Ballet fans have been looking forward to ABC Family's "Bunheads" for weeks now, since it advertises—from the title down—that it's all about ballet. But the first episode, at least, had a lot of plot exposition to get out of the way before digging into anything truly "bunhead"-y. A very quick summary: Onetime ballet dancer but current Las Vegas showgirl Michelle (Broadway star Sutton Foster, who is fantastic) is tired of performing in a feathered bikini but unable to get a "real" Broadway job. She impulsively marries a devoted, if dopey, fan ("He wears gym socks with a suit," she laments) and moves to his tiny coastal town in California. Little does she know that he lives with his mother, Fanny (Kelly Bishop, who you'll probably recognize from "Gilmore Girls," which was also produced by "Bunheads" executive producer Amy Sherman-Palladino). Fanny, Michelle discovers, runs a ballet studio. And that's where we begin to get into the ballet side of the story.

Fanny and the young would-be ballerinas studying at the studio are great TV characters. Are they ballet stereotypes? Well, in a way. Fanny danced with the Ballets Russes but gave it up when she got pregnant (even the show admits that's "very Turning Point"). Boo (Kaitlyn Jenkins) is dying to dance but frustrated by her technical limitations. Ginny (Bailey Buntain, who is going to be a Megan Hilty lookalike when she grows up) is equal parts fascinated and horrified by her ever-growing chest. Sasha (the gifted Julia Goldani Telles, channeling Eva from Center Stage) is talented but has a bad attitude. They're all at risk of becoming a little two-dimensional, but the dialogue is funny and clever and does a good job avoiding over-the-top clichés.

They girls are all preparing for the big Joffrey Ballet School summer program audition the following week (so real!), which leads to the scene that feels the most off, dancewise. Foster is a Broadway baby all the way in real life, so maybe it's not a surprise that when she finds the girls in the studio, worrying about the audition, she leads them through a verrrry Broadway-like version of what they might have to look forward to. (It involves a mean casting agent and many, many pony steps.) The script does hint at the fact that that might be a little off-base. Snotty Sasha notes at the end that "Next week's ballet, with toe shoes," and when Michelle explains to a skeptical Fanny that she was "teaching [the girls] about auditioning," Fanny asks, "For what?" But wouldn't a dancer who—as Michelle's bio supposedly reads—was once a member of American Ballet Theatre know how to prepare these students for a real ballet audition?

In the end, though, I think this kind of nitpicky study of the dance aspect of this show is besides the point(e). "Bunheads" is not going to tell you anything you don't already know about ballet, and that's fine. It's pretty charming regardless. And if the ballet world ends up a fruitful setting for what seems like it might be a franker-than-usual family drama, all the better. I'm guessing realistic discussions about body issues and ambition are on the way, and that's something to look forward to.





Francesca Velicu in Pina Bausch's Le Sacre du printemps by English National Ballet. Photo by Laurent Liotardo, Courtesy ENB.

There was total silence by the end of English National Ballet's first go at Pina Bausch's raw Rite of Spring, and much of the performance's success came down to a tiny dancer: Francesca Velicu. Handpicked to be The Chosen One, the Romanian corps member threw herself into the role with an innocence that made the ritual newly terrifying. "It brought me the most intense and emotional moments that I'll ever experience onstage," she says.

At just 19, Velicu is already walking in the footsteps of ballet's reigning Romanian star, her ENB colleague Alina Cojocaru. Born in Bucharest, Velicu earned top finishes at Youth America Grand Prix and completed her training at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. In 2015, she joined the Romanian National Ballet under Johan Kobborg, who fast-tracked her: In one season, she danced Kitri, Theme and Variations and numerous soloist roles, honing her effervescent technique with breezy confidence.

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Alana Griffith in "La Sylphide." Photo by Mark Frohna, Courtesy Milwaukee Ballet/

Rising lazily from an armchair, shrugging her shoulders and limply snapping her arms side to side, Alana Griffith imbued the title role in Septime Webre's ALICE (in wonderland) with the unmistakable boredom and longing of youth. Throughout the performance, her ability to bring personal depth to both the character and to Webre's challenging choreography revealed a special dancer coming into her own as an artist.


