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Pumpkin carriages and fairy godmothers are noticeably missing in Rudolf Nureyev’s production of Cinderella for the Paris Opéra Ballet. Rather than the traditional fairytale kingdom, Nureyev’s version takes place in Old Hollywood. As Cinderella, étoile Sylvie Guillem twirls in satin rather than tulle. When POB toured to the United States with this production in 1987, a New York Times reviewer called Guillem “a choreographer’s dream” and said that in Cinderella, she is “astounding in every move.”

 

On a summer stage in 1845, nearly 170 years ago to the day, four superstar ballerinas put aside their bitter rivalries and graced a single stage. Lucile Grahn, Carlotta Grisi, Fanny Cerrito and Marie Taglioni—defining figures in ballet’s history—performed in Jules Perrot’s Pas de Quatre. Such collaboration between divas of the day was unprecedented, and Perrot choreographed the piece to showcase each prima’s particular talents.

 

With a sparkling princess-pink tutu and equally sparkling technique, Élisabeth Platel floats through Aurora’s first act variation in this 1989 clip of Sleeping Beauty. Rudolf Nureyev chose Platel, a celebrated étoile of the Paris Opéra Ballet, for his restaging of Petipa’s quintessential classic. The role of Aurora is one of classical ballet’s most challenging. In the first act variation, the ballerina must evoke the naiveté of adolescence and the royalty befitting a princess.

 

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.

 

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.

For a dancer so famous for having a distinctly Spanish flair, it may seem ironic that it was her success at a Paris competition that led to recognition as a future ballet star. In 1994, Tamara Rojo—now doing double duty as both a principal dancer and artistic director of English National Ballet—received the gold medal and the Special Jury Prize at the Paris International Dance Competition, in which she performed the sensual piece “Arrayan Daraxa.”

 

You don’t have to be a ballet dancer to know Mikhail Baryshnikov’s name. His involvement with film and modern dance gave him an international reputation across multiple disciplines. He also defined what it means to be a male dancer, and set the standard for the power it requires. This video from 1969 shows Baryshnikov at only 20 years old—with his famous, awe striking jumps already taking the stage. 

 

International ballet competitions are designed to showcase a dancer’s talent and performance skill—which also happen to be the two aims of Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas Classique. The female variation consists of steps that align with the music, supporting dancers through difficult moves and reinforcing their musicality. In 2001, Sara Mearns competed in Youth America Grand Prix with this virtuosic variation. Now a principal with New York City Ballet, she had already begun to develop the fiery conviction that has become the trademark to her dancing.