Elizabeth Wallace, Pennsylvania Ballet

At 5' 9", Elizabeth Wallace naturally stands out in a group. But in addition to stem-like limbs, it’s her generous upper body, lissome extensions and easy command that draw the eye. In Pennsylvania Ballet’s Swan Lake last March, she delivered a natural authority, her movements grand and sweeping in both the Act I court ensemble and as a Big Swan in Act II.

Born in Kentucky, Wallace, 23, trained at Lexington Ballet, Kentucky Ballet Theatre and Bluegrass Youth Ballet before attending the School of American Ballet on scholarship. An apprenticeship with New York City Ballet followed before joining PA Ballet in 2012. “It’s a smaller company, but I was understudying principal roles right off the bat,” says Wallace. “That wouldn’t have happened at City Ballet.” She received her first major opportunity last fall, when artistic director Angel Corella cast her in Christopher Wheeldon’s Liturgy. “I had never done a principal pas de deux before,” she says, noting that the experience has been the highlight of her career so far.

Wallace admits that her height can make casting an issue. “You can’t put me in any old corps spot, and it’s hard finding a partner,” she says. “But when I do get the chance, the roles tend to be pretty great.” Case in point: She’s learning Queen of the Dryads for Corella’s 2016 production of Don Quixote. —Amy Brandt


Gabe Stone Shayer, American Ballet Theatre
American Ballet Theatre’s Gabe Stone Shayer is full of surprises. “I think because of my body type and my ethnicity people expect me to move a certain way, but with my training background, I tend to look more like a Russian dancer,” says Pennsylvania-born Shayer, who joined the company in 2012 after studying at The Rock School for Dance Education and then the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow.

Shayer attributes his perfectionist work ethic and striking movement quality to his Russian training. Though his dancing is impeccably clear, he’s not lacking in versatility and charm—in fact, these very qualities have made him a favorite of ABT artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky. Several of Shayer’s standout roles have been in Ratmansky pieces, including a principal role in Shostakovich Trilogy and the sprightly Ariel in The Tempest. But he’s a classicist at heart, dreaming of someday performing dramatic roles like Romeo, Des Grieux and Onegin, and appearing with the Bolshoi and other leading companies worldwide.

Shayer’s goals as a performer are ambitious, but we’ve come to expect that of him: “I’ve learned to approach each role firstly and foremostly as a human, but I also try to present the illusion of unattainable perfection. I want the audience to look at me as something that is amazing and unobtainable, but also very relatable.” —Lauren Wingenroth


Ellen Rose Hummel, San Francisco Ballet
Few young corps members get to perform principal roles, and fewer still have one created on them. Ellen Rose Hummel can claim both. After she covered for an injured dancer as a stepsister in Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella in 2014, Val Caniparoli choreographed a contemporary duet for her and soloist Daniel Deivison-Oliveira in Tears. “It was cool to dance something that was made on me,” the 23-year-old recalls. “Everything felt so good.”

Hummel began her training at age 5 at Charlotte Ballet. After three years in the SFB School, she joined the corps and got early notice for her natural musicality and exceptional versatility: In Caniparoli’s Lambarena this January, she embodied its grounded African rhythms as naturally as she attacked its allegro pointework. That freedom of movement, combined with a hunger to try every style of dance, makes her an ideal fit for SFB’s wide-ranging rep. “I love that we get to do some crazy things, and we get to do the classics,” Hummel says. “It’s fun to stretch yourself in both ways.”

Abstract works by Jerome Robbins, William Forsythe and Justin Peck are on deck at SFB next season, and someday she hopes to perform Juliet. For now, though, she’s just happy to keep dancing. “I can’t wait to get onstage,” Hummel says. “It’s a beautiful profession.” —Claudia Bauer


Fanny Gorse, Paris Opéra Ballet
A change of director can make all the difference in a dancer’s career, especially for a late bloomer. For 27-year-old Fanny Gorse, Benjamin Millepied’s arrival last fall coincided with a new sense of maturity onstage. Millepied took notice, and Gorse proved an elegant, womanly presence in Nutcracker’s Arabian dance and Édouard Lock’s AndréAuria last season, combining French precision with striking ports de bras.

Gorse entered the Paris Opéra Ballet School at age 9 and is a pure product of its meticulous training. Her teenage years were by no means easy, however. In addition to remarks about her weight, she underwent surgery at the school’s insistence to correct ears that stuck out.

