Onward, Cavaliers

NGB’s Sugar Plum Fairies Get Sweet Partners in NYCB Principal Amar Ramasar and MCB Principal Renan Cerdeiro

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Amar Ramasar (L) and Renan Cerdeiro (R).

The word is out about the big ballet stars appearing in Next Generation Ballet’s Nutcracker, which features the George Balanchine grand pas de deux and New York City Ballet star Sara Mearns and former Miami City Ballet principal Patricia Delgado alternating the role of Sugar Plum Fairy.

But what about the man in tights executing the unbelievable sequence of leaps and mid-air turns? That’s her Cavalier—in the case of Nutcracker, the name of the role, but the word “cavalier” also refers to a ballerina’s male partner. His job is primarily to show her off and secondarily to wow audiences with a small but virtuosic solo, which is the case for Sugar Plum’s Cavalier.

NGB’s artistic director and former principal with New York City Ballet Philip Neal called in two friends who are rather well-known in the sphere of cavaliers—male dancers with the grace, chops and personality to match the sublime, extraordinary talents of Mearns and Delgado.

Often partnered for NYCB, Amar Ramasar and Sara Mearns perform together for Nutcracker on Friday and Saturday night.

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Amar and Sara Mearns performing together in Justin Peck’s ‘Rōdē,ō: Four Dance Episodes. (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

Watch them in an episode of People magazine’s short series American Doers: http://people.com/human-interest/amar-ramasars-journey-from-the-bronx-to-center-stage-at-lincoln-center/

Ramasar, a Bronx kid who saw a videotaped version of Balanchine’s Agon and decided on the spot to be a ballet dancer, hid his training at School of American Ballet, the school founded by Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, from his neighborhood friends. Ramasar started late, at 12 years old, and found himself learning the basic steps in classes with five- and six-year-olds. Determined and on fire, Ramasar advanced quickly to graduate on time with his peer group. In 2001, NYCB invited him to join the company. Ramasar was cast as the Cavalier that year in their Balanchine Nutcracker, a must-do of the New York holiday season. He’s been a principal dancer, the highest rank, since 2009.

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Amar will play Jigger in the upcoming Broadway revival of Carousel and is also set to appear in the new dance film Meta. (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

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Amar, and other NYCB dancers, showed off their moves in a recent campaign for Cole Haan. Do you recognize any other dancer faces in the GIF above?

On the Thursday night performance of NGB’s Nutcracker, principal dancer for Miami City Ballet, Renan Cerdeiro, performs Cavalier with Patricia Delgado. Dancers from MCB tend to talk about what a family they have with the company, and you can see here that Renan and Patricia are close on and offstage:

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Renan and Patricia Delgado dancing together on stage (L) and off stage (R). (Photos from Instagram: @renancerdeiro)

Renan, born in Brazil, joined MCB as a teenager, landing solo rank at 18 years old. One of the first Brazilian dancers in MCB (the other was his lifelong friend Nathalia Arja), Renan instantly became known in the company as the dancer who has everything: looks, height, technical beauty and flawless musicality. Plus, he loves Broadway musicals and Disney movies, so he may be a perfect person.

When asked about his turn as Cavalier, Renan told us, “I can’t wait to share the stage with the talented students of Next Generation Ballet for their dazzling Nutcracker. The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition for a lot of families, and it always feels special to share this magical ballet with audiences year after year. It is also very exciting for me to be reunited with the exceptional Phillip Neal, having worked with him in the past at Miami City Ballet. It is a treat to have his guidance again.”

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Photo from Instagram: @renancerdeiro

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Renan and his cat, because we all love cats. (Photo from Instagram: @renancerdeiro)

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Photo from Instagram: @renancerdeiro

With Sara Mearns/Amar Ramasar and Patricia Delgado/Renan Cerdeiro appearing in the most-anticipated roles of the holiday season’s ballet tradition, we’re expecting a high demand for tickets to Next Generation Ballet’s Nutcracker. Make sure you get yours here  to see these stars performing with our exceptional pre-professional company directed by NYCB alum Philip Neal.

EXCLUSIVE: Retired Miami City Ballet Principal Ballerina-Turned-Teacher Patricia Delgado Talks Sugar Plum Fairy and Dancing in Nutcracker at The Straz

Lauded principal ballerina Patricia Delgado retired from Miami City Ballet this year after an extraordinary career with the company that began when she was 16 years old. An exquisite technician and breathtaking artist, Delgado gave soul to MCB, and arrived at The Straz last summer as a guest artist (along with Balanchine great Edward Villella) for the NGB summer intensive. It was our privilege to catch up with her to talk about her upcoming role with Next Generation Ballet’s Nutcracker.

