Yesterday, Joffrey Ballet live-streamed three hours of Swan Lake rehearsal with Christopher Wheeldon. And lucky for us, the whole session is now posted on the company’s YouTube channel.
You’d think this would be a chance to get a sneak peak of the performance—and it is—but the most interesting parts happen between the dancing moments. It’s fascinating to watch Wheeldon polish details with the performers. During the first two hour-long segments, he works with the corps, creating uniform lines and port de bras in the Act I waltz and among the swans of Act II. He offers tips like letting the arm movements originate at the center of the back to make them more wing-like.
If you have limited time, skip to the two-hour mark. You’ll see artistic director Ashley Wheater chat with Wheeldon and Jason Fowler about the staging process. Fowler had the hardest job, says Wheeldon, because he actually learned the ballet from videos and set large portions of it on the dancers himself. Wheeldon only recently arrived to clarify the movement.
In the final hour, Wheeldon rehearses the principals—Victoria Jaiani as Odette/Odile and Dylan Gutierrez as Prince Siegfried—on the moment of their first encounter. He focuses on the motivations and intentions behind the pantomime. “First you see his eyes, then you see the bow, and that’s what frightens you,” he tells Jaiani. He works with the pair on creating real characters and a believable interaction. Debriefing afterward with Wheater, he says, “It can’t just be steps, where we think, 'Oh she’s flapping her arms so she’s a swan, and he’s running around with a princely bow so he’s the prince.' They have to actually embody those characters and believe in them for us to believe them.”
I only wish there had been time to watch them work on the pas de deux. I’m sure Wheeldon has great tips on partnering.
Joffrey Ballet premieres Wheeldon’s Swan Lake on October 15.
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This Sunday, master ballet teacher Finis Jhung turns 80. After a career as a soloist for both San Francisco Ballet and the Joffrey and a principal for Harkness Ballet, Jhung carved out a unique place for himself as a ballet teacher in New York City. He's coached the boys of Billy Elliot: The Musical, developed a popular video and DVD how-to series and STILL teaches seven classes a week at the Ailey Extension. He's graced the pages of this magazine to offer his time-honored wisdom again and again, and he's currently working on a memoir. (We can't wait to read it.) Happy birthday, Finis!
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