On a stage filled with dainty Danish dancers, Shelby Elsbree looks very American: spunky, playful and a little bit feisty. Even in the prim, polite confines of Bournonville choreography, this 20-year-old Royal Danish Ballet corps member moves with a sense of bubbly abandon.

 

As a student, Elsbree never imagined she would begin her career in such an old-fashioned European company. Born in Sarasota, Florida, she started ballet at a local Vaganova studio at 9 after breaking her arm in gymnastics. She quickly grew serious, and at 13 moved to New York to train at the School of American Ballet. “Balanchine technique felt like a breath of fresh air to me,” she says. “I loved it.”

 

In 2007, Elsbree was one of four students chosen to be Peter Martins’ choreographic muses for the heroine of New York City Ballet’s new Romeo + Juliet. Although Martins eventually cast company dancers to perform the role, Elsbree relished being part of the choreographic process. “As a 16-year-old student,” she says, “it was life-changing to work directly with Peter Martins and professional dancers.”

 

Dancing the role of Friar Lawrence was Nikolaj Hübbe, then a principal at NYCB. He recognized Elsbree two years later when she arrived in Copenhagen to take a company class audition for the Royal Danish Ballet, where Hübbe had since become artistic director.

 

“Before my last year at SAB, Aaron Watkin, director of Dresden Semperoper Ballet, saw me at Pacific Northwest Ballet’s summer intensive and offered me a job,” she says. “Before that, I’d only ever wanted to dance in New York, but suddenly my eyes opened up to Europe.” As long as she was crossing the Atlantic to check out Dresden, Elsbree decided to audition for other European companies that intrigued her as well. She researched repertoires, asked older friends for suggestions, then mapped out a strategic itinerary. After eight days and five companies in five different countries, Elsbree was offered four corps contracts. “I chose Royal Danish Ballet because I knew Nikolaj and was excited for the Balanchine rep he’d bring in,” says Elsbree. “Plus, everyone here speaks flawless English.”

 

Even though the company has over 100 dancers, Elsbree isn’t getting lost in the corps. She joined in March 2009, and by that September, she was dancing alongside principals and soloists as the Blue Girl in Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering. “Shelby is very precise, but dances with a wonderful freedom,” says Hübbe. “I like her superb willingness.”

 

So far, the biggest challenge for Elsbree has been mastering the Bournonville style—especially the arms. “When I get excited, it’s easy to let my arms get carried away,” she says. “I have to keep that extra sense of control.”

 

She’s also had to acclimate to the mellower work ethic in Denmark. “Everyone here works very hard, but not in a competitive way against their peers,” says Elsbree. “Sometimes you feel like you don’t have to fight as much, which can be good and bad.” Although the camaraderie is refreshing, she has to push herself to keep the same drive she had in New York.

 

She keeps friends and family back home updated through her blog, tutusandtea.wordpress.com, where she chronicles her ballet life—and her baking. “One thing I miss is the Food Network,” she admits. “Every free evening, you’ll find me in my happy place with a fabulous cookbook, my camera (nicknamed “Little Chef”) to take photos for my blog and plenty of flour and butter.”

 

Although she misses home, Elsbree says Europe has expanded her view of the ballet world. “I used to be narrowly focused on one or two companies, but there are so many more opportunities—companies, choreographers, styles—than I ever realized,” she says. “My tunnel vision has completely opened up.”

 

at a glance
Name: Shelby Elsbree
Age: 20
Company: Royal Danish Ballet
Training: School of American Ballet
Favorite role: Blue Girl in Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering
Dream roles: Giselle and Juliet





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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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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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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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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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