(A few articles and interviews)
"On the Rise: Madison Keesler"
Written By: Mary Ellen Hunt
Onstage or off, Madison Keesler has riveting eyes. A bewitching intensity shines from their depths, which are set in a pretty, delicate face. At 21, Keesler, a San Francisco Ballet corps member, has already drawn notice in soloist roles. In Helgi Tomasson’s Giselle, her engaging glances lent a girlish appeal to her strong technique in the demanding peasant pas de cinq. And as a demi-soloist in Symphony in C, Keesler stood out for a sensitivity and expressiveness in her dancing, for ports de bras that seem to unfurl endlessly, for her fluid transitions, and that piercing focus that connects her with her partners as well as the audience.
Though born in California, Keesler moved around as a child. When she was 6, she started tap, jazz, and ballet, but within two years she had zeroed in on ballet. She began studying at the International Ballet School in Colorado Springs with Mark Carlson and Vaganova-trained German Zamuel. When she turned 10, her family moved to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and she enrolled in Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet under Marcia Dale Weary.
“From an early age Madison was exceptionally talented,” Weary says. “She had great stage presence and was so intelligent. She’s able to focus on both the physical and the mental at the same time.”
After attending the SFB summer program for three years, Keesler decided to move to San Francisco to study at the school full time. The company was about to launch its 75th anniversary celebrations. That year, the school performed John Neumeier’s Yondering in the company’s gala, and Keesler met the Hamburg Ballet director. “We were all learning the roles, but I was low on the cast list,” she says. “One of my best friends really nudged me to put myself forward. So I did exactly that and I ended up performing first cast in the principal role. It was a real moment of growth for me.”
Keesler had always worried about whether her technique would impress. “I don’t have the naturally high legs or crazy turns,” she says. “But working with John answered a lot of things that I had been wondering about. I think he’s always looking for an honesty that comes from within.”
At the end of the school year, Keesler, then 17, decided to take an apprentice position at Hamburg Ballet. The going was tough. Keesler had no family in Germany, didn’t speak the language, and had never been to Europe before. “It was my first apartment, my first paycheck, my first roommate, my first of a lot of things,” she recounts. “It was quite a learning experience.”
Still, Neumeier gave the young dancer opportunities to learn leading roles in everything from hisNutcracker to Daphnis and Chloe. “It really shaped how I viewed the dance world,” she says. “As I met more of Neumeier’s audience, I realized that we’re not just entertainment up on the stage. People would come up to you and say how his work changed their lives, which is something that you always hope to hear, but you never think that you actually will.”
After a year in Hamburg, Keesler felt the pull homeward. At the end of the season in 2009, she made the difficult decision to return to California, where her family now lived. On a visit home, she let Tomasson know that she was interested in SFB, and though she expected to have to audition, he offered her an apprenticeship.
Within a month, Keesler was promoted to the corps, but even more surprising that first year was when Tomasson offered her the chance to understudy the role of Juliet. Working with principal Joan Boada, Keesler learned the role in three days. Though she ultimately didn’t perform it, the whirlwind experience built her confidence.
In Keesler’s second year with the company, she was tapped to learn the principal role of the Princess in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid, at the choreographer’s request. Third cast, she worked on the ballet all the way to the dress rehearsal, but because of complications in filming the ballet for the PBS series “Great Performances,” her cast never took the stage. Nevertheless, Keesler felt it had marked a jump in her artistic development. “Knowing what a rare opportunity this was, I had to ask myself what I could bring to the role that would be different,” she says. “It was a great feeling to find that.”
The questing spirit leads Keesler in a number of directions outside of ballet—acting classes at the American Conservatory Theater, Spanish courses at the City College of San Francisco, singing lessons, and guitar lessons. Ballet is her main focus, though. And where does she see her career taking her? “Of course, I hope to be a principal dancer somewhere,” she says. “But I also hope to continue to grow in a very diverse sense and not just stick with the things that I find comfortable.”
Mary Ellen Hunt writes on dance in San Francisco.
An honesty from within: Keesler has drawn notice in soloist roles. Photo by Quinn Wharton, Courtesy SFB.
