Pennsylvania Ballet’s Roy Kaiser inspires his dancers to develop their gifts.

At eye level by Roy Kaiser’s desk is a photo of Philadelphia’s PECO skyscraper with the message “Save the Ballet” in lights. The picture is from 1991, when Pennsylvania Ballet was facing a financial meltdown. After 32 years with PA Ballet and 17 as its artistic director, Kaiser never wants to forget that time and how the Philadelphia community rallied behind the company. “They knew what it means to the culture here to have a major ballet company,” he says. “There were cab drivers pulling up in front of the theater putting in five dollars, kids collecting money and bringing it in.”

Today’s picture is far brighter, an indication of the distance PA Ballet has come under Kaiser’s leadership. Plans are afoot for a 50th-anniversary celebration next season. A new building is under construction. And this fall will see the reopening of a company school.

Kaiser began dancing with PA Ballet in 1979. He trained in its school and then made his way up to principal, eventually becoming ballet master and ultimately taking the company’s helm in 1995. A lot of the qualities of the original troupe are still evident today. “It’s one of the things I’m really proud of,” he says. Founded by Balanchine protégé Barbara Weisberger in 1963, PA Ballet maintains its Balanchine roots while embracing the young lions of contemporary ballet. Weisberger considered research and development crucial, planting the seeds for Kaiser’s pattern of mounting diverse new ballets.

Unlike many directors, Kaiser doesn’t create dances himself. “When I took over,” he says, “there were so many challenges that, even if I fancied myself a choreographer, I would not have choreographed.” Instead, he steadily commissions new work. Among those who have made premieres for PA Ballet are Merce Cunningham, Benjamin Millepied, Dwight Rhoden and Christopher Wheeldon, as well as resident choreographer Matthew Neenan, who came through PA Ballet as a dancer and has developed a following in Philadelphia.

Kaiser’s most recent coup was arranging for PA Ballet to be the first company outside of the Bolshoi to perform Alexei Ratmansky’s Jeu de Cartes. The result, coached largely by Ratmansky’s wife, Tatiana, was spectacular. “Before we started, Alexei sent me this wonderful long e-mail talking about each dancer Jeu was created on: personality traits, things they needed to do,” says Kaiser. “It was fun to ask: ‘Who do we have here who might fit that role?’ ”

Generally preferring “dancers who are very musical, athletic and aggressive,” Kaiser nonetheless maintains there is no uniform PA Ballet type. He characterizes the 37-member company as “a very eclectic group of dancers.” At the same time, ensemble is prized. Comparing his company’s renderings of Balanchine ballets with those of other companies, he notes, “I think it’s different here because there’s a sense that ‘We’re all in it together and we’re all equal partners in creating this experience on the stage.’ ”

Although there is a ranking system, Kaiser doesn’t always stick to it. “If somebody is appropriate for a specific role, I’ll cast them,” he says. That explains how Jong Suk Park, a newly arrived Korean dancer, landed the Cavalier in this season’s Nutcrackereven though he is in the corps. And how Odette/Odile was danced last season by Lauren Fadeley, then a corps member, and Brooke Moore, a soloist.

Kaiser wants individuals to shine in roles well-suited to their gifts. It’s an environment the dancers feel they can grow in, something that certainly contributes to the company’s high retention rates. Dancers often stay with the troupe for their entire career, and sometimes graduate to other roles within the institution. Kaiser encourages them to develop their offstage talents as well. Recently retired principal Alexander Iziliaev became the company’s official photographer and videographer. And current principal Julie Diana, a committed writer, has contributed several essays to the company’s Playbills.

Diana, who previously danced with San Francisco Ballet, feels that PA Ballet’s modest size gives her greater opportunity to develop as a dancer. “We’re smaller than SFB or NYCB or ABT, so even though we’re dancing some of the same rep, we get to dance more,” she says. “We get to do more roles and experience them more fully.” The performers dance in a larger percentage of the performances, and the company tries to commit as much rehearsal time as possible to developing any ballet it’s working on.

While Kaiser is making plans for future additions to the repertoire, recently he’s also been preoccupied with the company’s efforts to raise $17.5 million for its new purpose-built home on North Broad Street. This facility will bring all of the company’s operations back under one roof after several years in temporary quarters. Kaiser’s especially thrilled about being able to re-establish the School of Pennsylvania Ballet, which suspended operations several years ago and is set to open again this fall. William DeGregory, a former company principal and the current director of PA Ballet II, will direct the school, and Arantxa Ochoa, a current principal, will be tapped as head instructor.

