Dancer: Shira Lanyi
Company: Richmond Ballet
Performance: Malcolm Burn’s Romeo & Juliet


Shira Lanyi captured her audience’s heart as Juliet last February. She breathed the young heroine’s innocent ardor into every moment. Whether dancing or still, she revealed Juliet’s many facets: Holding hands with Romeo (Kirk Henning) before their first pas de deux, she displayed an awkward shyness. Standing close to her lover, her body quivered with emotion. For Lanyi, dancing Juliet was a dream—it’s her favorite ballet, her favorite Shakespeare play. In terms of the technique, she says, “I am strong, but I’m not a prodigy—it was nice to have a challenge like Romeo & Juliet. If ballet were easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.” —Lea Marshall

 

Dancer: Marianela Nuñez
Company: The Royal Ballet
Performance: Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto


Marianela Nuñez has always been cast in the sunniest roles of The Royal Ballet’s repertoire. Promoted to principal in 2002 at barely 20, she’s a natural in Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée or as Coppélia’s carefree Swanilda. Her instinctive musicality and extraordinary control, however, have long hinted that there was more. Last March, Nuñez finally came into her own dancing the second movement pas de deux of Kenneth MacMillan’s plotless Concerto, in a performance filmed for DVD release. Her trademark smile gave way to a reflective gaze. Her creamy, full-bodied phrasing blossomed in the central adagio; the simplicity of the choreography allowed Nuñez to seemingly expand in the arms of her partner Rupert Pennefather, every movement radiating from deep in her back, her limbs serenely articulating Shostakovitch’s soulful score. By the end, the eager young dancer was forgotten, and a consummate ballerina was born. —Laura Cappelle

 

Dancer: Lucien Postlewaite
Company: Pacific Northwest Ballet
Performance: Ulysses Dove’s Serious Pleasures


Year after perfect year, PNB principal Lucien Postlewaite has captivated audiences, delivering soaring leaps, long lines, grace, charm and musicality. This year, as the Narrator in Serious Pleasures, he revealed another talent: the ability to externalize extreme psychological complexity. “I wanted to show the tension of the Narrator’s male/female duality,” says Postlewaite. “How he is torn between those two aspects, fighting it and being it—the androgynous being.” The result was riveting. Of course, this magnetic dancer met the role’s technical challenges, bolting out of darkness, pirouetting into blinding light, corkscrewing up from knees to knuckles and back to knees, holding off-balance balances, controlling extensions and slow falls. His openness and vulnerability, however, lent layers to this overtly sexual piece and revealed its poignant humanity. Specific and subtle, through movement rather than by acting, Postlewaite created a dream world onstage. —Rosie Gaynor

 

Dancer: Ivan Vasiliev
Company: Bolshoi Ballet
Performance: Yuri Grigorovich’s Spartacus


As the impassioned slave leader in Spartacus last February at the Kennedy Center, Ivan Vasiliev exploded through a series of split leaps, his back arched in passionate tenacity. Although Vasiliev’s shorter, stockier body and bulky legs might not be considered “princely” to some purists, that same physique (along with loads of talent) helps to propel the Bolshoi star through seemingly impossible bravura feats. But his performance was more than a flashy pyrotechnic show. In addition to endless jumps, turns and strenuous partnering, the role demanded incredible command, drama and earthiness. He tackled each element with relish. Long touted as the Bolshoi’s Next Big Thing, Vasiliev was at his best in Spartacus, making clear the vast extent of his potential. He proved he is not only a prodigious whiz kid from the competition circuit, but he’s also capable of substantial artistic depth—all by the age of 21.  —Amy Brandt

 

Dancer: Sara Mearns
Company: New York City Ballet
Performance: Peter Martins’ The Sleeping Beauty


Sara Mearns is New York City Ballet’s resident powerhouse: She attacks ballets with a thrilling, near-reckless abandon. For most of her career, her onstage authority has stemmed from that willingness, sadly rare among ballerinas, to take risks. Yet one of her most striking performances this year was as the delicate, lyrical Lilac Fairy. Though Mearns was as fearless as ever—she stepped into several extended balances in arabesque with what seemed like no preparation at all—she managed to tame her inner wild animal, showing new refinement in her port de bras and a precise but unstudied clarity in her lower body. You began to notice the luscious pliability of her demi-pointe, the delicate placement of her fingers. She willed, rather than demanded, that we watch her. —Margaret Fuhrer

 

Dancer: Cesar Corrales
Performance: Billy Elliot

Out of the four lads cast in the role of Billy, Cesar Corrales was the one given the honor—and immense responsibility—of performing on opening night of the national touring production last winter in Chicago. In a role director Stephen Daldry confesses “puts so much weight on such little shoulders,” the soulful 13-year-old (now 14) displayed exceptionally fine ballet technique as well as a grand command of the show’s formidable acting and singing requirements. “I was really nervous,” he confesses, “but I calmed myself down by getting into Billy mode, thinking about how my mom had died and my dad was about to go on strike.” Partnering with former Joffrey dancer Samuel Pergande, who played his adult incarnation in the dream ballet, Corrales flew high, landed every pirouette and tap danced and back-flipped his way to a long standing ovation. —Hedy Weiss

 

