Susan Jaffe was barely 19 years old when she leapt into the spotlight at American Ballet Theatre. 1982—the year that her Swan Lake debut had critics raving—also revealed her contemporary chops in works like Lynn Taylor-Corbett’s Great Galloping Gottschalk. In this clip from a 1985 recording, Jaffe dances a pas de deux from the piece with Robert La Fosse, who had a successful career as a principal dancer at both ABT and New York City Ballet.
The sweltering, humid heat of a Northeastern summer can make even the most good-natured person act, well, hot-headed. This would be an understatement in describing Lizzie Borden, the woman from Fall River, Massachusetts, who allegedly hacked her parents to death with a hatchet in 1892. The case was a media sensation, and it’s no surprise that choreographer Agnes de Mille—known for portraying American themes in her ballets like Rodeo—chose the story for a stage adaptation.
The ballet Sylvia has undergone many reincarnations since its 1876 premier by the Paris Opéra Ballet. Some of the past two centuries’ most notable choreographers—Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, Mark Morris and John Neumeier—have seemed inescapably drawn to creating their own versions of this ballet, as if it was an artistic scratch they simply had to itch. In this 2005 clip, Darcey Bussell dances the title role in Ashton’s revived version for The Royal Ballet.
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.