Dancers go to the studio every day to polish their technique, to deepen their artistry. But all those hours spent in front of the mirror have just one goal: to create something captivating onstage. These 10 performances from the past year took audiences to new places, and made them see the dancers—and dance—in a whole new light.

Lauren Cuthbertson
Only a year and a half ago, The Royal Ballet’s Lauren Cuthbertson wasn’t sure how she would make it back on stage. Diagnosed with glandular fever just after being promoted to principal, Cuthbertson watched her promising career stall as she battled the illness. But now she’s returned, and early this year she made her comeback: as the lead in Covent Garden’s first new full-length production in years, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Christopher Wheeldon tailored his Alice to Cuthbertson’s English-rose looks, airy jump and unaffected stage persona. Onstage almost from start to finish, she thrived around Lewis Carroll’s quirky characters. At once fresh and thoughtful, her dancing proved to be the guiding thread of the ballet, which was filmed for DVD release. Her obvious delight in the moment was an added bonus in Wonderland, and the buzz around the premiere said it all: a true English star was born—again. —Laura Cappelle

Uliana Lopatkina
Could Uliana Lopatkina be Wendy Whelan’s distant Russian cousin? Now the reigning senior ballerina at the Kirov, Lopatkina has matured into a dancer of rich, judicious intelligence. In a company that sometimes seems dominated by little girls, she’s a true grown-up. At the Metropolitan Opera House this summer, Lopatkina had a very un-Balanchinean take on the iconic Symphony in C adagio: Wild and off-balance she was not. Instead, she was thoughtful, tender and vulnerable without seeming helpless. Her laser-sharp technique can sometimes feel brittle, but in this pas that exquisite attention to detail worked to her advantage, burnishing the choreography to a high sheen and illuminating every note of the familiar Bizet score. —Margaret Fuhrer


Elysa Hotchkiss
For the past seven years, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre corps member Elysa Hotchkiss has been an up-and-comer on the precipice of true artistic maturity, constantly growing in both movement and presence. This spring, she got her career changer. In Balanchine’s Agon pas, her technical precision and spectacularly flexible back were both on full display. Hotchkiss wore the Balanchine style like a second skin. She became creature-like and chilling, her movements taking on a sort of nonchalant exactness. It seemed as though the music played at the whim of her movement. The artistic staff must have taken note: She returned to the company for the 2012 season promoted to the rank of soloist. —Kathleen McGuire

Pacific Northwest Ballet
It’s hard to decide which is the greater achievement: the staging or the performance of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Giselle. The stagers came into the studio intent on re-creating the original ballet as closely as they could. They used the Stepanov notation of Petipa’s Giselle, plus two rare French documents: notes from the 1860s and a much-scribbled-on score from 1842. (The scribbles revealed, among other surprises, that the original Giselle was rather feisty.) Painstakingly, with the help of the dancers, the stagers interpreted these old sources and stitched them together.

The performance, however, required PNB’s dancers to go completely classical—to turn their backs on their neoclassical and contemporary technique. Versatile and focused, they achieved Giselle’s essential quiet, floating magic. Principals and soloists excelled and the women’s corps, after struggling for years to build a true team, danced with graceful unity. Just as the reconstruction gave us a richer version of this beloved ballet, the performance gave us a richer version of PNB. —Rosie Gaynor


Chase Finlay
When New York City Ballet corps member Chase Finlay danced his first performance of Balanchine’s Apollo in May, many in the audience experienced a rush of déjà vu. With Finlay, the company had a 20-year-old, six-foot-one, sleekly muscled blond who not only looked like the kid brother of ballet master in chief Peter Martins, but already possessed the authority of presence and gesture to lay claim to the iconic 1928 ballet Martins had made his own. There were fleeting passages of roughness that needed to be sandpapered away, particularly in the intricate sections with the three muses (Sterling Hyltin, Tiler Peck, Ana Sophia Scheller). When Finlay returned to the stage for the finale, however, he burst from the wings with the power of a young god secure in his authority, before whom the muses fell back in awe. They meekly followed Apollo as he ascended to Mount Parnassus to reign as the Sun God. Finlay, now 21, rose to soloist at the end of the spring season. —Harris Green