"Catch S.F. Ballet's Newcomers"
Written By: Allan Ulrich
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Keesler, 19, learned much during her year in the corps of the Hamburg Ballet in Germany under John Neumeier, where she danced in eight of his ballets, including "The Little Mermaid." She will also perform in the work's U.S premiere in March.
"I love him," she says. "Hamburg is very different from anything in America. The company is very theater oriented. John doesn't do abstraction; he's extremely detailed; things always have a meaning to them. Technique for John is a way to show an audience the emotion."
Not that Keesler's training wasn't first rate. A Southern California native, she, like the San Francisco Ballet's Vanessa Zahorian, Kristin Long and Tina LeBlanc before her, attended the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet under Marcia Dale Weary. "She was hard, she pushed you constantly, but she enabled me to be here today," Keesler recalls.
Later, she enrolled in the San Francisco Ballet School. Tomasson offered her an apprenticeship after her Hamburg year and then, after a month last summer, he upped the contract to corps. For 2010, Keesler has been cast in "Op. 19: The Dreamer," "Company B," "Haffner Symphony" and "Petrushka." Of "The Little Mermaid," she notes, "It's a very emotional work, you simply fall in love with her. When you watch a Neumeier ballet, you're there full body and soul."
"Eleganter Sprung in das Hamburger Ballett"
(Elegant Leap in The Hamburg Ballet)
Written By: Irmela Kästner
December 28, 2008
Sie ist das jüngste Mitglied im Ensemble des Hamburg Balletts und weit gereist, um in John Neumeiers Compagnie zu tanzen. Die 18jährige Madison Keesler aus San Francisco hat mit Beginn der Spielzeit in Hamburg ihr erstes Engagement angetreten und schildert im eigenen Blog ihre Tanzerfahrungen.
Für die junge Ballerina war es ein Sprung ins kalte Wasser, sollte sie doch ursprünglich "nur" in die Ballettschule aufgenommen werden. Während sie sich auf den Wechsel von der San Francisco Ballet School in das Hamburger Ballettinstitut vorbereitete, wurde aus dem Ausbildungsplatz das Angebot einer Elevenstelle in der Compagnie.
"Ich wusste nicht mal, was Elevin bedeutet", sagt sie und fand sich zwei Wochen nach ihrer Ankunft bereits in "Othello" auf der Bühne der Kampnagelfabrik wieder. "Ein großartiges Erlebnis, aber auch ziemlich nervenaufreibend. Ich hatte kaum ein modernes Training gehabt während meiner Ausbildung." Mittlerweile hat sie einmal mehr den Spagat zwischen Klassik und Moderne im wechselvollen Repertoire des Hamburg Balletts gemeistert, stand in "La Sylphide" und in "Sacre" auf der Bühne.© Pressebild.de/ Bertold Fabricius
Vielleicht kommt es ihr sogar zugute, dass ihr Körper, wie sie immer wieder feststellen musste, nicht unbedingt für den klassischen Tanz geformt ist. "Ich musste hart trainieren. Manchmal scheint es, dass eine eher natürliche Bewegung besser für mich ist." John Neumeier jedenfalls hat sie auf Anhieb von ihrem Talent überzeugt. Er und Kevin Haigen waren im letzten Jahr eingeladen, um zur 75-Jahrfeier des San Francisco Ballet Neumeiers Choreografie "Yondering" mit der dortigen Ballettschule einzustudieren. Für Madison Keesler eine nachhaltige Erfahrung – so dass sie anschließend nicht lange darüber nachdenken musste, ob sie nach Hamburg gehen wollte.
Ein Jahr lang hat sie an der San Francisco Ballett School studiert und dort mit ihren 24 Mitstudenten zusammen in einem Haus gelebt. Hamburg bedeutet für sie nicht nur das erste Engagement sondern auch die erste eigene Wohnung: "Das erste Mal, dass ich selbst meine Miete bezahlen muss."
Der Empfang in ihrer neuen Umgebung sei sehr herzlich gewesen. "Im Laufe des ersten Tages ist jedes Ensemblemitglied zu mir gekommen und hat sich persönlich vorgestellt."
Vom Hamburg Ballett wusste sie bis dahin nicht viel. Eine Person war ihr allerdings ein Begriff: Heather Jurgensen. Denn Madison Keesler hat an der gleichen Schule beim Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in Carlisle trainiert.
