Ballet Scene

November 2016 | Ballet Scene | Dance Is Joy

by Heather Turbeville

“Some teachers love laying choreography on 16-year-old dancers,” says Donna Rathe, owner of Tiny Dancers in Northern Virginia. “I love working with squirmy little 3-year-old boys and girls and getting them to understand first position and plié.”

Likewise, Tilly Abbe, who has been teaching ballet to little ones at Miss Tilly’s Ballet & Theater Arts in San Francisco for more than 40 years, likes the youngest students best and dislikes it when studio owners and teachers don’t take these children seriously.

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October 2016 | Ballet Scene | Popular Balanchine

For most ballet fans, the name George Balanchine is synonymous with American neoclassicism. It’s true that this great ballet icon is famous for revitalizing classical ballet in the 20th century—think Serenade, Agon, and Stravinsky Violin Concerto—but Balanchine also found inspiration in other dance styles, including popular entertainment.

After immigrating to the United States in 1933, Balanchine continued working in revues, variety shows, and the like for the next two decades, while founding the School of American Ballet and forming short-term companies that would evolve, in 1948, into New York City Ballet. His choreography for the popular stage and screen in the United States included 2 revues, 14 musicals, 4 operettas, 5 films, and a circus spectacle for 50 elephants.

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September 2016 | Ballet Scene | Performing With the Pros

From a young age, dance students idolize professional dancers—and that’s a good thing. They need someone to look up to and goals to aspire to that go beyond their home studio’s doors. That’s why creating opportunities for students to engage with professional dancers is important—it allows them to see that with enough work and dedication, dance training can have long-term payoffs. Even if they have no interest in or potential for a career in dance, students who enjoy the thrill of sharing a studio or stage with the pros may find that the experience deepens their appreciation of dance, motivates them to push past personal limits, and creates long-lasting memories.

How can studio owners create such opportunities for their students? Some ballet companies open their annual Nutcracker to local dancers, particularly children’s roles; school owners can inform students about upcoming auditions. But some schools do more than that, partnering with dance companies on productions that blend professionals and students and giving the students a performance experience they otherwise wouldn’t get.

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August 2016 | Ballet Scene | Innovation Meets Tradition

Ballet has always dwelled within the parameters of formality and rules, from its 16th-century Renaissance beginnings, through the court of Louis XIV, into its Russian legacy, and on to Balanchine’s American neoclassicism. A tendu is a tendu is a tendu, yet ballet has evolved into a dynamic, eclectic art form that reflects new attitudes and styles. Along with these adaptations, ballet training has slowly changed to provide a more anatomically streamlined approach, to allow for new concepts and cross-training methods, and to strive for inclusivity among students.

To keep 21st-century students literally on their toes, ballet teachers need to be creative. Here are some who have devised “outside of the box” training ideas that still respect tradition.

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July 2016 | Ballet Scene | Tying the Knot in Vegas

A stilt-walker surrounded by children, a contortionist amid a whirl of bourréeing ballerinas, a bevy of beauties lifting a clown—it’s a grand pas, Vegas style. Vegas, the wedding capital of the world, has united two unlikely partners: Nevada Ballet Theatre (NBT) and mega-producer Cirque du Soleil®. Each year since 2007, the two have joined forces to produce A Choreographers’ Showcase (ACS) at the 1,500-plus-seat Mystère Theatre at Treasure Island Hotel & Casino, creating buzz up and down the strip.

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May-June 2016 | Ballet Scene | Walking the Walk in Memphis

Where can you find a studio that offers hip-hop, ballet, Memphis jookin, tap, jazz, flamenco, African dance, Chinese dance, and modern dance classes—and that prioritizes heavily underserved students to boot? That rare distinction goes to Memphis, Tennessee, home of New Ballet Ensemble & School (NBE).

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March-April 2016 | Ballet Scene | Making It

Some dance parents know nothing about dance; others “know it all.”

Then there is Kimberly Falker. A dance mom whose personal journey in ballet was limited to a few childhood classes, Falker realized she didn’t have enough firsthand knowledge to guide her dreaming-of-a-professional-career daughter. She wondered: who would know what it takes to become a professional dancer? Why, a professional dancer, of course.

So Falker created Balancing Pointe Podcast, in which she asks dancers, choreographers, educators, artistic directors, and others in the ballet world the burning question “How do you make it?” Her guests, candid and generous, share tales of both setbacks and successes, from injuries, soul-crushing rejections, and lost scholarships, to growing up, gaining wisdom, and living the dream.

