Pointe Stars

Dance Theatre of Harlem's Ingrid Silva: On Top of Her Game

Ingrid Silva. Photographed for Pointe by Nathan Sayers.

Thumb through Ingrid Silva's Instagram and you'll see plenty of beautiful professional photos of her dancing. But her profile feels much less curated than what's usually found online. She's hanging out with her brindle- coat French bulldog, Frida Kahlo. Or she's working with the outreach program Brown Girls Do Ballet. Or she's rehearsing at Dance Theatre of Harlem, where she's been dancing since 2008, leotard and tights on, Afro out. It's the perfect portrait of a modern-day ballerina.


Silva, who is 28, has an impressive 47,000 followers. Many of them com- ment with the usual compliments about her line—her hyperextended legs and beautifully arched feet. But dancers, and even dance moms, regularly drop in to ask for advice. "Can I please ask how you dye your pointe shoes and with what... for my babygirl who has started ballet too," asks one follower. "Please DM and I will explain," replies Silva, with a smiley face.


Photographed for Pointe by Nathan Sayers

You could argue that a dancer's social media popularity is trivial to her work. And though it definitely doesn't define Silva's, it's been essential to her career. As she's established herself as a leading dancer at DTH, she's also begun to make a big name for herself outside the company. She's represented brands like Capezio, TNT Energy Drink and, most recently, ACTIVIA yogurt, all without the help of a publicist. Meanwhile, she has come into her own as an artist, taking on a range of rep at DTH and becoming one of its most visible members.


The Road to DTH

Social media fame and campaign ads sound glamorous. But Silva's life grow-ing up wasn't so sparkly. Her family lived near a favela, or an urban slum, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Her parents—her mother is a maid, her father retired from the air force—encouraged her to keep busy with sports like soccer, basketball and gymnastics. She found ballet at 8, after a neighbor suggested she try classes through a community-outreach program. It clicked. After a few years, she was training at Dançando Para Não Dançar and then the school of Rio's prestigious Teatro Municipal, as well as with Brazilian contemporary dancers Deborah Colker and Pedro Pederneiras.

As Silva flourished in ballet, she realized there were few pro- fessional opportunities for black dancers in Brazil. She says it left her no choice but to find strength in the daily process of technique class and rehearsal. "I didn't have anyone to look up to," says Silva, "so I've always been inspired by the dance journey itself."

At the encouragement of her teachers, Silva auditioned to train with Dance Theatre of Harlem (through videotape), and at age 18 moved to New York City. It was the first time she had set foot outside of Brazil, and she didn't speak English (though you would never guess it now). "I was afraid," says Silva's mother, Maureny dos Santos Oliveira, about letting her move to New York. "But I had no doubt that this was her shot and she could not miss it."

Yet as foreign as it all was for Silva, it also felt right. "As soon as I stepped into the building I was like, 'Wow, there are so many people that look like me.' I felt at home. I felt like I found myself," she says.

Silva excelled. Within two months, she was asked by founder Arthur Mitchell to join DTH Ensemble, the junior company that performed during the professional company's hiatus, and became a member of DTH when it was reborn in 2012.


Photographed for Pointe by Nathan Sayers


A Blossoming Career

It's a winter afternoon at the Dance Theatre of Harlem studios, and Silva is rehearsing Swan Lake's Black Swan variation and coda. It's been years since she's taken on a classical role—her rep consists of more contemporary works like Donald Byrd's Contested Space and Dianne McIntyre's Change. Yet she approaches it with mea- sured footing and quiet confidence, attacking fouettés and jumps with technical prowess and vigor. "It's very exciting to be able to use her power when you're partnering," says Silva's regular part- ner, Dylan Santos. "She's so strong, she makes everything work."

Today, though, she could use a little more bravura. "You have to enter and arrive at sous-sus like this is your stage. You own it," urges artistic director Virginia Johnson in a coaching session. During a break, Silva practices stepping up into fifth position over and over. It's not quite there yet. Her eyebrows furrow together in dissatisfaction as she paces around, letting the correction linger.

"Most striking about Ingrid is her determination and focus, her hunger to knuckle down and put her full concentration on what's needed," says Johnson. "Dance is partly a God-given talent. But it's also about having a vision to make something magical hap- pen. And Ingrid certainly has that quality."

Silva attributes her success to hard work and the balance of having a normal life outside of dance. She spends her off time hanging out with her husband, a fellow Brazilian she met in New York. They hike (with their dog in a backpack), go to the movies and cook Brazilian food. "I think that's why my Instagram is so popular," she says. "This is who I am. I'm a person, too. People aren't per- fect—if you're going to have ice cream, post it!" Johnson echoes: "Ingrid is a 21st-century ballerina. She's a real human being and there's an honesty there. She's not here to seek fame."


Photographed for Pointe by Nathan Sayers

Johnson is right—Silva is humble, even on social media. She says her goal is simple: to connect with audiences everywhere DTH travels. "I never imagined I'd ever be anyone's role model. But I'm honored to be able to inspire others," she says. "When I was young, I never saw anyone that looked like me. But with social media it's easier for people to be inspired."

Though Silva has achieved her dream of dancing Black Swan, she would like to take on more classical repertoire in the future. She also hopes that her mom, who hasn't seen her perform since she left Brazil, will someday be able to come to the U.S. to watch her dance. Silva plans to continue to call DTH her home, but is interested in guesting with other companies (she's already worked with Armitage GONE! Dance, as well as groups in Brazil). She also wants to pursue a psychology degree and use it to coun- sel dancers. And eventually, she hopes to return to Brazil to start a school, similar to the one she started at.