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Photo: Gio Alma

CAUGHT IN THE ACT: How was your first experience dancing Sugar Plum Fairy? What did it mean to you as a dancer to finally have arrived in this prestigious role? What does it mean to you at this point in your career?

PATRICIA DELGADO: I remember the first year I had the opportunity to perform as the Sugar Plum Fairy with the Miami City Ballet. I was extremely excited but way too nervous! I was young! I was still in the corps de ballet and loved getting to perform in snow and flowers every single show and every now and then get to do lead Marzipan. I couldn’t believe I would get to dance the grand pas de deux. It was very emotional for me because I had grown up doing the children’s roles in Miami City Ballet’s The Nutcracker, and all of the ballerinas I idolized so much had mesmerized me in this role for so many years. It was such a big deal for me. I remember working very hard and rehearsing a lot and still feeling very nervous! I have to say that even though my first show felt like a huge emotional achievement, it wasn’t my best performance at all.

I remember my partner and I were both new in the role, and we were very shaky. Now, looking back … I was just very young and inexperienced. However, what reassured me and helped me to stay calm and happy was knowing that I would hopefully get to work on it every single year since it is such a tradition. Every year when Nutcracker season strolls around, I’m excited to see how far I have come from the year before. I take note of how I learn artistically to interpret the music on a deeper level or approach the technical elements with more finesse and confidence. The other perk of dancing The Sugar Plum every year is trying the pas de deux with so many different Cavaliers. Each one I have been fortunate enough to dance with has shown me the pas de deux from a uniquely different perspective, and I love exploring that!

This year, I’m beyond words excited to get a chance to dance with principal dancer from the New York City Ballet, Gonzalo Garcia*, for the first time. He has been a dream partner of mine for a long time and to get this opportunity means the world to me. When I watch him dance, he makes me want to work harder and harder at being a better dancer and getting to feel his passion on stage will be such a treat! He is such a giving partner. I feel incredibly fortunate.

Watch Patricia dance in this new music video for the National’s “Dark Side of the Gym” with Justin Peck, who also directed the video:

CITA: What do you bring to the interpretation of the Balanchine choreography that you feel like is “yours”?

PD: What I love about this version is how incredibly musical it is and how beautifully the steps show off the music. Balanchine is just the absolute best! I really get lost in the mystery and luscious adagio quality of the pas de deux. What I just completely adore about the variation is how sweet it is. I imagine all of the little angels around me having conversations with me and sharing little secrets with me that just fill my heart with flutters of joy.

CITA: Will you talk a little about what you are looking forward to most about working alongside the Next Generation Ballet pre-professional company? Philip gushed about what great examples of professional dancers you all are, and he mentioned that you would all be great with the younger dancers.

PD: I’m so excited to be dancing alongside the Next Generation dancers because this past summer, after teaching for a week at the summer intensive, I was just blown away by the talent, work ethic, dedication and the positivity of all the students. I left Tampa rejuvenated and completely inspired by so many young amazing dancers. They fueled me! To share the stage with them is an honor, and I cannot wait to get the chance to see them light up on stage.

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Patricia working with a student during Next Generation Ballet’s 2017 Summer Intensive.

CITA: What are you eager to see, do (or eat) during your stay in Tampa? You know we have the best café con leche and Cuban sandwiches (sorry, Patricia!, we know Miami is strong in these regards).

PD: Tampa is such a booming city. I love the location of the Straz Center along the river and in such a developing part of downtown. I can’t wait to go to Ulele, one of my favorite restaurants. Also, it’s my first winter living in NYC after living my whole life in Miami, so I’m very much looking forward to the sun and the warmth which I miss this time of year! I’m also looking forward to spending time with Philip and the amazing teachers at Next Generation Ballet.

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Patricia teaching during Next Generation Ballet’s 2017 Summer Intensive.

Patricia Delgado performs Sugar Plum Fairy during the Thursday night performance, and Sara Mearns performs Friday and Saturday nights.

Meet Patricia in this video with her sister, Jeanette, as they talk about performing with MCB:

 

*Due to a recent injury, Gozalo Garcia will not be appearing in Nutcracker. However, we are excited to announce that Miami City Ballet principal Renan Cerdeiro will perform with Patricia Delgado as the Cavalier.

