REPOSTED FROM THE AGE/JOEL MEARES
Harrison Lee, 15, back home in Castle Hill after winning the famed Prix de Lausanne. Photo: Steven Siewert
At first, Harrison Lee thought he was in trouble. His mother had called him into her bedroom early in the morning, and he was “a little scared” – this was not the regular morning routine at their Castle Hill home. Then she gave him the news: “She sat me down on her bed and said, ‘Congratulations, you’re going to Switzerland!'”
It was the news the 15-year-old had been waiting more than a month to hear, ever since he sent a DVD of himself performing a variation from the ballet Flames of Paris to the judges of the Prix de Lausanne, among the world’s most prestigious competitions for young dancers. From 300 entrants, he was one of 70 invited to Lausanne, on the shores of Lake Geneva, for a week of classes and performances.
“When she told me I got in, happiness just took over my body,” says Lee. But he did not leap down the road, Billy Elliot-style, painting his delight for the world in pirouettes and arabesques. “I’m not one to scream and shout and go crazy,” he says calmly. “It just took over inside.”
Harrison Lee: The dancer won the Youth America Grand Prix in 2014. Photo: Steven Siewert
Last week, after eight days of classes and major performances, Lee took top prize in Lausanne. He again showed trademark control when called forward from a line of finalists – some three and four years his senior. “I was shocked, and I was getting very emotional so I had to hold that in until it was over.” He adds with a laugh: “I didn’t want to watch this back five years later and see myself crying.”
The Lausanne win comes just shy of a year since Lee took out the equally prestigious Youth America Grand Prix: the one-two punch puts him among the most promising, and prized, young dancers in the world. Watching the YouTube video of Lee performing his classical variation at the Lausanne finals – a video that has clocked 37,000 views in less than a week – it is easy to see why. His control and strength astounds: he springs to impossible heights from the raked stage; his toes arch improbably towards his heel. One commenter writes under the video: “Good lord those feet are so good they should pay taxes!”
Brisbane’s Lucid Dance Theatre founder Louise Deleur was a choreographer at the Prix, and watched Harrison on stage and in classes, where the dancers are also scored. “He was blessed with these long legs and beautiful feet,” says Deleur, “but what also stood out about Harrison was his humility and graciousness in class. He’s a beautiful soul to work with.”
Lee spent a week in London before the competition taking classes at the Royal Ballet School. He did some sightseeing – Harry Potter World, even though he’s not a great fan of the boy wizard – but mostly it was business. It’s the same at home: he takes two hours of ballet every day at the McDonald College, and three more hours every day after school. His diet “is not as strict as the girls” but he watches what he eats. He points out, humbly, that teachers Josephine Jason, Jane Kesby and Allan Cross have sacrificed as much as he has for his success.
The goal, Lee says, is to become the principal dancer at a company so that “I can dance as many lead roles as I can”. He’s not being unrealistic. Following his successful 12 months, Lee now has his choice of schools: by September he will be living in New York and attending the American Ballet Theatre, or in London at the Royal Ballet, or anywhere else he chooses to attend in Europe. Recruiters are clamouring.
“It’s weird to think at 16 I will be on the other side of the world, living by myself and cooking and cleaning and washing up,” says Lee. “It’s scary, but it’s what I’ve been training for.”
For mother Cindy, a travel agent, the prospect of Harrison moving is bittersweet. The family delights in his success – his brother skipped schoolies to go to Switzerland and watch Harrison compete; Cindy gets giddy recalling how Li Cunxin (of Mao’s Last Dancer fame) told her he was looking forward to seeing her son dance.
“But it’s sad too to think of your child travelling so far away at such a young age,” she admits. “A lot of people probably don’t understand it – people who don’t have a child with a passion or dream and the talent don’t understand how you could see your child do that. We’re happy to see him reach his goals.”
And wherever Lee lands, mum will be visiting. A lot. “It will be a path well worn, I imagine,” she says.
REPOSTED FROM DANCING TIMES
Millepied’s plans for the Paris Opéra : Wednesday, 04 February 2015
Benjamin Millepied has announced plans for the 2015–16 season of the Paris Opéra Ballet, the first he has programmed as director. It’s an ambitious season, with many new works, including one by new associate choreographer William Forsythe and a new production of The Nutcracker, to be choreographed by Arthur Pita, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Liam Scarlett, Edouard Lock and Millepied.
Millepied announced his season alongside Stéphane Lissner, who has been general director of the Opéra since July 2014: the two leaders promise a new level of cooperation between the ballet and opera companies. The new Nutcracker will be performed as a double bill with Tchaikovsky’s opera Iolanta – as these works were performed together at their premiere in 1892. The five choreographers will create separate scenes for the new production.
Millepied has also commissioned new works from Justin Peck, Wayne McGregor, Jérôme Bel and himself. Peck’s work will be danced to Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, with designs by artist John Baldassari. McGregor’s piece will be set to Pierre Boulez’s Anthème II as part of an evening celebrating the composer.
