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A Celebration of Mentoring

The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative was created to assist extraordinary, rising artists in achieving their full potential by pairing them with great masters for a year of creative collaboration, in Architecture, Dance, Film, Literature, Music, Theatre and Visual Arts.

This year, Mexico City, one of the world’s most vibrant international arts centres, will host hundreds of artists and creative leaders from Latin America and the rest of the world on the 5th to 6th of December. The exclusive Arts Weekend will celebrate the culmination of the 2014-2015 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

Peter Zumthor, mentor.
Haldenstein, Switzerland, 2014.

Switzerland, Paraguay and South Korea were the principal settings for the mentor of architecture, the widely revered Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, and his protégé, Paraguayan architect Gloria Cabral. A busy, collaborative partnership that grew rapidly from the start, Cabral became project manager for Zumthor’s design of a tea chapel near Seoul. Cabral made several visits to Haldenstein, her mentor’s Swiss base, spending up to a month at a time working with Zumthor and his team. Another highlight of the productive partnership was Zumthor’s visit to Cabral’s hometown of Asunción.

Peter Zumthor has gained international recognition for his timeless buildings that incorporate his masterful use of materials, bringing in light and challenging the senses. Among Zumthor’s most celebrated projects are his ‘masterpiece’, the Therme Vals (1996, Switzerland), famed for its evocative use of space and exquisite construction details; the Kunsthaus Bregenz (1997, Austria); the Swiss Sound Box, Swiss Pavilion Expo 2000 (Germany); the Bruder Klaus Field Chapel (2007, Germany); and the Kolumba Art Museum (2007, Germany).

For Gloria Cabral, designing buildings is based on thinking about how the space will be used as apposed to conceiving them as objects d’art. While still studying, she was employed as an intern at prestigious Asunción-based architecture firm, Gabinete de Arquitectura. Cabral was made full partner in 2004. For the past ten years, Cabral has worked with the Gabinete team on projects informed by strong environmental and social concerns. A notable project was the Teletón Children’s Rehabilitation Center, which won first prize at the 2010 Bienal Panamericana de Arquitectura de Quito in the recycling category.

Alexei Ratmansky, mentor.
Paris, France, 2014.

Classical ballet is not frozen in the past but is a living, evolving art – this shared conviction provided a basis for a working relationship between mentor Alexei Ratmansky and protégé Myles Thatcher. The pair found time in their busy schedules to observe each other at work on both the east and west coasts of the United States and in Munich, where the Russian choreographer was preparing a new production of Paquita. Ratmansky, eager to provide feedback to his protégé, visited San Francisco where Thatcher was rehearsing dancers for a new piece of choreography.

Widely recognised as one of the world’s most influential and sought-after choreographers, Alexei Ratmansky is currently artist-in-residence at the American Ballet Theatre. He is credited with moving ballet forward while maintaining its classical origins and revitalising storytelling in his productions. Over the years, Ratmansky has created solo works for Baryshnikov, Diana Vishneva and Wendy Whelan, and ballets for, among others, the Paris Opera, La Scala and, in 2013, the Royal Ballet. Ratmansky was named a MacArthur Fellow by the MacArthur Foundation in 2013.

Myles Thatcher attended the Harid Conservatory in Florida and studied at New York’s Ellison Ballet School before joining the San Francisco Ballet School Trainee Program in 2008. In 2009, he joined the company as an apprentice and was accepted into the corps de ballet a year later. Two of his latest works for the school’s trainees are Spinae (2011 – 2012) and Stone and Steel (2013). Both are the result of Thatcher encouraging strong feedback from his dancers. He will now choreograph a piece for the San Francisco Ballet’s 2015 repertory season.

Alejandro G. Iñárritu, mentor.
Los Angeles, US, 2014

In a highly eventful mentoring year for film, Israeli filmmaker and screenwriter Tom Shavel was invited to watch post-production work on mentor Alejandro González Iñárritu’s masterpiece, Birdman, and was present when his mentor received three Academy Awards for his film at the 2015 Oscars. González Iñárritu invited Shoval to witness the filming of his new feature film, The Revenant, in the Canadian Rockies. The young director was almost overwhelmed by his mentor’s generosity in terms of access given.

Mexican film director, producer, screenwriter and former composer Alejandro González Iñárritu is celebrated for his films, which capture the interconnectedness of human beings and mine the complex realm of dramatic realism. His successful career in filmmaking has recently been crowned by the many accolades for his recent film, Birdman. 

Tom Shoval has won rave reviews for his sharp visual style and storytelling abilities. He graduated from Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel Film and Television School where the founding director Renen Schorr, described him as ‘one of the most significant and committed talents I have ever seen.’ Shoval’s award-winning short films, which include The Hungry Heart (2005), Shred of Hope (2007) and I Will Drink My Tears (2011), have been screened at film festivals worldwide.