"Ich habe Videos mit ihr gesehen, man sprach über sie. Ja, sie ist eine Art Idol für mich." Besonders schön war für sie das Erlebnis, Hamburgs frühere Erste Ballerina jetzt persönlich zu treffen.
Trotz ihrer Jugend ist Madison Keesler bereits durch und durch Profi. Zahlreiche Auszeichnungen hat sie im Laufe ihrer Lehrjahre erhalten. Dank ihrer Ausstrahlung hatte sie es zuletzt beim Wettbewerb um das Cover Model für die amerikanische Tanzzeitschrift Dance Spirit Magazine bis unter die drei Finalisten geschafft. Den Titel hat sie zwar nicht geholt, eine Woche New York mit Training und professionellem Foto-Shooting aber waren die Mühe wert.
Sie weiß, was sie will. Bedingt durch die berufliche Tätigkeit des Vaters im Hotelmanagement hat die einzige Tochter als Kind oft den Wohnort gewechselt, musste sich immer wieder neu zurecht finden. Doch in Pennsylvania stand für die gebürtige Kalifornierin bereits im Alter von elf Jahren fest, dass sie Tänzerin werden möchte. Ihr Tanzpensum aus Training und Aufführungen belief sich damals bereits auf eine 40-Stundenwoche.
Eine Zeit lang sei der Tanz auch eine emotionale Flucht gewesen, wegen Schwierigkeiten, die ihre Eltern damals miteinander hatten, räumt sie ein. Für ihre Wünsche und Bedürfnisse habe sie jedoch von beiden Elternteilen immer jede erdenkliche Unterstützung erhalten.
Aufgrund des umfangreichen Trainings musste der allgemeine Schulunterricht jedenfalls daheim stattfinden. Nicht etwa, wie man es sich gemeinhin vorstellt, mit privatem Hauslehrer sondern über das Internet in Konferenzschaltung mit einem Lehrer und mit weiteren Schülern. "Man versuchte, der Situation im Klassenraum so nah wie möglich zu kommen."
Madison Keesler aber hat den üblichen Schulbesuch scheinbar auch nicht vermisst, und wenn sie nicht im Ballettsaal oder auf der Bühne steht, ist das Internet für sie nach wie vor das Medium ihrer Wahl.
"Ich bin viel im Netz", sagt sie. So hält sie Kontakt zu ihren Freunden. Und sie schreibt selbst. Auf der eigens von und für die Tanz- und Ballettszene eingerichteten Internetseite www.thewinger.com hat sie ihren eigenen Blog. Dort kann man lesen, was sie auf dem Flug von San Francisco nach Hamburg im August letzten Jahres in Gedanken an die vor ihr liegende Zukunft bewegt hat. "Die Netzseite ist ein Weg für mich, um mit meinem Publikum zu kommunizieren." Und daher sei es ihr nur recht, wenn darüber in der Zeitung berichtet wird. Live können die Hamburger die grazile Tänzerin zurzeit in der Staatsoper im "Nussknacker" bewundern, sogar in einem Solopart, in der Rolle der feurigen Esmeralda.
Cupcakes & Conversation with Madison Keesler, Corps de ballet, San Francisco Ballet
June 25, 2010
Madison in Cinderella’s Ball by Alan Hineline
Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, April 2006
Photograph : Rosalie O’Connor
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning?
For the most part, Monday is San Francisco Ballet’s one free day so if I’m not in bed sleeping chances are my motivation to get up is a massage appointment.
What are you looking forward to dancing this year?
We just ended a wonderful 2010 Season and there are a lot of things I’m looking forward to in the 2011 Season. Even though it will be my third year in a row performing it, I am very much looking forward to John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid. I feel very passionate about John’s work and I’m happy to know that more and more of his full works are being performed in the States. In addition, I am looking forward to the large diversity that this company always offers. While I won’t know casting for next season until we start back in July I am looking forward to at least watching and hopefully participating in Giselle, Balanchine’s Coppélia, Artifact Suite, Wayne McGregor’s Chroma, and Kenneth Macmillan’sWinter Dreams.
Who would you most like to dance with and what would you dance?
