Shannon Woods's blog

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. 

 

Don Quixote overflows with humor, flirtation and romance. And what better character to gather romance and energy than Cupid—performed in this video by the Bolshoi Ballet’s Evgenia Obraztsova. 

 

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!