Michael Ondaatje, mentor.
New York, US, 2014

With much in common – both mentor and protégé for literature have changed countries and cultures and have careers as both teachers and writers – Canadian Michael Ondaatje and US-based Bulgarian Miroslav Penkov quickly developed a strong literary friendship. While they discussed a multitude of books, the focus was on the young Bulgarian short-story writer’s debut novel that he was writing in English, his second language. At the end of the mentoring year, Penkov was delighted with the whole experience, especially as he had completed his novel, which is scheduled for publication in March 2016.

Michael Ondaatje is recognised for his evocative narrative and lyrical style. Over nearly five decades, his linguistic prowess has won him international acclaim and numerous literary awards. The multiculturalism reflected in Ondaatje’s works echoes his own life history. Born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), he moved to England as a young boy before immigrating to Canada where he attended university and taught for several years at York University’s Glendon College before writing full-time.

Protégé Miroslav Penkov wants to ‘give voice to a voiceless people’ by allowing the world to read about Bulgaria and for the people of Bulgaria to start reading local literature again after years of being mired in economic crisis.

Kaija Saariaho, mentor.
Lyon, France, 2014.

‘In music, nothing is purely objective, not even the simplest technical exercise,’ says mentor Kaija Saariaho, who shared her experience as a composer with her Portuguese protégé, Vasco Mendonça. A goal was to expose him to different professional situations and engaging him in ideas, music and its realisation. Mendonça attended performances of Saariaho’s music around the world – and twice his music was played at the same event as hers. Mendonça found the experience of having ‘a second pair of eyes’ on his work invaluable.

Acknowledged as one of the leading and most original composers of recent times, Kaija Saariaho is known for her brilliant creations that often blend traditional instruments with electronics for chamber music, orchestral works and operas.

Portuguese composer Vasco Mendonça has begun to attract considerable attention for his work on the international music scene. Recent notable works include the chamber music piece ‘The Boys of Summer’ (2012), as well as an hour-long chamber opera, The House Taken Over (2013).

Jennifer Tipton, mentor. New York, US, 2014
Jennifer Tipton, mentor.
New York, US, 2014

Throughout the mentoring year for theatre, young Mexican lighting designer Sebastián Solórzano Rodríguez sat alongside Jennifer Tipton as she lit up rehearsals and performances in London, Barcelona, Paris, New York, Houston and Madrid. Tipton is one of the world’s greatest exponents of the art of lighting. Solórzano Rodríguez also invited his mentor to Mexico City, his home town. They had a concrete plan of action at the beginning of the mentoring year, the results of which, Solórzano Rodríguez later said, were that his life ‘has changed forever’.

Jennifer Tipton has made significant contributions to her profession over nearly half a century of lighting theatrical, dance and opera productions. Best known for her designs for dance, Tipton is principal lighting designer for the Paul Taylor Dance Company, with whom she has worked since the mid-1960s. She also collaborates with some of the world’s most renowned choreographers, as well as on dozens of theatrical and opera productions.

Sebastián Solórzano Rodríguez uses light to express himself as a visual artist. He began his career by painting scenery, then became scenography and lighting assistant for the production agency Cornamusa and began creating stage lighting for the Centro de Producción de Danza Contemporanea, the National Contemporary Dance Company of Mexico. Concurrently, he works with Luz Y Fuera: Cine Expandido, an interdisciplinary group he cofounded that makes handmade light devices for art installations and live cinema performances.

Olafur Eliasson, mentor. Berlin, Germany, 2014.
Olafur Eliasson, mentor.
Berlin, Germany, 2014.

Sammy Baloji’s mentoring year for visual arts consisted of a series of short but intense encounters with Olafur Eliasson, mainly in Berlin where Eliasson has his studio. The mentor declared from the start that he too wanted to learn from the process and the pair collaborated without a fixed plan, quickly building a strong rapport. They combined intellectual discussion with clear advice for Baloji to develop his creativity across a spectrum of artistic media. Eliasson, known worldwide for his inventive art installations, was the ideal mentor to work with Baloji at a crucial point in the protégé’s artistic path as he was creating his first installation for exhibition at the Venice Art Biennale.

Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson describes his works, which span photography, installation, sculpture and film, as ‘experimental setups’. Eliasson represented Denmark at the 50th Venice Bienalle in 2003 and later that year installed The Weather Project at Tate Modern, London. Take Your Time: Olafur Eliasson, a survey exhibition organised by SFMOMA in 2007, travelled until 2010 to various venues, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Innen Stadt Aussen (Inner City Out), at Martin Gropius Bau in 2010, involved interventions across Berlin as well as in the museum.

Artist-photographer Sammy Baloji works between Belgium and his native Democratic Republic of Congo where he creates haunting photomontages of his homeland. ‘I use photography as a tool to write on my own society,’ says Baloji.

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