Sisk worked most on the simple moments, like walking and posing. Photo by Luke Isley.

Paquita’s variations are some of ballet’s most celebrated examples of 19th-century classicism—and some of its most difficult. Interestingly, the solos we see today never existed in the original two-act ballet. Choreographed for the Paris Opéra Ballet in 1846 by Joseph Mazilier, the story centers on a Spanish gypsy named Paquita, who saves the life of Lucien, a French aristocrat. When she discovers that she is herself of noble blood, they marry in a big celebration.

The famous grand pas de deux was added by Marius Petipa in 1881, when he revised the full-length Paquita for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg. The variations didn’t come until a gala performance in 1896, when all of the reigning ballerinas of the day performed their favorite solo from a ballet of their choice. This one-act version stuck, while the full-length fell out of the repertoire.

Ballet West’s production honors this history, naming each solo for either its ballerina or its ballet of origin. The second variation, called “Pavlova,” is slow, lengthy and technically precarious, full of luxurious piqué arabesques and controlled pirouettes (Petipa choreographed it for Anna Pavlova in a different ballet). Demi-soloist Beckanne Sisk—with her expansive extensions, rock-solid balance and calm, centered demeanor—proved an easy choice for the role. “You need a lot of control for this variation,” says Sisk. “It’s so slow, there’s no hiding—if you’re not on, it’s obvious.”

A Regal Bearing

Although Paquita’s narrative no longer survives, Sisk still needed to reflect aristocratic elegance. Elena Kunikova, who staged BW’s production, helped her capture the light, lyrical approach that Pavlova was famous for, as well as the ballet’s detailed classicism and Spanish-styled épaulement. “Proper épaulement not only helps to define her character,” says Kunikova, “but it also captures the aura of the period.”

Sisk carefully observed the angle of Kunikova’s neck and shoulders whenever she demonstrated. “While I was dancing, I would picture Elena and try to mirror her,” she says. Kunikova stressed that Sisk keep her eyes focused somewhere specific, such as directly over her hands during the piqué arabesques or under the elbow in the bourrées. She also worked with Sisk on the tendu preparation before the bourrées, coaching her to initiate the port de bras with her breath and to feel resistance in her fingers, as if passing through water, to gain a soft, natural quality.

Sisk jokes that she practiced simple moments, like walking out on stage, more than the variation itself. The entrance and transition sections are surprisingly challenging. “One has to fill up long passages of music by simply walking and posing,” says Kunikova. “It’s not easy to stay in character when there are no steps.”

In order to project a poised, noble presence, Sisk needed to stay relaxed. She used her time backstage to find a Zen-like zone. “I would try to stay cool, calm and collected—the three Cs,” she says. “If you tense up, it’s just not going to look right.”

Stamina and Technique

The variation can be broken down into four main sections, and for Sisk, the second and third proved the most difficult. (“I like it that way, though,” she admits. “It’s nice to have the beginning and the end feel strong.”)

The second section calls for a set of bourrées, followed by a slow développé à la seconde into a relevé fouetté to arabesque. “I had to sacrifice some height in the développé side to prevent my leg from dropping in arabesque,” she says. Additionally, Sisk tried not to pull off her standing leg in anticipation of the piqué attitude that follows. “You can’t let your mind get ahead of what your body is doing. You have to finish the line first.” Yet once it’s time to piqué, “Really push off that front leg. Don’t be tentative, or you’ll never make it.”

She found the following section—a series of cabrioles landing in fifth to soutenu en dehors—the most exhausting. “You start to get pretty fatigued,” she says. “It’s been slow, slow, slow, and then suddenly the music speeds up and you have to jump.” To find the momentum to rotate all the way around in the soutenus, Sisk added a little extra oomph to her arms as she brought them in from second.

Because the variation lasts several minutes, Sisk initially struggled with her stamina. She worked gradually, section by section, to build endurance. “I would rehearse the first section by itself,” she recalls. “Then start over and do the first and second section together, then the first, second and third, until I finally got through the whole thing. By the third day of rehearsal, I could push through it.”

Less Is More

Turns come naturally to Sisk, so she looked forward to the pirouettes from fifth at the end of the variation. Still, the slow tempo presented a challenge. “You can’t punch the pirouettes,” she says. “You have to listen to the music and use less force.”

A solid fifth position preparation is another key to the turns’ success. Many dancers make the mistake of moving the front foot out of position in plié. “That just throws you off,” says Sisk. “Instead, take a second to feel your fifth, and breathe.”


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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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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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).

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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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