A special performance by American Ballet Theater’s Misty Copeland and renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
A special performance by American Ballet Theater’s Misty Copeland and renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Mickael Jou is a unique self-portraitist. A Taiwanese-French-American living in Berlin, he takes self-portraits combining two arts: photography and dance.
A trained dancer, I used to perform ballet and modern dance in the streets of Paris. Tourists would quite often photograph and film me in action in Paris, and after seeing the pictures taken of me, I decided that I should try it out. Ad so I bought a camera and read the instruction manual.
My self-portraits help me express the emotions that I feel while dancing. Dance is a very powerful art form, and I try to translate my emotions into my photography.
Mickael plans to take 365 dance self-portraits and has already been working on this project for more than 3 years.
Photo source: mickaeljou.tumblr.com
Audrey Magazine (by Ethel Navales):
The American Ballet Theatre has been releasing quite a handful of exciting news lately. You’ve probably already heard about Misty Copeland becoming the first African American principal dancer with the company, but Copeland isn’t the only one making history in American Ballet Theatre, which is now in its 75th year.
Stella Abrera has just become the very first Filipino American to rise to principal ranking, the highest position in any ballet company. Abreba will be performing the title role in the American Ballet Theatre’s production of Cinderella. Sound like a real-life fairytale? Abreba seems to think so too.
“It is a dream come true,” she said of her new position and role. “Every young dancer who joins a large company has dreams of becoming a principal. Once you’ve spent a few years in a company, you realize how much it takes to get to that level.”
Abreba has been studying dance since the age of 5 and joined the American Ballet Theatre at the age of 17 in 1996. Despite her many years with the company, she admits that becoming principal dancer can be an overwhelming and sometimes unrealistic goal. Instead she focused on the joy she felt while dancing and strived to give her very best during every performance.
“I feel extremely lucky and blessed that I’ve been granted this recognition,” she said. “I always had a hope, but it was never my ultimate goal at this point in my career. My ultimate goal was to present the best art that I could every time . … I’m completely over the moon.”
It seems Abreba succeeded in impressing audiences during her many, many performances. According to the American Ballet Theatre’s press release, Abreba has an incredible amount of experience under her belt:
Her repertoire with ABT includes Calliope in Apollo, Gamzatti in La Bayadère, the Ballerina in The Bright Stream, the Fairy Godmother in Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella, Gulnare in Le Corsaire, Mercedes and the Driad Queen in Don Quixote, Helena in The Dream, Giselle, Myrta and the peasant pas de deux in Giselle, Manon in Lady of the Camellias, Lescaut’s Mistress in Manon, His Friend’s Wife in The Moor’s Pavane, Clara, the Princess in Alexei Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker, Emilia in Othello, the Older Sister in Pillar of Fire, Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet, the Lilac Fairy and Princess Florine in The Sleeping Beauty, the pas de trois in Swan Lake, leading roles in Airs, Bach Partita, Baker’s Dozen, Ballet Imperial, Birthday Offering, The Brahms-Haydn Variations, C. to C. (Close to Chuck), Fancy Free, In the Upper Room, The Leaves Are Fading, Petite Mort, Sinfonietta, Les Sylphides, Symphonic Variations, Symphonie Concertante, Symphony #9, Symphony in C, Thirteen Diversions, Within You Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison, Without Words. Abrera created the Spanish Dance in Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker, the Fairy Violente (Temperament) in Ratmansky’s The Sleeping Beauty and leading roles in Pretty Good Year and Seven Sonatas. Abrera received the Gold Medal at the Royal Academy of Dancing’s Adeline Genée Awards in London in 1995. She has performed as a guest artist across the United States and Europe, as well as with The Australian Ballet, The Royal New Zealand Ballet and Ballet Philippines.
Despite her inspiring achievements, her parents, who have always been her biggest supporters despite the fact that she is the very first dancer in the family, admits that she will always be their little girl who is simply doing what she has always loved.
“We really don’t realize how famous she is,” her parents laughed. “We just think of her as just our daughter.”
There are a few perks to being an artist in New York City. Hee Seo is always surrounded by classical arts performances, many of them featuring her friends, with whom she goes out for drinks and food. There’s also the occasional Broadway show she can pop into as well.
