Press room, Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, before show time (loud bells interrupt us between 7:40 and 8 pm). Natalia Osipova, American Ballet Theatre’s 26-year-old star ballerina, has come from rehearsal wearing a purple T-shirt over crocheted tights and down booties. No makeup, heart-shaped face, small features, black hair pulled back, like a fresh-faced elf. Osipova’s continent-straddling career—she and fiancé Ivan Vasiliev are also principals at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, after their headline-grabbing departure from the Bolshoi Ballet—has made her an international name. She puts feet up on couch, asking if I mind. I don’t!


You told me once that your parents moved back to Russia from Israel, and that you spent summers with your grandmother in Israel.
Yes, that’s true. It was hard times in the USSR when they were young. They wanted a better life. Israel was a young state. If you had relatives there you could get a visa. But after a while it didn’t go well, so they moved back. My sister and I were both born in Moscow. 

Parents?
I come from a simple family, you could say working class. Mama went to school, then she met my father. She had a child—and she was a mom. That was her profession from then on, and she did it very well.  

What was your father’s work? 
He was educated as an engineer. But he did sports.

Really, which? 
Karate. He was talented. But he got a knee injury. So he went into another sphere. He did everything for the family. He ran around [she waves her arms in the air] so we could have toys and pretty dresses. When I was born, in 1986, the Soviet Union was beginning to break up. People were poor. I feel very grateful to my parents. I never lacked for anything.

Did your father’s karate background lead to your studying gymnastics?
Yes. He used to stretch me, and lift me over his head, and do all kinds of interesting things when I was small. I started studying around 4 or 5 at small studios. When I was 8, I got a spine injury. They thought if I continued, I would feel the injury all my life. But after I started ballet it went away.

Where did you start ballet?
I spent some time in Leonid Lavrovsky’s private ballet school in Moscow. Then I was accepted into the Bolshoi Ballet’s Moscow school.

Did you like it?
No! It was not very interesting. I came from sport! Every day, those same pliés at the barre [she makes a face]. I didn’t pay attention to the teacher. I looked out the window. I was more interested in playing street games after school with the other kids. But I was good at ballet. 

Gymnastics had helped?
Not entirely. There were problems too. You stand parallel a lot in gymnastics, not turned out. I had to fight to get turnout.

You went into the Bolshoi right out of school? 
Yes, they took 4 of us from my class of girls, out of 11.

What role did Alexei Ratmansky play in your career?
Ratmansky gave me my career. He and I came into the Bolshoi together [Osipova into the corps de ballet, Ratmansky as the Bolshoi’s new director]. He was young. He noticed young talent. He wanted something new—new repertoire, new faces, fresh air. I didn’t dance much in the corps de ballet, but I danced variations and pas de deux. I danced in Balanchine’s Symphony in C, the third movement. After one year I got to dance my first major role, Kitri in Don Quixote.

I read in another interview that, after you danced Kitri, people didn’t think you could do other kinds of roles. 
Yes, Kitri is such a bright role. You do it with temperament. People think that’s your “emploi” [the style that suits you]. You have to show them otherwise. Giselle is the first role where I could show I could do other kinds of things. 

The Giselle you just danced at ABT with David Hallberg was very powerful. What did you discover in the role this time? 
Something about not over-demonstrating love. When we first danced Giselle together, we were like children—very emotional. Very demonstrative about Albrecht and Giselle being in love. Now we’re both more mature. We can trust that stage chemistry, which already is deeper. I had the impression onstage that I looked into his eyes, and from that moment I couldn’t tear myself away. 

What is it like for you, on the stage? 
[She thinks.] In Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, La Sylphide, sometimes there’s that moment when I can, like, love more than one loves in life. I can feel more strongly than in life.

And Gamzatti in Bayadère, which you just danced here at ABT?
When I was young, and danced it a couple of times at the Bolshoi, I didn’t like the role at all. I didn’t believe I could be that hard a person—such a bitch. I’m a positive person—I love people. Now I’m older. I’ve lived through things. It got interesting to become a bad person. I wanted to base the role this time on loving Solor. Everything happens because of love for Solor.

Much has been written about you and your fiancé, Ivan Vasiliev, leaving the Bolshoi for St. Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky, about wanting not to be typecast. How do you feel now about that move?
I don’t regret the decision. It feels much simpler and easier now without the Bolshoi. Maybe I’m that kind of person—not liking to be tied to one place.