Ida Praetorius
As the eager, then terrified student in Flemming Flindt’s The Lesson, Ida Praetorius had some advantages over more experienced dancers when she debuted in the role during the Royal Danish Ballet’s U.S. tour this past summer. For one, as an apprentice with the company, Praetorius did not need to dig very deep to recall her student days. For another, despite extraordinary extensions and rock-solid balances, Praetorius still has a youthful gawkiness that made her a plausible victim for a maniacal ballet teacher with homicidal impulses. And she brought striking credibility to the otherwise macabre scenario. At first tentative, then eager to show her dedication, she gradually shifted from enthusiastic to anxious to frightened as her teacher became more demanding. Her movements were as expressive as her face, evolving from uncontrolled exuberance to ragdoll exhaustion. In ballets as over-the-top as The Lesson, dancers can easily can slide into melodrama, but Praetorious’ innate dramatic flair kept her performance completely—and frighteningly—real. —Hanna Rubin

Joseph Gorak
Swan Lake’s Act III character dances usually pass by in something of a blur, with everyone waiting politely, and perhaps a bit sleepily, for the big fireworks of the Black Swan pas de deux. But American Ballet Theatre fans got a zing of a wake-up call this year whenever Joseph Gorak danced in the Neapolitan variation. The young corps member, who won both the Erik Bruhn Prize and a Princess Grace Award this year, is blessed with remarkable natural facility: beautiful classical proportions, unusual flexibility and crescent-moon feet that even colleague David Hallberg might envy. But it’s the casual flawlessness of his technique that really hooks you. In Neapolitan, his pop-goes-the-weasel jumps and Xerox-copy pirouettes looked effortless. And Gorak, who sported an irrepressible, giddy grin for the whole variation, seemed thrilled to be in the spotlight—a place that will probably become very familiar to him soon. —Margaret Fuhrer


Jessica Collado
Houston Ballet soloist Jessica Collado often shines in soulful roles. But for Christopher Bruce’s Grinning In Your Face, inspired by Dorothea Lange’s Depression-era photographs, Collado stripped away the pretty to arrive at a raw, bare-bones place in her dancing. It felt equally authentic and poetic. Collado also brought a touch of whimsy to the ballet’s romantic moments—while never letting us forget that these were hard times. Trained in jazz from an early age, Collado’s elastic lines and dynamic timing fit nicely within Bruce’s unhinged yet lyrical movement quality; this combination of dancer and choreographer brought out new depths of expression and tenderness. —Nancy Wozny


Nicole Ciapponi
It’s sometimes startling to realize that Nicole Ciapponi is still a teenager. Fresh out of San Francisco Ballet’s trainee program, the young corps de ballet member joined the company in 2010 at 16 and jumped almost immediately into soloist roles. At SFB’s opening gala, Ciapponi dazzled in William Forsythe’s formidable The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, and just a week later she led the third movement of Balanchine’s Symphony in C with the kind of poise that usually takes years to hone. Ciapponi tackled Balanchine with a youthful energy and a crystalline musicality, but surprisingly, she has none of the coltishness that one might expect given her age. She was so solid in Symphony in C that when a last-minute replacement was needed to lead the fourth movement, Ciapponi jumped in and turned out a fresh, utterly confident performance—an auspicious beginning for one of the most promising careers in the company. —Mary Ellen Hunt

Larissa Ponomarenko and Jeffrey Cirio

Boston Ballet is defying expectations—and getting it right. In last April’s “Elo Experience,” resident choreographer Jorma Elo paired the company’s most lauded ballerina with one of its newest young men; the result was a blend of freshness and experience that augmented the riveting unpredictability of Elo’s choreography. At the time, 18-year Boston Ballet veteran Larissa Ponomarenko was less than two months away from retiring, while second-soloist Jeffrey Cirio was only a year and a half into company life. Their partnership wove in, out and through collected highlights of Elo’s works, establishing an arc to the evening. Ponomarenko countered Cirio’s irresistible aliveness with mature mastery, while he set a golden standard of childlike innocence and curiosity—which she met. Both dancers embodied the diverse demands of their roles—which included speaking in English and Russian, as well as singing—through a story that read like the dark, dreamlike maze of memory. —Ashley Rivers

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.


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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Lopez in Circus Polka. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB.

When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

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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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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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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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