Helen Pickett Appointed Resident Choreographer for Atlanta Ballet
ATLANTA – Impressive. Beautifully lyrical. Stunning. Strange and wonderful concoction. Unconventional. Clever. Whether describing one of her avant-garde works or simply summing up her unique movement style, words and phrases like these flow throughout the reviews of choreographer Helen Pickett.
Atlanta Ballet’s Artistic Director John McFall discovered her in 2010 and hasn’t let a season pass since without putting one of her works on stage. Now the collaboration with one of the world’s brightest choreographic rising stars and Atlanta Ballet is cemented. McFall has called upon her to be the Company’s resident choreographer – a three year commitment that includes new works and an annual, one-week “Choreographic Essentials” workshop.
The announcement was made in tandem with the rollout of Atlanta Ballet’s new 5-year strategic plan, which specifically called for the addition of a resident choreographer as a major component of its artistic strategy.
Over the past few years, Atlanta Ballet has experienced a quasi-renaissance, marked by new leadership [addition of veteran arts leader Arturo Jacobus as executive director], a new headquarters, and a wildly successful capital campaign.
McFall has also sharpened the Company’s focus artistically. He has renewed commitment to creativity, innovation and signature works to establish the Atlanta Ballet brand as preeminent in the Southeast and one of the most distinctive in the world of dance.
“When thinking about our next steps as a ballet company and the artistic profile we wanted to build, Helen’s was a name that continued to resonate with me,” said McFall. “From my first encounter, I knew she was special – the kind of artist our dancers needed to work with and the kind of artist our audiences needed to see. She brings a passion into the studio that’s unmatched and connects with our dancers in a way that is earnest and heartfelt. She inspires them to reach deep inside themselves, and it translates to the stage in a way that is startling and wonderful. We’re lucky to have her.”
Pickett has presented on stages all over the world. Her initial collaboration with Atlanta Ballet was in March 2011 when McFall commissioned her “Petal” for the Company’s Fusion program. It was a highlight of the night and the season.
For the 2011-12 season, McFall commissioned a world premiere from Pickett for the Company’s New Choreographic Voices program. Pickett’s “Prayer of Touch” was another instant hit, illustrated by enthusiastic audience response.
A San Diego native, Pickett began her dance career as a student under the direction of Lew Christensen and Michael Smuin and, later, Helgi Tomasson with The San Francisco Ballet. She then spent more than a decade with Ballet Frankfurt, achieving principal status, under the legendary William Forsythe, whom she credits with “shaping her aesthetic eye.” Pickett soon began to develop her own voice as a dancemaker and in 2005 received her first choreographic commission from Boston Ballet. Now, seven years later, Pickett has choreographed more than 20 works and has easily become one of the most sought-after choreographers in dance today.
“Helen is a perfect choice,” said AB Executive Director Arturo Jacobus. “She is innovative and fresh, and she brings to this Company the Forsythe legacy, along with her own unique voice and growing reputation. I know she will have a significant impact on the artistic DNA of Atlanta Ballet.”
As a nod to her new position and promise of what’s to come, Atlanta Ballet will reintroduce its patrons to Pickett this 12-13 season. Both Pickett’s “Petal” and “Prayer of Touch” will be presented in anticipation of a Pickett world premiere for the Company’s 13-14 season.
About Helen Pickett
Helen Pickett, born in San Diego, California, studied dance at The San Francisco Ballet under the direction of Lew Christensen and Michael Smuin, and later, Helgi Tomasson.
In 2005, Mikko Nissinen, director of the Boston Ballet, offered Helen her first choreographic commission entitled Etesian. The New York Choreographic Institute awarded her a Fellowship Initiative Grant in 2006. In the same year and through 2008, Helen choreographed for Boston Ballet, Washington Ballet, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Louisville Ballet and Ballet X. In 2007, Dance magazine named Helen one of 25 to Watch. She received a Choreographic Residency from Jacob’s Pillow in 2008. From 2009 through 2011, Helen created new ballets for Royal Ballet of Flanders, Ballet West, Boston Ballet, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, and Dance Theatre of Harlem. In 2012 and 2013, her commissions include Semper Oper/Dresden Ballet, Vienna State Opera, Scottish Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, and Smuin Ballet. Helen was one of the first choreographers to receive the Jerome Robbins Foundation’s New Essential Works Grant.
Helen has collaborated, as an actress and choreographer, with installation video artists and filmmakers including Eve Sussman, Toni Dove and Laurie Simmons. Helen, a founding member of Eve Sussman’s The Rufus Corporation, created the role of the Queen in 89 Seconds at Alcazar, which was shown at the 2004 Whitney Biennial, and now is in the permanent collection at Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2007, Helen acted in Sussman’s feature length film, The Rape of the Sabine Women. She choreographed the bubble dance, and played Sally Rand in Toni Dove’s video installation and feature film, Spectropia. Helen choreographed the dance sequences, for Laurie Simmons’, The Music of Regret, which had its world premiere in 2006, at Museum of Modern Art in New York.
For over a decade Helen performed with William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt. During her last season with Ballet Frankfurt, Helen simultaneously performed with The Wooster Group, director, Elizabeth Le Compte. She acted with the Group for five non-consecutive years in the OBIE award winning House/Lights and North Atlantic. In 2005, Helen returned to the speaking role, Agnes, as a guest artist with The Royal Ballet of Flanders, in William Forsythe’s Impressing the Czar. In 2009, Impressing the Czar received the Laurence Olivier Award, and in 2012, the Prix de la Critique award for outstanding performance of the year.
Helen teaches Forsythe Improvisation Technologies throughout Europe and the United States. In addition, she has created a motivational creative workshop entitled The Expansive Artist, and a choreographic intensive for young choreographers titled, Choreographic Essentials.
In 2006, Dance Europe published Helen’s article, Considering Cezanne. In 2012, Emory University published her writing for the Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative, director Martha Fineman, that appears on the Emory University School of Law website.
In 2011, Helen earned a Master of Fine Arts in Dance from Hollins University. For her Master’s Thesis she collaborated with Christopher Janney, sound and light architect.
About Atlanta Ballet
Founded in 1929, Atlanta Ballet is one of the premier dance companies in the country and the official state Ballet of Georgia. Atlanta Ballet’s eclectic repertoire spans ballet history, highlighted by beloved classics and inventive originals. After 83 years, Atlanta Ballet continues its commitment to share and educate audiences on the empowering joy of dance. In 1996, Atlanta Ballet opened the Centre for Dance Education and is dedicated to nurturing young dancers while providing an outlet for adults to express their creativity. The Centre serves over 150,000 people in metro Atlanta each year. Atlanta Ballet’s roots remain firmly grounded in the Atlanta community and continue to play a vital role in the city’s cultural growth and revitalization.