Stattsballett Berlin's Caroline Bird. Photo by Alice Williamson, courtesy Bird.

Ever wonder what life is like as a corps de ballet dancer in a major company? While principals and soloists get all of the glory, dancing in the corps has a special beauty all its own—and takes just as much work. Isabel Garcìa, a dancer with the National Dance Company of Mexico, spoke with Caroline Bird, an American corps de ballet member of the Staatsballett Berlin, about the joys and struggles of her rank.

What role do you think a corps de ballet plays in a national company?

Without the corps de ballet, each ballet would be a series of variations and pas de deux—not whole stories, but mere episodes of relationships. We represent a group of characters that, stewed together, form the flavor of the company. The soloists and principals are the icing and firecrackers on the cake, which glimmers atop the structure and foundation of the corps.

Who makes up the women’s corps at Staatsballett Berlin?

We’re 24 women from all different countries, backgrounds and experiences. In rehearsals and performances, we work to incorporate each girl’s strengths to create one illustrious heartbeat. We dance and work together as a family and nurture each other in difficult moments.

What’s your typical day like?

We usually have class from 10:30 to 11:45 every morning. I get there early to have a full hour to warm up. Then we rehearse from 12 to 2:00, which is either a series of small rehearsals or whole acts of ballets. After a midday break, we have more rehearsals from 2:45 to 6:15. On an average day, without a performance, I work about eight hours.

How do you prepare for performances?

I like to get to the theater early so I can get into character with hair and makeup first, give myself barre and practice the key steps. If we’re doing Swan Lake, I head down to watch the entrance of Odette, which always instills the beauty of the story within me. Then it’s time to jump around and get pumped up to go onstage and let the music take me into the story.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a corps dancer?

The most challenging part for me is to not feel invisible. To find my way of standing out without sticking out. It’s difficult not to feel lost at times. Also, we’re greatly responsible for ourselves in so many ways. No one is going to take the time to coach each individual corps member on what isn't looking the best. Plus, your contribution to the group as a whole is crucial—if you are late, out of line or make a mistake, it can have a domino effect. It’s a lot of responsibility.

You often have to pose onstage for long periods of time while the principals are dancing. What do you think about when you're waiting for your turn to dance?

One of the hardest parts of being in the corps de ballet is standing perfectly still. We’re acting as decoration to the soloists while we’re dripping sweat and out of breath. I usually have to sing the music in my head to stop the muscle cramps and discomfort from taking over. In the worst moments, when I think, “I can't hold it any more,” that’s when I have to dig deep inside and fight. But these are the moments of sacrifice that we give for the magical moments of dancing.

Bird in The Nutcracker. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Bird.

What is the most difficult ballet you've danced, and why?


Some ballets are exhausting because you don't stop dancing and have lots of quick changes, like Boris Eifman's Tchaikovsky. Swan Lake is stressful because of all the standing still and technicality and pointework. But La Bayadère is the most challenging for me because it targets my weaknesses.
The Shades scene pushes my flexibility and extensions to the maximum, and any wobbling is instantly obvious. The pressure of coming down a 30-foot ramp and doing 20-something arabesques simultaneously with the girls in front of you is frightening—all my nerves are on edge until the adagio section is over.

What do you enjoy most about dancing in the corps de ballet?

When you watch a corps de ballet performing completely synchronized, it’s absolutely breathtaking. Touching people with how we create magical artwork with our bodies and move as one—this is why I love my job. It’s the reward for all our hard work.

 

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

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!


Pointe Stars
P.O. Alienz in Lavender Leotard; Paulina Waski modelling a Kreature Kulture t-shirt. Photos Courtesy Paulina Waski.

Walk into any ballet class and you're bound to see a row of dancers clad in leotards patterned with dainty flowers and lace. But nearly three years ago, American Ballet Theatre corps dancer Paulina Waski wore a very different kind of leotard to class—and her colleagues loved it. Now an average day at ABT includes any number of dancers in leotards featuring angry aliens, detached eyeballs and grinning monsters.

"My dad, John, is an artist, and he draws all these crazy creatures," Waski explains. "One year he did what he called his paper plate project; he drew a new creature onto a paper plate every single day for 365 days. I thought, 'he should put one on a leotard!' He screen printed one onto one of my old leotards himself, and when I wore it to class everyone was wowed." And so, Kreature Kulture was born.


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