Ballet Stars

Missed the "Balanchine's Guys" Live Stream? Watch It Here.

Edward Villella, Arthur Mitchell and Jacques d'Amboise. Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images, Courtesy NDI.

On Monday night, the National Dance Institute—the arts education organization founded by former New York City Ballet star Jacques d'Amboise—presented Balanchine's Guys, a lively discussion with d'Amboise and two other NYCB greats: Arthur Mitchell and Edward Villella. Many of their former NYCB colleagues, including Patricia McBride and Suki Schorer, were in the audience, and while the evening was sold out, NDI live-streamed part of the conversation. We know many of you weren't able to catch it, so we've included the video from NDI's Facebook page below. (There's a bit of a sound delay, but it's well worth the watch!)


All three shared priceless anecdotes of working with Balanchine. While NDI wasn't able to stream the whole discussion and performance, here are a few highlights from after the camera stopped rolling:


Edward Villella on dancing Prodigal Son: Villella claimed he only had one rehearsal with Balanchine on the role he would become most famous for. "Mr. B didn't like the ballet," Villella says. "He said 'I don't ever want to stage this again.'" (Villella then noted that Prokofiev, the ballet's composer, had once thrown Balanchine out of the theater.) As for Villella's advice on dancing the role, he says to look deeply at the character: "All this bravado, and underneath it is somebody terrified."

Arthur Mitchell on the creation of Agon: Mitchell explained that Balanchine choreographed Agon after taking a leave of absence when his wife, NYCB principal Tanaquil (Tanny) Le Clercq, developed polio and became paralyzed. Mitchell says that on the first day of rehearsal, Balanchine told him, "This must be perfect." As he crafted the famous pas de deux for Mitchell and Diana Adams, he was incredibly specific about how Mitchell partnered Adams, the way he should place his hands, hold her legs and move her feet. "In his mind, it was teaching Tanny to walk again."

Jacques d'Amboise on his dear friend, former NYCB principal Melissa Hayden: When d'Amboise heard that his Hayden was dying, he flew down to North Carolina's Wake Forest Hospital to visit her. He fondly recalled her joking about the existence of an afterlife. "She said 'There is an afterlife—it's what's left after the way you lived it. We did a good job.'" She died the following day.

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Peter Martins. Photo by Adam Shankbone, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The New York Times reports that a two-month long internal investigation into sexual harassment and physical abuse allegations against Peter Martins, New York City Ballet's former ballet master in chief, has found that the accusations could not be corroborated. In December, an anonymous letter sent to NYCB and its affiliated School of American Ballet accused Martins of sexual harassment, although the claims were non-specific. Afterwards, several former dancers and one current company member came forward to the press accusing him of physical assault and verbal abuse. Martins, who directed the company for 35 years and has denied the accusations, retired on New Year's Day after taking a leave of absence. An interim team led by ballet master Jonathan Stafford has been overseeing the company in the meantime.

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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Viral Videos
Anna Isaeva as Karina in "Bolshoi." Photo Courtesy TriCoast.

If you are in need of a feel-good ballet movie night, check this out: Bolshoi, a 2017 Russian coming-of-age drama starring real dancers and filmed on location at the Bolshoi Theater, is now available on multiple VOD platforms. The film follows Yulia Olshanskaya, a scrappy working class kid, as she navigates life at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and eventually, the company. Like most dance movies á la Center Stage, it's full of the usual ballet clichés. But, like Center Stage, it's also fun, beautifully shot and full of gorgeous dancing (including a mean fouétte turn contest). Polish National Ballet coryphée Margarita Simonova stars as as Yulia, while Anna Isaeva, a former Kremlin Ballet dancer, plays Karina, Yulia's wealthy best friend and biggest competition. Ekaterinberg Ballet principal Andrei Sorokin and former Paris Opéra Ballet étoile Nicholas Le Riche also star.

The film centers on the friendship and rivalry of Yulia and Karina. Discovered by a washed-up Bolshoi star in her industrial town, the rebellious Yulia struggles to fit in once she enters the prestigious Moscow school. But a strict and influential teacher (played by Alisa Freyndlikh) takes her under her wing, and defends her when other school officials want her out. Soon Yulia and Karina are up for the role of Aurora for the school's graduation performance—and the result affects their futures once they enter the company. Flashbacks to Yulia's childhood flesh out her defiant nature, and help make her ultimate sacrifice towards the end especially touching.


Photo Courtesy TriCoast.

One scene that may raise American eyebrows is during the audition, in which young Yulia must wear her underwear. This is typical of Russian ballet academy auditions in order for teachers to evaluate the dancers' lines and proportions (although Yulia's actual audition is pretty far-fetched).The two-hour Bolshoi, in Russian with English subtitles, is now available on iTunes, Fandango, Vudu, FlixFling, Hoopla, In Demand, GooglePlay, Dish, Sony Playstation, Direct TV and Microsoft Xbox.

Ballet Training
Berdo with Charlotte Ballet apprentice Elisabeth Baehman. Photo Courtesy Charlotte Ballet.

Many dancers struggle with brisé, says Laszlo Berdo, associate director of the Charlotte Ballet Academy. "But once you've mastered it, it's not that difficult." Here's how he helps his students beat the brisé blues.

Hold your turnout: Laszlo Berdo says a common mistake is stepping forward on a turned-in leg in anticipation of the brisé. "You lose the support of that standing leg. Then you have no power to jump," he says. "That plié is your saving grace and control."

Create a line: Berdo notices that some dancers dégagé à la seconde instead of effacé. "It's really difficult to chase that leg into second when you're trying to move forward." He teaches brisé with an open shoulder blade. "The back arm's extension is a reference to the front leg's dégagé. Keep that energy stretching out."

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Viral Videos
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Every ballerina grows up aspiring to nail the fouetté turns in the coda of Swan Lake's Black Swan Pas de Deux. From classic primas like Natalia Makarova to current pros like Gillian Murphy, the 32-fouetté sequence has become so iconic that even our non-dancer friends know about the tricky turns. But yesterday, American Ballet Theatre principal Christine Shevchenko introduced us to a totally new take on the fouettés that we've been watching on a loop, in awe.


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Ballet Stars
Photo by Kyle Froman for Pointe.

Much of what Ballet West soloist Katlyn Addison carries around in her (two) dance bags has been repurposed. She wraps her toes in black hockey tape which her brother, a National Hockey League player in their home country of Canada, ships to her, and she keeps her bobby pins in an old glass salsa jar. "I like to reuse things," says Addison. She totes everything around in shopping bags (one for pointe shoes and sewing tools, one for everything else) from the clothing store Free People.



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Ballet Stars
Alicia Graf Mack in Robert Garlan'ds "Return." Photo by Robert Garland, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Alicia Graf Mack has consistently defied just about every limitation and expectation throughout her dance career. She was a leading performer with three incredible companies: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, from which she retired in 2016, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. She also earned two college degrees in the midst of her performing career (from Columbia University and Washington University in St. Louis, no less) and has even written for Pointe, including our June/July 2014 cover story on Misty Copeland, Ebony Williams and Ashley Murphy. This week we're throwing it back to this wonder woman's 2004 performance of Robert Garland's Return with Dance Theatre of Harlem.

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