Looking to maximize your summer training? Then keep your calendar open in August. Aside from the plethora of standard five- and six-week programs, August “mini-intensives” have started popping up within the last few years. More streamlined than a typical summer course, these one- to three-week sessions give dancers an extra edge. Some polish your technique with in-depth coaching, some hone a specific style and others immerse you in repertoire and performances. While each has a different focus, they’re all intentionally smaller and geared towards students on the cusp of a professional career. And they can help you start off the fall a step ahead.

Putting the “Intense” in Intensive
These shorter intensives are not for the faint of heart. Kaatsbaan’s three-week Extreme Ballet program in upstate New York enrolls only 35 students. After a combined technique class each morning, dancers split into groups for pointe and partnering, and then even smaller groups—fewer than 10 students—for detailed coaching sessions. These give students an opportunity to focus intensely on aspects of their technique that they wouldn’t normally have time for in a regular ballet class. “We can get very specific,” says director Martine van Hamel. “Often we’ll work on running or walking—in a contemporary way or a classical way, as a swan or as a person. Or we’ll work on pirouettes or port de bras—whatever I feel they need.”


 

“You never get to really work on ballet runs in class, but they’re one of the hardest things to do!” says 17-year-old Karen Moscato of Princeton, NJ, who attended last year’s intensive. “I realized I was running all wrong, but now I can do it quite well.”

 

The intimate class size is another bonus. “A lot of attention is focused on individuals,” says Moscato. “You can be seen by teachers like American Ballet Theatre director Kevin McKenzie.”

 

Philadelphia’s Rock School offers one-week Coaching Intensives in June and August for approximately 30 students. The faculty splits dancers into two levels for technique, pointe, men’s class and Pilates. The latter part of the day includes an hour-and-a-half coaching session with video analysis, where
students perform short exercises across the floor, two at a time, while teachers videotape them.

 

“They watch themselves and say, ‘Oh! I see it now!’ ” says Stephanie Wolf Spassoff, who directs the intensive along with her husband, Bojan Spassoff. “The video reinforces the corrections we’ve been giving. They see it and it clicks.” Themes for analysis might include jumps, turns or even pas de bourée. “The goal is to get to the nitty-gritty that they don’t get in class,” says Wolf Spassoff. “It’s not about the tricks, the 32 fouettés. It’s about breaking everything down, making it cleaner and better.”

 

“Although,” Bojan Spassoff adds, “by breaking it down, you have a much easier time getting to the 32 fouettés!”
   
Performance Opportunities

Some mini-intensives give dancers a chance to enhance their performance skills. At Nutmeg Conservatory’s Apprentice Program, which offers two weeks of classes, rehearsals and performances, “the atmosphere is more like a dance company,” says principal Ronald Alexander. While Nutmeg’s other summer courses break students into smaller groups, the Apprentice Program keeps students together for their morning classes, with the exception of pointe and men’s class. “Then the rest of the afternoon is repertoire, repertoire, repertoire,” says Alexander.  

 

The dancers learn classical and neoclassical variations, original choreography and contemporary works by choreographers such as Momix’s Moses Pendleton. Last year, rehearsals culminated in a performance at Jacob’s Pillow’s Inside/Out stage. “It was the highlight of the summer to perform at such an internationally renowned venue as Jacob’s Pillow,” says Alexander. “We hope to do it every year.”

 

“The program attracts mature students looking to supplement their summer training or prepare for auditions,” he continues. “They want to participate because the idea resembles a professional company.”

Exploring a Different Style
Other programs simply offer a quick immersion in a particular technique. Ballet Chicago’s Advanced Intensive, for instance, attracts students curious to explore the Balanchine style. The two-week course includes a rigorous daily schedule of technique, pointe, variations, pas de deux and men’s class. The intensive also partially functions as an audition period for those interested in Ballet Chicago’s year-round studio company, which performs Balanchine ballets as well as new choreography. “It’s not exclusively an audition,” says artistic director Daniel Duell, “but it does give us a chance to see what students have artistically and technically and a sense of how they are to work with.”


 

At Ballet Chicago and other August intensives, the majority of dancers enrolled arrive fresh off a six-week program. To avoid burnout or injury, dancers must be smart and listen to their bodies. “I wouldn’t recommend going for more than six weeks unless you’re older and truly want to be a professional,” says van Hamel. 

 

Moscato, who trained for nine straight weeks last summer, knows the feeling firsthand. “I was exhausted, but it was worth it,” she says. “I’ve gotten so much better, and it prepared me for the company experience, where I’ll always be working that hard.”
   
Amy Brandt is Pointe’s Ask Amy columnist.




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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 also offers sensory-friendly versions of Jorden Morris' Peter Pan and Lew Christensen's Beauty and the Beast throughout the year.

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!


Pointe Stars
Ingrid Silva and her dog, Frida Kahlo. Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

You're probably already following your favorite dancers on Instagram, but did you know that you can follow many of their dogs, too? We rounded up some of our favorite dog-centered accounts and hashtags to keep you pawsitively entertained (sorry, we can't help ourselves).

Cora and Maya (American Ballet Theatre's Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda)

Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda's pups Cora and Maya update their profile pretty frequently. Often accompanying Lane to the ABT studios, they can also be seen using tutus or piles of pink tights as dog beds.

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Pointe Stars
Vladislav Lantritov and Ekaterina Krysanova in "Taming of the Shrew." Photo by Alice Blangero, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet.

If you haven't checked your local movie listings yet for this weekend, hop to it. The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema series and Fathom Events is broadcasting a performance of Jean-Christophe Maillot's The Taming of the Shrew to theaters nationwide on Sunday, November 19. (To see if it's playing near you and to purchase tickets, click here.) While the rest of the Bolshoi's cinema season features 19th- and 20th-century classics, The Taming of the Shrew gives audiences a chance to see the revered Moscow company in a thoroughly modern, 21st-century take on Shakespeare's famous play.

Aside from a limited run in New York City this July, American audiences have had little exposure to Maillot's 2014 production. To learn more, check out these two exclusive, behind-the-scenes webisodes below. Principal dancer Ekaterina Krysanova, who stars as the hotheaded Katharina, gives an intimate play-by-play of two major scenes in Act I. The first is her fiery rejection of three potential suitors (who all would prefer to marry Katharina's younger sister Bianca).

The second scene breaks down Katharina's first encounter with Petruchio (danced by the larger-than-life Vladislav Lantritov), the only man who seems to be able to challenge her. Here, too, we see the shrew's heart start to soften. (Don't miss her time-stopping attitude turn at 4:27.)

The Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Series continues through June; for more details on upcoming screenings, click here.

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Smuin Ballet dancers Erica Felsch, Rex Wheeler, Mengjun Chen and Tessa Barbour in "White Christmas," choreographed by dancers Ben Needham-Wood and Michael Smuin. Photo by Keith Sutter, Courtesy Smuin Ballet.

Nutcracker-ed out? Or just can't get enough holiday ballets? These unique Nutcracker interpretations and non-Nutcracker productions will make your season bright.


The Hip Hop Nutcracker

Through December 30

Tchaikovsky's masterful Nutcracker score isn't just for classical ballet…

Hip Hop + a live DJ + an electric violinist unite in The Hip Hop Nutcracker, currently touring the U.S.

Familiar characters such Drosselmeyer, the Nutcracker, Mouse King and Marie (here called Maria-Clara) dance through an updated New York City storyline with choreography by Jennifer Weber, artistic director of the Brooklyn-based theatrical hip hop company Decadancetheatre.

Premiered in 2014, The Hip Hop Nutcracker is produced by New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

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