Olga Smirnova

Expectations can be a heavy burden to bear for a young dancer on the fast track to stardom. Few have justified the hype like the Bolshoi Ballet's 21-year-old Olga Smirnova. The Vaganova-trained first soloist had an international coming out party to remember in London this summer. Her performances in La Bayadère and Swan Lake were the talk of critics and audiences alike, and stepping out on the Covent Garden stage in Balanchine's "Diamonds," Smirnova announced herself as a ballerina of rare natural talent. Tall and expansive, she exudes the old-fashioned, slightly reticent glamour of a balletic Greta Garbo. She made the role her own, combining an aura of regal mystery with instinctive musicality and épaulement. Partnered by the seemingly awed Semyon Chudin, she danced the pas de deux and the faster third and fourth movements with a purity beyond her years. Russian ballet has found itself a new queen. —Laura Cappelle

Karina González
Karina González has always been a powerhouse in contemporary work. But in Houston Ballet's La Bayadère last season, she proved her mettle in ballet blanc. Her performance brought home why we go to these vintage ballets over and over: to see what a particular dancer can do with a classic role. As Nikiya, González exemplified all that is light and fragile, with a port de bras that was at once fluid and precise. The delicacy of her dancing served as a counterpoint to La Bayadère's excesses. It pulled this old warhorse out of the past, making the ballet's storytelling feel fresh once again. Artistic director Stanton Welch must have thought so too, because he promoted her to principal on opening night. —Nancy Wozny

James Whiteside
It took a while for New York to get to know James Whiteside. The American Ballet Theatre principal, who joined the company as a soloist in September 2012, spent much of last season giving polished but cautiously polite performances.

Then he was cast as Don Quixote matador Espada during ABT's Metropolitan Opera House season.

Maybe Whiteside was finally able to shrug off his Met stage nerves. Maybe he had just settled into his ABT groove. Whatever the reason, Espada marked the first time Whiteside registered on the New York ballet world's Richter scale. Though choreographically slight, the part has the potential to be deliciously hammy, and Whiteside made the most of every hair-tossing, cape-twirling moment, finishing each assemblé with an imperious thrust of his chin. Forget polite: Gleefully, unabashedly flamboyant, Whiteside transformed what is sometimes a ho-hum secondary role into a work of high camp. (Fans of his pop-music alter ego, JbDubs, might not have been surprised.) —Margaret Fuhrer

Jon Bond

Jon Bond first made waves at Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in 2007 with a muscular, undulating street-based style. His roots in competition dance and work in music videos gave his movements a pop-culture sheen. Yet after six years working with Cedar Lake's rotating roster of world-class choreographers, Bond has matured beautifully. An underlying grace now weaves itself into his physical ferocity. When he took the stage at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival this summer in the opening beats of Crystal Pite's Grace Engine, his clipped shuffle felt watchful, weighted—above all, controlled. At times, his solos seemed modest and tense; elsewhere, his reactions were explosive. Yet his movement was specific throughout: He's become lighter on his feet, and utterly mesmerizing. —Rachel F. Elson

The Cast of Soirée Musicale

New York City Ballet is known for giving even its greenest talents big opportunities—and for a young NYCB dancer, getting a featured role in a gala performance is equivalent to being anointed a future star. This year, the company's spring gala marked the arrival of the whole cast of Christopher Wheeldon's Soirée Musicale. Nearly all of the work's 10 featured dancers were either new to the company (Indiana Woodward, Peter Walker, Harrison Ball) or newly promoted (Lauren Lovette, Chase Finlay, Taylor Stanley, Brittany Pollack); all of them were very young. But they gave the kinds of full, well-considered performances usually associated with seasoned veterans. Leading the remarkable ensemble were Lovette and Finlay, who closed the ballet with a new pas de deux, tailored to them by Wheeldon. It was a grown-up duet—glamorous, poignant, achingly romantic—and we watched the two of them become adults onstage. —Margaret Fuhrer