With a school again connected to the company, benefits will include a more steady community presence, expansion of outreach efforts and the potential to train and take into the company a more diverse group of dancers. All this serves Kaiser’s vision of making ballet more accessible for audiences. What could be better as PA Ballet looks forward to its next 50 years?

At a Glance

Pennsylvania Ballet

Founded: 1963

Located: Philadelphia, PA

Company Size: 37, including apprentices. Seven additional dancers are in Pennsylvania Ballet II.

Contract Weeks: 34

Starting Salary: corps $954.54/week

Weeks on Tour: One. The company performed Nutcracker in Ottawa this season. In recent years, PA Ballet has toured to the Edinburgh International Festival, the Kennedy Center and New York City Center.

Performances Per Year: 58

Website: paballet.org

Video still by Nel Shelby Productions, Courtesy Dancio.

"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."

For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.


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New York City Ballet in "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy Lincoln Center.

Nutcracker season is upon us, with productions popping up in on stages in big cities and small towns around the country. But this year you can catch New York City Ballet's famous version on the silver screen, too. Lincoln Center at the Movies and Screen Vision Media are presenting a limited engagement of NYCB's George Balanchine's The Nutcracker at select cinemas nationwide starting December 2. It stars Ashley Bouder as Dewdrop and Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz as the Sugarplum Fairy and Cavalier.

While nothing beats seeing a live performance (the company's theatrical Nutcracker run opens Friday), the big screen will no doubt magnify some of this production's most breathtaking effects: the Christmas tree that grows to an impressive 40 feet, Marie's magical spinning bed, and the stunning, swirling snow scene. Click here to find a participating movie theater near you—then, go grab some popcorn.

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Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet rehearsing for "The Sleeping Beauty" for the 2017/18 season. Photo by Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet.

Today the Pennsylvania Ballet's board of trustees announced the appointment of Shelly Power as its new executive director. Having been involved in the five-month international search, company artistic director Angel Corella said in a statement released by PAB that he's "certain Shelly is the best candidate to lead the administrative team that supports the artistic vision of the company." Power's official transition will begin in February. This news comes at the end of a few years of turmoil and turnover at PAB, including the departure of former executive director David Gray in June.

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Tiler Peck with Andrew Veyette in "Allegro Brillante." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy New York City Ballet.

"I was particularly excited when I saw my name on casting for Allegro Brillante in 2009," remembers principal dancer Tiler Peck. "Balanchine had said Allegro was, 'everything I know about classical ballet in 13 minutes,' and of course that terrified me." To calm her fear, Peck followed her regular process for debuts: begin by going back to the original performers to get an idea of the quality and feeling of the ballet and ballerina. "It is never to imitate, but rather to surround myself with as much knowledge from the past as I can so that I can find my own way," says Peck.

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Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker.' Photo by Rich Sofranko

Catching a performance of The Nutcracker has long been a holiday tradition for many families. And now, more and more companies are adding sensory-friendly elements to specific shows in an effort to make the classic ballet inclusive to children and adults with special needs.

While the accommodations vary depending on the company, many are presenting shorter versions of the ballet with more relaxed theater rules. Additionally, lower sound and stage light levels during the performance, as well as trained staff on hand, make The Nutcracker more accessible for those on the autism spectrum and others with special needs.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's performance will take place on Tuesday, December 26th, and they are one of the pioneer companies in presenting sensory-friendly performances of The Nutcracker (their first production was in 2013). PBT has also offered sensory-friendly versions of Jorden Morris' Peter Pan and Lew Christensen's Beauty and the Beast in the past.

See our list of sensory-friendly performances, and check out each site for all of the details regarding their offerings.

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Pilates hundred intermediate set-up, modeled by Jordan Miller. Photo by Emily Giacalone.

The Pilates hundred is a popular exercise used by many dancers for conditioning and warming up, but it's also one of the most misunderstood. Pumping your arms for 100 counts sounds simple enough, but it requires coordinated breathwork, a leg position that suits your abilities and proper alignment. Marimba Gold-Watts, who works with New York City Ballet dancers at her Pilates studio, Articulating Body, breaks down this surprisingly hard exercise. When done correctly, the benefits are threefold: "If you're doing it before class," she says, "the hundred is a great way to get your blood flowing and work on breath control and abdominal support all at once."

To Start

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Nod your chin toward the front of your throat, and reach your fingertips long.

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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!


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