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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Richmond Ballet dancers in "An Open Later..." by Matthew Frain. Photo by Sarah Ferguson, Courtesy Richmond Ballet.

What's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.

The Bolshoi Premiere of John Neumeier's Anna Karenina

Last July Hamburg Ballet presented the world premiere of John Neumeier's Anna Karenina, a modern adaptation on Leo Tolstoy's famous novel. Hamburg Ballet coproduced the full-length ballet with the National Ballet of Canada and the Bolshoi, the latter of which will premiere the work March 23 (NBoC will have its premiere in November). The production will feature Bolshoi star Svetlana Zakharova in the title role. This is especially fitting as Neumeier's initial inspiration for the ballet came from Zakharova while they were working together on his Lady of the Camellias. The following video delves into what makes this production stand out.

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Beijing Dance Academy students Pei Yu Meng and Wang Yuzhiwan in rehearsal. Photo Courtesy BDA.

In one of 60 spacious dance studios at the Beijing Dance Academy, Pei Yu Meng practices a tricky step from Jorma Elo's Over Glow. She's standing among other students, but they all work alone, with the help of teachers calling out corrections from the front of the room. On top of her strong classical foundation and clean balletic lines, Pei Yu's slithery coordination and laser-sharp focus give her dancing a polished gleam. Once she's mastered the pirouette she's been struggling with, she repeats the step over and over until the clock reaches 12 pm for lunch. Here, every moment is a chance to approach perfection.

Pei Yu came to the school at age 10 from Hebei, a province near Beijing. Now 20, and in her third year of BDA's professional program, she is an example of a new kind of Chinese ballet student. Founded in 1954 by the country's communist government, BDA is a fully state-funded professional training school with close to 3,000 students and 275 full-time teachers over four departments (ballet, classical Chinese dance, social dance and musical theater). It offers degrees in performance, choreography and more. BDA's ballet program has long been known for fostering pristine Russian-style talent. But since 2011, the school has made major efforts to broaden ballet students' knowledge of Chinese dance traditions and the works of Western contemporary ballet choreographers. Pointe went inside this prestigious academy to see how BDA trains its dancers.

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Ballet Stars
Tim Verhallen, via Instagram

Dutch National Ballet Soloist Michaela DePrince has been busy winning over the mainstream media. Since last spring, the First Position star not only landed a spokesmodel deal with Jockey, but she also recently teamed up on a commercial with Chase Bank and just announced that Madonna will be directing her upcoming biopic, Taking Flight (totally casual).

What could possibly be next? The cover of April's Harper's Bazaar Netherlands, it turns out. Posing in an arabesque with her hair slicked back in her usual ballet bun, DePrince traded in her leotard and tights for a stunning metallic Gucci dress (can we do that, too?).

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Ballet Stars
Leanne Benjamin and Luke Heydon in "Coppélia," via YouTube.

Dancing with The Royal Ballet from 1992 until 2013, former principal Leanne Benjamin tackled just about every role in the classical gamut, from Juliet to Nikiya to Giselle. As the young and spirited Swanilda in this clip from Coppélia, Benjamin reveals that she has equal talent for the silly as the serious. Her comedic performance in Swanilda's doll dance is this role at its best.

In an effort to trick the scheming Dr. Coppelius and save her beloved Franz, Swanilda pretends she is the doll Coppélia come to life. As she begins to dance, Benjamin is stiff and mechanical one moment and then flopped over like a rag doll the next. Dr. Coppelius, played by character artist Luke Heydon, watches her enthralled and Benjamin's gaze is fixed in a plastic stare. But when the toymaker looks away, Benjamin's Swanilda breaks doll character and frantically tries to figure out an escape. Feebly, Dr. Coppelius tries to keep up with her. Although we feel some sympathy for the delusional old toymaker, we can't help laughing at Swanilda's antics. And that slap at 1:55? Gets us every time. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

New York City Ballet's shoe room. Photo by Tess Mayer.

Deep in the basement of Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater is a small, windowless space that's home to nearly 6,000 pairs of pointe shoes, neatly stacked on shelves that reach to the ceiling. It's New York City Ballet's shoe room, and for company members, it's one of the most important places in the world. Dancers frequently stop by to search for the ideal pair for a special performance, or to tweak their custom pointe shoe orders, trying to get that elusive perfect fit. "If the shoe isn't right, the dancer can't do her job," says shoe room supervisor and former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Linnette Roe. We talked to Roe and NYCB soloist Emilie Gerrity about some of the most interesting—and surprising—secrets of the shoe room.

The NYCB dancers go through 9,000 to 11,000 pairs of shoes each year, including flat shoes, sneakers, jazz shoes, and character shoes. The company has an annual shoe budget of about $780,000.

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Younji-Grace Choi at the 2014 USA IBC. Choi is now a dancer with Cincinnati Ballet and will return to the USA IBC as a senior competitor this summer. Photo by Richard Finkelstein, Courtesy USA IBC.

Exciting news today: the USA International Ballet Competition has just announced its list of invited competitors for the summer 2018 competition. The USA IBC has invited 119 dancers from 19 countries out of over 300 applicants to compete in Jackson, MS June 10-23.

Since the last USA IBC in 2014 the competition has expanded its age limits; the junior category now allows dancers ages 14-18 and the senior category dancers ages 19-28. Of the 119 competitors this year, 53 are juniors and 66 are seniors. The United States has the highest number of competitors invited (52), followed by Japan (23) and South Korea (14). The other countries represented are Armenia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Columbia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Mexico, Mongolia, Peru, Philippines, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

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Les Grabds Ballets dancer Mai Kono in a promotional phtoo for next season's production of "Lady Chatterley's Lover." Photo by Sasha Onyschenko, Courtesy Les Grands Ballets.

The latest front in the controversy over the underrepresentation of female choreographers in ballet is at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. They're facing a petition and choreographer resignation that forced them to rebrand a season and publicly defend their programming.

On February 26, artistic director Ivan Cavallari, who started the job in the summer of 2017, announced the 2018-2019 season, which included a program titled Femmes. The program announcement said the evening would have "woman as its theme," and that Cavallari had "chosen three distinctive voices, rising stars of choreography, to undertake this great subject."

The three voices Cavallari chose to create on the theme of women, however, were all men.

"This was just too much for me, it was the last straw," says Kathleen Rea, a former member of National Ballet of Canada who now freelances, choreographs and teaches in Toronto. Rea says she's been bothered by the dearth of women choreographers throughout her career. But referring to women as "subjects" and excluding them from choreographing on a program about them compelled her to take action.

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