Symphony in 2012. His company brings the storybook ballet Aladdin to town in March of 2014.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre – The New York-based company returns for another two-week run featuring a mixed rep and the showstopper Revelations. Yay.

River North Dance Chicago – Local favorite Rivno takes the stage in April 2014 will a new world premiere. Always a good show – expect lots of abs and speedy turns.

Paul Taylor Dance Company – I’m reading Paul Taylor’s new book Facts and Fancies right now, so the timing is perfect! My only regret is never getting to see my friend Julie Tice perform with the company live during her ten years there :(

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre – Co-presented with the Dance Center of Columbia College and the Joffrey Ballet, this troupe from Taiwan always amazes with their imagery and Butoh-esque stamina/control.

Chick Corea and Béla Fleck – Non-dancy, but my brother (a musician) listened to Corea ALL the time when we were growing up and a bazillion years ago I performed a piece with the above mentioned Tice to a Beatles cover by Fleck (and the Flecktones). Good times.

So there you have it. Oh plus, the yearly tradition of the Joffrey’s The Nutcracker and any chance to see ATRU E.D. Brett Batterson and you can see why I’m stoked.

For more information, visit auditoriumtheatre.org.

Joffrey Ballet: American Legends preview

Joffrey dancers Jeraldine Mendoza & Dylan Gutierrez. Photo by Dave Frieddman.

Tomorrow night begins Joffrey Ballet‘s two-week run of American Legends at the Auditorium Theatre. Rehearsals were in full swing last Friday when I stopped by the studios for a peek. Artistic Director Ashley Wheater and Ballet Master Nicolas Blanc were fine-tuning sections of Jerome Robbins’ Interplay in one studio, while Crista Villella (daughter of Edward Villella, founding director of Miami City Ballet) coached two couples in Twyla Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs down the hall. Wheater discusses an awkward prep for a double tour to the knee with dancer John Mark Giragosian before running a killer fouette section multiple times. Villella focuses on tricky handholds in difficult lifts (it’s Twyla, ain’t nothing going to be easy) to the sounds of Sinatra’s theme song My Way.

Robbins’ 1945 work Interplay is a fun, youthful prelude to his masterpiece West Side Story that has major classical ballet moves mixed with cartwheels. Tharp’s ode to ‘Ole Blue Eyes is a series of duets in various stages of romance with costumes by Oscar de la Renta. All American legends. The Chicago premiere of Son of Chamber Symphony by Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch (Australian-born, but perhaps an American legend in the making?) takes classic ballet to a new place with deconstructed costumes made to look like inside-out tutus. (I’ve heard they are a bitch to partner in.)  Set all of this to live music by the Chicago Philharmonic, add in a romantic, mystical pas, and you have the makings for a lovely Valentine-timed show.

On opening night dancers Jeraldine Mendoza (21) and Dylan Gutierrez (23), partners on and off stage, have the privilege of dancing Joffrey co-founder Gerald Arpino’s 1962 romantic pas de deux Sea Shadow in honor of what would be his 90th birthday. The duet feels like a rite of passage for the young couple who are quickly rising stars. Mendoza made heads turn in Wayne McGregor’s Infra last season and gained notoriety by winning a scholarship from the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund. Gutierrez made a name for himself stepping in for an injured dancer in Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux for last season’s gala and as “Basilio” in Don Q. He solidified his stature (pun intended, he’s tall!) as a strong Cavalier for opening night of The Nutcracker this season. The two don’t normally dance together and are excited about this opportunity.

The 12-minute pas tells an Ondine-esque story of a man on a beach that falls in love with the idea of a perfect woman. Is she a shadow of the sea? Is she real? Mendoza thinks she’s something more. “I interpret it as I’m a mermaid,” she said. “She’s this mysterious creature that he’s so interested in.” Gutierrez’s take is a little different. “She’s like a fantasy,” he said. “She’s seducing him, but she doesn’t know how. She has as much interest in him as he has in her.” They admit some of the lifts and choreography are difficult, but they are ready for the challenge. In fact, they welcome it. “I think Ashley sees in both of us that we’re hungry and willing to dance,” said Mendoza. “I just love dancing and I want him to totally trust in me.” Gutierrez adds, “We’re people that when the opportunity presents itself, we don’t back away. Every role we’ve gotten, we’ve earned, even though they’ve come quickly. That’s just circumstance. It’s what you do with the shot when you get it. We’ve always delivered.”