EXCLUSIVE: Ballet Star Sara Mearns Talks Sugar Plum Fairy and Dancing in Nutcracker at The Straz

New York City Ballet principal dancer Sara Mearns recently starred in The Red Shoes on Broadway and in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker® for NYCB. Beloved by young ballerinas and a superstar onstage, Mearns is also a face of Guerlain perfume and Cole Haan. She works with many dance organizations to inspire people to love classical ballet as well as prevent injuries. It was our privilege to catch up with her to talk about her upcoming role with Next Generation Ballet’s Nutcracker.

CAUGHT IN THE ACT: Describe your first experiencing dancing Sugar Plum Fairy … what did it mean to you as a dancer to finally have arrived at this prestigious role? What does it mean to you at this point in your career?

SARA MEARNS: I remember the first time I performed Sugar Plum. I danced it with Stephen Hanna who was already a principal, and I was a soloist at the time. Fortunately, I had done some pretty big roles like Swan Lake, Faust, and Western Symphony to name a few. I sort of had a sense of what it would feel like out there, and I don’t remember being nervous at all. Stephen took great care of me. That was in 2006. Since then, I have had my shares of ups and downs in my career and particularly with Nutcracker. Personally, the holidays are a strange time for me, and I’m always very exhausted at the end of the year after so much dancing. I had a bout with stage fright last year during Nutcracker that took me away from the stage for a bit, so now I’m back and feel much more confident. I try to go out there and think about all the little kids and aspiring dancers watching. For most people, it’s the first ballet they’ve seen, and I want to make it special for them, so it’s not about me anymore. No matter how good or bad the performance is, the kids are just seeing the ballerina role they want to be some day, and it makes me so happy that I can be that for them.

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CITA: What do you bring to the interpretation of the Balanchine choreography that you feel like is “yours”?

SM: I recently got a compliment/comment on my interpretation of Sugar Plum and it was “unconventional”… and, yes, I will most certainly take that as a compliment! I don’t want to look like anyone else, and that is what’s brilliant about Balanchine’s choreography. Every ballerina can look completely different and have her own take on it, But, the steps and musicality is clearly Balanchine. The pas is so perfect that I could never imagine doing another version. The build-up is just right, and it has the audience on the edge of their seat the whole time. It never gets old hearing the excitement of the audience at the end. It’s so beautiful.

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Sara Mearns photographed at the 1896 studios in Brooklyn. (Photo: Pari Dukovic)

CITA: Will you talk a little about what you are looking forward to most about working alongside the Next Generation Ballet pre-professional company? Philip [Neal, artistic director for NGB and former NYCB principal dancer] gushed about what great examples of professional dancers you all are, and he mentioned that you would all be great with the younger dancers.

SM: As I said before, more than any other time during the year, the Nutcracker is about the children and creating a magical world that they will fall in love with. I love going to suburban schools all over the country and sharing my experiences and my dancing with others. I was in their shoes a long time ago, so I want to give back and show them what they can achieve if they work really hard and stay true to themselves. Can’t wait to meet all the students in Tampa! Also, Philip is a dear friend and a role model of mine. I was so lucky that I got to dance with him in NYCB. I learned so much from him as a colleague, friend, and teacher. He is a true light in the dance world.

CITA: What are you eager to see, do (or eat) during your stay in Tampa? You know we have the best café con leche and Cuban sandwiches.

SM: I’ve never spent much time in Tampa! So, I’m looking forward to eating and seeing all new things. As you know, we don’t get much time there due to our schedules, but we will cherish the very little time that we have. Thank you for having me!

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Sara Mearns and Philip Neal, artistic director of NGB, at Philip’s final performance with NYCB.

Sara performs as Sugar Plum Fairy in the Friday and Saturday night performances of Nutcracker. Thursday night, Patricia Delgado performs Sugar Plum Fairy, and we will profile her in next week’s blog.

To get a glimpse of Sara in action, watch this one-minute clip of her with her partner, Amar Ramasar, who will be dancing with her in NGB’s Nutcracker. Here, they dance Balanchine’s Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet:

The Wild Style of Japanese Hip-Hop

About ten years after the birth of hip-hop in the Bronx, the art form found its way to Japan when young Japanese artists encountered the music and saw breakdancing in New York, taking what they saw back to Japan.