Jermel Johnson

Audiences have long adored Jermel Johnson for his power and precision in Pennsylvania Ballet's more virtuosic repertoire. But who knew that just below the surface was a sophisticated elegance waiting to come out in more subtle roles? As Phlegmatic in Balanchine's The Four Temperaments Johnson magnetized not with his terrific jumps, but with the silken unfurling of his limbs, the fleetness of his développés and the refined architectures of his full form. He commanded the stage with a quality that hovered between neutral and ravishingly sensual. Mr. B would have approved. Johnson's swift rise at Pennsylvania Ballet from apprentice (2004) to principal (2012) has been thrilling to witness, and this new maturity has deepened his already compelling artistry. —Lisa Kraus

Evgenia Obraztsova

Bolshoi Ballet principal Evgenia Obraztsova has been a muse for French choreographer Pierre Lacotte since she created his reconstruction of Ondine at the Mariinsky Ballet in 2006. Their creative relationship reached a new milestone with his version of La Sylphide, which Obraztsova, a born Sylph, first performed with Moscow's Stanislavsky Ballet in 2011. Last summer, she was invited to repeat it in the mecca of French ballet: the Paris Opéra. The result was an exquisite, career-defining performance by a rare artist. Obraztsova's command of the intricate French style was effortless; she breezed through Lacotte's ornate footwork and balances with gossamer grace, and imbued this quintessentially French ballet with a distinctly Russian perfume. She was a Romantic dream with a twist: Unlike Bournonville's Sylphide, this creature of the woods is more femme fatale than ingénue, and like James, the Paris audience was bewitched at first sight. —Laura Cappelle

Sarah Cecilia Griffin

Sarah Cecilia Griffin is that rarest of creatures: a true balletic chameleon. She has both impressive classical technique and also the ability to completely let it go. In choreographer Amy Seiwert's SKETCH 3: Expectations showcase this July, Griffin performed pieces by Val Caniparoli, Marc Brew and Seiwert—seamlessly falling to the floor, crawling and climbing, and rising into the arms of ever-changing partners. Yet when the choreography drew from the classical canon, the 27-year-old revealed impeccably honed attitudes, grands jetés and pirouettes. On pointe or in jazz shoes, she brought emotional intensity that was true to the work, as well as a special something that drew your eye over and over, without her trying to get your attention. Her transitions from one extreme to the other appeared effortless, and the effect was simply thrilling. —Claudia Bauer

Sarasota Ballet

In the wrong hands, Sir Frederick Ashton's Les Patineurs can easily devolve into an old-fashioned cliché. There are the matching bonnets, the postcard-pretty set, the dancers pretending to ice skate, the choreographed “falls." But when Sarasota Ballet performed this 1930s one-act at Ballet Across America, there wasn't a speck of dust on it. Under the direction of “Sir Fred" devotee Iain Webb, the dancers of this small Florida troupe have become exquisite interpreters of Ashton's works. In Les Patineurs, they giddily lit up the stage, bringing distinct personalities to each scene without ever becoming saccharine. All of the choreography's gliding, spinning and grinning felt completely natural—and as exciting as if it had been choreographed yesterday. —Jennifer Stahl

Irina Dvorovenko

Glamour and humor are an invincible combination. When American Ballet Theatre principal Irina Dvorovenko glided out of the wings as the diva ballerina Vera Baronova in the Encores! revival of On Your Toes, balletomanes in the audience did a double take. The swan queen extraordinaire had transformed into a slinky vamp with a libido to equal her ego. On Your Toes marked Balanchine's first full Broadway show back in the 1930s; in its famous "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" climax, the hoofer and the ballerina-turned-stripper literally dance for their lives. Dvorovenko didn't merely triumph in Balanchine's homage to burlesque; she brought a wicked sense of fun to her fishnets. And she handled the show's risqué dialogue with a deadpan delivery that theater veterans would envy. A Broadway star had been born. —Hanna Rubin

Video still by Nel Shelby Productions, Courtesy Dancio.

"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."

For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.

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New York City Ballet in "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy Lincoln Center.

Nutcracker season is upon us, with productions popping up in on stages in big cities and small towns around the country. But this year you can catch New York City Ballet's famous version on the silver screen, too. Lincoln Center at the Movies and Screen Vision Media are presenting a limited engagement of NYCB's George Balanchine's The Nutcracker at select cinemas nationwide starting December 2. It stars Ashley Bouder as Dewdrop and Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz as the Sugarplum Fairy and Cavalier.

