As told to Laura Cappelle, Margaret Fuhrer and Nancy Wozny

Every young ballet student has a dream role, a part she feels she’s made to dance. But a seasoned star has many dream roles over the course of her career. They trace a trajectory—the evolution of the way the dancer defines herself, and the “ballet ideal,” as she matures into an artist. We asked some top ballet dancers about their dream roles and how those have changed.


Carla Körbes
Principal, Pacific Northwest Ballet
I saw Swan Lake in Brazil when I was 11, and dancing Odette/Odile became my dream. When I finally got the opportunity in 2007, it was even more than I expected. It’s hugely challenging to be a human/bird; there are so many nuances. As a sensitive person, I connect to the fragility of Odette, to her human suffering and her disappointment. But there is a side of me that is playful and vibrant like Odile, too. Her flirtatiousness feels connected to Brazil’s dance culture, which is all based on flirting.

During my time at New York City Ballet, Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun became another dream role. But when I actually performed it, I felt uncomfortable. It was intimate, but not in the way I thought it would be. The stage seemed so naked and exposed. The music felt too slow—there were awkward moments. But I still love watching it. I would like to explore it a little more.

Juliet is another part I dreamed of, and I love the Jean-Christophe Maillot version of Roméo et Juliette that we do here at PNB. But it’s emotionally exhausting. When you’re doing Swan Lake, even though it’s sad, you’re not asked to be as impulsive onstage. In Maillot’s Roméo there is just so much pain.


Lucia Lacarra

Principal, Bayerisches Staatsballett
I can’t say I’ve had many dream roles. Growing up in Spain, I didn’t have access to performances—we didn’t even have a ballet school in my town. I started full-time training very late, and my only goal was to be onstage. I joined Víctor Ullate’s company at 15, and while I created solo parts in his neoclassical works, I didn’t know much about what ballet was like elsewhere.

Once I got to know the classical repertoire, I figured I should try everything to decide what I liked, so at 22, I joined San Francisco Ballet. I performed all the classics, and the reality couldn’t be a letdown, because I’d never dreamed about them. I just tried to do them as correctly as possible. I loved Swan Lake, because you have a character—you’re a magical creature.

I moved to Munich because I yearned to do more dramatic ballets, like Lady of the Camellias, Onegin and John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet. The first time I saw Cranko’s Romeo, I was in tears. I wanted to be out there, dying. When I discovered Lady of the Camellias, it felt like everything had gone still. Dancing those ballets, they’ve lived up to my dreams and gone far beyond them. Each performance is an intense experience. As I get older, I try to keep them as truthful for me as possible.


Ekaterina Kondaurova

Principal, Mariinsky Ballet
As a student, I saw nearly every performance at the Mariinsky Theatre—and each time I’d want to perform that ballet! I still want to do everything.

When I joined the Mariinsky, I was happy to dance anything I could get. But the role I dreamed of, above all, was Nikiya in La Bayadère. Here in Russia, everybody wants to dance Odette/Odile, but for me, ballet isn’t just Swan Lake. I’d done the Kingdom of the Shades before, but I only made my debut in the full Bayadère in 2010. I never tire of it: There are so many things I can still work on.

Today I think a ballerina should be able to do everything. There are still some roles in the repertoire that I’d like to try, like Kitri in Don Quixote. I would also love to dance Wayne McGregor’s Chroma some day, and to work with John Neumeier or Mats Ek.


Robert Fairchild

Principal, New York City Ballet
When I was younger, I was less role-oriented and more dancer-oriented. I did a lot of jazz and tap, and I remember seeing Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain and thinking he was fantastic. Actually, to this day I’ve tried, when I do side gigs, to see if there’s anything we can re-create from his movies. I haven’t yet, because it’s pretty hard to justify paying Warner Bros. for the rights to a short dance. But wouldn’t that be amazing?

Once I got to New York, the end all, be all was Apollo. What I like to do as a dancer is to have a conversation with the audience, and Apollo offers these still, quiet moments when you can connect with the people watching you. You create an atmosphere. And that moment when the curtain comes up, and the strings are going crazy—that’s the coolest thing in the world.

The most fun I’ve had onstage recently is in ballets I didn’t expect to come my way. Like Opus 19/The Dreamer—it’s epic for the guy. I'm at this incredible point in my career where I've been able to dance some of my dream roles. So it’s the ballets that catch me by surprise that end up being the highlights.*

*Updated on August 27, 2013

































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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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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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