Dancer: Dusty Button
Company: Birmingham Royal Ballet
Performance: Misha Gabriel and Teddy Forance’s Bulletproof


Last summer at the Capezio ACE Awards, Dusty Button, currently a member of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, tore up the stage in Bulletproof, choreographed by two future giants of commercial dance, Misha Gabriel and Teddy Forance. Onstage, Button—the lone classicist in a cast of 20 contemporary/hip-hop dancers—was electric. In a glow-in-the-dark red unitard and ballet slippers, she sliced her long limbs through the black-lit space with fierce dynamic and volume. Her precise ballet technique created the perfect canvas for Bulletproof’s edgy movements. “Teddy doesn’t work with ballet dancers, usually, and I haven’t done contemporary in forever, so to be able to collaborate was a really amazing process,” Button says. “And the feedback I got from the other hip-hop and contemporary dancers was great! They were so respectful of what I do.” —Kate Lydon

 

Dancers: Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg
Company: American Ballet Theatre
Performance: Sir Frederick Ashton’s The Dream


In the forest at night, boundaries disappear. This is the world of The Dream, Frederick Ashton’s one-act version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For love to triumph and day to break, Oberon, king of the fairies, and Titania, his queen, must put aside their quarrels and dance together. In ABT’s production last May, their pas de deux never seemed more teasingly seductive. David Hallberg’s coolly imperious Oberon, his every step filled with authority, reclaimed his queen tenderly with each lift. Gillian Murphy’s playful, radiant Titania swooped into his arms with joy. “The choreography is like a shiver going through them,” says Murphy. “They are just electrified being next to each other.” The two principals turned to the play to see how Ashton had put the poetry into the steps. “Oberon and Titania are a part of nature, of something bigger,” says Murphy. “They are reveling in each other and in the magic and mystery of the woods.” No wonder, then, that their performance brimmed with barely contained excitement. Each step seemed an intimate promise, a glimpse into an enchanted realm of desire where the best dreams never end. —Hanna Rubin

 

Dancer: Xiao Nan Yu
Company: National Ballet of Canada
Performance: John Cranko’s Onegin


Ballerinas often look back over a career to pinpoint those special performances when everything clicked. National Ballet of Canada principal Xiao Nan Yu will remember June 19 as such an occasion. Yu received a tumultuous ovation reprising the role of Tatiana in John Cranko’s Onegin on opening night of NBC’s new, much anticipated Santo Loquasto–designed production. In 2000, Tatiana was Yu’s first full-length role, a dazzling debut that established her as a dance-actress of enormous potential. A decade later that promise was fully realized. Yu, 32, partnered by Jirí Jelinek, melded acting and dancing into a blazing expressive unity, every step and gesture contributing to a richly nuanced portrait. Yu says marriage and motherhood now give her greater insight into Tatiana’s predicament, torn between duty and passion. Recalling the climactic scene in which she rejects Onegin’s entreaties, Yu says it was “an unforgettably emotional moment.” —Michael Crabb

 

Dancer: Yumelia Garcia
Company: The Joffrey Ballet
Performance: Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella


In her sublime performance in the title role of Ashton’s Cinderella, Yumelia Garcia deftly transformed herself from neglected, motherless girl to dreamy princess. She also evoked vivid memories of Margot Fonteyn, for whom the role was created. Petite and ideally proportioned, Garcia resembles Fonteyn physically (though she possesses far more dazzling technique). She also breathed like Fonteyn, with a sort of calm, understated ease and effortless charm. This was no accident. Garcia was coached in the role by Wendy Somes, widow of Michael Somes, Fonteyn’s frequent partner at The Royal Ballet. Garcia admits she struggled to put her own identity on such a meticulously prescribed role. “The choreography is quite simple, but very English and proper and specific, with prohibitions against changing even the slightest arm movement,” Garcia says, noting that the role requires great purity and honesty. “I made breathing part of what I devised so that I could be calm and in the moment, like life.” —Hedy Weiss

 

Honorable Mentions:

Luz San Miguel, Milwaukee Ballet principal, in Michael Pink’s Peter Pan: San Miguel found Tinkerbell’s dramatic edge and danced the role with panache. The choreography popped whenever she was onstage.


Maki Onuki, Washington Ballet member, in Nicolo Fonte’s Bolero: The company’s tiny spitfire seemed to stretch her legs beyond the natural limits of the human body, hitting each position with a fierce, yet seductive intensity.


Christopher Vo in Lar Lubovitch’s Dogs of War: Vo brought a supple grace to the brutish, mechanical physicality of the choreography, tempering its violence with tenderness. He was a soldier with a soul.


Karina Gonzalez at Ballet Across America, in Nacho Duato’s Por Vos Muero: Graceful and feminine in her final performance with Tulsa Ballet, Gonzales added dramatic depth and natural dignity to Duato’s abstract piece.


Rachel Foster, Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist, in Twyla Tharp’s Opus 111: Foster moved so earnestly and with such complete commitment that it looked like her body was speaking. She was raw, fearless and riveting.


Daniel Ulbricht, New York City Ballet principal, in Alexei Ratmansky’s Namouna: A Grand Divertissment: Ulbricht got a chance to show off his virtuosity with six uniformly high center-split jetés, each 180-degree straddle sharply etched. A grand diversion, indeed!





















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.

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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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