Pointe Stars

5 Pieces of Advice We Learned From Isabella Boylston's Ballet Class at NDI

Courtesy of National Dance Institute

In the middle of preparing for performances at Colorado's Vail Dance Festival and her own launch of Ballet Sun Valley, American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston took a break from rehearsing earlier this week to teach ballet during the National Dance Institute (NDI) summer intensive. Founded by former New York City Ballet principal Jacques d'Amboise in 1976, NDI provides a free arts education to children across NYC, many of whom are from low-income communities. "NDI really resonated with me because I didn't come from a wealthy family, and so scholarships were really instrumental in helping me get to where I am," Boylston told us on why she wanted to get involved. "I love the fact that it's free dance classes for kids, and that a dance education really helps you in whatever you pursue."

We got to sit in on class with Boylston, who taught beginner ballet students at NDI's Harlem Center, and we picked up a few important lessons every young dancer can use:


Build on the Basics:
Before traveling across the floor with waltz turns, Boylston had her dancers begin the combination with simple balancés side-to-side. "Once you get the rhythm, you can start traveling with it and changing the arms. Start by brushing the leg out," she explained. Then think of it as brush, walk, walk—traveling on the brush and keeping the walks on demi-pointe underneath you."

Chaînés Are All About Coordination:
Having trouble getting the hang of chaînés turns? You're in good company. Boylston told us that growing up, she struggled with turns, too—and she made sure to spend extra time breaking down chaînés to her students. "Think about spotting every time so your coordination is working with you. Each little step that you do is a half turn, and each time you flip around, your head flips really quickly, too," she said. While Boylston prefers to spot the front during her turns, she advised her students to start by spotting the side since that's the direction they're traveling in. "Once you get that coordination going slowly, it will be really easy to do fast chaînés, which look really exciting."

Practice Helps Take Away Some of the Pressure:
Formerly the youngest principal at ABT, Boylston told the students that she definitely felt the pressure. "My biggest obstacle was battling my own self-doubt. When I first joined ABT, they gave me some really hard roles like the jump girl in Swan Lake's Pas de Trois and Theme and Variations, which are really technical," she said. To combat her nerves, Boylston worked even harder. "I think it's experience, too—there's no substitute for experience. The more time I'm out on stage, the more at home I feel."

It's Okay to Fall:
"I think it's good if you fall because it means you're really going for it," Boylston told the students after one of them fell before quickly getting up. Recalling her own "epic" fall at the Kennedy Center during her debut in La Bayadère, Boylston assured her students that it happens to everyone. "Everything had been going really well, and then there was some kind of mind-body disconnect at the end of the act when I was pulling in during a fouetté turn—and I fell. I'm center stage, spotlight on me, and I'm lying there with my feet over my head. The whole audience gasped, but I picked myself up, took a couple breaths and kept going."

Even The Pros Need Help Sometimes:
During a center combination of tendus, glissades and pirouettes from fifth, Boylston decided to challenge the kids by having them reverse the whole thing. Challenging herself, too, Boylston mixed up the direction of the glissades, and d'Amboise stepped in to solve the tricky reverse combo!

At the students' request, Boylston showed them a bit of Swan Lake, which she called "the hardest ballet."

Many of us take our ballet training for granted. But for dancers living in Puerto Rico, which is still reeling from the devastating affects of last month's Hurricane Maria, pursuing a ballet career or simply taking class must now feel insurmountable. What do you do when Mother Nature not only destroys your dance studio, but your home and the majority of the city you live in? Priorities must shift to those of basic survival.

Now, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports that the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School is trying to help six Puerto Rican dancers resume their training. The students, whose studio in San Juan was badly damaged, had recently attended SCBS's summer intensive. School directors Ariel Serrano and Wilmian Hernandez have started a fundraising effort called "Sarasota And Puerto Rico Dance Together" to temporarily relocate the dancers. While they can easily offer them scholarships, Serrano and Hernandez must raise an additional $36,000 to provide housing, food and living expenses for one year. (SCBS has a dormitory for female students, but not for male students.)

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Alexei Ratmansky with members of the corps de ballet. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy American Ballet Theatre.

When the choreographer Alexei Ratmansky joined American Ballet Theatre as artist in residence eight years ago, the company hadn't had a house choreographer since the days of Antony Tudor. The gamble seems to have paid off handsomely. In that time Ratmansky has either made or restaged 12 ballets for the company. In 2011, the company extended his contract to 2023. Such commitments are practically unheard of at a time when top dancers and choreographers hop from company to company, continent to continent. The scale and ambition of the works Ratmansky is making for ABT is a rarity too, in a world of tight budgets, scant rehearsal time and pared-down esthetics.


Set design for new "Harlequinade." Courtesy ABT.

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Houston Ballet's Jared Matthews and Sara Webb in"The Sleeping Beauty." Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

Despite the devastation and pain that Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have left in their wake this fall, it's been encouraging to see dancers step up in aid of their communities: When the future of Houston Ballet's Nutcracker seemed uncertain, venues around the city pulled together to allow the company to produce the show on a "hometown tour." And when Florida ballet companies had to evacuate, Atlanta Ballet and Charlotte Ballet welcomed them with open arms. In addition, New York City-based studio Broadway Dance Center offered community classes in September with proceeds donated to the American Red Cross.

