Julia Guiheen is a dancer and writer from Morris County, New Jersey. She trained in ballet, jazz, and modern dance at Studio Allegro School of Ballet and is currently pursuing her BFA in dance and strategic communications at Butler University. During the summer of 2017, Julia worked at Pointe as an editorial intern.
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.
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!
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!
When Maya Plisetskaya first toured abroad with the Bolshoi Ballet, she stunned the world. Her dramatic and technical abilities were far beyond what anyone outside the Soviet Union had seen before. She quickly became an icon, symbolizing Russian ballet.
Plisetskaya was the perfect ballerina to play the Tsar Maiden in The Little Humpbacked Horse when choreographer Alexander Radunsky and composer Rodion Shchedrin recreated the classic Russian folktale in the 1960s. This vintage clip of the ballet offers a glimpse into an era gone by. Although ballet technique has advanced since then, Plisetskaya's performance is still electrifying. She is daring and agile in her manèges and fouettés, while she shows gentle purity and authentic emotion in the pas de deux with the wide-eyed Ivan. Even half a century later, this magnificent artist continues to transfix us with her radiant presence onstage. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!
Later this month, six dance companies from around the UK will come together to celebrate Sir Kenneth MacMillan's life and works with performances at Covent Garden. As the program highlight, members of five different troupes will perform in the British choreographer's ballet Elite Syncopations. The fanciful and colorful piece set to Scott Joplin's ragtime tunes reveals MacMillan's lighthearted side and delight in the unconventional. In this video, The Royal Ballet's former principal, Darcey Bussell, shows why Elite Syncopations is a favorite among audiences and dancers alike.
Bussell introduces the ballet, followed by clip of her performing a section called "The Bethena Waltz" (1:40) with Gary Avis. The music in this duet has a smooth, loopy quality that the dancers mimic with continuously circulating movement. As Bussell explains in the intro, subtle moments are key–like when Avis emerges from the "scenery" to grab her hand at the start of the duet, or at 3:35 when the dancers undulate through the upper body to resume dance position. These simple details playfully contrast the over the top costumes and wacky lifts. MacMillan also uses extreme extensions to create humor; at 4:12 the dancers are surprised to find Bussell's foot above her head, and when the dancers exit the stage Bussell is flipped over her partner's head in a full split. Of course, she does it all looking sophisticated and elegant, even in a shiny white jumpsuit with two stars printed on her bum. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!
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!
Summertime may be slipping away, but this clip from Sir Frederick Ashton's The Dream will transport you to a warm, enchanted summer evening. In this clip from an American Ballet Theater performance from 2004, Alessandra Ferri and Ethan Stiefel play Titania and Oberon, rulers of the woodland fairy realm from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Nights Dream. At once regal and whimsical, the proud lovers reunite and make peace after a quarrel in this final pas de deux.
Lauren Anderson, a former star of Houston Ballet, broke down barriers when she became the company's first African American principal ballerina in 1990. It was with enormous strength, personality and passion that she earned this elusive rank, as well as critical praise and loyal fans. In these snippets from Harald Lander's Etudes, her spirited performance proves why she rose to the top.
It's a thrill to watch Anderson in Lander's masterpiece, which celebrates the traditions of classical technique. She brings extraordinary virtuosity to the lead female role. Anderson captivates the audience with her bravura, insuppressible smile and dramatic flair, like the high-flying entrance at 1:45. In the first solo, she shows her musicality and personality through details in the upper body, sailing through brisk turns with confidence. She has impressive attack, but still incorporates fluid, suspended movement. Anderson certainly pushes boundaries and she reminds us of the possibilities that the future of ballet holds. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!