But for now, DTH seems to be Silva's perfect fit, not just because of its diverse repertoire, but because the message the company sends is very much in line with her own ethos. More than a ballet company, she says, "it's an elegant example of what is possible when an inclusive approach to art thrives."

Elizabeth Abbick as the Snow Queen in Butler Ballet's "Nutcracker." Photo by Brent Smith, Courtesy Abbick.

Pointe caught up with three college dancers last spring to see what it's like juggling ballet, academics and a social life on campus. First up is Elizabeth Abbick, a student at Jordan College of the Arts, Butler University getting her BFA in dance performance and her BA in mathematics.

Abbick studying in the library. Photo by Jimmy Lafakis for Pointe.

Leawood, Kansas, native Elizabeth Abbick faced some tough choices her senior year of high school. Equally talented in math and ballet, she wanted a professional dance career but also desired to plan her post-performance life. "Butler University had always been on my radar because I knew the faculty was stellar and the students are the best of the best. I realized it could offer me both worlds," she says. Now a senior majoring in dance performance and mathematics, she hopes to work on the business side of the ballet world after her stage career.

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If you're in the NYC area and are in need of weekend plans, you might want to consider heading to the Film Society of Lincoln Center to see Jean-Stéphane Bron's documentary, The Paris Opéra. While the film was originally released in France this past spring, it just made its way to the US on October 18th, and it chronicles the 2015-2016 season at the Paris Opera.

Encompassing the entire institution (which was founded in 1669 by King Louis XIV!), dancers will particularly enjoy an inside look at the Paris Opéra Ballet—both in rehearsals and onstage. Most notably, Bron captures the then POB director Benjamin Millepied as he decides to leave his position with the company barely a year after his appointment.

Check out the full trailer below, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center's full listing of showtimes here.

Your Training
Thinkstock.

Bianca Bulle was always prone to ankle sprains. When she was 18, her recoveries became more complicated: She started experiencing Achilles tendonitis due to muscle weakness and fluid buildup in the ankle. "The last thing to get back to normal would be my Achilles, which was so incredibly tight and painful," says Bulle, now a principal at Los Angeles Ballet.

The Achilles is the body's largest tendon, attaching the bottom of the calf muscles to the back of the heel. It contracts and releases as you relevé and plié, as well as when you jump and even walk. Tendonitis, or inflammation, of the Achilles is one of the most frequently reported overuse injuries among active people, according to the American Physical Therapy Association. You'll know it by the pain or tightness at the back of the heel. If the condition gets bad enough, the tendon can rupture, which requires surgery to fix.

Achilles tendonitis is especially common among dancers on pointe, but it's not inevitable. With rest and proper conditioning, you can work to avoid it with careful technique and a commitment to cross-training.


Boston Ballet School pre-professional students. Photo by Igor Burlak Photography, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

What Causes It?

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New York City Ballet in Marc Chagall's costume designs for Balanchine's "Firebird."

I am a self-confessed costume nerd who really needs little persuasion to travel nearly 3,000 miles to see a costume exhibition—which is what I did when I set off for California for the new exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage. I knew Marc Chagall primarily for his sumptuous blue swirling paintings featuring violin-playing goats, his incredible ceiling at the Paris Opéra's Palais Garnier, and murals at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, so I was intrigued to see his work with ballet.

Marc Chagall (1887–1985), was born Moishe Zakharovich Shagal in Belarus. He later moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, to study art, apprenticing under famed Ballets Russes designer Leon Bakst. Chagall's work in ballet and opera, however, did not begin until he and his wife Bella arrived in the U.S. as World War II refugees in 1941.

Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage, adapted from an earlier exhibition at the Montreal Music of Art and curated by Yuval Sharon and Jason H. Thompson, is an exciting opportunity to see 41 costumes and nearly 100 designs. But it is the costumes that really steal the show. You won't see any tutus here, but instead amazing, almost cartoon-like realizations of Chagall's artwork. LACMA's exhibition runs through January 7, 2018. For those of you who can't make the trip like I did, here's a rundown of highlights.

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Tiler Peck in "Who Cares?". Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck and Emmy-winning actress Elisabeth Moss (of Mad Men and Handmaid's Tale fame) may seem like unlikely friends, until you dig a little deeper into their backgrounds. Both attended Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica and spent summers at the School of American Ballet in their youths. Moss and Peck's career paths diverged when the former fell in love with acting and Peck went on to study at SAB full time, eventually becoming the star we know today. Now, the pairs' artistic pursuits are uniting in an exciting new project.

According to Deadline.com, Moss will produce a documentary featuring Peck and her work curating BalletNOW, last summer's star-studded, critically acclaimed program at Los Angeles's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Peck was the first woman to lead BalletNOW's programming, and she brought together dancers from companies including The Royal Ballet, Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Paris Opéra Ballet, putting them on stage with tappers, clowns and break dancers (sometimes simultaneously).


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Your Best Body

Looking for creative and healthy ways to get your pumpkin fix this fall? First, back away from the pumpkin-spiced latte—the season's unofficial drink is often laced with sugary syrup and comes with a complimentary mid-rehearsal crash. Instead, try these simple snacks with puréed pumpkin. It's high in beta-carotene, which converts to immunity-boosting vitamin A, and is a good source of vitamin K, iron and fiber. You can buy it canned or make the purée from a "sugar" or "pie" pumpkin (they're commonly available at grocery stores or farm markets).

Fruit-and-Spice Toast

- Spread purée onto whole-grain toast.

- Top with sliced pear.

- Add a dash of cinnamon.

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Pointe Stars

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!


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