Alison Stroming’s teachers invariably describe her as “modest”—while recounting accomplishments that give her every reason to have an ego. Shrinking violets aren’t cast, as Stroming was last April, as one of the three shades in the “Kingdom of the Shades” excerpt from La Bayadère in JKO’s spring performance. The choreography demands such a command of line, phrasing, technique and musicality that the main company regularly assigns soloists to these roles. If her variation presented any difficulty, 16-year-old Stroming concealed it like a pro, dancing with a lyrical ease that seemed blissfully free of effort.


Born in Recife, Brazil, Stroming was adopted when she was eight months old by a family in New Jersey, and grew up with two brothers and two sisters who all  took classes in jazz, tap, modern and ballet. “I started dance when I was 2,” she says. “I still study jazz with my brother Gil”—creator and choreographer of “Break the Floor” and “Jump Dance Conventions”—“because I like to have options. I enjoy photo shoots and runway modeling, too.”


Stroming flourishes under the hands-on approach the school stresses. Franco De Vita, JKO principal, explains, “We limit our enrollment to 69 so students receive individual attention.” The present faculty  includes such former ABT ballerinas as Susan Jaffe, Martine van Hamel and Lupe Serrano. “We insist that all students focus on doing what the teacher wants and on arriving on time,” De Vita continues. “We have a strict dress code as well.”


Faculty member Raymond Lukens, who co-staged the Bayadère excerpt, has fond memories of working with Stroming: “I was choreographing an industrial for Payless Shoes”—the manufacturer has an endorsement agreement with ABT—“and Alison was observing the process to gain experience. At the last moment, I needed a replacement, and it turned out she knew the part perfectly, despite having never danced it in rehearsal. If she is your cover, you can relax.”


Stroming knows she still has a lot to work on. “Pirouettes present no problem,” she says. “But now I’m
concentrating on épaulement and relaxing my shoulders.” Relaxation of any kind is a luxury during the week. She attends the Professional Performing Arts School from 8:15 am to 1:15 pm, then subways downtown to JKO for two hours of technique beginning at 2:30 pm. Classes in pas de deux, modern, character or variations may follow, and a rehearsal is often included. 


Has she time for a personal life? “My mom allows sleepovers,” she says. “I’ve been reading the Twilight series.”  Asked if she has a boyfriend, she says, “I did,” with an unblinking eye contact that says, “The subject is closed.”  A prima ballerina could not have done it better.   


American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline? Kennedy Onassis School
Founded: 2004
Enrollment: 69 students. Students range from 9 to 18. A new children’s division was added this year for ages 5 to 12. Hopefuls can audition in person from September through May. Videos can be sent at any time to: American Ballet Theatre, Attention: Rebecca Schwartz, 890 Broadway, Floor 3, New York, NY 10003.
Principal: Franco De Vita
Faculty: Olga Dvorovenko, Susan Jaffe, Martine Van Hamel, Jessica Lang, Raymond Lukens, Clarice Marshall and Lupe Serrano.
Classes: technique, pointe, pas de deux, modern, character, variations, Pilates and a wellness lecture series which covers nutrition, stress management and resumé writing. 
Alumni: ABT, Pennsylvania Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Houston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company and BalletMet Columbus, among others

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Richmond Ballet dancers in "An Open Later..." by Matthew Frain. Photo by Sarah Ferguson, Courtesy Richmond Ballet.

What's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.

The Bolshoi Premiere of John Neumeier's Anna Karenina

Last July Hamburg Ballet presented the world premiere of John Neumeier's Anna Karenina, a modern adaptation on Leo Tolstoy's famous novel. Hamburg Ballet coproduced the full-length ballet with the National Ballet of Canada and the Bolshoi, the latter of which will premiere the work March 23 (NBoC will have its premiere in November). The production will feature Bolshoi star Svetlana Zakharova in the title role. This is especially fitting as Neumeier's initial inspiration for the ballet came from Zakharova while they were working together on his Lady of the Camellias. The following video delves into what makes this production stand out.

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Beijing Dance Academy students Pei Yu Meng and Wang Yuzhiwan in rehearsal. Photo Courtesy BDA.

In one of 60 spacious dance studios at the Beijing Dance Academy, Pei Yu Meng practices a tricky step from Jorma Elo's Over Glow. She's standing among other students, but they all work alone, with the help of teachers calling out corrections from the front of the room. On top of her strong classical foundation and clean balletic lines, Pei Yu's slithery coordination and laser-sharp focus give her dancing a polished gleam. Once she's mastered the pirouette she's been struggling with, she repeats the step over and over until the clock reaches 12 pm for lunch. Here, every moment is a chance to approach perfection.

