I turned up one morning to watch Eddie Villella’s company class at Miami City Ballet, as I do most mornings when I’m in Miami, and there at the barre was a dancer I’d never seen before—a ravishingly beautiful girl with immense natural charm who was working as hard, or harder, than anyone else in the room. After watching her for 10 minutes I sidled over to Villella and whispered, “Who is that girl? She’s a star! Give her everything!”

 

He’s used to tolerating my enthusiasms, but it was also clear that he didn’t totally disagree, even though he wasn’t going to say so. Her name was Patricia Delgado, he told me. She was 17, and she was an apprentice at the company, where Villella is artistic director. When later in the day I said more or less the same thing to Linda Villella, Eddie’s wife, who runs the company’s school, she just laughed and said, “Wait till you see her sister, Jeanette. She’s just as good!” I didn’t believe it—until I saw Jeanette in action when she came along two years later.

 

The Delgado sisters are not only extraordinary dancers, they’re extraordinary young women: ballerinas without a trace of pretension, self-satisfaction or opportunism. The reason isn’t hard to find, once you know their parents. Millie (Migdalia) is a psychologist with a PhD from the University of Miami; Zeke (Ezequiel), with a bachelor’s of science in industrial engineering and a master’s in education, is a math teacher. Like their daughters, they’re both completely grounded—as far from traditional ballet parents as it’s possible to get. When Patricia said she wanted to go to ballet school, that was fine with them—and it would have been just as fine if she’d wanted to take up water-skiing or raise chickens.

 

The senior Delgados saw, and see, their job as being there to support and advise their girls (when asked). At a crucial moment when Patricia had to decide whether to focus on dancing or to pursue an academic path (she was always at the top of her class), they helped clarify her choices and stood back. Luckily, Patricia knew that deep down she wanted to dance–not to be a ballerina, not to be a star, but to dance. And Jeanette wanted to do whatever her big sister was doing–never in a spirit of competition but in emulation. “I’m so lucky,” she says, “to have my older sister as my best friend.”

 

Millie’s family emigrated to Miami from Cuba soon after Castro came to power, when some family property was nationalized. They never regretted it; there’s none of that nostalgia for the old days. The girls, of course, are Miami-born and bred, went to Miami public schools, and led normal young American lives—with friends, activities and, in Jeanette’s case, dates. Patricia’s first and only date was with Matthew, a boy she met in high school, and that was that—a year ago they were married.

 

There have been only two major obstacles in Patricia’s professional life. One was a serious injury that kept her offstage, her foot in a boot, for an entire season. The other was worrying whether Matt, who had a good job in New York, could find an equally good job back in Miami. The alternative was too painful to consider, but Patricia—the realistic daughter of realistic parents—had to consider it. Everyone breathed a lot easier when the job came through.

 

Leaving Miami City Ballet would have been an emotional disaster for Patricia (not a professional one; any ballet company would be happy to have her). “I feel like a deep-rooted part of Edward’s company, of the creativity here, of the family environment. This is my place.” Villella returns the feeling: “She’s a total dancer,” he says. “She can grow in every direction. And apart from her extraordinary abilities, she’s such a delightful personality—she lights up any room she’s in, be it class, rehearsal or onstage.”

 

Observing her progress these past 10 years, I’ve noticed that even other dancers who might be envious of what she’s achieved have nothing negative to say about her as a person, although for a while there were remarks about her “weak” feet. Needless to say, she worked on them obsessively, and a year ago had a difficult operation to relieve her of almost constant pain: A small extra bone—it’s called an os trigonum—was removed from her ankle. For the first time, she now feels absolutely free to dance full-out, to stretch her technique without fear of hurting herself. You could see the difference this past season: She was not only radiant, but at 27, she was finally fully secure.

 

Her range is already large. How many dancers go effortlessly from the “Man I Love” pas de deux in  Who Cares? to “Sanguinic” in The Four Temperaments to In the Upper Room? She’s classical—Swanilda, Kitri, eventually Giselle—and she’s down and dirty: the sexy lead in Paul Taylor’s Piazzolla Caldera. And surely she’ll be one of the Juliets in the company’s upcoming production of the John Cranko version of the ballet. She also hopes to push herself in the direction of the pyrotechnical Balanchine ballets like Ballo della Regina and Ballet Imperial—in a way, Jeanette’s turf. Usually, it doesn’t serve sisters well to work in the same company, but the Delgados’ dance temperaments are so different that there’s no problem. Jeanette has a thrillingly blithe propulsiveness and rock-solid technique. It’s Patricia’s refinement, repose and allure that instantly grab the audience’s attention, and hold it. In Miami City Ballet, there’s room for them both.

Although Patricia is such an integral part of the repertoire now, she remains eager and modest. “I’ve never thought of what I do as ‘a career.’ I’ve always only wanted to dance wonderful roles. And one of the great things about Miami is that we don’t perform anything but the best choreography: Balanchine, Taylor, Tharp (we had a fabulous time with her when she was down here creating Nightspot on us), Robbins, the classics. I just go on working on my feet, on my line, hoping like everyone else that I’ll be cast.”

 

As for Villella, he sees Patricia Delgado as a perfect example of how the institution he founded 25 years ago can function. “She comes from Miami. She came through our school. She quickly made a wonderful impression on us and on our audience—she was so appealing we almost had to hold her back. She never makes problems. She’s always ready, willing and more than able. If every ballerina had her talent, her temperament and her looks, the lives of artistic directors like me would be a cakewalk!”


Robert Gottlieb, former editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster, Alfred A. Knopf and The New Yorker, is the author of George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker and is currently the dance critic for The New York Observer.

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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