Seo (pronounced “Suh”) sees herself as a “normal 28-year-old girl” in the city. But not many can claim to be a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre (ABT), one of the world’s most renowned classical ballet companies located in NYC.
The Seoul native began ballet lessons at age 12 without any thought of going professional, but after being awarded a three-year scholarship to attend the Universal Ballet Academy (now the Kirov Academy of Ballet) in Washington, D.C., Seo’s career took off. She studied at the John Cranko Ballet Academy in Stuttgart, Germany on a scholarship before being invited to join the ABT Studio Company in 2004.
It wasn’t easy: Seo had trained under a Russian syllabus, and the American styles and approach to dancing made for a difficult adjustment. But with the help of her mentors, she was able to adapt, even battling through a back injury. Seo climbed the ranks, beginning as an apprentice, then joining the corps de ballet.
Seo had been performing soloist roles since 2006, but she really had her breakthrough year in 2009, performing lead roles in Romeo and Juliet, La Sylphide, On the Dnieper and Desir. As Pointe Magazine put it, she was already demonstrating the mark of a true ballerina with her “ability to carry a ballet and imbue it with her distinct aura for an audience of nearly 5,000 people.”
Seo was promoted to soloist in August 2010, then to principal dancer in July 2012. Each ballerina brings her own style, personality and expertise to each role, and the New York Times’ Gia Kourlas described Seo’s dancing as “[exuding] an unhurried purity that sums up all that is lovely about ballet. But while dramatic, Ms. Seo is also unassuming: as her delicate back and arms melt into place, Ms. Seo fills the stage with serenity. You see a person as much as a dancer.”
This past weekend, Seo reprised one of her leading roles as Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty alongside longtime partner Cory Stearns (Prince Charming) for a rare West Coast swing. Seo spoke with KoreAm by phone last Friday, a day after the first of two performances of The Sleeping Beauty before packed audiences at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, Calif.
Seo discussed her preparation for the role, and how her love of classical ballet allows her to tackle the physically and emotionally demanding challenges of professional ballet. She also mentioned how her family, particularly her parents, continue to fuss over her—and how she has no problem with it.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
As a ballerina, what is the most important aspect of yourself that you bring to a performance like this?
Seo: A lot of people ask me, “What do you want audiences to feel when they see your performances?” I want them to be completely lost in the ballet, the show, and not think about what they have done that day, or the stress or the problems they had before—just enjoy. Ultimately, ballet is about love and human feeling.
The Sleeping Beauty is a beautiful ballet. I had an opening-night dinner with some donors of ABT, and the placement setting said, “A kiss can change everything.” It’s true, and it’s so nice.
I love to dance, and I think people can just simply enjoy it.
Regarding the theme, do you “lose yourself” in that as well?
I try to. That’s my ultimate goal. There’s so many things that I need to be aware of: the lighting, the set, costumes, people around you, the steps. The ballet itself is very challenging. You try to be on pointe, on your toe, on balance. There’s a lot of things going on in my head.
I’ve been working with ABT for almost 10 years now—nine years. I think over the course of that time, I tried and learned how to lose myself in that and not think about other things—just like what I ask of the audience. Just come in and enjoy yourself.
Who have been your biggest influences?
Many people. My coach, Irina Kolpakova, she’s a legendary ballerina from Mariinsky Theater in Russia. She’s my coach, and I’ve been working with her since I joined the company, she’s my biggest influence and mentor. I think she knows more than I know about myself, because we really share a lot of time in the studio and outside of the studio. I tell her everything. She’s 80 years old—she just had her birthday. She’s the most positive, energetic person I’ve ever met in my whole life.
When I come into the studio, sometimes I’m tired and I don’t want to do anything. But when I see her, she’s like, full of energy—she fills you with that positive energy. I learned how to carry myself with positive energy from her.
Also, all the dancers from ABT—people who just stand on the side, or who aren’t even dancing on pointe, they’re always supporting me when I’m dancing. They always do their best to bring the best performance on stage.
Also, there are three [principal] ballerinas who are retiring this year. … [They] were great dancers who made this company very famous and on the top level. Now, they’re on their way out, and there’s a new corps of principal dancers, and I have to carry that weight on my shoulder.
I loved working with them. They have been so helpful and taught me what they knew—how to be a principal dancer at ABT, how to communicate with people, how to be normal and not a big-headed diva. (laughs)
Did you think you were a big-headed diva when you first joined ABT?