There are many men in the ballet world I would be honored to dance with. I have one person in mind that I would love to do Romeo and Julietwith now and John Neumeier’s Lady of Camellias, when we are older.
If you could dance anywhere in the world , where would you dance?
I want to dance everywhere and experience everything – San Francisco, Hamburg, Berlin, London, Paris, Amsterdam, New York, Japan…the list goes on and on.
How do you prepare your pointe shoes?
I am always looking for better shoes and better break-in techniques but I currently I wear Freed classics, with a lot of personal specs, and “bell” is my maker. I darn the tips, I cut the inside shank so it bends to my arch, and then on the outside I cut a small strip out of the shoe’s sole on a diagonal to give it that extra flexibility right where I need it. I cut the outside on a diagonal towards my little toe because it helps the shoe not sickle as much.
What is your daily routine at the moment?
As I said earlier, our season just ended so my routine is a little out of whack at the moment. Usually I would get up, do my floor barre, class, rehearsals, then performance. Since I have been off I’ve been giving myself a little bit of relaxation time. My summer plans are still not completely organized but I will definitely be continuing class and training in one place or another.
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite?
Gandhi, Leonardo Da Vinci, Eckhart Tolle, Audrey Hepburn, Sylvie Guillem, and John Neumeier.
What would surprise people about you?
Hmm…I don’t feel that I’m much of a surprise to be honest; I am what I am.
Who inspired you to dance?
My mother, Juliet Kent, and the Paris Opera Ballet’s video of Romeo and Juliet with Manuel Legris and Monique Loudieres were some of my earliest inspirations and continue to inspire me today.
What is your best piece of advice?
Live for this moment because it is all that we ever truly have.
How do you prepare in the hours before a show?
My preparations will vary greatly depending on the show and the part. Usually you can either find me blasting music in my dressing room while getting ready or doing floor barre backstage. I find that my best performances happen when I am calm and present.
Which role has tested you the most & how?
I have been so blessed with opportunities since becoming a professional dancer and every single piece I’ve learned, in Hamburg Ballet as well as San Francisco Ballet, has given me something and I’ve learned so much within these last two years. My wonderful training at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (CPYB) also allowed me to have countless performing opportunities which greatly shaped how I am as a performer today. One role that tested me the most was Aurora in CPYB’s full production of The Sleeping Beauty. To carry an entire ballet at 16 was not easy and it taught me just how far I was capable of pushing myself, as well as how much further I had to go. There is no such thing as perfection in the ballet world, especially for me, and every day I try to work and keep improving as much as possible.
If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create?
I can’t say I have thought much about this in the past, but the first thing that comes to my mind would be a long romantic tutu – a simple yet beautifully jewelled bodice with a long flowing tutu to elongate the legs.
What do you look for in a dance partner?
I think most female dancers would agree that a partner who is well trained in partnering technique is a must. Partnering, just like anything else in ballet, must be learned correctly in order to be successful. In addition to that you must have some sort of connection with that partner while the two of you dance together; without that there is no point, you might as well just dance alone.
What is your favourite quote?
This is a tough one for me to answer because I have so many favourite quotes! I could go on and on but for the sake of this interview I will pick one of my favourite ballet related quotes -
“Movement does not exist outside of the human body. To become a true dancer means to bring to ideal balance the physical impossibilities of your stubborn imperfect body with the possibilities of your soul. Which, as you move through life is continually renewing itself and demanding new expression.”
- Natalia Makarova
Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you?
A phrase I use far too often is…?
I didn’t know this until I asked someone but apparently the answer to this question is – “Why is all of this confusing me so much?”, “No, just kidding”, and “I don’t know”. Hmm, I’m going to have to be more aware of those…
What’s been your best on-stage moment so far?
To be completely honest, I have had so many wonderful moments but none that I would be able to define as my “best on-stage moment”. I will let you know when that comes around.
Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about?
Well you definitely cannot call them skills but I love singing and acting. I have a secret wish of creating a CD, as well as starring in a movie that has a purpose and a good message.
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now?
I have so many goals for my life, both short and long term, but I have no idea where I will be in a year from now. I am going to let life take me where I am supposed to go, continue working hard, and enjoy every moment of what I do.