Pei Yu came to the school at age 10 from Hebei, a province near Beijing. Now 20, and in her third year of BDA's professional program, she is an example of a new kind of Chinese ballet student. Founded in 1954 by the country's communist government, BDA is a fully state-funded professional training school with close to 3,000 students and 275 full-time teachers over four departments (ballet, classical Chinese dance, social dance and musical theater). It offers degrees in performance, choreography and more. BDA's ballet program has long been known for fostering pristine Russian-style talent. But since 2011, the school has made major efforts to broaden ballet students' knowledge of Chinese dance traditions and the works of Western contemporary ballet choreographers. Pointe went inside this prestigious academy to see how BDA trains its dancers.

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Ballet Stars
Tim Verhallen, via Instagram

Dutch National Ballet Soloist Michaela DePrince has been busy winning over the mainstream media. Since last spring, the First Position star not only landed a spokesmodel deal with Jockey, but she also recently teamed up on a commercial with Chase Bank and just announced that Madonna will be directing her upcoming biopic, Taking Flight (totally casual).

What could possibly be next? The cover of April's Harper's Bazaar Netherlands, it turns out. Posing in an arabesque with her hair slicked back in her usual ballet bun, DePrince traded in her leotard and tights for a stunning metallic Gucci dress (can we do that, too?).

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Ballet Stars
Leanne Benjamin and Luke Heydon in "Coppélia," via YouTube.

Dancing with The Royal Ballet from 1992 until 2013, former principal Leanne Benjamin tackled just about every role in the classical gamut, from Juliet to Nikiya to Giselle. As the young and spirited Swanilda in this clip from Coppélia, Benjamin reveals that she has equal talent for the silly as the serious. Her comedic performance in Swanilda's doll dance is this role at its best.

In an effort to trick the scheming Dr. Coppelius and save her beloved Franz, Swanilda pretends she is the doll Coppélia come to life. As she begins to dance, Benjamin is stiff and mechanical one moment and then flopped over like a rag doll the next. Dr. Coppelius, played by character artist Luke Heydon, watches her enthralled and Benjamin's gaze is fixed in a plastic stare. But when the toymaker looks away, Benjamin's Swanilda breaks doll character and frantically tries to figure out an escape. Feebly, Dr. Coppelius tries to keep up with her. Although we feel some sympathy for the delusional old toymaker, we can't help laughing at Swanilda's antics. And that slap at 1:55? Gets us every time. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

New York City Ballet's shoe room. Photo by Tess Mayer.

Deep in the basement of Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater is a small, windowless space that's home to nearly 6,000 pairs of pointe shoes, neatly stacked on shelves that reach to the ceiling. It's New York City Ballet's shoe room, and for company members, it's one of the most important places in the world. Dancers frequently stop by to search for the ideal pair for a special performance, or to tweak their custom pointe shoe orders, trying to get that elusive perfect fit. "If the shoe isn't right, the dancer can't do her job," says shoe room supervisor and former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Linnette Roe. We talked to Roe and NYCB soloist Emilie Gerrity about some of the most interesting—and surprising—secrets of the shoe room.

The NYCB dancers go through 9,000 to 11,000 pairs of shoes each year, including flat shoes, sneakers, jazz shoes, and character shoes. The company has an annual shoe budget of about $780,000.

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Younji-Grace Choi at the 2014 USA IBC. Choi is now a dancer with Cincinnati Ballet and will return to the USA IBC as a senior competitor this summer. Photo by Richard Finkelstein, Courtesy USA IBC.

Exciting news today: the USA International Ballet Competition has just announced its list of invited competitors for the summer 2018 competition. The USA IBC has invited 119 dancers from 19 countries out of over 300 applicants to compete in Jackson, MS June 10-23.

Since the last USA IBC in 2014 the competition has expanded its age limits; the junior category now allows dancers ages 14-18 and the senior category dancers ages 19-28. Of the 119 competitors this year, 53 are juniors and 66 are seniors. The United States has the highest number of competitors invited (52), followed by Japan (23) and South Korea (14). The other countries represented are Armenia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Columbia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Mexico, Mongolia, Peru, Philippines, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

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Les Grabds Ballets dancer Mai Kono in a promotional phtoo for next season's production of "Lady Chatterley's Lover." Photo by Sasha Onyschenko, Courtesy Les Grands Ballets.

The latest front in the controversy over the underrepresentation of female choreographers in ballet is at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. They're facing a petition and choreographer resignation that forced them to rebrand a season and publicly defend their programming.

On February 26, artistic director Ivan Cavallari, who started the job in the summer of 2017, announced the 2018-2019 season, which included a program titled Femmes. The program announcement said the evening would have "woman as its theme," and that Cavallari had "chosen three distinctive voices, rising stars of choreography, to undertake this great subject."

The three voices Cavallari chose to create on the theme of women, however, were all men.

"This was just too much for me, it was the last straw," says Kathleen Rea, a former member of National Ballet of Canada who now freelances, choreographs and teaches in Toronto. Rea says she's been bothered by the dearth of women choreographers throughout her career. But referring to women as "subjects" and excluding them from choreographing on a program about them compelled her to take action.

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