With a name like Grace, long legs, flexible hips and an innate elegance, Grace Shibley seems to have been destined for ballet. But when asked what comes easily for her, a smile breaks out on her pretty, heart-shaped face: “I don’t feel like anything comes easily!”
Her teachers might put it differently, citing Shibley’s work ethic, her ability to listen closely and her habit of taking every opportunity to learn as factors in her success. “Jumping is hard for me, turning is not a strong point,” continues Shibley, and then she pauses again as though the list goes on and on. “I was one of those girls whose limbs flailed around.”
There’s no flailing these days. Shibley dances in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s corps with a beautiful specificity. She understands shape and line, tension and release, and she exhibits a refined sense of musical phrasing. She opens herself up to the audience with the quiet glow of someone who used to be shy. Whether she’s dancing with the dreamy grace of Afternoon of a Faun or the swanky sass of Ellington Suite, the movement seems a natural expression of her inner being.
Afternoon of a Faun was one of the first pieces Shibley learned when she joined OBT in 2007. Third cast, in a four-performance run, the chances that she would get to dance it onstage were pretty slim. But dance it she did.
That season, Shibley was also cast as the female lead in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, and the following season she danced four principal roles. Each has come as a surprise to Shibley—and, in some ways, to OBT’s Artistic Director Christopher Stowell. He sometimes gives dancers an opportunity to learn a role that might be suitable for them later in their careers. But Shibley, Stowell says, “is good at pulling the performance together without help. If working in the corner she can turn it into a full interpretation, she should get an opportunity to do it. Nobody has to explain to Grace what something’s about, or where to make an effect, or what impact this dance is supposed to have. Those big ideas are clear to her.”
At 20 years old, Portland-born Shibley is actually the same age as OBT. In some ways, they’ve grown up together. She transferred to OBT’s school shortly before Stowell came to the company in 2003. She never left. Summer intensives elsewhere didn’t make sense to her, professionally or economically. She had an offer of a traineeship at San Francisco Ballet, but turned it down when OBT offered her a company contract that same year.
What’s in store for this delicate-looking ballerina who reminds people of Suzanne Farrell, Tanaquil Le Clercq and Audrey Hepburn? She seems to enjoy herself, whether she’s dancing lead roles or corps ones. “I like being part of something bigger,” says Shibley, “like being a corps swan in Swan Lake. It feels good standing with everybody in our matching tutus. It kills your feet, but the music is beautiful and you feel like there’s moonlight on your neck. You’re part of making this exquisite ballet happen. I can’t imagine anything more fulfilling than that.”
At a Glance
Name: Grace Shibley
Company: Oregon Ballet Theatre
Training: Portland Metro Performing Arts Center and School, and School of Oregon Ballet Theatre
Favorite role performed: The Ballerina in Jerome Robbins’ The Concert
Dream role: Terpsichore in Balanchine’s Apollo
American Ballet Theatre's Cassandra Trenary seems to have it all—not only is our June/July 2016 cover star a dazzling soloist at ABT, she has a sunny, down-to-earth personality and a life-saving hero for a husband. But her first year in the company had its fair share of disappointments—in fact, she almost left dance altogether to pursue acting.
In May, the National YoungArts Foundation, an organization that provides scholarships and mentorship to aspiring performing artists, brought Trenary (herself a 2011 YoungArts winner) and ABT artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky together for a salon-style discussion. Together they talked about critical turning points in their careers, as well as the challenges of navigating the dance world as a young professional. Below are exclusive excerpts of their interview—we hope their words inspire you as much as they inspire us!
There's still time to enter YoungArts's national arts competition for a chance at scholarships, workshops and more. Click here for information on how to apply.
As a teenager, Adrian Durham studied at his local ballet school in Lake Charles, Louisiana. "I was one of three or four guys training there, and there were no male teachers," says Durham. "Most of my partnering experience came from rehearsals for performances." But after he began training with the male scholarship program at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in 2014, he experienced a sea change. "It challenged me mentally, physically and emotionally, because it's such an intense program," he says. Now 20, he is preparing for a professional career with an integrated set of tools: ballet technique, physical strength and partnering skills.