While nothing beats seeing a live performance (the company's theatrical Nutcracker run opens Friday), the big screen will no doubt magnify some of this production's most breathtaking effects: the Christmas tree that grows to an impressive 40 feet, Marie's magical spinning bed, and the stunning, swirling snow scene. Click here to find a participating movie theater near you—then, go grab some popcorn.

Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet rehearsing for "The Sleeping Beauty" for the 2017/18 season. Photo by Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet.

Today the Pennsylvania Ballet's board of trustees announced the appointment of Shelly Power as its new executive director. Having been involved in the five-month international search, company artistic director Angel Corella said in a statement released by PAB that he's "certain Shelly is the best candidate to lead the administrative team that supports the artistic vision of the company." Power's official transition will begin in February. This news comes at the end of a few years of turmoil and turnover at PAB, including the departure of former executive director David Gray in June.

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Pointe Stars
Tiler Peck with Andrew Veyette in "Allegro Brillante." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy New York City Ballet.

"I was particularly excited when I saw my name on casting for Allegro Brillante in 2009," remembers principal dancer Tiler Peck. "Balanchine had said Allegro was, 'everything I know about classical ballet in 13 minutes,' and of course that terrified me." To calm her fear, Peck followed her regular process for debuts: begin by going back to the original performers to get an idea of the quality and feeling of the ballet and ballerina. "It is never to imitate, but rather to surround myself with as much knowledge from the past as I can so that I can find my own way," says Peck.

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Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker.' Photo by Rich Sofranko

Catching a performance of The Nutcracker has long been a holiday tradition for many families. And now, more and more companies are adding sensory-friendly elements to specific shows in an effort to make the classic ballet inclusive to children and adults with special needs.

While the accommodations vary depending on the company, many are presenting shorter versions of the ballet with more relaxed theater rules. Additionally, lower sound and stage light levels during the performance, as well as trained staff on hand, make The Nutcracker more accessible for those on the autism spectrum and others with special needs.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's performance will take place on Tuesday, December 26th, and they are one of the pioneer companies in presenting sensory-friendly performances of The Nutcracker (their first production was in 2013). PBT has also offered sensory-friendly versions of Jorden Morris' Peter Pan and Lew Christensen's Beauty and the Beast in the past.

See our list of sensory-friendly performances, and check out each site for all of the details regarding their offerings.

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Your Best Body
Pilates hundred intermediate set-up, modeled by Jordan Miller. Photo by Emily Giacalone.

The Pilates hundred is a popular exercise used by many dancers for conditioning and warming up, but it's also one of the most misunderstood. Pumping your arms for 100 counts sounds simple enough, but it requires coordinated breathwork, a leg position that suits your abilities and proper alignment. Marimba Gold-Watts, who works with New York City Ballet dancers at her Pilates studio, Articulating Body, breaks down this surprisingly hard exercise. When done correctly, the benefits are threefold: "If you're doing it before class," she says, "the hundred is a great way to get your blood flowing and work on breath control and abdominal support all at once."

To Start

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Nod your chin toward the front of your throat, and reach your fingertips long.

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Pointe Stars

At just 16 years old, the Bolshoi Ballet's Maria Alexandrova already had the makings of a great artist. In this variation from Coppélia, she portrays the carefree Swanilda with blithe, youthful ease.

When she bounds on stage in her perky pink tutu, you immediately notice her legs–they just go on forever. In the first sequence of steps she keeps her jetés and développés low, but then the phrase repeats and she lets her gorgeous extensions fly. She sails through Italian fouettés and whirls around in piqués en manège that get faster and faster. While she nails all the virtuosic movement, Alexandrova also pays beautiful attention to detail throughout the variation. Even the simplest steps become something exciting, like her precise pas de bourrées beginning at 1:03 that sing with musicality.

Swanilda has been one of Alexandrova's signature roles throughout her career. For a fun side by side, watch her perform the same variation almost 20 years later in this video. Although Alexandrova formally retired from the Bolshoi in February, she still performs frequently in Moscow and internationally as a guest artist. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!





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