Following Fanfare – Meet Maestro Gary Sheldon

Post by Rebecca King, Corps de Ballet

It is Miami City Ballet’s 25th anniversary and what better way to start this season than by bringing the orchestra back!  If you have attended any of our performances so far this season, you have experienced the delight of Opus One Orchestra.  However, there has been a change in the pit; our Artistic Director, Edward Villella, recruited a new conductor to lead the musicians – Maestro Gary Sheldon.  And Mr. Sheldon knows what he is doing! It’s obvious to the dancers as we interact with him, but his resume proves it.

Gary Sheldon is a native of Bay Shore, New York and a Julliard School alum. He was a conducting fellow for the Aspen Music Festival, Berkshire Music Center, and International Music Seminar.  Mr. Sheldon has been the principal conductor for the Opera Theater of Syracuse and Ballet Met, and principal guest conductor of the Columbus Symphony and San Francisco Ballet.

In 1988, Mr. Sheldon founded the Lancaster Festival Orchestra, which won The American Prize in Orchestral Performance. In 2010, he won The American Prize in Conducting in the professional orchestra division.  (To learn more about Gary Sheldon, click here.)

As we continue to celebrate the orchestra’s return throughout our run of Program I and Fanfare, I asked Mr. Sheldon if he would answer a few questions to enlighten readers about his role and his work with the dancers of Miami City Ballet.

You have worked with many ballet companies, including San Francisco Ballet and Ballet Met.  Has your experience thus far with Miami City Ballet been different than these other companies?

In some ways, working with different companies is quite similar.  Much of the repertoire is the same and the tireless commitment dancers must make to their art inspires me everywhere I go.  That said, the difference between companies can be great.  What repertoire does vary, and is usually very different, and dancer types and personalities will differ, both reflecting the preferences and repertoire predilections of the artistic director.

One striking observation I will make however is the remarkable connection I feel to the spirit and genius of George Balanchine working with Edward and our excellent ballet mistresses.  Even having conducted Balanchine with other fine companies for nearly 30 years, there is something extra special in the air here. In just one month with the company, I’ve seen some truly outstanding performances of Mr B’s work.

How is conducting for the ballet different than conducting a performance for a symphony?  What are the unique challenges that you encounter?

Conducting for ballet could not be more different than conducting for opera or symphony.  It all begins with an understanding of dance technique, which is something no conducting class or school in the world offers.  So one must find other ways to learn – like attend classes, competitions, apprentice with an established ballet conductor and ultimately, just jump in and “do it” if you are lucky enough to get the opportunity.

As we were in the final stages of rehearsing for Program I before opening at Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami in October, you attended many of our in-studio rehearsals.  What did you gain from this time in our studios on South Beach?

I especially enjoy every opportunity I get to see the dancers rehearse in the studio. Doing so allows me to become familiar with the choreography which is helpful in several ways.  Learning the tempo of the music is critical to what a conductor does.  While one could simply listen to a recording to replicate the preferred tempos of the choreographer, going to studio rehearsals and becoming familiar with the choreography illuminates what prompted the choregrapher to pick those tempos.

Attending studio rehearsals also helps me become familiar with the individual dancers.  When there are casting changes, it’s necessary to become familiar with the varying interpretations and tempos that different dancers might require.

On average, how much time did it take for each musician to prepare for Program I? How much of that time is on their own, and how much is the entire orchestra together?

The Opus One Orchestra usually has four rehearsals per program, including two rehearsals with the dancers.  Prior to rehearsing with the orchestra, musicians practice countless hours on their own.

A special thanks to Mr. Sheldon for giving me a moment of his time for this interview.

If you still haven’t heard the orchestra play, you have one more opportunity to see Program I: Fanfare, Bugaku, and Theme and Variations at Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach.  Come Friday, Nov. 19 at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 20 at 2:00 p.m. & 8:00 p.m., or Sunday, Nov. 21 at 1:00 p.m.

Brand new ballet – brand new costumes!

As opening night rapidly approaches, the wardrobe department has been hard at work for months. This week, we visited the shop while they were working on the costumes for the company premiere of Fanfare. As many companies often do, MCB sometimes rents costumes from other companies, but not in the case of Fanfare! The wardrobe ladies are making them from start to finish.