Men's ballet technique classes have been available for decades, especially at summer intensives and urban ballet schools. Yet programs designed specifically for male dancers, often offering full scholarships, have been rarer—until now, that is. Training that allows boys to separately explore their skills, above and beyond a supplement of double tours en l'air and pirouettes à la seconde at the conclusion of a mixed class, can literally give young men a leg up as they aspire towards a dance career.
To watch Irina Kolpakova coach Swan Lake is to witness a true artist at work. Although long retired from the stage, the American Ballet Theatre ballet mistress still possesses a commanding presence and an instinctive artistic spirit.
"Don't think about your shape when you first see Siegfried," she tells principal Isabella Boylston during rehearsal for Odette's Act II entrance. "This is not 'port de bras.' This is 'Don't touch me!' " Kolpakova demonstrates, transforming instantly into the Swan Queen. Her eyes sparkling and alive, every inch of her diminutive stature swells with a palpable energy capable of reaching the highest ring of the balcony.
Call it stage presence, call it the "it" factor, some dancers just have a natural ability to draw people in and change the atmosphere around them. Stage presence can carry a dancer to a higher artistic realm. It's the final piece of the puzzle, the emotional heart of a performance that can bring an audience to tears. Without it, even the best choreography risks falling flat.
Last fall, Diana Vishneva shocked her NYC following when she announced that she would give her final performance with American Ballet Theatre on June 23, 2017. The Russian-born dancer has been part of ABT since performing in Romeo and Juliet as a guest artist in 2003, and has held the title of principal dancer with the company since 2005 in addition to her principal role with the Mariinksy Ballet. Throughout her time with ABT, which she spoke about in the below video for The New Yorker, Vishneva has danced as a guest artist with Bolshoi Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet and Berlin State Ballet.
Karen Kain is internationally renowned as a performer and as the National Ballet of Canada's artistic director. The former NBoC principal always carries herself with the grace and sophistication of a true leader. However, in this 1976 clip from Giselle, the distinguished ballerina is convincingly naïve and bewildered in her interpretation of the mad scene.
Kain conveys Giselle's innocence at the start of the scene with pure, unaffected gestures and facial expressions. Then, after Albrecht betrays her, her eyes stare unfocused into the distance as if she's in a trance. Although this scene is mostly acting, Kain dances dreamily to the musical motif at 5:30 and conceals her technical strength in order to show the character's frailty. It takes a true ballerina to perform this heartbreaking and beautiful role, and with performances like this and her lifelong commitment to the art form, Kain proves that she is an extraordinary one. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!
If you, like many of us here at Pointe, wish you could have seen Royal Ballet star Zenaida Yanowsky's retirement performance on June 7, you're in luck. The Royal will screen a recording of it in select movie theaters across the U.S. starting Sunday, June 25. (In many cities, it will be screened on Tuesday, July 11.) The program includes three works by the company's founding choreographer, Sir Frederick Ashton: The Dream, Symphonic Variations and Marguerite and Armand—the latter of which stars Yanowsky and Roberto Bolle. You can also catch other Royal favorites like Marianela Nuñez, Vadim Muntagirov, Steven McRae, Akane Takada and Yasmin Naghdi. Make sure to bring tissues!
To find dates, times and theaters near you, click here.
Choreographer Diane Coburn Bruning has a different kind of vision for her Chamber Dance Project. Though she relocated the project-based company from New York City to Washington, DC several years ago, her focus remains on creating collaborations between classically-trained ballet dancers and other contemporary artists to share in intimate venues with live music. This summer, the artistic director brings together dancers from Cincinnati, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Washington Ballets for a condensed period of time. The company's 2017 season show titled Ballet Brass & Song opens this weekend, and features works by Jennifer Archibald, Jorge Amarante, and a world premiere by Coburn Bruning herself. We caught up with her last week to hear more about her company's mission.