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Wild Style is regarded as the first hip hop motion picture.

In 1983, the film Wild Style, a seminal hip-hop documentary capturing the four pillars of the culture (graffiti, breaking, emceeing and DJing), screened in Tokyo. The kids who saw the film—though few—lost it, immediately embracing the colorful, unfettered, athletic expression of triumphing outside of a social system of conformity, illusion and oppression. A young man named Hideaki Ishi saw the film, and, in a matter of time, the world would come to know him as DJ Krush. DJ Krush, Toshio Nakanishi and Hiroshi Fujuwara are mostly credited with establishing hip-hop in Japan after Wild Style and during trips to New York in the early 80s.

As it did in the United States, hip-hop exploded in Japan, especially in the Harajuku neighborhood, ushering in a new generation of baggy-clothes-wearing, rapping, blinged-out kids speaking truth to power and exploring this urban, urgent expression of creativity.

“Many people assume that Japan is too ethnically homogeneous to provide a meaningful home for hip-hop,” said Dr. Ian Condry, a professor of Japanese culture at MIT who wrote Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization, via email with us.

“When I began my research in the mid-nineties for what eventually became my book, many Japanese elites in the recording, radio and music magazine industries expressed similar doubts that young Japanese emcees would ever succeed,” Condry explained. “However, in nightclubs throughout Japan, local hip-hop artists proved that the seeming homogeneity of Japan in fact disguised deep-seated divergences among economic opportunity, gender inequalities, and even racial discrimination — for example, against Korean-Japanese and so-called ‘outcaste’ groups who continue to be stigmatized. In the end, hip-hop in Japan developed in the local language and taught local audiences about new ways of thinking about how to ‘represent’ one’s ‘hood, battle for one’s posse and speak in thoughtful, entertaining ways about struggles that people of all stripes in Japan face.”

Since certain breakdancing moves borrowed from Asian martial arts moves, b-boying (breakdancing) was already somewhat recognizable in Japan. Breaking took off as the first major influence of African-American hip-hop. Japanese b-boys and b-girls got really good, really fast.

For a look at b-boys in Japan now, here’s a compilation of Issei, who won the Red Bull BC One in 2016:

Emceeing and rapping caught on after breaking and DJing, and really extraordinary graffiti once lined the Yokohama Graffiti Wall, which, sadly, was painted gray in 2010 by the Japanese government.

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Photo from the Yokohama Graffiti Wall. (flickr: DiscoWeasel)

Want to check out current Japanese political rappers? “You might consider Anarchy and Shingo Nishinari,” said Dr. Condry. “For women, try Rumi, Miss Monday, Co-machi, and Hime.”

The influence of Japanese hip-hop conveys in the upcoming performance of SIRO-A in Ferguson Hall on Oct. 19. SIRO-A merges dance crew moves with technology and DJing to create a multi-media, special effects spectacle. Want a sneak peek? Check it out:

Salsa con Sabor: The Many Flavors of Salsa Dancing

Did you know there are at least six different styles of salsa dancing? With the Tampa Bay Salsa and Bachata Festival wrapping up its takeover of downtown Tampa this week, we thought we’d keep the good vibes going with this brief look at the most well-known styles.

On 1? On 2? On the “and”?

Salseros know the answers to these questions can tell you a lot about a salsa dancer.

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Guests enjoy dancing at Latin Nights at Maestro’s Restaurant.

Whether you step out on the first beat (on 1), the second (on 2) or the “and”/”y” before the first, depends upon your particular style of salsa dance. Miami, Cuban, L.A., New York, Columbian, Rueda — these are the main categories of salsa technique, and let us be the first to assure you that each category has its own particular stylings. Salsa, like language, has many dialects and infinite flavors — all cooked up from the Caribbean and exported throughout the world.

The term “salsa” as we know it today originated in the 1970s (not a typo) after a perfect storm of cultures cross-pollinated in Spanish Harlem (“El Barrio”) in New York. Puerto Rican influences met Cuban influences met American jazz influences, and an explosion of this musical fusion was captured on wax by Fania Records, the “Latin Motown.”

Of course, salsa music didn’t form in a vacuum. It was the result of hundreds of years of colonial imperialism enslaving Africans to work tobacco and sugarcane fields in Cuba and elsewhere in the Caribbean. West African percussion rhythms and Spanish music blended into a uniquely Cuban sound. Likewise, a similar effect happened in Puerto Rico. Dance also benefited from colonial terrorism as European court dances intertwined with traditional African dances to create Cuban son, rumba, folkloric dances, Puerto Rican bomba and plena and others.

