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Pennsylvania Ballet's Amy Aldridge On Her Retirement, and What She Learned From Tough Love

For 23 seasons, Amy Aldridge has been a major force at Pennsylvania Ballet, where she’s been a principal dancer since 2001. This week, she announced she would be retiring from the company on May 14 in the pas de deux from one of her favorite ballets, Balanchine’s “Rubies.” Her next step? Lots of teaching in the Philadelphia area. Pointe spoke with Aldridge about her time at PAB, and what she’s learned along the way.

 

Aldridge in Balanchine's "Rubies." Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy PAB.

Congratulations on your long career! What made you decide to retire this year?

I’ve been thinking about it for the last two or three years, but I couldn’t really decide. Then when I saw we’d be doing a lot of Balanchine pas de deux on our last program this season, I thought, that’s it! Everyone said you’ll know when you know, and it just hit me. The physical maintenance has become harder and harder, and mentally I'm ready to move on. I asked Angel if we could squeeze in the “Rubies” pas de deux for my retirement, since it wasn’t originally on the program.

 

What are some of the things you learned over the course of your career?

Less is more. I always approached everything with so much energy and attack. Sometimes in rehearsals the ballet master would ask, “Amy, are you tired today?” I’d say yes, and they’d say, “Because that was much better. You’re working too hard!” You don’t have to have the same attack for everything—sometimes the easier, gentler approach yields the better result. Also, knowing when to breathe—where to pull back, finding where the rest spots are. All that came with experience.

 

What about in regard to the mental challenges?

Before I joined the company, I had one of the most difficult teachers, Melissa Hayden, for three years at North Carolina School of the Arts. She was so hard on me—I probably cried three times a week in class. Then when I joined Pennsylvania Ballet, I had another tough ballet mistress. Being younger, I thought they were picking on me because they didn’t like what I was doing. But I realized that they were doing it because they cared—they saw my ability and my potential. They knew I was capable of so much more.

That said, I really look forward to being on the other side and not having to be so perfect—there’s so much pressure! And I think it’s pressure we dancers put on ourselves, rather than from the outside.

Aldridge and Craig Wasserman in Balanchine's The Four Temperaments. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy PAB

You danced under Roy Kaiser for the majority of your career at PAB. Was it hard to shift gears when Angel Corella became director in 2014?

It was. I’ve known Angel for a long time because his sister was in the company. So he was a familiar face, which made the transition easier. But I had gotten used to a certain rhythm—what combinations to expect in class, the routine—and then suddenly everything was new. The classes were very different, even the rehearsal schedule changed. But even harder was that I had developed a whole family over the years, and I watched everybody retire. Then new people came in, and I watched more people retire. It’s such a different company right now, but it’s a very nice group. With any change there’s going to be a transitional phase where everyone is a little bit uneasy, but now things have settled down. The company has developed that closeness again.

 

What was one of your most memorable career moments?

We were doing The Second Detail and William Forsythe came to a stage rehearsal. I had gotten thrown in at the last minute, and had to learn a lot of material. I was so terrified because I was without the mirror and there were all those counts. In some places, I completely messed up. On opening night he came up behind me and said, “Don’t let the dance rule you. You rule the dance.” Afterwards I thought, it’s true: you make it, you control it. That advice has always stuck with me, especially when I feel nervous before a performance.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

For more news on all things ballet, don't miss a single issue.

Video still by Nel Shelby Productions, Courtesy Dancio.

"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."

For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.


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New York City Ballet in "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy Lincoln Center.

Nutcracker season is upon us, with productions popping up in on stages in big cities and small towns around the country. But this year you can catch New York City Ballet's famous version on the silver screen, too. Lincoln Center at the Movies and Screen Vision Media are presenting a limited engagement of NYCB's George Balanchine's The Nutcracker at select cinemas nationwide starting December 2. It stars Ashley Bouder as Dewdrop and Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz as the Sugarplum Fairy and Cavalier.