How is it working with Nacho Duato, the new artistic director of ballet at the Mikhailovsky? 
It’s interesting! He’s making a new Romeo and Juliet on me and Vasiliev. It’s nice to work there. More peaceful. The theater is smaller, more human-scale. There’s a great coach, Zhanna Ayupova. We’ve worked through several roles together already. 

But where’s your home?
[Laughs.] We don’t have a home now! Our home is where we are working. It’s not so bad—I’m here in New York for two and a half months, in a rented apartment. In St. Petersburg I live in a rented apartment. Of course, Moscow is “home”—my parents are there. It’s too bad we can’t appear as guests at the Bolshoi, but that’s their attitude.

What are your dreams for the future?
[Laughs.] I’m full, I’m…[She says a Russian word for this that I don’t know. But she wants me to know it, so she looks it up on her iPhone. It means when you’ve eaten your fill—satiated.] I’m young. I’ve already done so many ballets. I can’t imagine life without dance. But it’s not like a religion as it is for some people. In the future I’ll maybe have a child, maybe two. I would hope that I could be happy as a woman.

How do you define ballerina?
[Laughs again.] Ballerina! What a term! I suppose I’m a ballerina. I dance all the time. I sew my shoes in the evening. It doesn’t matter what they call me. It’s the same with reviews. I don’t worry about them—good, bad—it’s the same to me. I get pleasure from dancing. I feel myself happy. I was born to give people happiness on the stage.

What’s the secret of your jump?
[Pauses, laughs.] Nature!

What do you do to relax?
I love to watch films. Not just Russian—Hollywood films, too. I love The Godfather, all three parts. Wonderful atmosphere. I love Al Pacino. But my favorite actor is Tom Hanks. On the surface he looks like nothing special. Then he transforms himself into something different for every role.

What advice do you have for young dancers?
Advice for young dancers? [She laughs.] In school, listen to the teacher. In the theater, listen to yourself. There’s nobody but you, finally. Listen to your heart. It will tell you what’s interesting for the audience.

Elizabeth Kendall, a New York dance historian, is the author of

Balanchine and the Lost Muse (Oxford University Press, 2013).


































































Training
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As summer intensive audition season starts up, I've been reminiscing about my own experience as a young dancer—way back in 1993—and how challenging it was to navigate. In fact, I think it's safe to say that my first summer program audition was a complete disaster.

I was almost 16—a little late by some standards—and was still pretty clueless as to how I compared to others outside my hometown. That weighed heavily on my mind as my parents and I made the hour-long drive to Milwaukee. The audition was for a school in Pennsylvania, and as I scanned the big-city studio, my mind slipped into exaggerated teenage self-consciousness. Dancers lined the barres stretching, showing off their flexibility as if doing some sort of war ritual. Many were chatting in groups, wearing trendy warm-up jumpers and donning perfectly shellacked buns. I tried to act like I knew what I was doing, but inside I was a wreck.

The teacher clapped his hands together to begin class. He was fast-paced, no-nonsense and not one for smiles. During pliés, he stopped in front of me with his clipboard as I emerged from a cambré back. He looked me up and down, frowned and kept going. I, of course, freaked out—what did that mean? I still had an entire hour and a half left of class to prove I was still capable, but instead I completely lost my concentration. I just couldn't shake that frown. I forgot combinations and even started with the wrong foot in front a few times in center. By jumps, the adjudicators had stopped watching me altogether. Needless to say, I spent the majority of the ride home trying not to cry.

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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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popular
via YouTube

It's finally the weekend, and we're celebrating the best way we know how—a new ballet video. Juliet Doherty (who trained with San Francisco Ballet and Master Ballet Academy, and is set to star in the dance film, On Pointe), teamed up with Cartoon Network for her latest project.

"Cartoon Network contacted me about their show, Steven Universe, which was coming out with a new vinyl album of the soundtrack of the show," Doherty shared with Pointe. "They told me about one of the show's main characters named, Pearl, who is a strong-willed character but has the grace inspired by a ballerina."

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Videos
Mr. Jeremy FIsher, from Sir Frederick Ashton's "The Tales of Beatrix Potter."

Animal roles might not typically be what dancers dream of performing…but they're oh-so-fun to watch. You can't help falling under their spell (and perhaps aspiring to dance one someday). Here's a round-up of some of our favorite furry and feathered roles.

Bunny Hop

Run. Dance in a circle. Pretend to be a rabbit. It might sound like a creative movement combo, but don't let that fool you. The role of Peter Rabbit in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Tales of Beatrix Potter requires fierce technique—not to mention the ability to project personality while wearing an animal head and fur suit.


