If we saw Mikhail Baryshnikov dressed in a suit and chewing gum, we wouldn’t expect to be watching from the seats of a theater. But as he moves across the stage with his arms swaying in a confident swagger, he captures our attention as a different sort of character. As in many classical ballets, he and his partner, former American Ballet Theatre soloist Elaine Kudo, are telling a story. Except now, Baryshnikov is a foil to Princes Siegfried or Charmant—he almost cares less about his partner. But don’t be fooled!
Happy New Year, ballet lovers! As we plunge into audition season, 2015 will bring an abundance of new challenges and opportunities. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by our New Year’s resolutions, but what better way to keep us inspired than a throwback of Sylvie Guillem? In our dreams we have her feet, her legs and her forever-motivating extensions. No doubt, she has helped push expectations for ballet dancers to new heights. That’s why 2015 arrives with a sense of closure and sadness. After an over three-decade long career, Guillem will retire at the end of the year.
For ballet dancers, Christmastime means The Nutcracker—and endless weeks of rehearsals and performances. By the time the New Year arrives, we can stand to wait 10 more months for the next round to begin. But despite its relentless repetition, The Nutcracker remains near and dear to many dancers' hearts, with familiar moments sparking memories of childhood.
Nothing provides more comfort than catching your best friend’s eye during a performance, or realizing that someone familiar is dancing by your side. And when a ballet’s choreography caters to friendship, the most intimate dance arises from the stage.
Think of dancing in front of the love of your life. Suddenly, the thousands of hours you’ve spent rehearsing leave you stunned as excitement and bashfulness consume every move. Dance presents a new hurdle once it becomes an open expression of love—a gesture Lise offers Colas in Sir Frederick Ashton's La Fille mal gardée. In this Act I variation, Lise seemingly performs to the audience, but each step expresses the joy she feels for Colas as he watches her from stage right.
It’s difficult to classify the movement in Vaslav Nijinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps as ballet; today, we would denote such vocabulary as modern dance. But Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, which premiered the ballet in Paris in 1913, embraced France's emerging avant-garde culture at the time. They premiered works by new choreographers whose names we now recognize (Michel Fokine, Bronislava Nijinska and George Balanchine, to name a few).
Imagine what it would be like to be Princess Aurora on her 16th birthday. Never mind the pressure to choose a suitor—think of how difficult it must be to keep composed as the center of attention. To us, Aurora has an inherently beautiful, ethereal presence. But perhaps she’s like any 16-year-old girl—anxious to maintain the beauty that accompanies her every move. Ballet dancers face this challenge all the time—our minds race to maintain control so that the audience can enjoy a seemingly effortless performance.
It takes the work of a ballet dancer to embody the words of Shakespeare. With the help of Sergei Prokofiev’s masterful score, the Royal Ballet's Alessandra Ferri and Wayne Eagling approach this task with heartbreaking beauty. They perform the iconic balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet in this recording of the company’s 1984 production—and their movement speaks.
Among the set, costuming and score of a ballet, movement becomes the most powerful form of expression—especially in romantic-era story ballets, which entertain and convey a plot without words. Thus, the most underrated skill of a professional dancer becomes crucial: miming. The subtlest gesture can convey heartbreak, joy and even the desires and frustrations of certain characters.