Alastair Macaulay, former dance critic of the New York Times and Financial Times, among other publications, is hosting a virtual series of master classes with three American ballerinas and five ‘senior artists’ as coaches. The sessions, recorded live, will be available for a week on New York City Center’s website and YouTube page.
The first virtual session took place on 16 July, with Tiler Peck, New York City Ballet principal, coached by Merrill Ashley, former NYCB ballerina and ballet master. Peck was in a studio in California, with a pianist, and Ashley was at home in Florida. They began work on three different solos by George Balanchine: the Sugar Plum variation from his Nutcracker, a solo from Divertimento no. 15 and one from Symphony in C. The time allotted for each was tantalisingly insufficient for Ashley’s comments, passing on details of the technique she had learned from Mr B himself. The session was an eye-opener for anyone hoping to learn what made his demands so exacting.
The next session on 30 July (viewable until 5 August) will involve Georgian ballerina Nina Ananiashvili coaching Sara Mearns, NYCB principal dancer, in solos from Swan Lake. Ananiashvili, now artistic director of the State Ballet of Georgia, has danced the dual role of Odette/Odile countless times with many different companies. Mearns is a notable exponent of the role in Peter Martins’s two-act version of Swan Lake, introduced into NYCB’s repertoire in 1999.
On 16 September, Tiler Peck will be coached by Stephanie Saland, former NYCB principal, in the ‘green’ woman’s solo from Jerome Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering – a role for which Robbins chose Saland in the 1970s-1980s. Violette Verdy was the original green girl, the only female solo in the ballet.
Mearns will return on 23 September to develop new solo material created for her by Pam Tanowitz. Tanowitz has choreographed for the Royal Ballet as well as NYCB and her own group of dancers (who were seen in London last year in her Four Quartets to T.S Eliot’s poem).
In the final session on 30 September, Misty Copeland, principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre, will be coached by Alessandra Ferri in Juliet’s solo scenes in Act III of Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. Ferri danced the role with the Royal Ballet before joining ABT and becoming an international star. Copeland, since 2015 the first African American principal with ABT, will be in New York and Ferri in London.
Macaulay, who has interviewed the three current American ballerinas by Zoom, hopes that the hour-long recording will be available in August on the City Center website. Members of NY City Center will have access to an archive of the full series – Membership details (starting at $100).