We snapped a few shots during our visit. Although we tried our very best to capture the magic, these photos do not do the amazing costumes justice. Don’t miss them onstage when Program I opens on October 15 at Adrienne Arsht Center, November 12 at Broward Center and November 19 at Kravis Center.

the piccolo

peg crowns in the making

crown patterns

french horn pattern

creating tutus

This harp was hand stitched!

the harp

The Art of Choreology

During the past month, Jane Bourne has been in the studios staging John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet. Jane teaches in a different way than our dancers are accustomed to…she teaches the ballet through choreology. Choreology (developed by Joan and Rudolf Benesh and also known as Benesh Movement Notation) is a system of dance notations. Choreologists like Jane use notations that have a five line stave that reads from left to right with bar lines to mark the passage of time (like in music). The five lines coincide with the head, shoulders, waist, knees and floor (from top to bottom) of the dancer. Other signs are used to notate the dimension and quality of the movement.

Jane studied dance notation at the Benesh Institute of Choreology. She has worked with ballet companies all over the world including The National Ballet of Canada, National Ballet of China, American Ballet Theater, Boston Ballet, and Houston Ballet, among many others.

These are some examples of dance notations. It really does look like sheet music!

En Garde!

En Garde: a French warning, “On [your] guard.” A term in fencing adopted from the French warning (according to Wikipedia.org). It’s also the first thing fight coach Christian Sordelet taught our male dancers when he arrived. Christian, a former Junior Olympic fencer, recently visited us in sunny Miami Beach to coach the fight scenes in Romeo and Juliet! It’s amazing what the dancers learned from him in just one week.

Christian talked to us about working with the dancers and why he grew up in a house full of swords and fake blood! Plus, Kris got a stage fencing lesson from him!

Our summer in one sentence

The dancers have officially been back for one week! Now that the summer layoff is over, some of them share a one-liner about their time off.

“I cleared my mind.” –Bradley Dunlap

“I helped set Swan Lake on the Summer Program’s Advanced Two dancers.” –Rebecca King

“I traveled to NYC, Canada, and lastly Los Angeles where I went to go see/support former MCB dancer, Alex Wong, on So You Think You Can Dance!” –Cindy Huang

“I married my best friend.” –Callie Manning

“I taught for the MCB Summer Intensive.” –Jennifer Kronenberg

“I taught at the Miami City Ballet School Summer Intensive and rested in Miami with family and friends!” –Patricia Delgado

“I spent time with my family up north and celebrated my grandma’s 90th birthday!” –Ashley Knox

“This summer I ate tons of lobster and enjoyed being home in Maine with my family!” –Sara Esty

“I began studying to get a Florida real estate license.” –Carlos Guerra

“This summer I ‘staycationed’ here in Miami and taught inspiring little ballerinas at the MCB summer course!” –Jeanette Delgado

“I celebrated my one year anniversary with my husband this summer!” – Jennifer Lauren

“I spent my summer becoming familiarized with the subway lines running in and out of Brooklyn.” –Zoe Zien

“This summer I danced in Miami and Seattle, and went home to Southern California to visit my family.” – Chase Swatosh

“I went to Italy and Switzerland and had the best food and wine!!” –Tricia Albertson

“This summer I became the ambassador for the non-profit organization called Stop Child Trafficking Now, and organized a walkathon for October 2, 2010 on South Pointe Park! Come out and walk to raise awareness and put an end to child sex trafficking!” –Amanda Weingarten

“I went to Europe… and Dollywood!” –Michael Breeden

“This summer I spent my layoff with my wonderful family and friends at home in St. Petersburg, FL.” -Nicole Stalker

“Over the summer, I followed a deer into the woods and found a rare white deer to photograph as well!!! It was AWESOME!” –Leigh-Ann Esty

Sisters, and principal dancers, Patricia and Jeanette Delgado vacation together in Acapulco!