Four-Legged Interlude

Who do you turn to for halftime entertainment during a quartet of fairy variations? Dancing lizards, mice and a frog of course! This charming quintet of creatures light up the stage in David Bintley's Cinderella.

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Your Career
Photo Courtesy Barry Kerollis.

I was probably about 15 years old when the director of my local dance school, seeing my drive and ambition, asked me to work as a teaching assistant for one of the main ballet instructors. She asked to meet with me to discuss the details of my new job. She explained what my role was in the studio, expectations of me in the position and more. But as we approached the end of my meeting, I wasn't expecting the conversation to take the serious turn that it did.

"Now, Barry, I need you to be very, very careful about how you work with these young girls. Kids are sensitive and, especially considering that you are a man, if you correct them in a way that can be viewed as sexual by either a student or a parent, even if you didn't do anything, you could be jeopardizing your future as a teacher and in this field." The look on my face must have been utter shock; the prospect of losing my job or getting sued over sharing my artform had never crossed my mind. This forever changed my perspective on being a dance educator, and I still find myself overly cautious about the way that I work with my students today.

Unless you've been hiding underneath a holiday blanket, it has become abundantly clear that we are undergoing a massive cultural shift here in the States. It started in the entertainment industry, then shifted to major corporations. Sexual misconduct in the form of harassment and assault that had been swept under the rug for years is bubbling to the surface. Things began to boil quite quickly, and those interested in our performing-arts world were speculating that something was going to be brought up in our tight-knit community, especially considering the hands-on approach that teachers have with students, dancers have with other dancers and artistic staff has while coaching employees. I had to sit on my own hands for over a month, after I was given a heads-up that a major news publication was working on an exposé about Peter Martins and his many alleged abuses (which had been quietly circulating around our dance community for years).

Keep reading at dance-teacher.com.

Summer Study Advice
Erica Lall and Shaakir Muhammad in class at American Ballet Theatre's 2013 New York Summer Intensive. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

This story originally appeared in the December 2013/January 2014 issue of Pointe.

When Pacific Northwest Ballet School student Madison Abeo was accepted into San Francisco Ballet School's summer session on a partial scholarship, she was thrilled. But then she added up the remaining cost for the program and realized she didn't have the funds. “I really wanted to go," she says, “but we just couldn't make the other half of it work."

Ballet training is expensive. For many families, a trip to a dream summer intensive simply isn't in the budget. SFB was $2,500 out of Abeo's reach. But she was determined. At the suggestion of her aunt, Abeo created a Facebook fan page where she asked for opportunities to babysit or perform odd jobs, and included a link to a PayPal account where friends and family could make donations. Two local dancewear businesses, Vala Dancewear and Class Act Tutu, offered to outfit her for fundraising photos, which a photographer took for her Facebook page for free. By June, Abeo had raised enough for tuition—plus plenty of pointe shoes.

Affording your dream intensive isn't as difficult as you might think. There are a surprising number of eager dance supporters out there. Case in point: On Kickstarter, dance projects have the highest success rate of any type of campaign, with dancers receiving over $4 million in donations through the site since it began. You can also apply for need- or merit-based grants and scholarships, either through your summer program or an outside foundation. Most dancers who want it badly enough can make it happen.


Madison Abeo with other Pacific Northwest Ballet School students in the 2013 School Performance of an excerpt from "Serenade," choreography by George Balanchine. Photo by Rex Tranter, Courtesy Abeo.

Take Your Cause to the (Online) Streets

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Summer Study Advice
In class at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy summer intensive. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Russian American Foundation.

When Complexions Contemporary Ballet's summer intensive program director Meg Paul auditions students for its Detroit intensive, there's one thing that catches her eye for all the wrong reasons. "It's a real pet peeve of mine when a dancer keeps shifting her eyes to me during a phrase," she says. "It tells me that she's not fully invested in the movement, that she's more interested in being watched than in embodying the choreography."

Every summer intensive director has their own list of audition deal-breakers, but there are a handful of universal turnoffs to avoid. "Yes, we want the most talented students, but when talent is paired with a bad attitude or improper etiquette, it gives us pause," Paul says. While certain behaviors may seem minor, they can make all the difference when it comes time for scholarship offers or even acceptance decisions.

DEAL BREAKER #1: Not Presenting Yourself Professionally

An audition is a first impression, and you want to look your best. This begins with researching the specific intensive's audition requirements. "Our audition has a dress code, and we expect dancers to respect that," says Rina Kirshner, director of the Russian American Foundation's Bolshoi Ballet Academy programs. "We want dancers to stand out through hard work and talent, not brightly colored leotards or flowers in their hair."

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