Millepied, who danced at New York City Ballet (NYCB) from 1995 to 2011, brings an American slant with some of his programming. The season will include Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, Duo Concertant and Brahms-Schönberg Quartet, Jerome Robbins’ Opus 19/The Dreamer, Goldberg Variations and Other Dances. Justin Peck, the resident choreographer at NYCB, is represented by In Creases as well as his new commission; Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia, created for NYCB, also joins the repertoire. The season will also include company premieres by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Alexei Ratmansky and Maguy Marin.
There are just three evening-length revivals: Giselle and Rudolf Nureyev’s productions of Romeo and Juliet and La Bayadère. There will also be works staged in the foyer of the Opéra Garnier. Choreographer Boris Charmatz will stage a new event to open the season, with 20 dancers performing solos from the 20th-century repertoire in the public spaces of the Opéra Garnier.
Millepied and Lissner also announced a new digital platform, “3e Scene”, or “Third Stage”. Hosted on the Paris Opéra website, this will present new work by composers, choreographers, directors, visual artists, filmmakers and writers. There will also be a new Paris Opéra Academy, which will offer residencies to young choreographers from inside and outside the company. The choreographers will be mentored by William Forsythe. Millepied told the New York Times that the academy aimed to teach dance-making as a craft. “We won’t necessarily discover more geniuses, but there will be more competence,” he said. “Composers learn the principles of harmony, counterpoint, technique, and choreography is no different.”
Millepied has also announced touring plans, and works scheduled for later seasons. The company will visit one French city each season, touring to Brest in the 2015–16 season. Major tours to the US are being planned. Guest companies at the Paris Opéra will include Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Rosas, Batsheva Dance Company and English National Ballet, who dance Le Corsaire at the Opéra Garnier in June 2016.
Looking ahead, Millepied has commissioned an evening-length work from Alexei Ratmansky for the 2016–17 season. He also expects to schedule some work by the iconic modern dance choreographer Merce Cunningham. At the press conference, critic Laura Capelle reports, Millepied explained that he had almost left NYCB to dance for the Cunningham company.
Performances for the Paris Opéra Ballet’s 2015-16 season are now on sale.
Picture: Benjamin Millepied at the Opéra Garnier. Photograph: Julien Benhamou
REPOSTED FROM DANCING TIMES Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui to direct Royal Ballet Flanders: Wednesday, 04 February 2015
Choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is to be the new artistic director of Royal Ballet Flanders, it was announced on February 4. Cherkaoui will take up his post on September 1, 2015, with Tamas Moricz as his associate artistic director.
Cherakaoui joins the company after a series of upheavals. In 2012, director Kathryn Bennetts left Royal Ballet Flanders after clashing with Flemish culture minister Joke Scahuviliege; her successor, Assis Carreiro, left abruptly in 2014.
As a contemporary choreographer taking over a classical ballet company, Cherkaoui has said that “The course I will be seeking to pursue with the company is one of reconciliation”. Tamas Moricz said: “We want to take Royal Ballet Flanders to a new and inspiring place in the world of dance. We both share the aim of allowing dancers to maintain their firm classical background by continuing classical training and repertoire, while also bringing the company into a contemporary space. Classical ballet and contemporary dance can exist alongside each other, and that is the situation at present. Our aim is to draw both these worlds into a creative hub within this company.”
Cherkaoui praised the company’s achievements: “As a contemporary choreographer who was born in Antwerp, I have been following the development of Royal Ballet Flanders for 20 years now. The talent, technical virtuosity, sensitivity and musicality of its dancers have always inspired me, so it was an honour for me to share a piece from my own repertoire with the company last season. Faun [as part of Diaghilev Unbound, 2013–2014 season] was a first step towards an exchange of repertoire with the ballet company.
“For the past ten years, as well as developing my contemporary choreography work I have also worked with foreign ballet companies every year… Through all these experiences I have gained the confidence and energy that I will need in the role of artistic director at Royal Ballet Flanders…
“For a number of years there has been a constantly growing exchange between the different dance disciplines, as classical ballet and contemporary dance increasingly complement each other. Although there is always a key idea running through the content of my work, what I am able to achieve with ballet dancers in terms of form and technique is very different from my work with contemporary dancers. I am therefore looking forward to seeing these differences evolve further in future.
“At Eastman I open up specific themes that allow contemporary dancers to translate them into earthbound gestures with strong contrasts and an animalistic flexibility, but in ballet I can develop feather-light pointe movements to draw outlines in space in a more calligraphic way. In time, I also want to be able to reverse those ‘differences’; I find it exciting to let the two worlds flow into one another without losing any of their fascinating differences or nuances.
“I am not making this move to Royal Ballet Flanders alone. I am bringing with me Tamas Moricz as my right hand man: a highly talented dancer and dance teacher who has himself danced for many years in performances created by William Forsythe. Together with him I will be working out the future direction for the ballet. That direction will respect its history while also cherishing the ambition to open up new paths. Eastman will still be my contemporary company. Organic exchanges with Royal Ballet Flanders will of course develop, but I am definitely not going to force that.”
Picture: Sidi Larbi Cherkaou. Photograph: Koen Broos