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February 2016 | Ballet Scene | Tales of Two Teachers

Over the past quarter century, some of ballet’s most distinguished teachers have shaped the students of San Francisco Ballet School, among them Irina Jacobson, Lola de Avila, Jorge Esquivel, Antonio Castilla, Gloria Govrin, Jean-Yves Esquerre, and Edward Ellison. Recently, two other teachers joined that list: Pollyana Ribeiro, who became part of the full-time teaching staff in 2014; and Yannick Boquin, who chooses to guest teach exclusively. In February 2015, I watched both of them teach class, with a goal of discovering what they might add to the educational structure Patrick Armand, associate director of SF Ballet School (under the direction of artistic director Helgi Tomasson) is putting in place.

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November 2015 | Ballet Scene | Character Dance

In classical ballet, the traditions of European culture come alive onstage. Watch a production of Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, or Don Quixote and you’ll see fairy tales and stories of royalty and ordinary people told through the classical technique handed down from King Louis XIV. But you’ll also see character dances—ballet versions of traditional folk dances such as the Hungarian czardas, in 2/4 or 4/4 time; the Polish mazurka, in 3/4 time; the krakowiak, a fast, syncopated dance in duple time from the region of Krakow; the Italian tarantella, usually danced with tambourines in 6/8 time; and the Spanish seguidilla, in quick triple time that often starts on the “off” beat.

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September 2015 | Ballet Scene | Raising the Barre

As anyone who participates in competitions knows, ballet entries are rare. Ballet is one of the toughest competition categories: ballet technique is not as forgiving as jazz or contemporary—the legs are either turned out and stretched and the feet pointed, or they’re not. Teachers are often hesitant to compete in ballet because they want to showcase their students at their best—and often, their best isn’t ballet.

As both a choreographer and judge, I’ve learned a lot about staging ballet for competitions, and I’ve seen the benefits. My school has been entering ballet and pointe pieces in competitions for 20 years, and I make competing in a ballet group piece mandatory for all students on the team. If you make ballet a priority at your school and challenge your students to put their ballet technique on the stage, you’ll step up their training, encourage self-discipline, and help change the mindset of your team.

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August 2015 | Ballet Scene | Floor It

Barre-type exercises done on the floor, which sometimes include elements of Pilates or yoga, have numerous uses and benefits. In a supine position, using gravity to their advantage, dancers can feel the correct alignment of the body, particularly the spine, hips, and torso. They can understand the proper genesis of turnout in the hips, allow the muscles to lengthen and tone, and more easily coordinate the arms and legs. Floor barres provide excellent core strengthening by requiring stability in movement through the exercises.

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July 2015 | Ballet Scene | Artists in Charge

Imagine a team of dedicated people working together, employing a wide range of skills and knowledge, doing whatever is needed to sustain their organization and keep it growing. Some might call it crowdsourcing, others collaboration. At Saint Paul Ballet (SPB), they call it an artist-led ballet company, and it’s working.

This model has dancers who function not only as performing artists but also take on the administrative roles that keep the company running: some work on public relations, others outreach, marketing, production, or fundraising.

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May-June 2015 | Ballet Scene | Teacher Transformation

When American Ballet Theatre initiated its outreach program Project Plié in 2013, the company’s CEO, Rachel Moore, was clear about the lack of diversity in ballet schools and companies and the need to mitigate the problem. “My observation is that currently in the U.S. none of the major ballet companies have a female principal dancer of color,” says Moore. “I think it’s a real problem because American ballet companies should look like America. As the demographics of this country change, in order for ballet companies to remain relevant, we need to change with them.”

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February 2015 | Ballet Scene | Offstage Insights

In ballet, many are called but few are chosen, and tradition has long held that no one is obliged to explain why one dancer makes the cut and another does not. That wasn’t the case for contestants at last June’s USA International Ballet Competition (IBC) in Jackson, Mississippi. Dancers who did not advance through the rounds—or receive the award or medal they hoped for—could uncover the secrets of that elusive “why not me” by participating in the IBC’s Competitor Evaluation Program.

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January 2015 | Ballet Scene | French Lessons

Ballet is a beautiful art form, but the day-to-day work involved isn’t always glamorous. It can be hard for students to think of themselves as participants in a grand artistic tradition when they’re repeating exercises for the 500th time. That’s what Genevieve Le Gall Fortner, the founder and director of Oxford Ballet School in Oxford, Mississippi, noticed over a period of several years: her ballet students lacked motivation.

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December 2014 | Ballet Scene | Tutu Fabulous

Making costume confections takes skill, patience, and years of experience By Karen White Take tulle and satin, rhinestones and ribbon. Mix with knowledge and experience. Sprinkle on a creative touch with a dash of daring. Voila! A tutu. “It’s a fantasy thing. It’s so iconic,” says Claudia Folts, a former professional dancer and studio owner…

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November 2014 | Ballet Scene | Up, Up, and Plié!