Joining the POB in 2005 was “liberation,” she says. She spent two years on short-term contracts before joining the corps full-time, and was promoted to coryphée (the second corps rank) in 2007. She has hardly missed a classical production since.

A decade into her career, however, Gorse was ready for a challenge, and Millepied has provided just that, with featured roles and pas de trois. “He watches us in class and recognizes our work,” she says of Millepied. “It gives you confidence, even in rehearsal.” Unusually tall by Paris standards, she has learned to own her lines without exhausting herself, and her coach, première danseuse Stéphanie Romberg, has helped her turn her long arms into an asset. Now, Gorse aspires to dance both Myrtha and Giselle.

Laura Cappell


Karen Wing, BalletMet
In a company loaded with talented female dancers, BalletMet newcomer Karen Wing sets herself apart. Whether portraying the obstinate half of a quirky couple in Gustavo Ramírez Sansano’s Lovely Together; the sexy, gypsy-like character Temptation in artistic director Edwaard Liang’s Cinderella; or the social-climbing Myrtle Wilson in Jimmy Orrante’s The Great Gatsby, her versatility and intensity make her a standout.

The 24-year-old from Petaluma, California, graduated magna cum laude from the University of California—Irvine’s dance department. She spent a season with Sacramento Ballet before coming to BalletMet in 2014. The company’s diverse repertoire of new contemporary and classical ballets is what drew her to Columbus, but it has also helped her technique, confidence and artistry to grow.

Wing, who graces BalletMet’s 2015–16 season poster, says she is looking forward to performing Sansano’s Carmen.maquia and Liang’s Age of Innocence this season. Even when not in the spotlight, this rising star makes you believe there are no small roles in ballet. —Steve Sucato


Mahallia Ward, Joffrey Ballet
The first thing you notice about Joffrey Ballet dancer Mahallia Ward is the way she carries herself. Naturally elegant, she uses her beautifully expressive upper body in all her dancing. Every movement feels generated from the inside out.

Born to two former dancers, Ward, 22, was raised in Austin, Texas. Her training at Florida’s Harid Conservatory was intensely focused on the classics. But since joining the Joffrey in 2011, “some of my best opportunities have been in contemporary works,” she says, including Nicolas Blanc’s Evenfall and Stanton Welch’s Maninyas. “I really feel free when I dance them.”

Not only was she given the chance to dance Snow Queen in The Nutcracker and the soloist in Jerome Robbins’ Interplay, but she’s also performed in Christopher Wheeldon’s Continuum, Wayne McGregor’s Infra, Alexander Ekman’s Tulle and Justin Peck’s In Creases. As part of a company in which the non-ranked dancers often shift roles, she says she learns a great deal from the Joffrey’s veteran artists, especially her more experienced partners. “Dancing with Fabrice Calmels is like taking a pas de deux class,” she says.

As for dream roles, she hopes to one day dance Desdemona in Lar Lubovitch’s Othello. “And, of course, Giselle.” Outside of ballet, Ward is married to a teacher and is an enthusiastic lifestyle blogger at onballence.com. —Hedy Weiss


Tyler Donatelli, Houston Ballet
When Tyler Donatelli was plucked out of Houston Ballet II last year and made a company apprentice mid-season, she knew all eyes would be on her. Now Houston Ballet’s newest corps member, the 18-year-old native Californian proved she was ready for the challenge. “I knew that I would not have a teacher watching my every move,” says Donatelli, who initially trained under Salwa Rizkalla at Southland Ballet Academy in Fountain Valley, California. “I had to step up to the plate right away and get in the company mind-set.”

With her sparkling technique and natural acting abilities, Donatelli feels a special connection to artistic director Stanton Welch’s choreography, dancing in his premieres of Zodiac and full-length Romeo and Juliet last season. “I really feel in my element in his work.” Mark Morris’ new The Letter V offered yet another milestone, in that his low-key style was completely new to her. “It’s not about lines or going to your full extension at all,” she says. “It’s more about shapes—I have to think about each pose.”

In July, Donatelli traveled to Hamburg, Germany, to dance a solo role in Welch’s Tapestry as part of the Ballet Days festival. This season, she hopes to sink her dancing teeth into Balanchine’s Serenade and Welch’s brand-new Giselle. She looks to her peers for inspiration. “I love how hard everyone works here,” she says. “It pushes me every day to grow more.” —Nancy Wozny


Unity Phelan, New York City Ballet
Balanchine’s black-and-white ballets create desert landscapes: severe, austere, arid. In the hands (and feet) of the wrong dancers, they can look parched. But New York City Ballet’s Unity Phelan knows how to squeeze juice from them. She understands the wry humor of Agon’s first pas de trois, emphasizing its jazziness over its courtliness. She exudes joyful vitality as one of Symphony in Three Movements’ demi-soloists, wearing her ponytail high for extra bounce. She finds fun in ballets that initially seem very serious indeed.

