As the curtain closed on the tender image of Juliet intertwined with her Romeo, the audience at Minneapolis’ Northrop Auditorium paused, letting the raw abandon of Sara Ivan’s performance wash over them before breaking into thunderous applause. Ivan had poured heart and soul into Maurice Béjart’s  grueling 15-minute pas de deux. The performance, part of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet’s spring tour last year, meant more than a triumphant homecoming for Ivan, who grew up in the Twin Cities. It also marked her victory over an injury that had caused her to lose the role of Juliet three years earlier and almost derailed her career.

 

As a young student at Minnesota Dance Theatre, Ivan knew she wanted a dance career. When she was 17, on a whim she auditioned for Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell, a Balanchine-based intensive at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. “The audition was at our studio, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just take an extra class,’ ” she says. But she found herself immediately captivated by Farrell. “She was so elegant and a little intimidating,” she says. Ivan lacked any Balanchine training, but nevertheless Farrell accepted her on scholarship.

 

When she arrived in Washington, Ivan felt overwhelmed. She couldn’t keep up with the fast-paced Balanchine style and wasn’t used to wearing pointe shoes at the barre. “Suzanne approached me the third day, and I thought she was going to kick me out,” says Ivan. Instead, Farrell asked if she’d be interested in joining her company. Ivan stammered that she would be honored, to which Farrell replied, “Well, we’ll see.” 

 

Fueled by Farrell’s encouragement, Ivan made an intense effort, absorbing corrections, going across the floor as often as she could. She fell in love with Farrell’s teaching style. “She used a lot of metaphors,” says Ivan. “She would compare développé to putting on white satin gloves.” On the last day of the summer program, Farrell took her aside and offered her a contract. “It was a dream come true,” Ivan says.

 

Through Farrell’s classes and videos of Balanchine ballets, Ivan started transforming her technique. The Suzanne Farrell Ballet works sporadically throughout the year, so many of its dancers freelance during off-seasons. For two years, Ivan danced with Washington Ballet’s studio company when Farrell’s company was off. In 2006, when Ivan was 20, Farrell cast her as the lead in an excerpt from Romeo and Juliet. The role calls for extreme flexibility and accentuated Ivan’s supple extensions. It was her first lead, and she knew that as a young corps member she needed to prove herself. “There are things at 20 that you just don’t have,” says Ivan in retrospect. “Strength, partnering experience, artistic maturity.” To compensate, Ivan threw herself into rehearsals to the point of exhaustion. “I was pushing too hard and wasn’t resting enough or eating properly,” she says. One morning during grand allegro, Ivan fell and felt something in her left knee snap. Terrified of losing her opportunity, she continued to dance on her injured knee for a week. She only made matters worse: By the time she saw a doctor she had completely torn her ACL. She would need reconstructive surgery to dance again.

 

Ivan was devastated. Another dancer took her place in Romeo and Juliet, but Farrell asked Ivan to assist during stage rehearsals. “I would point details out to her,” says Farrell. “Watching from the front provides a different perspective.” Ivan agrees. “I learned that even the smallest correction can make a big difference, and sitting in the audience I had the visual to see why.”

 

Ivan’s recovery lasted nine long months. Once reliant on her hypermobility, Ivan now had to develop strength and control. And she realized that she needed to take better care of herself. She returned to the company determined to put her setback behind her.

 

Last year, Farrell scheduled a reprise of Romeo and Juliet for the company’s national tour and gave Ivan a second chance to tackle the role. Ivan was thrilled. Her final Juliet in Minneapolis marked a turning point in her career. “I felt this moment of ‘I have arrived,’ ” she says. “I’m free to go on now with nothing holding me back.”

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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