As we know, migrations happened, bringing these rich cultures to the United States, notably (for this blog, anyway) to New York. Around the 1950s, a few key players in this salsa story started to get internationally famous: Celia Cruz, later crowned Queen of Salsa; Tito Puente, King of Mambo and Ishmael Rivera, Father of Salsa. By the mid-60s they would become prominent, lasting forces on the American Latin music scene. Before President Kennedy closed US borders to Cuba, the back-and-forth of Cubans and Cuban-Americans carried this new Latin sound to Cuba, where it fit right in as a long-lost member of the musical family.

The clave (kla-vay), a wooden percussion instrument, announces and carries the salsa beat, and it’s this “knocking” rhythm that dictates the “basic” — or, basic step, which is usually a triplet of some sort. As salsa music developed, so did salsa dancing. Geographic regions created their own styles and flair on the basic. That’s how we get New York salseros stepping “on 2” and the flashy Los Angeles dancers stepping “on 1.”

The Puerto Rican style, which is taught at The Straz’s Latin Nights at Maestro’s Restaurant, is a smooth, sliding step. Dancers incorporate shoulder shimmies and use clean body lines in the dance.

Like this:

Cuban style uses Afro-Cuban hips movements and body isolations, starting on the “and” before the first downbeat.

Such as:

Hollywood influences L.A.’s “showy” style that incorporates tricks, flips and drops. Danced “on 1,” L.A. style has a powerful look and feel. Like all salsa styles, it’s a lot of fun to watch.

See for yourself with these competition dancers:

Rueda, also called Casino Rueda or Salsa Rueda, is a group of dancers in a circle following the instructions of a caller. Rueda means “wheel” in Spanish, so this style of salsa has dancers moving in a circle, swapping partner to partner in a series of moves determined on the fly by the caller. For this style, you’ve got to know your moves — and be quick about it.

Like these dancers:

The Miami style evolved from the Cuban style, adding more pretzel-twists with the arms and borrowing from the circular, “spinning” style of rueda.

Check it out:

Folks credit Eddie Torres with establishing New York style salsa, danced “on 2,” and also known as “mambo style.” New York style uses Afro-Cuban body movements to spice up the controlled, flowing, even pace of the dance. You’ll see complicated footwork and spins.

LOTS of spins:

Colombian style salsa, developed to the cumbia rhythm, uses more foot taps with a back-to-center or side-to-center pattern — not like the front-back mambo step.

See the difference:

Of course, despite their variations, the different styles of salsa are all exciting, sensual and full of “shines,” a term for when the dancers break apart for short grandstanding solos of impressive footwork. In other words, this moment in the dance is a time for the individuals to shine.

The Tampa Bay area happens to have great mix of salsa styles thanks to our location as a cultural crossroads for the Caribbean, Miami and folks fleeing New York’s cost of living and cold winters.

If you want to give salsa dancing a shot or are looking for a place to shine and style, our next Latin Night is Sept. 14.

Have something more to add about salsa dance? We know you do. Leave a comment below.

… Five, Six, Seven, Eight …

Understanding the summer dance intensive

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PCPD Intensive dancers with instructor Kelly King, 2016. (Photo: Soho Images)

Dance training often begins as early as three years old with a training year of classes mimicking the school schedule. In June, recitals signal the culmination of study and show off the hard-won skills in a public dance performance.

But then what?

Cue the summer dance intensive, an integral part of a dancer’s training that, hopefully, offers new styles and experiences outside of the dancer’s home studio—and sometimes out of the home town or even the home state.

Most of the top tier dance companies offer summer intensives through an audition process. Take a quick Google search of “summer dance intensive,” and you’ll see what’s on tap at Ailey, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet (NYCB), Hubbard Street, Alonzo King, Paul Taylor … everybody who’s anybody offers a summer intensive with their company members to expose young dancers to their style, culture and methods.

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Auditions for the 2016 Patel Conservatory Popular Dance Intensive. (Photo: Soho Images)

Today, with the greater demands placed on dancers for versatility, it behooves a ballerina to explore a contemporary or hip hop intensive or a contemporary jazz dancer to gain experience in classical ballet. Foundations in modern dance are becoming more and more in demand for contemporary dancers, so a summer intensive with the Martha Graham Dance Company or with the Merce Cunningham Studio provides excellent instruction for a well-rounded dancer.

The Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center has an internationally recognized dance program with two professional dance tracks: one for ballet headed by Philip Neal, a former principal dancer for NYCB, and another for popular, or commercial, forms of dance, headed by Kelly King, a former Rockette.

We caught up with King to get the inside scoop about the Patel Conservatory Popular Dance summer dance intensive starting next week at the Patel Conservatory.

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Kelly King was a Radio City Rockette for 12 years and has performed extensively for television, stage and film. (Photo: Soho Images)

“Dancers know they have to build technique,” she says. “So intensives are for dancers who either want to make a career of it or who are very serious about their study of the craft. For an intensive, you can’t just sign up for it. You have to audition, and we are looking for dancers with a strong technical background. We want to work with dancers already at a certain level who know they want to dance in college or in New York.”

“Technique” often refers to ballet technique in footwork, alignment, turn out and proper execution of basic steps, leaps, extensions and turns, although other dance styles build on this technique and/or invent their own. “Technique is important,” King says. “I knew I wasn’t going to be a ballerina. I didn’t have the right body type; it wasn’t where I was going as a dancer. But I took ballet because I needed the technique for my career. Our intensives provide a way for dancers to study ballet technique with some of the instructors from Next Generation Ballet [the pre-professional company of The Straz] and also work with other professionals.”

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PCPD Intensive dancers with instructor Kelly King, 2016. (Photo: Soho Images)

The Patel Conservatory Popular Dance (PCPD) program has grown a lot under King’s leadership, and this summer’s dance intensive contains 25 dancers from all over Florida and one from Colorado. “Intensives are what happens in summer,” King says. “Dancers need to be open-minded to all kinds of intensives, styles and teachers. That’s how you become more well-rounded and how you learn to take a critique and not take it personally. You learn to appreciate that a teacher notices you and tries to make you better. We only have three students from the Patel in the intensive. The rest are students coming from elsewhere to learn from us.” Some of the yearly PCPD dancers chose intensives with other schools and companies to take, as King advises, the opportunities to expand their minds, their facility and their bodies.

The PCPD dance intensive focuses on Rockette repertory, jazz-funk fusion, contemporary, jazz, musical theater and ballet technique. Dancers begin at 9:30 a.m. with ballet then advance throughout the day in a curriculum of different styles and teachers with a break for lunch. The day concludes at 4:30.

At the end of the intensive, the dancers perform a full concert of works, some prepared during the intensive, but others pieces are self-choreographed solos prepared ahead of time and coached by King during the two-week immersion. A $10 ticketed event, the final concert is open to the public, which is an excellent opportunity for Tampa Bay area audiences to glimpse the emerging talent and trends in dance.

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Patel Conservatory Popular Dance Intensive Showcase, 2016. (Photo: Soho Images)

“The intensive focuses on developing all types of techniques, all the styles we can fit in two weeks, and exposing the dancers to exceptional quality of classes and a diverse set of teaching styles. We all teach differently. The intensive is not about creating choreography for a showcase, but about giving professional training to serious dancers. But we are excited to be able to perform work at the end, and we are very excited to have their solos interspersed throughout the show. We encourage anyone who is interested in dance to come out and see the show.”

Want to see the end-of-intensive performances? For Next Generation Ballet, your chance is coming up this Friday night, July 21. For PCPD, you can go ahead and get your tickets for their spectacular showcase on August 4.

Manual Transmission

Dance lineage is a big deal. A very big deal. So, when Next Generation Ballet got a descendant of Jerome Robbins, who was guided by George Balanchine, who was instructed by Marius Petipa, the Straz Center leapt for joy.

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Philip Neal, dance department chair and artistic director of Next Generation Ballet, instructing students during the summer intensive.

Philip Neal, the artistic director for Next Generation Ballet, came to us from New York City Ballet, where he worked as a principal dancer for more than twenty years. When you take into account that his main choreographer and teacher was none other than the Jerome Robbins, you can begin to understand what a tremendous, unparalleled gift we have sitting right here in the Patel Conservatory. (For you non-dance folks, just imagine if we told you we had a rock guitar teacher who learned from Jimi Hendrix. Same.)