Born in Princeton, New Jersey, Phelan began her training at the Princeton Ballet School, and spent three years at the School of American Ballet before joining NYCB as an apprentice in 2012. An innately musical dancer—she’s one of those rare artists whose bodies seem to conjure, rather than illustrate, the melody—Phelan began earning featured roles almost immediately, proving an especially gifted interpreter of neoclassical and contemporary ballets. But she has become increasingly comfortable in classical mode as well, particularly in ballets that showcase her pellucid petit allégro. —Margaret Fuhrer


Marisa Grywalski, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
You’d never know that Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Marisa Grywalski initially wasn’t supposed to dance the Angry Girl in Jerome Robbins’ comedic gem The Concert this past season. She was a natural as the moody, nerdy character. “At first I was shy, but I decided I was going to have fun onstage and then the audience would have fun, too,” said Grywalski. And they did.

The statuesque 24-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, has made quite an impression. Hired out of the PBT School Graduate Program, Grywalski’s line and technique act as beacons, drawing eyes to her in ballets like Swan Lake, La Bayadère and Balanchine’s Serenade. But in her first season with PBT, it was her newfound acting talents that garnered the most attention in featured roles. In addition to her comedic turn in The Concert, she played one of the petty, selfish sisters in Lew Christensen’s Beauty and the Beast—a role, she says jokingly, that growing up with sisters helped her prepare for. With Grywalski's talent, drive and versatility, her rise has potential to be a rapid one.
Steve Sucato


Andrei Chagas, Miami City Ballet
Sturdy and steady, Miami City Ballet’s Andrei Chagas could just be a go-to guy for athletic roles. This dancer has plenty of soul, however, and that lets him color his artistry with varied command. His gifts impressed Justin Peck, who picked him to alternate two lead roles in Heatscape, the choreographer’s world premiere for MCB last season.

“Facing such a challenge made me nervous at first,” admits Chagas, 22.  “But Justin’s piece brought me back to why I want to be onstage—to breathe in the performance and draw the audience close to me.”

Heatscape especially highlighted Chagas’ self-possessed jumps and partnering skills. “I’m a small dancer, but I like to dance big,” he says. “I don’t only trust technique, but also emotions—what the music tells me.”

MCB School taught this Rio de Janeiro native the discipline to achieve goals on a day-to-day basis. Since entering the corps in 2011, he has shone in Balanchine choreography, and met the brooding demands of contemporary works such as Nacho Duato’s Jardí Tancat, a favorite. His heart is set on dancing Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free this fall, although he insists that “what matters most is not what you’re performing, but how.” —Guillermo Perez

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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.

Keep reading at dancespirit.com.

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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Ballet Stars
Cuthbertson and Federico Bonelli as Alice and Jack/the Knave of Hearts. Photo by Andrej Uspenski, Courtesy ROH.

As told to Laura Cappelle.

I knew before Christopher Wheeldon even started Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that he wanted me to create the title role. We made Alice together. We feel like she is our girl! She's charming, witty, tough, curious. She's got a very big heart. She's also spontaneous, which helps the show, because you don't have to be calculated the whole time. You can bounce off the characters you come across, because everyone plays them slightly differently.

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Ballet Careers
Dominic Walsh (right) working with Whim W'him. Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography, Courtesy Whim W'him.

Summer is the perfect time for busy dancers to get some much-needed rest after a long season. But it's also a good opportunity to hone your technique. Summer training opportunities for professionals are scarce, although the ones that do exist are pretty great. Now, there is a welcome addition on the horizon that we're excited about.

Choreographer and former Houston Ballet principal Dominic Walsh recently announced that he has teamed up with the Colorado Conservatory of Dance to create the Compass Coaching Project, a two-week intensive for dancers over the age of 17. Held June 4–16 in the Denver suburb of Broomfield, the workshop is specially tailored for those in trainee, second company and apprentice positions. "In today's model of a dancer's profession, there is sometimes a long transition between student and professional," Walsh says in a statement. "I believe this is a crucial time for mentorship." Indeed, a dancer's early career is often marked by anxiety and uncertainty as they spend one or more years in low-paid or unpaid junior ranks.

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