Category Archives: Dancers

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s ‘Cinderella’ filled with happy endings, rich history

From April 19-21, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) performed Cinderella at the Benedum Center for Performing Arts in downtown Pittsburgh. For an evening, audiences were swept away into an enchanting land far, far away, where the girl falls in love with the prince and they live happily ever after.

For an extra-special treat from The Ballet Barre, check out this slideshow of photos of the talented PBT dancers during the final dress rehearsal of Cinderella before opening night! (All photos by Kim Roberts).

Cinderella Wordle

Cinderella Synopsis (created at wordle.net)

The PBT dancers put on a stunning performance filled with smiles and glitter, plus a pair of pointe shoes positively dripping in sparkles as Cinderella’s glass slippers. The story of Cinderella has been told and re-told throughout the ages across the world. According to the playbill from PBT’s production, there are more than 1,500 different versions of the fairy tale that have been told through many formats, including ballets, plays, musical, movies, and operas. Click on the graphic above to see the most common words found in the Cinderella synopsis in the playbill!

The most popular version in modern day America is the classic Walt Disney movie Cinderella. Take a look at the video below to see a clip of “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from the classic movie!

The version of the story told in PBT’s production differed from the movie, but not enough to leave audience members confused. In PBT’s production, which was choreographed by Septime Webre, Cinderella lives with her father and two stepsisters, who are played by male dancers. The result is a needed comedic touch that lasts throughout the show and produced plenty of giggles from little girls in the audience.

When Cinderella meets her fairy godmother for the first time, the fairy godmother and her helping fairies represent all four seasons as they make Cinderella’s wishes come true. From there, the rest of the story continues as it does in the movie. The overall effect was a mesmerizing one for the little girls and adults in the audience alike.

Cinderella Ballet

Cinderella’s rag dress is magically transformed into a ball gown by her fairy godmother in PBT’s ‘Cinderella.’
Photo by Kim Roberts

The Prince and Cinderella dance the night away, or at least until the clock strikes midnight. Then she must flee as her beautiful ball gown transforms back into her work clothes, and she leaves behind just one of her sparkling pointe shoes. The prince finds it and travels the world to find the girl it belongs to, finally ending at Cinderella’s cottage and reuniting with her at last. The two are married and live happily ever after.

Webre’s choreography showcased the impeccable technique of the PBT dancers with its complex patterns and beautiful pas de deuxs between Cinderella and her prince. Webre, currently artistic director for The Washington Ballet in Washington, D.C., created ballets that have been performed throughout the world. He also performed in the works of many famous choreographers, including Alvin Ailey and George Balanchine, according to The Washington Ballet’s website.

Take a look at this map to see some of the North American ballet companies that have performed works by Webre in recent years.

The classical music performed by a live orchestra at the production of Cinderella was composed by Sergei Prokofiev, whose music has been a part of the production for more than 60 years. Prokofiev began work on Cinderella the ballet in 1940, but he was forced to stop when World War II broke out. He picked up working on the ballet again in 1943 and finished in 1944. The very first performance of his completed work was performed in Moscow, Russia, by the Kirov Ballet in the Bolshoi Theatre on November 21, 1945, according to Music Academy Online.

Check out this timeline to see Prokofiev’s life and his many accomplishments in the world of ballet.

The PBT dancers brought this ballet to life in downtown Pittsburgh elegantly. Not only were the dancers themselves beautiful, but the sets and costumes whisked the audience away into a different world. The best performances of the night were the dances between Cinderella and her prince. In the Saturday night production, the leads were performed by principal dancers Alexandra Kochis and Christopher Budzynski. What made their performances special — besides their beautiful dancing, of course — was the fact they are a married couple in real life. To see the two of them dancing together as Cinderella and Prince Charming was a special experience. The two dancers were able to gracefully complement each other and danced as if they were one person, while simultaneously showcasing their own talents as well.

Cinderella Leads

Cinderella Leads During Performance Weekend       (Percentage of shows performed in)

To see which PBT dancers performed the leading role of Cinderella in the company’s six performances last weekend, check out this chart to the left with information from PBT’s website.

PBT successfully brought Webre’s choreography and Prokofiev’s score together in a production that flawlessly told the fairy tale that so many have come to love. If you ever have the opportunity to see this version of Cinderella the ballet, I highly recommend it. This ballet is perfect for ballet and dance lovers and fans of the fairy tale itself. It is the perfect way to introduce newcomers to ballet because of its clear, familiar story and happy ending. It was honestly my favorite ballet that I have ever seen because it brought a classic fairy tale from childhood to life and took me away to a world of happily ever after, even if just for a couple of hours.

