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.
The Vaganova Academy has been a powerhouse for supreme technicians and artists for centuries. Iconic names—Balanchine, Nureyev, and Zakharova, to name a few—have sprung from the St. Petersburg school. Vaganova training transforms students to master the most difficult aspects of ballet technique, allowing room to grow into the utmost performers.
Ballet’s spectacle does not always rest in high extensions and multiple pirouettes. In fact, sometimes precision gets lost in a catacomb of tricks. But moments such as the Dance of the Cygnets from Act II of Swan Lake recapture ballet's purity with meticulous footwork and teamwork. Its cohesiveness reveals how simplicity can enrapture an audience. With hands interlaced, these four Bolshoi ballerinas coordinate their épaulement and piqués as if they are perfect replicas of one another. Enjoy this quick moment of intricacy. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!
Many Romantic ballets revolve around tragedy when dealing with love and romance. However, some simply attempt to replicate the joy of dancing, and produce little conflict other than a delayed marriage (Swanilda’s story in Coppélia hardly compares to the trials and tribulations of Odette's in Swan Lake). Still, beauty remains a major component to all ballets, no matter the conclusion.
There are "firsts" for everything in ballet—from positions of the feet to world premieres of new choreography. But some dancers might not recognize the woman considered to be the first American prima ballerina (and in ballet, holding such a title is comparable to some sort of divinity). But Maria Tallchief, who danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and was one of Balanchine's first principal dancers at New York City Ballet, takes this place in history.
Ballet dancers never reveal the labor of their work. Whether onstage or in rehearsal, they hurdle through moments of exhaustion to preserve an effortless illusion. Even when a character calls for anger, sorrow or pain, a dancer can still move the audience with beauty. The Dying Swan, originally choreographed by Mikhail Fokine in 1905, breaks this quest for effortless beauty. It presents the ultimate challenge—how to appear weak, and at times, ugly.
Act III of The Sleeping Beauty celebrates the resolution of Princess Aurora’s dramatic curse with her wedding to Prince Florimund, with a cast of fairytale characters in attendance. Two of the most notable are Bluebird and Princess Florine, who dance a call-and-response pas de deux to Tchaikovsky’s sprightly music.