The two have dated for over a year and admit that knowing each other so well makes a difference when dancing together and they make an effort to keep a certain distance emotionally on stage. Will falling in love in front of a large audience be a problem? “It’s easy,” said Gutierrez. “I already love her at the beginning of the ballet.”

Gutierrez, with the help of Mendoza (and friend Ruben Harris), started a movement called Young + Cultured. You can follow them on Twitter – @DylanthaVillain, @jeraldineeeee #YoungandCultured.

Joffrey Ballet presents American Legends at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., Wednesday, Feb. 13 – Sunday, Feb. 24. Performance times vary. Tickets are $31-$152. Call 800.982.2787 or visit ticketmaster.com.


Joffrey’s Nutcracker: Clean, Crisp, Classic

Joffrey Ballet dancers Yoshihisa Arai and Jack Thorpe-Baker battle in "the Nutcracker". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.The Joffrey Ballet‘s production of The Nutcracker still sparkles in its silver anniversary. Opening night, Friday, December 7 at the Auditorium Theatre, marked the 25th year for this particular magical tale choreographed by Joffrey co-founders Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino and the magic and choreography still hold up today. With beautiful accompaniment by the Chicago Philharmonic, under the direction of Scott Speck, this version of the holiday ballet boasts clean dancing, crisp choreography and classic storytelling.

Joffrey’s Act One is notable for its speed and depth of action, especially the Party Scene. There is a lot going on in that Victorian living room. Too much for one set of eyes to catch it all, but that also speeds the story along and sweeps you Clara’s world, so you’re ready to fight and dream right along with her. Opening night’s casting had Clara and Fritz almost as tall as their parents, a distraction from the illusion of them really being children. That uneasiness was quickly erased by the dancers commitment and enthusiasm to their characters. Caitlin Meighan was delightful, youthful and vibrant as Clara, her rapid bourrée runs full of excitement. Ricardo Santos was obstinate and ornery as Fritz before taking a star turn as the Snow Prince in the Snow Scene at the end of the Act. His lightening quick jumps and spot-on turn sequences dot the fiendishly fast Arpino choreography amid a flurry of snowflakes. Solid dancing from the entire company lets the choreography shine. I know Mr. A. liked things brisk, but the speed of this evening’s performance surely made it the fastest Nutcracker in the Midwest!

Joffrey dancers Dylan Gutierrez and April Daly in "The Nutcracker". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

Act II transports to us to The Kingdom of Sweets where the dancers took bravuro turns in each variation. Highlights were Amber Neumann as the sassy Spanish Chocolate, the pristinely perfect Marzipan Shepherdesses (Jeraldine Mendoza, Catherine Minor and Jenny Winton) as well as Kara Zimmerman and Elizabeth Hansen as the lead flowers in Waltz. Always a crowd pleaser, the Russian Nougats (Jacqueline Moscicke, Derrick Agnoletti, Yoshihisa Arai and John Mark Giragosian) did not disappoint. Arpino’s Waltz continues to be an all-time favorite for me, however, this year incorporated some costume updates that marred the visual cohesiveness of the dance. The Sugar Plum Fairy (April Daly) and her Cavalier (Dylan Gutierrez) raised the bar with strong, stellar performances. Daly, as fresh and lovely as her month’s namesake, lit the stage with dazzling effervescence, exquisite extensions and beautiful balances. Gutierrez continues to come into his own in lead roles, establishing himself as a solid, sure partner and delivering a clean, commanding variation. These two definitely proved the saying ‘save the best for last’.

The Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker runs through December 27 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. Tickets are $31-$132. Call 800.982.2787 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.

