Our Nutcracker Memories – Part 1

Everyone has a special Nutcracker memory they will always cherish, whether it be a childhood experience or watching The Nutcracker for the first time as an adult. ‘Tis the season to reminisce about those special Nutcracker times. Corps de ballet dancer Rebecca King gathered some of the dancers to talk about their Nutcracker memories in this heartwarming video (which she produced =) ). Check back next week for Part 2!

Want to take part in the action? Leave a comment and tell us your favorite Nutcracker memory!

Our Thoughts on Promethean Fire

Post by Rebecca King, Corps de Ballet

In Program III, Miami City Ballet brings you the third of four company premieres, Paul Taylor’s Promethean Fire. I sat down with a few dancers to talk to them about dancing this piece for the first time.

The last Paul Taylor work that MCB performed was Company B last season. For those of you who have seen this spectacular work, you may agree with Jennifer Lauren when she describes it as “playful and lighthearted.” But she mentions that this work is much different than Promethean Fire, not only in energy, but also in style. “Promethean Fire is much more controlled with a specific technique.” This piece is rumored to be Taylor’s choreographic reaction to the tragedy of 9/11. Leigh Esty observed that this piece reflects the sediments of that day, calling it “emotional, almost even dark.”

With a different Taylor style to conquer, Ms. Lauren said, “the steps began to feel good once I became more comfortable and more familiar with the ballet. Until then, it all felt very foreign to me.” Ms. Esty added that this piece is much more “modern” than any Taylor work the company has done in recent history.

“The first movement of Promethean Fire never stops. Getting through until the end was a challenge for me at first,” says Ms. Lauren. Ms. Esty adds that she found herself having difficulties with the steps where she had to gracefully get from a standing position to the floor. “I have never had to do so much crawling around on the floor in my life!” she muses.

The dancers’ favorite moment in this work was unanimous. “The first movement is fast and chaotic,” Ms. Lauren describes, “then all of a sudden everyone slows down moving in unison.” This section is called the “back exercise” as it is similar to an exercise you work on in a modern class. Ms. Esty agrees that she likes this moment adding, “the human pile we create at the end is also a highlight for me. It is a really powerful moment.”

There is always an element that the dancers look forward to most when it comes to dancing Taylor pieces: working with Patrick Corbin. Mr. Corbin danced for Paul Taylor, now has his own company CorbinDances, and comes to Miami to set Taylor pieces on MCB.

When I asked the dancers about Patrick, everyone began to gush. “I love Patrick. I think he has a really amazing way of seeing a dancer for who they are and working with them to develop into better dancers. He just helps you love yourself as a dancer,” says Stephen Satterfield. Ms. Lauren points out his positive and calming energy. Ashely Knox agrees, saying, “He knows that this style of dance is foreign to us and does everything he can to encourage us.” Ms. Esty chimes in saying, “He is just inspiring because you can tell he loves what he does and it makes you want to love what you do.”

Patrick Corbin working with MCB.

Meet the Dancers – Rebecca King

That's me in the middle with my friends and fellow dancers Sara Esty, Jennifer Lauren, Leigh Esty, and Jennifer Kronenberg.

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.

Following Fanfare – Backstage at Broward Center

Post by Rebecca King, Corps de Ballet

Half an hour before the curtain rises on a Miami City Ballet performance, the audience members are probably just arriving at the theater, or in route. But what are the dancers up to? As I continue to bring you behind-the-scenes of Fanfare, this week I bring you backstage at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, at half hour call on Friday night.

Following Fanfare – Prepping for Broward

Post by Rebecca King, Corps de Ballet

Since opening weekend of the 25th Anniversary Season, Miami City Ballet has not again hit the stage, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy! Although we are focused on other up-coming ballets, Program I is always in the back of our minds. Many nights when I am trying to fall asleep, choreography is running through my head like a broken record. Often, I take this time to review steps in order to challenge myself by remembering ballets we haven’t worked on in awhile, or to re-enforce something I learned recently. What has been my choreography playlist recently? Fanfare. As we prepare to take this ballet to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, one thing I am always thinking about is the orchestra.