“The arts are a powerful force!” Pumping their fists in the air, dozens of students in a school auditorium scream the motto of The Corps of 4 in “Dr. Injury Returns!”—Milwaukee Ballet’s high-energy, superhero-themed Ballet-in-a-Box, just one of the company’s many community outreach programs. Aimed primarily at grades pre-K through 8, and tapping into the popularity of superheroes in pop culture, this imaginative program highlights the athleticism, discipline, and history of ballet.

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October 2014 | Ballet Scene |Ballet in Cleveland

Every gardener knows that if you want to raise tomatoes in a pot or peas in the ground, you need to give your seedlings the right mix of soil, water, and sunshine. Otherwise, forget about even thinking of harvesting a halfway decent crop. Arts entrepreneur Jessica Wallis, a former elementary school teacher who was once an aspiring ballerina, knows how to create a good environment for what she wants to grow: ballet in Cleveland.

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September 2014 | Ballet Scene | Welcome to Pineapple Tree

Dance troupe lets Arkansas locals collaborate, create, and perform By Joseph Carman A pineapple symbolizes hospitality. So says Pineapple Tree Dance Company co-founder Sally Ashcraft. When the dance troupe, located in Fayetteville, Arkansas, was founded in March 2013, the founders’ prime motive was to bring dance teachers, dancers, choreographers, and studio owners together to establish…

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May-June 2014 | Ballet Scene | Shuffles and Chassés

You wouldn’t expect to find tap among the offerings at Thomas Armour Youth Ballet, a Miami studio rooted in ballet since 1951. But today this classical ballet school, formerly called The Miami Conservatory, encourages students ages 7 and up to study tap and ballet; for the members of its Tap Team, both forms of dance are required. The result? A win-win scenario.

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March-April 2014 | Ballet Scene | Viva Villella!

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that there are no second acts in American lives. But Edward Villella has proved the author wrong once, and is embarking wholeheartedly on his third act. After his career as one of the dance world’s greatest leading men at New York City Ballet, Villella built Miami City Ballet from nothing and took it to international acclaim over a 27-year period (1985–2012). Since his controversial departure from MCB, Villella has accepted the position of chair of the jury for the 2014 USA International Ballet Competition. At 77, Villella still retains serious ambitions and goals.

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October 2013 | Ballet Scene | For Children, By Children

The late Nan Klinger, a dance pioneer in Akron, Ohio, believed that classroom time alone wasn’t sufficient to mold young dancers. “She used to say, ‘It’s like going to football practices but never playing the game,’ ” says her daughter Mia Klinger. In 1975, determined to give her students performing experience, Nan Klinger founded Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet.

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September 2013 | Ballet Scene | Fabulous Feet

Training your students to extend and project energy through their entire bodies—eyes, heart, hands, and toes—will enable them to dance freely and confidently. And developing strong, flexible feet is a part of the strong technical foundation that will allow dancers to dance at their fullest capacity.

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August 2013 | Ballet Scene | Ballet’s Best, Cuban Style

At the Encuentro Internacional de Academias de Ballet (International Ballet Academies Encounter), a yearly event held in Havana, teachers and students from the network of ballet academies in Cuba meet to compare best practices in teaching. Guests include students and teachers from other countries, mostly in Latin America; students participate in classes while teachers observe. At this year’s event, held March 23 to April 6, visiting participants came from Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, and South Africa.

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July 2013 | Ballet Scene | Bringing in the Boys

The Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto, Florida, is housed in a renovated bowling alley. The public charter school’s first dance studio used to be an arcade room with neon lights circling the ceiling and gray carpeting on the walls. Manatee is now four times the size of that former bowling alley, with build-outs that include a three-story sixth-grade wing; a music building; an office, administration, and security addition; an art gallery; and a new academic wing. Last September, a seventh dance studio was added. Such a physical transformation might serve as a metaphor for the way teachers can turn their students’ dreams into reality.

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May-June 2013 | Ballet Scene | Passing It On

George Balanchine once referred to Kyra Nichols as a “slow-baked potato” in her career trajectory. Nichols, who danced with New York City Ballet for 33 years, says it took her a while to absorb Balanchine’s ideas and technique. But from the spectators’ standpoint, once she did, the results were phenomenal. And today it’s evident, when watching her work in the studio, that she possesses empathy for all students, including those who are slow to develop. She’s patient but insistent.