While nothing beats seeing a live performance (the company's theatrical Nutcracker run opens Friday), the big screen will no doubt magnify some of this production's most breathtaking effects: the Christmas tree that grows to an impressive 40 feet, Marie's magical spinning bed, and the stunning, swirling snow scene. Click here to find a participating movie theater near you—then, go grab some popcorn.

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Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet rehearsing for "The Sleeping Beauty" for the 2017/18 season. Photo by Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet.

Today the Pennsylvania Ballet's board of trustees announced the appointment of Shelly Power as its new executive director. Having been involved in the five-month international search, company artistic director Angel Corella said in a statement released by PAB that he's "certain Shelly is the best candidate to lead the administrative team that supports the artistic vision of the company." Power's official transition will begin in February. This news comes at the end of a few years of turmoil and turnover at PAB, including the departure of former executive director David Gray in June.

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Tiler Peck with Andrew Veyette in "Allegro Brillante." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy New York City Ballet.

"I was particularly excited when I saw my name on casting for Allegro Brillante in 2009," remembers principal dancer Tiler Peck. "Balanchine had said Allegro was, 'everything I know about classical ballet in 13 minutes,' and of course that terrified me." To calm her fear, Peck followed her regular process for debuts: begin by going back to the original performers to get an idea of the quality and feeling of the ballet and ballerina. "It is never to imitate, but rather to surround myself with as much knowledge from the past as I can so that I can find my own way," says Peck.

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Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker.' Photo by Rich Sofranko

Catching a performance of The Nutcracker has long been a holiday tradition for many families. And now, more and more companies are adding sensory-friendly elements to specific shows in an effort to make the classic ballet inclusive to children and adults with special needs.

While the accommodations vary depending on the company, many are presenting shorter versions of the ballet with more relaxed theater rules. Additionally, lower sound and stage light levels during the performance, as well as trained staff on hand, make The Nutcracker more accessible for those on the autism spectrum and others with special needs.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's performance will take place on Tuesday, December 26th, and they are one of the pioneer companies in presenting sensory-friendly performances of The Nutcracker (their first production was in 2013). PBT has also offered sensory-friendly versions of Jorden Morris' Peter Pan and Lew Christensen's Beauty and the Beast in the past.

See our list of sensory-friendly performances, and check out each site for all of the details regarding their offerings.

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Pilates hundred intermediate set-up, modeled by Jordan Miller. Photo by Emily Giacalone.

The Pilates hundred is a popular exercise used by many dancers for conditioning and warming up, but it's also one of the most misunderstood. Pumping your arms for 100 counts sounds simple enough, but it requires coordinated breathwork, a leg position that suits your abilities and proper alignment. Marimba Gold-Watts, who works with New York City Ballet dancers at her Pilates studio, Articulating Body, breaks down this surprisingly hard exercise. When done correctly, the benefits are threefold: "If you're doing it before class," she says, "the hundred is a great way to get your blood flowing and work on breath control and abdominal support all at once."

To Start

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Nod your chin toward the front of your throat, and reach your fingertips long.

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At just 16 years old, the Bolshoi Ballet's Maria Alexandrova already had the makings of a great artist. In this variation from Coppélia, she portrays the carefree Swanilda with blithe, youthful ease.

When she bounds on stage in her perky pink tutu, you immediately notice her legs–they just go on forever. In the first sequence of steps she keeps her jetés and développés low, but then the phrase repeats and she lets her gorgeous extensions fly. She sails through Italian fouettés and whirls around in piqués en manège that get faster and faster. While she nails all the virtuosic movement, Alexandrova also pays beautiful attention to detail throughout the variation. Even the simplest steps become something exciting, like her precise pas de bourrées beginning at 1:03 that sing with musicality.

Swanilda has been one of Alexandrova's signature roles throughout her career. For a fun side by side, watch her perform the same variation almost 20 years later in this video. Although Alexandrova formally retired from the Bolshoi in February, she still performs frequently in Moscow and internationally as a guest artist. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


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