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Dance survey results

The Ballet Barre Wordle

Made at wordle.net

Thanks for taking The Ballet Barre’s survey last week! This post is all about the results of that survey, visualized. You’ll have the chance to check out what people are saying about dance today and what their preferences are. Take a look at this graphic to the right to see some of the most-used words on The Ballet Barre blog. Do any of them look familiar? Just click on any of the graphics to view a bigger picture!

The Ballet Barre’s readers helped out with this post by filling out a survey. Check out this map to see where in the U.S. everyone is from!

How important is dance to you?

Dance is an important part of many people’s lives, whether they are dancers themselves or an avid fan of the arts. This chart on the left shows the number of people who described how important dance is in their personal lives. Clearly many people find dance to be very important and are concerned with keeping dance involved in their everyday lives.

Favorite way to watch dance by age column

 

No matter your level of interest in dance, everyone has their preferences for experiencing dance. Would you rather go see a ballet  in the city? You could see dancing in a musical theater production, like Wicked or Anything Goes. Or maybe you’d rather see a friend or family member perform in a recital or competition. Or, maybe television shows like So You Think You Can Dance? a are more your speed. The chart on the right illustrates people’s favorite ways to watch dance, categorized by age.

How many dance performances in a year lineHow many of these performances do people typically see in a given year? This chart to the left shows how many dance productions people attend. The results range from people who may or may not see a show or two each year to people who absolutely love the arts and see as many shows as they can! Where would people ideally like to see these shows? Check out this map to see which cities were voted the favorites for attending a dance show.

Favorite style of dance pie

What is your all-time favorite style of dance? It may be a hard question to answer. All of the different styles complement and build on each other. But still, if you had to pick a favorite which would it be? The Ballet Barre readers chose their favorite style of dance to watch or maybe perform! Take a look at this chart on the right to see the readers’ top choices. The results are pretty spread out with so many great styles to choose from.

Favorite dancer donutDoes your favorite dance style match that of your favorite dancer? The Ballet Barre also asked readers to pick their favorite dancer, ranging from the master of modern dance, Martha Graham, to some of ballet’s finest, Mikhail Barishnikov and Anna Pavlova, to tapping legends, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, to the great jazz choreographer, Bob Fosse. Check out this graph on the left to see which dancers our readers chose as the best.

Taken a dance class pie

You don’t need to have ever stepped foot in a dance class to have a favorite dance style, dancer, or way to watch a dance performance. But we wondered how many of our readers have experience in a dance class. It turns out…a lot! Just take a look at the graph to the right to see for yourself.

What you enjoy most bar

 

After getting all this great information from our readers, we just wondered one more thing: what is our readers’ favorite way to experience dance? Taking a dance class is of course an important option, but the feeling you get when performing onstage is a huge part of why dancers love to dance so much. Plus, attending a dance performance and watching dancers is fun too. Check out this graphic on the left to see what our readers enjoy most.

Clearly there are many factors that go into being a dance lover. With so many different styles, there are seemingly endless options of ways to experience dance. Hopefully these visualizations have given you a clear picture of the different ways people can love and enjoy dance.

The dance is over, the applause subsided, but the joy and feeling will stay with you forever.

– W.M. Tory

A typical day at the dance studio

Dance studio

Photo by Kim Roberts

A dance teacher’s role extends beyond the walls of the studio and the hours of an evening of dance classes. While every dance studio is different, a typical day is a fast-paced and exciting one for any dance teacher.

Here are three different perspectives of what a dance teacher’s typical day is like from three dance teachers from Ken and Jean Dance Studio, who were featured in the last post from The Ballet Barre. The following Q&A is an excerpt from an interview and asks a question to dance teachers Darcy Field, Sandi Plavchak and Jen Tancraitor.

The Ballet Barre: What is a typical day like at the studio?

Darcy Field, studio owner and dance teacher:

“My typical day is a little bit different, being a studio owner. Generally when I’m up in the morning there’s a lot of either book work, or program work, or costumes. Right now, I’m ordering merchandise while sitting here, So for me, it really is not a job where … I’m at the studio and those are the hours. It’s extremely long hours, just in the aspect of the recital and everything that has to be ordered for the recital. So it certainly ramps up, but the process really starts in August for the recital [in June]. The nicest part is really coming in and seeing the students.”

Sandi Plavchak, dance teacher:

“I would always start out in the morning searching for music for the day in my library and going through what I’m doing with the class for each day, so a lot of pre-planning. It’s never really a typical day, something always erupts. A little one needs something that they didn’t need before, or they’re having an emotional, dramatic day, so you have to sort of stop and figure out how to keep them going while the entire class is going. So there’s always something going on throughout the day, sometimes parents need a little encouragement … so you need to find the time to talk to them.