While most people recognize Robbins’ work from West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof, Robbins was first and foremost a ballet choreographer, hailed as the first dance maker to invent a singular, artistic American ballet style. (Robbins’ mentor, Balanchine, was the father of American ballet.) In 1986, Robbins spotted the then-19-year-old Philip Neal in Philip’s very first rehearsal with NYCB. Impressed, Robbins called Philip to solo in “Jerry’s” latest ballet.

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In addition to many ballets, Jerome Robbins choreographed Broadway productions including On the Town, Peter Pan, The King And I, West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof and more.

“For the next year,” says Philip, “I worked with Jerry on that ballet. He called me to understudy for every one of his ballets. Jerry sourced from Balanchine, who sourced from Petipa. Today, when I choreograph for Next Generation Ballet, I find myself teaching and thinking ‘I stole these steps from Balanchine’ or when I teach my students to use their full arms and say ‘paint your sky with a paintbrush’ they don’t know that I’m saying to them exactly what Jerry said to me.”

Dance is passed down manually, almost always without notes or a written record. The art transmits from teacher to student through class and rehearsal, each student taking the master’s work and either passing it to the next generation in pure form or building on the tradition by incorporating his or her own style.

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Maruis Petipa was ballet master and principal choreographer of the Imperial Ballet (precursor of the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet) from 1871 until 1903.

The root of Philip’s work is Marius Petipa, the “granddaddy of classical ballet,” who was born in France in 1818 and eventually came to fame with Russia’s St. Petersburg Imperial Theatre. Petipa more or less singlehandedly created the school of Russian ballet. Every ballet you see has Petipa’s influence somewhere on it.

In 1904, George Balanchine (neé Georgi Melitonovich Balanchivadze) was born in St. Petersburg. He enrolled in Petipa’s Imperial Ballet school and performed his first work on stage in Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty in 1915. As Petipa had left France for Russia, so Balanchine left Russia for America. He partnered with Lincoln Kirstein to create a ballet company that would rival the best of Russian and French ballet. Ergo, New York City Ballet. Balanchine dancers included Suzanne Farrell, Maria Tallchief, Arthur Mitchell, and Edward Villella.

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George Balanchine, co-founder of New York City Ballet, (left) and Arthur Mitchell.

“Balanchine adored westerns, the films,” says Philip, who did not study with Balanchine but did see him on occasion during classes or rehearsals. “He loved Americana and captured the essence of New York—to be fast, to break rules, to turn structures on end. It was so American, so beautiful. He edited out Petipa’s pageantry and could do three hours of steps in 25 minutes.”

In 1948, Balanchine received a letter from a dancer he’d worked with on Broadway, a young man of quite some fame named Jerome Robbins. By 1948, Robbins was already a big time star from creating the heroic, titillating wartime ballet Fancy Free which became the Broadway musical On the Town. In almost no time, Robbins’ talent and charisma inspired Balanchine to promote him to associate artistic director of NYCB.

Enter our Philip Neal in 1986, a tall, elegant dancer who trained at NYCB’s school, and the rest is history.

Philip dancing with NYCB collage (Paul Kolnik)

Philip Neal danced with New York City Ballet for more than 20 years. (Photos: Paul Kolnik)

Except, of course, that dance history never ends. The continuation of this preeminent legacy now germinates in the classes and rehearsals of our very own Next Generation Ballet. In a bold and exciting move, Philip—a repetiteur of both Robbins and Balanchine, which means he has exclusive permission to stage their dances on other companies—decided to bring this legacy to life in this year’s spring program, Masters of Dance, a program that includes Balanchine’s Donizetti Variations, which Philip performed for NYCB, Robbins’ Circus Polka, a whimsical dance for 48 (not a typo) girls from nine to 12 years old. The performance concludes with Petipa’s extraordinary final act of Don Quixote.

Philip teaching_NGB 5

Philip Neal teaching Next Generation Ballet dancers.

For the first time, Tampa audiences can see the direct lineage of this extraordinary ballet heritage offered by a direct descendant of Petipa to the dancers in our resident company.

“I’m serious,” says Philip. “It’s going to be a milestone performance. I’m in total disbelief that we are going to be able to do something like Circus Polka and Donizetti Variations. My colleagues in New York know what is happening down here, and they are paying attention. We’re only going to grow and go on to bigger things. We are building our own legend with this ballet school.”

Masters of Dance: Balanchine and Robbins plus Petipa’s Don Quixote Suite runs May 13 and 14 in Ferguson Hall.