The next in this series of good deeds is Hearts for Houston, a benefit performance bringing dancers from seven major companies together at New York City's Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater to raise money for the United Way of Greater Houston's Harvey Relief Fund. Scheduled for Sunday, October 22, the evening will feature members of the Houston Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Texas Ballet Theater, The Washington Ballet and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Hearts for Houston is imagined and produced by Houston Ballet principal dancers Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews (both formerly of ABT) and funded by patrons Phoebe and Bobby Tudor and sponsor Neiman Marcus.


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Catherine Conley. Photo by Alex Garcia.

When I was 4 or 5, I told my mom, "I want to go to a real dance school with barres and a mirror." My preschool recommended Chicago's Ruth Page Center for the Arts. That's where I trained until I left for Cuba a year ago. I went to regular school during the day, and then had ballet class for four or more hours per day during the evenings and weekends. Nobody in my family has a dance background, but they've been supportive through all of it.

My school in Chicago teaches a technique that draws on Vaganova, Cecchetti and Bournonville. I went to very different summer intensives, as well: American Ballet Theatre, the Royal Ballet School in London and Boston Ballet. Then, two summers ago, Ruth Page School of Dance director Victor Alexander, who is Cuban, arranged an exchange with the Cuban National Ballet School. A group of eight Cubans came to Ruth Page's summer intensive. I had to learn an entire pas de deux as well as a contemporary ballet piece in 10 days, and then perform them. I'd never had to do anything that quickly; it was hard work but exciting. I then realized that if I could dance professionally, I wanted to.


Conley in class at the Cuban National Ballet School. Photo by Alex Garcia.

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Pointe Stars
Photo by Paul Kolnik, via Instagram

Zachary Catazaro is ending his New York City Ballet Fall 2017 season on a high note. NYCB's ballet master in chief, Peter Martins, announced Catazaro's promotion from soloist to principal on Oct. 12th, just before the company's evening performance.

Catazaro had a stand out season, making his debut as Prince Siegfried alongside principal Sterling Hyltin's Odette/Odile in Martins' Swan Lake. He also debuted in featured roles in Martins' The Red Violin and Jerome Robbins' In Memory Of... as well as George Balanchine's La Valse.

Catazaro, originally from Canton, Ohio, joined the company as an apprentice in 2007, and has quickly moved through the ranks.

Principal dancer Rebecca Krohn retired from the stage earlier in the season, and Robbie Fairchild is set to give his farewell performance with NYCB this coming weekend, so we can't wait to see Catazaro tackle his new rank (and the feature debuts that come along with it) in the coming seasons.

Training
Eleanor Rodriguez. Photo Courtesy RAD.

"When I compete, I'm the type to get nervous and shaky," says 19-year-old Eleanor Rodriguez. Growing up, the Phoenix, Arizona native had competed in figure skating and archery, but last month she got her first taste competing in the ballet world when she traveled to Lisbon, Portugal for the Royal Academy of Dance's Genée International Ballet Competition. Rodriguez, who has been most recently studying at the Russian-based Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, trained mainly in the RAD style under Mary Mo Adams. "I've been working in the curriculum my whole life, and the Genée is the height of that experience."

Rodriguez was also the only American participant, adding to the pressure. "I definitely feel like I have to represent," she said a few days before leaving for the competition. "But I've been training really hard. I'm as ready as I can be." She prepared two solos ahead of time—the second Shades variation from La Bayadère and a "Dancer's Choice" neoclassical solo choreographed by her Master Ballet Academy teacher Albert Cattafi. Once in Lisbon, Rodriguez enjoyed four intense days leading up to the semi-finals that included classes, coaching sessions with RAD faculty and learning another solo created especially for the Genée by Portuguese choreographer César Augusto Moniz.


Photo by Ed Flores, Courtesy RAD.

While Rodriguez, who joins Ballet Arizona's Studio Company this fall, did not make it to the final round, she felt the experience was well worth it. "I loved receiving coaching and having an opportunity to perform." We asked her to share how she stayed calm and maintained perspective during the competition, below.

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Herman Cornejo in "La Bayadere." Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy American Ballet Theatre.

A double tour, says American Ballet Theatre principal Herman Cornejo, "is the step that defines a male dancer." Here, he shares his thoughts on mastering this necessary trick.

Don't anticipate: "The takeoff is hard," Herman Cornejo acknowledges. "You want to take all your force around, and that twists your back to the side and your fifth out of place." Instead, the impulse for the rotations comes from the bottom of the plié. "Be calm to start. Prepare to a relevé, plié, and the moment the heels touch down, then you take the force."

Use your glutes: A common error Cornejo sees is "sticking your butt out and your chest forward in plié so that you're not on top of your hips. You'll never make it to the other side!" Your glutes, he adds, are "so powerful that when you engage them, it really makes a difference."


Cornejo in a double tour en l'air. Photo Courtesy Cornejo.

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