Barre Tab

Post by Kris Kramer, Corporate Gifts Officer and former MCB dancer

One morning, before the Summer Intensive Program began, I ran into our Production and Lighting Director, John Hall. John was in his normal friendly demeanor and I immediately struck up a conversation with him. Since he had a pad of paper in one hand and a pen in the other, I asked him what he was up to. “I’m counting barres,” he replied. As he filled me in on what he was doing and why he was up to this “barre tab,” I instantly thought, “Our blog followers need to know about this!”

John explained that he was taking inventory of the barres mainly to get prepared for the 211 dance students that would arrive from all over the world for Miami City Ballet School’s Summer Intensive Program. Since there is such an influx of dancers during the five weeks, MCB needs to make sure we have enough equipment for the students.

His tally was up to 50 barres. Fifteen of the 50 were aluminum, light-weight barres that couldn’t be used because they were uncomfortable for the students. As a former dancer with the School and Company, I would never choose these aluminum barres when I took class. On the rare occasion I had to use one, it was always frustrating. If I was doing a hard combination and was relying on the support of the barre, it wasn’t there and that prevented me from getting the most benefits from the exercise. I would say they were mostly a nuisance, as these barres are so light you can pick them up with one hand. I was glad to hear that John was getting rid of them.

Since there was going to be a reduction in the barre tab, John continued to explain to me that they were going to buy 20 new barres. These barres are white and have two parallel bars at the top spaced about a foot apart. This makes it easier to accommodate dancers of different heights and allow them to move more gracefully through different exercises and stretch at different intensities. In addition, they are relatively easy to adjust. Dancers often adjust the height of the barres before their warm up exercises depending on their height so their hands hold the barre at a certain angle, a little less than 45 degrees from their torso. These barres are $200 each. So with 20 new ones, MCB will have to cough up a $4,000 barre tab. Ouch!

John shared this last tid bit with me. The 12 barres that travel with the Company from theater to theater were being brought into the studios as well. This would help accommodate the 211 Summer Intensive students during their training and bring the barre count to 67 in total. Three or four students to a barre is perfect in my book so I think John got his number right.

As I walked to my desk on the third floor administration level, I remembered there was even another type of barre used here. They are big, heavy, metal barres and usually need to be carried around the studios by two dancers. These mostly stay with the professional dancers, but will be used by the students over the Summer Intensive Program and were also figured into John’s 67 count. I sat down at my desk and had a final thought: “Wow! even the barres around Miami City Ballet can be so interesting.”

Here is one of the big, heavy, metal barres. Two dancers have to carry these!

This is one of the light-weight barres John was getting rid of.

This is one of the good barres! See how they have two parallel bars at different heights? Perfect!

Meet The Nutcracker

The Nutman and the Mouse King come head to head on December 11-13 at Broward Center and December 18-20, 22-23 at Adrienne Arsht Center. For tickets to MCB’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™ click here or call (877) 929-7010.

From dancer to photographer

Dancing since age 3, Alexandre Dufaur has a keen eye for ballet and a fond love for photography. What better person than a former MCB soloist to photograph the Company during Program I of the 2009-2010 Season?! We caught up with Alex at the dress rehearsal Thursday night to talk about this new “role” with Miami City Ballet. It’s so nice when dancers remain part of the MCB family once they hang up their shoes. Can’t wait to see his shots!

UPDATE: Click here to view Alex’s photos.

Florida Travel + Life visits MCB

It seems like just yesterday the dancers were posing on the black staircase of the Mondrian South Beach. The January/February issue of Florida Travel and Life will soon go to print and we will be able to see the article about Miami City Ballet, which is sure to include gorgeous photos of our dancers. Ana Connery, Florida Travel and Life Editor In Chief, visited us last week to finalize the story. During the time she spent here she talked to Edward, got a tour of the building and even watched rehearsal!

Click here to read about Ana’s experience with MCB.

Shoe Day

We just had the first Shoe Day of the Season, when dancers visit the costume shop to pick up their shoes for the month.  We spoke with Costume Designer and Director Haydee Morales on Shoe Day…you won’t believe how many pointe shoes a dancer goes through each season! Plus, we take a peek at the shoe room.

You can help keep the dancers ”on their toes.”  For more information about the Toe Shoe Fund, click here.