The classes roll right into the next with very little break, so it’s typical that you go from the 4-9:30 hour and barely catch a breath, but as long as you’re prepared that anything can happen, and it doesn’t throw you through a loop if you don’t get in what you wanted to get in in a day. You know, eventually, what you planned with them will take place at some point, but you can’t set yourself to a specific time frame. Because with so many kids in different age ranges, something’s bound to come up that sort of throws you.

And for me, often I’ll do a pattern that I think would be perfect, and the next week I’ll hate. And I could leave it and no one would be the wiser, but for me I have to fix it and backtrack and take a couple steps backward to step forward.”

Jen Tancraitor, dance teacher:

“A typical day is very hectic. It’s very enjoyable, though, and there’s always costumes to be props to be prepared and costumes to be fixed and choreography to do. So it very hectic, but also very enjoyable in the same sense.”

Clearly a lot goes into a single day of classes at a dance studio. Dance teachers need to juggle students and parents, music and choreography, props and costumes, and any other surprises that pop up during the day without missing a beat. Teachers like these need to be ready for anything on any day of tap, ballet, jazz, cecchetti, pointe, stretch, and acro classes.

The art of teaching dance to young ballerinas, tappers, jazz dancers

Dance teacher

Photo by Kim Roberts

What is the most important part of learning to dance? The dance shoes? The music? The recitals or competitions?

It all comes down to the dance teachers.

Young dancers often grow up in the same studio from age 3 to their high school graduation. That gives their dance teachers the unique opportunity to see them grow and transform as dancers and as individuals.

From personal experience, I can honestly say that I had the best of luck in my dance training because — in my extremely biased opinion — I grew up with the absolute best dance teachers in the world. You probably feel the same way about your dance teachers. These feelings just go to show how influential dance teachers are in the lives of their students.

I had the opportunity to talk to three of my former dance teachers from Ken and Jean Dance Studio in North Versailles, Pa., to discuss what goes into being a dance teacher.

Check out this video package below of my interviews with these three teachers during a typical Friday evening of dance classes in March.

Multimedia Video Package: The Life of a Dance Teacher from Kim Roberts on Vimeo.

Clearly, these dance teachers absolutely love what they do every single day. Their passion for dance and for their students is evident, and the work incredibly hard to make the classroom experience the very best for young dancers. Through my interviews with them, I found out that being a dance teacher is so much more than what happens in a classroom.

“The classroom aspect is the most important part,” said Sandi Plavchak, a dance teacher at Ken and Jean’s. “But besides that, there’s so much background that goes into it, from searching for the right music, to choreography aspects, to performances, to costuming. There is scenery involved, there are props always required and necessary for various dances, and the end result is, performance-wise for the show, for not only for those kids to be onstage and feel great and like they’re having so much fun and they’ve learned so much, but for the audience members to feel like every number is a little bit different and the process is enjoyable, whether you’re involved in dance or not. And that aspect takes a long time to accomplish as well.”

For studio owner and teacher Darcy Field, whose parents, Ken and Jean Phifer, opened the studio, her favorite part of her job is the chance to see her dance students grow up in the studio.

“I think what I like best is working with all ages and seeing that continuity. I wouldn’t want to work with all young, and I wouldn’t want to work with all advanced. I really think it’s that ability to work with all ages,” Field said.

The opportunity for dance teachers to really get to know their students over many years is what makes the bond between dance student and teacher so strong. For teacher Jen Tancraitor, who grew up at Ken and Jean’s herself and then returned as a full-time teacher after college, it is a joy to teach students that she sees every single day for dance class.

Dance Teacher

Photo by Kim Roberts

“I don’t have kids myself, so every child I see here is really my own, in a sense that I get to see them every single day and I get the joy of seeing them every single day and seeing them grow from a young kid into an older kid,” said Tancraitor. “I haven’t been here very long, so knowing when I was 18, seeing some of the kids that I assisted with now graduated, means a lot, and it clearly shows my journey through dancing and what has been accomplished through that.”

Dance teachers combine their love of dance and their love of teaching students in the classroom every single day. Their students grow and improve in their technique, their character, and their love of dance every day as a result of their teachers’ love and dedication.

New York City Ballet, a world-class company

The New York City Ballet is at the top of the list of the world’s esteemed ballet companies. Here is a brief profile of the company, including its history and current information, plus some photos and videos from the company.

