For a dancer who looks so at ease in the air, 19-year-old April Giangeruso earns compliments that could be mis­taken for complaints: “She’s got both feet on the ground,” or “She’s well-grounded.” Now an apprentice with American Ballet Theatre, Giangeruso has always had exceptional focus. The praise from admiring teachers and coaches is a tribute to her unswerving dedication to meeting ballet’s stern demands.

 

As a child, Giangeruso wasted no time getting to work. At age 5, after seeing her first performance of Swan Lake, she informed her parents that she wanted to be a dancer. “I loved taking class,” she says. “The studio was like a second home for me.” At 9, having exhausted the training opportunities offered in her hometown, Ellicott City, Maryland, she transferred to the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C., studying under a full scholarship from 2001 to 2005. She then moved to New York City, acquiring more Russian training from Valentina Kozlova, and became, at 15, the youngest female finalist at the 2006 USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi.

 

Many young women her age would be eager to earn more medals, but not Giangeruso. “I wasn’t interested in entering competitions; working on a solo for one or two years did not appeal to me. That’s not what ballet is about.” Returning to Maryland to become an all-American teenager and join a class of graduating seniors was ruled out as well. (One reason: She had found the time to graduate from high school two years early.) Asked if she resented ballet’s depriving her of the rite—and some would say the rights—of girlhood, she says, “No. I love ballet. Dance class also got me out of having to take P.E.”

 

Attending American Ballet Theatre’s summer intensives as a National Training Scholar was a more practical use of her energies after her Jackson triumph. She had no difficulty qualifying for admission to ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in 2007, but she didn’t stay there long. Within four months, she was taken into ABT II. She has been dancing professionally ever since, doing everything from fusion ensembles to excerpts from the classics. At 5’7”, she already possesses the long, unfolding line essential for the Act II Swan Lake pas de deux, as she demonstrated last April in ABT II’s New York City performances. Through an effortless musicality, she revealed Odette’s tremulous but trusting nature, an unusual accomplishment in someone so young. 

 

ABT II artistic director Wes Chapman describes her as the easiest young dancer he’s ever worked with: “She can do almost any style, even contemporary, and anything she doesn’t get right away, she works on until she does. She’s already well on her way to performing the double role in Swan Lake. Giving up is not an option with her.”

 

For Giangeruso, attitude covers more than just a step you practice in class and perform onstage. Attitude is also what you bring to class and to performance. “I know dancers who approach class as a time to work only on steps they already do well,” she says. “Those are what you practice. What you work on is whatever you can’t do now, frustrating as it is to repeatedly look less than your best. And don’t be discouraged if the person next to you looks really great. Class is the time for competition. Enjoy it.”

 

“I love jumps,” she continues, “but they don’t come as easy as pirouettes and adagio. Jumping from a dead stop is really hard, so that’s what I concentrate on, no matter what I look like doing it. I don’t beat myself up if I’m not perfect. Practice makes less imperfect, someone said.”

 

If that sounds somewhat philosophical, well, philosophy is what Giangeruso happens to be studying at Long Island University when she has the time. Attending college is a logical step for a dancer to take. “With ballet you never know what the future holds,” she says. Both feet on the ground, as usual.

 

At A Glance
Name: April Giangeruso
Age: 19
Company: ABT
Training: Kirov Academy of Ballet, Valentina Kozlova, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School
Favorite Ballet: Swan Lake
Dream Role: Odette/Odile





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Angela Sterling, Courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet

Clear your schedule now for Monday, January 29th, 2:45PM (EST)/ 11:45AM (PST). Pacific Northwest Ballet will be live-streaming rehearsal from Kent Stowell's Swan Lake, straight from their Seattle, WA-based studios. To psych us up for their on stage performances February 2nd - 11th, PNB is letting us in on their Act II rehearsal.

From the corps of swans to Odette and Prince Siegfried's pas de deux, and the infamous four swans, this rehearsal is not to be missed. You can sign up now for a live-stream reminder on their site. In the meantime, we'll be brushing up on our Cygnets with this PNB sneak peek.

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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Lopez in Circus Polka. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB.

When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

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Summer Study Advice
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Videos are a great alternative when auditioning in person isn't possible. Here are some general guidelines for making a good impression.

1. Follow directions. Before filming, research what each school you're interested in requires. "It demonstrates your ability to follow instructions, and schools pay attention to that," says Kate Lydon, artistic director of American Ballet Theatre's summer intensives and the ABT Studio Company. "If the guidelines haven't been followed, your video might not be watched the whole way through." You may need to make multiple versions to accommodate different schools.

2. Videos should be no longer than 10 minutes. "Keep it short, simple and direct," advises Philip Neal, dance department chair at The Patel Conservatory and artistic director of Next Generation Ballet. "You have to be sensitive to how much time the director has to sit down and look at it." Barre can be abbreviated, showing only one side per exercise, alternating. Directors will be looking at fundamentals—placement, turnout, leg lines, stability—but don't ignore musicality or movement quality. Make sure music choices match combinations and are correctly synced in the footage.

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Career
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I want to be a professional dancer, but my parents won't listen. They either don't think I can do it (contrary to what my teachers have said) or they won't let me take the necessary steps to become a professional. Please help. —Audrey

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Videos

They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

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Summer Study Advice
The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

This story originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Pointe.

As a young student at a small ballet school in upstate New York, I was obsessed with getting into the School of American Ballet. From the age of 10, I entered class each day with the ultimate goal of studying at SAB dangling before me like a carrot on a stick. Every effort I made, every extra class I took was for the sole purpose of getting into what I thought was the only ballet school that really mattered.

I auditioned for SAB's summer program for the first time when I was 12. In the weeks that followed, I became a vulture hovering over my family's mail, squawking at my mother if the day's letters were not presented for my inspection when I walked through the door. The day the letter finally arrived, it was thin and limp. I cried for a week as I dealt with the crushing feeling of rejection for one of the first times in my life.

My mind filled with questions and self-doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough? I figured I must be too fat, too slow, my feet too flat. I had worked so hard. I had wished on every fallen eyelash and dead dandelion in pursuit of my single goal, just to have a three-paragraph form letter conclude that I was a failure. For a while, I let myself wallow in the comfort of my resentment, content to believe that success should have come easily, and that to fall was the same as to fail.

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