Alana Griffith in "ALICE (in wonderland)". Photo by Mark Frohna, Courtesy Milwaukee Ballet.

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Screenshot from CNN Style video

While ballet may feel female-dominated in that there are plenty of onstage opportunities for women, key behind-the-scenes roles like choreographer and artistic director are still largely held by men—a point that is increasingly being raised and questioned in the dance world thanks to female choreographers like Crystal Pite and Charlotte Edmonds. Also helping to break that mold is rising female choreographer Kristen McNally, who not only choreographed a recent duet for CNN Style, but also paired two women to bring it to life.

In the short film, which features McNally's choreo and is directed by Andrew Margetson, Royal Ballet first soloist Beatriz Stix-Brunell and principal Yasmine Naghdi changed the expectations on gender roles in ballet—and the end result is awesome. Nearly identical in appearance, the dancers' movements and lines also mirror each other throughout the piece, even when dancing in canon. Even more impressively, McNally told CNN Style, "The dancers and I did two rehearsals and then we shot the film."

Check out the full duet for yourself, below.


Training
Photo by Lambtron, via Wikimedia Commons

Can you superglue your vamp? I am new to pointe and don't know where to apply it. —Amanda

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The tambourine variation from La Esmeralda is a competition favorite, but the full pas de deux isn't seen as often. That's a shame, because it contains some of the most technically challenging classical choreography to be found. In this video, Yuan Yuan Tan and Felipe Diaz take on this balletic feat with amazing power and ease.

Tan, who was awarded a permanent contract with San Francisco Ballet after performing this role as a guest artist in 1995, is a youthful but commanding presence. Her extensions crawl right up to her ear, and she rises from deep lunges en pointe to arabesque without ever seeming to get tired. After an endless series of promenades (4:00), Tan again lunges low to the floor and then teasingly runs away from Diaz, inviting him to follow her. In her variation, she oozes gypsy spunk, enticing the audience with dramatic details. She takes the variation at a quick pace, blending each movement smoothly into the next.

Diaz, who was a soloist with SFB and is now a ballet master for the company, shines in his own right. The adagio reveals his partnering prowess. From 2:15—2:35, Diaz supports Tan almost continuously in a string of carries and lifts–and his variation is chock full of bravura. All the way through the coda, the technical fireworks in this pas de deux never stop coming. We can't get enough! Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

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Tanaquil Le Clercq at the 1967 book signing. Reprinted with permission from Dance Magazine.

Ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq may have been known for her long-limbed dancing and versatile grace, but it turns out that her renown didn't end there. In 1967 the former New York City Ballet star published The Ballet Cook Book, a mix of ballet history, food stories and the pièce de résistance: recipes collected from over 90 famous NYCB dancers and choreographers including George Balanchine (her then husband), Jacques d'Amboise, Melissa Hayden and Allegra Kent.

Why bring this up now? This year marks the 50th anniversary of her book's publication, and in celebration, food scholar Meryl Rosofsky is curating a program exploring the context of the book. Held on November 5 and 6 at the Guggenheim Museum, the program will include live performance excerpts with roles originated by Ballet Cook Book contributors including Balanchine's The Four Temperaments, Bugaku, Stars and Stripes and Western Symphony as well as a panel conversation with d'Amboise and Kent (both of whom were at the original book signing) as well as current NYCB principals Jared Angle and Adrian Danchig-Waring, both talented cooks.That certainly seems like plenty of excitement to us, but attendees can also stop into the Guggneheim's Wright Restaurant to taste select dishes from The Ballet Cook Book including Le Clercq's Chicken Vermouth, Balanchine's Slow Beet Borschok, Hayden's Potato Latkes and Kent's Walnut Apple Cake.

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Studio to Street

Don't expect to catch Simone Messmer wearing a leotard—at least, not for company class. “Ballet class is for me," she says. “It happens every day, so it turns into a major part of how you set yourself up for the day and how you're feeling. I think it's really important to take control of that." In class, the Miami City Ballet principal prefers comfortable separates with clean lines and long sleeves. When it's time for rehearsal, she'll bring out her leotards and tights. “And I tend to bring the skirt or tutu that's appropriate for the role. I try to start right away, to get a feeling for it," she says.

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