 

Tutu Talk with Jennifer Goodman

She’s sweet like the Sugar Plum Fairy she will portray in the Ruth Page Civic Ballet‘s The Nutcracker starting this weekend. Local audiences know Jennifer Goodman, 38, from her 16-year tenure at Joffrey Ballet, 13 of it here in the Windy City, where she made a memorable impression in Nutcrackers past as Clara, a variety of variations and, yes, the Sugar Plum Fairy. Since leaving Joffrey in 2009, the Michigan native has enjoyed a lush freelance career dancing for Ballet NY, Ballet X, The Met, Lyric Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Dallas Opera and will be dancing at the San Diego Opera next year. But first, it’s Nutcracker time. Goodman’s cavalier will be former Joffrey dancer Calvin Kitten (Hi Calvin!) this weekend, former River North Dance Chicago dancers Luke Manley next weekend, then she heads to Minnesota to dance with another former Joffrey-ite Matthew Prescott (Hi Romeo!).

RB sat down with the petite ballerina to talk pointe shoes (Freed), freelancing, yoga (she trained at Core Power Yoga) and, of course Nutcracker.

Since you’ve done The Nut a billion times, how do you keep it fresh?

Being Sugar Plum as a freelancer, it’s easier to keep it fresh. I pretty much do my version, a pretty classic version. Each show is new. Sugar Plum is easy because it’s technically challenging and the music is so beautiful. I enjoy it so much that every time I go out there; I feel it. Clara was more difficult. The last time I did it I was 34. I love doing story ballets. It takes you out of being just you. It’s fun to go somewhere else and become a character. Definitely as I’ve gotten older I’ve enjoyed taking on those roles. That helps keep it fresh.

What’s a typical performance day for you? Do you have any routines or superstitions?

I try to stay away from superstitions. I try to catch myself. As far as routine, especially if I’m guesting and there isn’t class offered, I have an order of how I get ready. I do my make up, then my hair and then I go warm up. I have a routine I do. I’ve noticed, because there is so much time to wait during the second act before you go on…with that anticipation, you go crazy, so I end up going over the whole thing with just my arms. Calvin and I have a routine for Ruth Page. We do our opening, we go off to the side, we sit, we chat, we stretch. Sometime around Russian, we stand up and move around a bit. At Flowers we stretch a bit more and then at a certain point in the music, we part. I go to my side of the stage, he goes to his. I’ll go over the pas de deux with my arms right up until we need to go and then we blow each other kisses.

 

Jennifer Goodman and Calvin Kitten in Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker. Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

You’ve been dancing with him for almost 20 years.

One year he came in the morning of the first show. We didn’t even touch each other. It was one of our best shows. He knows me. He knows my movement. It’s pretty cool.

How is it switching partners from week to week?

It’s definitely different. We’re all professionals, so it’s not that hard. Especially with Calvin and Matthew. I have to do a little more with Calvin just because of the height.

When did you start to get certified in yoga and how have you incorporated that into your dance life? How has it changed your dancing?

Last summer, I did a week intensive teacher training. Prior to that, in New York, I started taking more classes. What drew me into it even more than just the physicality was dealing with problems personally and wanting to heal what I’d been going through. Yoga is so good for that because there is so much positivity and self-love it really touched me and helped me get through. When I came here and did the week of training, I just loved it. It built my confidence up so much more. After the training, I went to teach a ballet class and I noticed I was calmer when I taught and I was a lot more positive and confident.  I’m not going to worry about whether people are liking it or not or that I’m not doing the right thing. People have noticed, even doing Sugar Plum since last year, my confidence in the dancing and expressiveness I was giving out, not just worrying about the technical, was a lot freer.

Ruth Page Civic Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Northeastern Illinois University Auditorium, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr, Saturday, Dec. 1 at 7 pm and Sunday, Dec. 2 at 1 pm. Tickets are $18-$25. Call 773.442.4636 or visit www.boxoffice.neiu.edu/civic_ballet.

Performances on Saturday, Dec. 8 & 9 at 3 pm presented at Elgin Community College Arts Center, 1700 Spartan Dr, Elgin. Tickets are $20-$32. Call 847.622.0300.