Dancing with a live orchestra is such a great pleasure and a welcome treat, but along with our newly-revived luxury comes a few challenges. When rehearsing and performing to a recording, we have become accustomed to hearing the exact same notes, with the exact same tempo every time. With live music, that all changes. The dancers really need to be on their toes (no pun intended) by listening closely to the music, as the tempo is never exactly the same. Also, with the orchestra in the pit, many times we hear different notes played by different instruments that we never noticed in the recording. Recordings can never completely capture the full effect of live music, which is why it is so important for us, as dancers, to understand the musicality of the choreography and constantly count the music. Dance is an illustration of the music; in order for us to represent the music as the choreographer intended, we need to hear each and every element of the music.

If you haven’t seen Miami City Ballet’s company premiere of Fanfare, accompanied by the Opus One Orchestra, you still have two weekends to choose from: Program I is showing November 12-14 at the Broward Center for Performing Arts, or November 19-21 at Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.

Following Fanfare – The Premiere!

Post by Rebecca King, Corps de Ballet

Opening weekend was a huge success as everyone anticipated. I took some footage on the Flip camera to bring you behind the scenes of Fanfare. Hearing the orchestra in the pit again for the first time in two years was an exhilarating experience that was felt by every person on stage and in the audience. I hope you enjoy. Until next time…

Following Fanfare – Back in the Theater

Post by Rebecca King, Corps de Ballet

Here we are! Day one in Adrienne Arsht Center, kicking off our 25th Anniversary Season! We just completed our first, of two, dress rehearsals. It is taking a little bit of time to get back into the swing of things; like not having a mirror, wearing costumes, and having stage lights shining down on us. The Fanfare costumes are so beautiful and full of color! We are looking forward to debuting this ballet for our Miami fans tomorrow night!

I took a few photos to bring you behind the curtain on our rehearsal day.

Looking out on the house from the stage.

It has been so long since we have seen seats in the pit! The orchestra will be here tonight!

The dancers practicing choreography after class, before rehearsal.

Stay tuned for some video footage I have taken, coming soon!

Following Fanfare with Rebecca King

Post by Rebecca King, Corps de Ballet

The dancers of Miami City Ballet are very excited to be preparing for the 25th Anniversary season, which kicks off in just a few days.  Among the exciting elements of this opening weekend is the return of the Opus One Orchestra.  Miami City Ballet has been without an orchestra for two years now, so we are bringing them back in style.

Leading off Program I is Jerome Robbins’ Fanfare, which was created especially to “introduce you to the instruments of the orchestra,” as the narrator explains before the ballet begins.  The orchestra has four different sections: the strings, the woodwinds, the brass, and percussion.  As you can imagine, the ballet has a large cast that fills the stage with bright colored costumes as the curtain rises.  Former New York City Ballet dancer Ben Huys set this ballet on the company in April, at the end of our 2009-2010 season.  When we were learning the ballet, the premiere seem so very far away, and here we are, already in October with opening night just around the corner.  Mr. Huys returned last week to put some final touches on the ballet before we debut it for our Miami audience.

I really enjoy this ballet; not only do I find it fun to dance, but I love the choreography and the picture it creates for the audience.  In my opinion, the best part is the last section of the piece.  One may call it a finale, but because this piece is all about the orchestra, we call it “the fugue”.  In terms of music, a fugue is when two or more instruments play based on a theme.  The theme is introduced at the beginning and reoccurs throughout.  In our fugue, the instrument to introduce the theme is the piccolo.  One by one, the instruments join in, building upon that theme.  All the dancers enter the stage, at the same time as their instrument does in the pit, and dance a variation on the theme steps.  After every section has entered, the stage becomes split among the men and the women.  Now, the orchestra plays one slow melody underneath a fast, spritely melody.  The men dance to the slower melody with completely different steps from the women, who are quickly and precisely dancing to the other melody.  All the dancers again split into their different sections to create a final picture as the curtain comes in.

I am happy that MCB has again asked me to bring you a behind the curtain view of opening weekend.  I will be taking the Flip camera with me to bring you some footage as this exciting night approaches.  Stay tuned for more about Fanfare as Miami City Ballet continues to prepare for this exciting company premiere!

Awaiting Open Barre

Leigh-Ann Esty got her hands on the Flip camera once again and headed straight into the studios for some thoughts on Open Barre. What are you looking forward to seeing during Open Barre 2?

Friday and Saturday nights are sold out, but you can still attend the Saturday afternoon performance at 2 p.m. Don’t miss it!