Ballet Stars
Alicia Graf Mack in Robert Garlan'ds "Return." Photo by Robert Garland, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Alicia Graf Mack has consistently defied just about every limitation and expectation throughout her dance career. She was a leading performer with three incredible companies: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, from which she retired in 2016, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. She also earned two college degrees in the midst of her performing career (from Columbia University and Washington University in St. Louis, no less) and has even written for Pointe, including our June/July 2014 cover story on Misty Copeland, Ebony Williams and Ashley Murphy. This week we're throwing it back to this wonder woman's 2004 performance of Robert Garland's Return with Dance Theatre of Harlem.

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Ballet Stars
Steven McRae at the 2003 Prix de Lausanne performing the variation from "Le Corsaire." Photo Courtesy Prix de Lausanne.

This week, young ballet dancers from across the globe have been studying and competing for coveted scholarships at the Prix de Lausanne. This infamous competition has been a launch pad for many of the ballet world's biggest stars. One such star is Royal Ballet principal Steven McRae, who was a prize winner in 2003 with these two outstanding performances in the finals.

While just a lanky 17 year-old in this clip, he nonetheless performs the virtuosic slave variation from Le Corsaire with aplomb. He brings impressive height and length to his jumps and conveys the character's pride and passion with intense eyes and a dramatically arched back in the final pose.

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Ballet Stars

There are few opportunities as rewarding for a dancer as having choreography created on you. Sir Anthony Dowell, former principal and then artistic director of The Royal Ballet, is one of those rare few who had the chance to originate many roles throughout his performing career. Dowell was a particular inspiration for Sir Frederick Ashton; the choreographer created many roles for him, including original choreography for the Prince in The Royal Ballet's production of Sleeping Beauty. In this variation from Act II, Dowell comments on, and demonstrates, the unique sense of self-possession that comes with performing a specially-created role.

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Ballet Stars
Violette Verdy and Jacques d'Amboise

"The Bell Telephone Hour" TV program broadcasted performances of world-class music, opera and ballet to millions of Americans throughout the 1960s. Many of the dance world's biggest stars frequently appeared on the program. In a 1961 Shakespeare special, New York City Ballet principals Violette Verdy and Jacques d'Amboise danced the title characters in Romeo and Juliet by choreographer Donald Saddler.

Although this version lacks some of the emotional intensity of other renditions, watching these legendary dancers perform together is a treat. Their duet is accompanied by Shakespeare's "Sonnet No. 18," bringing to mind contemporary choreographic endeavors involving spoken word in place of music. Verdy dances with an openness and grace that contrasts d'Amboise's more stoic, commanding presence. At 3:00, he sweeps Verdy off her feet and above his head in one fantastic fell swoop. Their duet is followed by an acrobatic fight scene and a stunt-filled sword fight in which both Mercutio and Tybalt are killed. When Romeo disappears after the fight, Verdy shows us Juliet's despair in a dramatic pantomime ending. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Everything Nutcracker

Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov in The Nutcracker are simply iconic—two of the world's most celebrated dancers in the world's best-loved ballet. Starring as Clara and the Prince in American Ballet Theater's 1977 made-for-television film, these two superb talents bring both technical and dramatic brilliance to the ballet's culminating scene.

In this version, which Baryshnikov himself choreographed, Clara and the Prince dance the grand pas de deux. He also mixes up the order so that the variations and coda precede the adagio. The clip begins with the tail end of Kirkland's variation, followed by a flawlessly danced coda. Baryshnikov, looking debonair in all white, flies in his jumps, rebounding off the floor like a spring, and Kirkland's impressive diagonal at 0:43 boasts triple fouetté turns.

The mood changes when Drosselmeyer, played by Alexander Minz, arrives in the first chords of the adagio to usher Clara away from her dreamland. In a pas de trois, Clara is torn between her beloved godfather and her prince, reluctant to choose between childhood and the promise of her dreams. In her gauzy nightgown, the delicate Kirkland is ethereal and waif-like as she is promenaded and passed in the air between her partners. She and Baryshnikov make a tender couple and in the end, as she chaînes into his arms, it is clear that she longs to stay with her prince. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Ballet Stars

December is here and the holiday season—better known to ballet dancers as Nutcracker season—is in full swing. To celebrate, we're throwing it back to Patricia Barker and Wade Walthall as Clara and the prince in Pacific Northwest Ballet's 1986 Nutcracker: The Motion Picture.

In this reimagining of the ballet by PNB founding artistic director Kent Stowell and famed writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak, young Clara (played by Vanessa Sharp) defeats the multi-headed mouse king all on her own with a well-aimed, enchanted pointe shoe. She then follows her Nutcracker inside the shell of the mouse king's armor and ventures into an icy cavern. There she is transformed into an older version of herself, played by Patricia Barker. Clara emerges from the cavern to find that her Nutcracker has transformed as well, from a toy caricature into a handsome, mustachioed prince.

Cautiously, Clara takes the prince's hand. That is when the real enchantment begins. At 2:20 Barker dives into a penché arabesque that is far more dazzling than any cinematic effect. Long-limbed and fresh-faced, Barker captures Clara's innocence even as an adult. She soars across the stage in Walthall's arms, her nightgown billowing in the cold night air. An endless swirl of movement, this pas de deux blurs the distinction between reality and fantasy for the audience. Although Stowell and Sendak's Nutcracker retired from PNB's repertory in 2014, this film ensures that their unique version of the classic can still be enjoyed year after year. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!
Ballet Stars

At just 16 years old, the Bolshoi Ballet's Maria Alexandrova already had the makings of a great artist. In this variation from Coppélia, she portrays the carefree Swanilda with blithe, youthful ease.

When she bounds on stage in her perky pink tutu, you immediately notice her legs–they just go on forever. In the first sequence of steps she keeps her jetés and développés low, but then the phrase repeats and she lets her gorgeous extensions fly. She sails through Italian fouettés and whirls around in piqués en manège that get faster and faster. While she nails all the virtuosic movement, Alexandrova also pays beautiful attention to detail throughout the variation. Even the simplest steps become something exciting, like her precise pas de bourrées beginning at 1:03 that sing with musicality.

Swanilda has been one of Alexandrova's signature roles throughout her career. For a fun side by side, watch her perform the same variation almost 20 years later in this video. Although Alexandrova formally retired from the Bolshoi in February, she still performs frequently in Moscow and internationally as a guest artist. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


Viral Videos

When La Sylphide premiered at the Paris Opéra Ballet in 1832, it was an instant hit, establishing the romantic aesthetic and ushering in a golden age of French ballet. La Sylphide's legacy is part of the fabric of the Paris Opéra Ballet—as is Aurélie Dupont, the company's current artistic director and former étoile of 17 years. As the Sylph in Pierre Lacotte's version of the ballet, based on Filippo Taglioni's 1830s original, Dupont breathes fresh life into the traditional romantic style.



In this variation, Dupont dances with inward focus, creating an intimate scene of the Sylph alone in the forest. The long tutu highlights her precise footwork; each point of her foot is a supple articulation, harkening to the romantic era when pointe shoes were little more than ballet slippers with a bit of darning. She invokes an ethereal character without looking fragile. Instead, she floats through each movement with gentle, sustained energy. Even during her bow, Dupont embodies the sophistication and purity that make this art form timeless. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

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