I think everybody who comes into ABT at first, everyone has a huge ego. They were first in their own class, or they did great in competitions. They were always treated as princesses or princes. When they come to ABT, you have to start from the back of the line, and then you slowly learn where you really stand in the professional ballet world, not back in school.
I know some people get annoyed when young dancers come in and they do their own thing, and they aren’t aware of senior dancers, but I always think, give them a little time. They will learn by themselves, and I think I was like that. I just didn’t know; it’s not that I was a big-headed diva, but I just didn’t know what to do and what it was like to be a professional dancer.
I only knew from my own school. I came into the professional world, and everything changed. Everyone adjusts, and that takes some time.
The company is filled with great, kind people. Everyone is willing to help each other. I think the environment is very healthy and happy. People adapt over time. I don’t think…there are big-headed divas in the company. (laughs)
What are some of the strengths you recognize in yourself?
Actually, yesterday afternoon, Kevin McKenzie, our artistic director, came in and told me, “You could improve your [emotional gestures].”
I saw myself on video, and I thought that I was doing extra gestures. I thought I was losing the [grace of] classical ballet, so I actually wanted to hold it back a little bit. Kevin said, “It’s impossible not to be graceful for you, so I think you can do a little more.” It was a big compliment.
I have the grace of classical ballet innately, because I was trained in classical ballet. But I think I need to work on powerful steps, like out of my box, more excitement in my dancing. That’s what I’ve been working on with my coach.
I think it’s all about how you present yourself. That’s something I work on all the time, rather than the technical stuff. A lot of things I could do, without a problem.
What keeps you moving forward and constantly trying to improve?
I love what I do. (laughs) It sounds so cheesy, but I really do. I love waking up in the morning, going to the ballet studio.
We begin our day at 10:15 at ballet class, when we warm up all together. We have a very old studio in New York, but it has a big window overlooking Broadway. The sun shines in, and there’s always light and music playing.
Even though sometimes I don’t want to go to work, when I get there, it gives me such comfort. It feels really good. Without class, I don’t feel like my day is starting.
After the show last night, I was so exhausted, but I went into class this morning. I love working with my friends, I love going into the studio. I think it’s really a gift that I get to do what I love to do.
After a performance like last night, how tired do you get?
It depends on the ballet, and for the ballerinas, every performance is challenging. In particular,Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, they’re really hard on the body because the steps are really challenging. The hours—running full force for a few hours is quite tiring, with the costume changes, and my nerve is going. Our legs get shot.
For me, after the performance, I still have that excitement, it’s still going. Last night, I couldn’t go to bed until like 4 a.m. My body was tired, but I woke up at 7.
You get used to it, like how basketball players, they run and work like crazy. But they train that way. Their body works like that. And we are the same way—we work hard, and we train this way.
Sometimes, I’m amazed at what our bodies can do when you train it. Sometimes—this is out of my own curiosity—I love what I do, and also I’m curious how far I can go with my own body. Every day, every performance, I want to push it a little more.
How do your parents react to your performances now? Do they still worry over you?
They do. They actually visited me in New York a couple of weeks ago. All my family lives in Korea, so it’s a long trip to see me, and it was only for four days. They wanted to see my new apartment, see how I live. I left for ballet school when I was 12 or 13, so they still think of me as that teenage girl.
They’re always concerned about me day to day. We have our family group chat on KakaoTalk, and my mom always says, “Have a good show! Are you eating properly? How’s your body?” They take care of me. That’s their job.
Sometimes, I’m like, “Mom, I’m old enough.” I’ve lived by myself for a long time, so I’m OK, but sometimes I like that. When I got to work or elsewhere, I have so much pressure, and I have to be on top of everything. When I go home, I can be their daughter, I can be taken care of. At first, I didn’t like it, but now I love it. When they visit me, they clean my apartment for me, laundry, cook—I love it, I enjoy it.
The latest music vid by our good friend Christine Wu, the multi-talented violinist, cellist, violist, composer, producer, recording engineer, and ballet dancer.
Christine has backed up everyone from Peter Gabriel to Kelly Clarkson, and is a regular as a section leader and in string sections on television, including American Idol, The Voice, and the Grammy Awards.