What a difference a year makes. A few sponsors to help with promotional efforts don’t hurt, either.
A year ago, Taiwanese ballerina and dance teacher Wang Tzer-shing (王澤馨) was ready to call it quits. No more International Ballet Star Galas, at least in Taipei; she was too run down from trying to do it all on her own.
This year, she’s not only looking forward to the fourth gala at the National Theater next weekend, she already has the dates and the theater confirmed for next year’s show and is talking about plans for a 10th. Plus, she’s working on her second ballet gala for the Esplanade in Singapore in October and bubbling over with excitement as she describes her hopes for reviving a tradition of ballet in Taipei.
Her enthusiasm is infectious. She has a cast of 14 established stars and a program that includes seven pas de deux or solos never before performed in Taiwan. She’s also arranged for a pianist and violinist for two of the pieces.
Although she didn’t look frazzled, she said she felt it.
“This year my pressure is a lot more than last year because I know a lot of audience members will be coming back, so I don’t want to disappoint them. I know people will compare [the shows]. I know some like classical more and some like half and half, some like more contemporary. But the dancers are so established, so good, they are going to be wonderful no matter what they do,” she said in an interview last Friday. “I also want to show contemporary works that haven’t been seen in Taiwan before.”
“I want people in Taiwan to have a different view of ballet. It’s the 21st century, I want to open their eyes to what is going on around the world,” she said.
The casting, as usual, is impressive. Sarah Lamb and Rupert Pennefather from Britain’s Royal Ballet, Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao (曹馳) from Birmingham Royal Ballet, Anastasia and Denis Matvienko from the Mariinsky Theater (the Kirov), Friedemann Vogel from Stuttgart, Silvia Azzoni and Alexandre Riabko from Hamburg, Iana Salenko from Berlin, Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz from San Francisco, Mizuka Ueno from Tokyo and Daniil Simkin from the American Ballet Theater.
Though many of the names are familiar to balletomanes, three faces will be familiar to Taipei audiences. Salenko danced at the 2007 gala, Vogel was here last year and Wang was lucky to be able to get the 23-year-old Simkin for a third time. The young Russian has been a Taipei favorite ever since he leapt through the window in La Spectre de la Rose in 2008. He’s been in Japan for the past few weeks, dancing with the Tokyo Ballet in Don Quixote.
“A ballet performance is a product, commercially. We have to be able to sell it. It’s not a charity performance; we still depend on ticket sales for everything. We want to show the audiences the most exciting performers and Daniil is fantastic,” Wang said. “It’s always a struggle to decide who to bring.”
Cao has also become well known outside of the dance world, having played a leading role in Bruce Beresford’s 2009 film Mao’s Last Dancer, which has yet to be shown here.
When asked if she had favorites, Wang laughed and refused to name names.
“I think each dancer is unique. It’s hard to compare. Each pas de deux is special, it’s like comparing bananas and apples,” she said.
But Wang was a little more willing to talk about the pieces she’s looking forward to, such as British choreographer Christopher Wheldon’s Tryst, created for the Royal Ballet in 2002, and Marco Goeke’s solo Mopey.
“The music is Bach. The movement is not ballet-ballet — the technique is ballet, but it’s just beyond your imagination. It will be a surprise,” she said of Goeke’s piece.
Classical ballet fans should be happy with the pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet, which will be danced by frequent partners Sakuma and Chi, as well as Giselle, Le Corsaire, Don Quixote and a solo from Raymonda.
Works by other masters include George Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and Sir Frederick Ashton’s Thais Pas de Deux as well as two by John Neumeier — The Little Mermaid and Illusions Like Swan Lake/Meditation.
From choreographers working today there will be excerpts from William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated and Edward Clug’s pairing of Radiohead and Shakespeare, Radio
Simkin will reprise Ben Van Cauwenbergh’s Le Bourgeois, which he performed here in 2008.
Meanwhile, Wang is dreaming of bigger shows.
“There are still so many great dancers out there who don’t know how to promote themselves. They are working so hard on their own. That’s why I want to do this gala every year. The life of a dancer is so short. I’d love to invite everyone. Maybe for the 10th anniversary I could invite 26 dancers for a week-long event with multiple programs,” she said.
What caused her change of heart after last year’s despondency?
“I always ask myself, ‘Am I going to do this again?’ but at the end of the show I hear the audience screaming and then I watch the DVDs afterwards, I think, ‘How can I stop?’ Even for one year — you stop for a year and people forget you. So I just do the best I can,” she said. “I’m hoping the whole environment will be different in 10 years, that maybe we’ll have a company by then, our [dance] education system will be changed by then, our [ballet] kids might have a place to show their talent.”
Aug. 28’s performance starts earlier than normal for a show at the National Theater, 7pm. The program is long, about 150 minutes with a 20-minute intermission, but if past galas are anything to go on, the audience won’t want to go home.
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