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March-April 2013 | Ballet Scene | Ballet Meets Ethnic in Atlanta

The earthy grounding of African dance and the airy grace of ballet are not so far apart, philosophically or physically, at Ballethnic Academy of Dance. Founders Waverly T. Lucas II and Nena Gilreath have built a curriculum that offers both—as well as modern, tap, and hip-hop. But here the focus is as much on building character and developing the whole person as on teaching dance.

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February 2013 | Ballet Scene | Russia Calling

Until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, Russian methods of classical ballet training remained something of a mystery. Only those dancers who had defected from the Soviet Union, such as Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, and Mikhail Baryshnikov, or who had emigrated prior to the formation of the Soviet Union, could share their wisdom. Now Americans and Russians move freely across continents and cultures, learning old and new styles of teaching and choreography. Exemplifying that newfound freedom is the Vaganova International Method Conference/Demonstration.

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January 2013 | Ballet Scene | Moving With the Mouse

Angelina Ballerina may be an 8-year-old British mouse at Camembert Academy, but she’s already an astute businesswoman and a worldwide celebrity. And now she’s branching out into the dance world. As of September 2012, 117 dance studios in the United States and Canada have signed on to the Angelina Ballerina Dance Academy program, targeted at children ages 3 to 6.

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January 2013 | Russia’s Contemporary Culture

As a young dancer growing up in the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s, my image of Russian dance was idealistic and romanticized. The Russian ballerina was iconic. What must it have been like to be picked for training in a state-supported ballet school? To know that your fate, your destiny, your life’s goal was to mold your body and your soul into an instrument of beautiful artistic expression? I imagined Russian dancers spending grueling hours in the studio, under the guidance of master teachers intent on shaping them into legendary artists. How I envied them that opportunity.

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December 2012 | Ballet Scene | Bohemian Ballet

“You want to use those butt muscles for good and not evil,” Augusta Moore cheerfully calls out at the start of Saturday morning ballet class in the bright, spacious studio on the second floor of ODC’s Shotwell Street building in San Francisco.

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October 2012 | Ballet Scene | Magaly’s Magic

From the moment Lonnie Weeks put a finger on the barre, Magaly Suárez was on him. “Straighten your knees!” she yelled. “Point your feet! Jump, relax your hands.” The barrage was constant, yet after every few comments she would exclaim about how much potential he has, shrieking with delight when he did well, so excited that she’d speak Spanish instead of English.

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September 2012 | Ballet Scene | Classical in Connecticut by Karen White

In a class at Connecticut Classic, a ballet competition, four boys were trying their best to master Colas’ bottle dance from La Fille mal gardée. It wasn’t the zippy footwork and sprightly jumps that had them flustered—it was a simple step into second position with the arms held high in triumph.

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August 2012 | Ballet Scene | Another Way to Soar

New York City Ballet principal dancer Daniel Ulbricht is known for his high-flying jumps and charismatic stage presence. When he is not lighting up stages across the globe with his dancing prowess, he is also a much-sought-after guest teacher whose passion for the craft of ballet and rapport with students has earned him the respect of school directors, students, and fellow teaching professionals alike.

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February 2012 | Ballet Scene | Personality Cults

Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, founded in 1955, has a national and even international cachet of its own, thanks primarily to the tireless Marcia Dale Weary, a petite woman the great Balanchine dancer Violette Verdy, who has taught at CPYB, calls “a high priestess” with a “tremendous combination of will and devotion and love and intransigence.”

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January 2012 | Ballet Scene | Strict From the Start

I remember, as a young child preparing for my ballet class, how I complained to my mother how much I hated putting on my tights. I’d get aggravated as I yanked them up, yelling as my mom stabbed my head with bobby pins to get my hair into an acceptable bun.

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October 2011 | Ballet Scene | The Magic of Mime

When you go to the ballet today, you probably pay most attention to the choreography and the way it is danced. But ballets that tell stories often need some help in explaining all the twists and turns to the audience, and that’s where mime comes in.

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August 2011 | Ballet Scene | Fabulous Fonseca

“Ballet is hard,” Hortensia Fonseca matter-of-factly tells a studio of 10- and 11-year-olds at Maryland Youth Ballet, some with brows knitted and lips pursed as they maneuver through complex barre exercises on an early spring evening.

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July 2011 | Modelski’s Magic

When Madame Peff Modelski teaches ballet class, everyone in the studio experiences a dynamic fusion of knowledge, professionalism, and love of the art form.

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May-June 2011 | Ballet Scene | The Perfection of Petrouchka

It was like nothing the dance world had ever seen before. In the early 1900s the great impresario Serge Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes assembled in Paris a group of some of the greatest dancers, choreographers, composers, designers, and visual artists in history.

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