History

Lincoln Center

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

The idea for the company came from Lincoln Kirstein, who wanted to start a ballet company in the United States that was self-contained, meaning it would train its own dancers through a ballet school and have its dancers perform original works created specifically for them. Together with famed ballet choreographer George Balanchine, Kirstein made his dream a reality when he started a new company in 1933.The company faced great challenges in its beginning years, but it was able to withstand even the struggles that came along with World War II. Esteemed choreographer Jerome Robbins got on board as well, and the New York City Ballet company flourished. It performed in what is now the David H. Koch Theater that opened in April of 1964, and the company has been based there ever since. A unique feature of the New York City Ballet is that it also has a summer home. Every year, the company performs in Saratoga, New York, at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. In addition, the company has made many trips around the world to perform at various venues in countries such as Russia, Australia, Japan, and South Korea. For more details about New York City Ballet’s rich history, check out the company’s website.

Today

New York City Ballet is the largest ballet company in the United States, with about 90 dancers. Choreographers George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, and Peter Martins contributed to the 150 works choreographed just for the New York City Ballet dancers since the company’s start. The official ballet school of the company is the School of American Ballet in Lincoln Center, which consists of about 350 aspiring ballerinas who study under the watch of the company’s directors and ballet masters. This school feeds directly into the company.

Performances

New York City Ballet is a company like no other. In fact, the company performs more ballets in a single year than any other company in the world. The 2012-2013 season, for example, includes more than 75 works. For a full list, check out the company’s season repertory.

Videos

Check out these great videos that give insight into what happens in a professional ballet company, plus some examples of these dancers’ incredible skill and technique!

Video #1: This video shows what goes on behind the scenes in a renowned ballet company like New York City Ballet.

Video #2: Here is a fun look into a ballerina’s most treasured possession: her pointe shoes.

Video #3: Now take a look at New York City Ballet’s “Serenade,” choreographed by George Balanchine.

Review of the dance movie “Center Stage”

Have you seen the newest McDonald’s Shamrock Shake commercial on TV? Check it out below!

Doesn’t that actress look familiar? If you’re a dancer, you might recognize her as Amanda Schull, the actress who played Jody Sawyer in the 2000 dance movie Center Stage. Schull has made plenty of TV appearances in recent years with roles on shows such as Pretty Little Liars, Suits, Psych, Grimm, and Two and a Half Men. The St. Patrick’s Day-themed McDonald’s commercial made me want to watch Center Stage again since it’s been a while.

Here is my review of the movie that’s a timeless classic for ballerinas everywhere.

Plot Summary

Center Stage movie poster

Photo from imdb.com

Center Stage follows young ballet dancer Jody Sawyer and a group of her friends through a year at the esteemed American Ballet School in New York City, from auditions to the year-ending showcase that serves as an audition for the country’s most prestigious ballet companies. Jody faces many challenges throughout the year — her less-than-perfect turnout and feet are continuous detriments to her technique, and other dancers are always better than her. Jody dedicates her mind, body, and soul toward making herself the best ballerina she can be, and she is cast as the lead in Cooper Nielson’s (a famous ballet dancer and choreographer) ballet in the showcase. Jody deals with love and loss throughout the process of preparing for the performance, but she ultimately performs flawlessly in the showcase. She lands herself a principal dancer position in Cooper’s new ballet company, and she finds inner strength and confidence that give her a new and improved outlook on life and dance. Jody’s friends also face challenges like attitude problems, finding their own dreams, and injuries that make them stronger people and dancers who are finding their place in the world.

Themes

This movie deals with the harsh difficulties of the competitive world of ballet. From the very beginning, we see that competition in a place like American Ballet School is cutthroat. Nearly every dancer who made the cut to be in the school in the first place was the best dancer in the studio they came from. So already, there is a room full of incredibly talented dancers all dreaming of the few spots available in professional ballet companies. These dancers have to come to terms with their own limitations as well. Ballet is the strive for perfection, and since no one is perfect, each dancer has to realize his or her weaknesses and choose to either work past them or let them be limitations. In addition, Center Stage tackles the issues of body image and eating disorders through Maureen, a character who forces herself to throw up as punishment for eating a slice of pizza. The movie also shows the drama that can go on behind the scenes in a professional company. Love and lust among dancers, directors, and students add plenty of drama and emotion to the mix that audiences would never know about from watching only what happens onstage. Continue reading

The Ballet Barre on Break

Spring Flowers

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

Hello, dance lovers!

Just wanted to give you a quick heads-up: There will not be any new postings from The Ballet Barre this coming week, March 3-9, 2013. I will be on Spring Break, so The Ballet Barre will be on hiatus for a week. Have a great week, and keep on dancing!

Dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt.
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.
– William W. Purkey