Company dancers share a special bond with their artistic directors. For years, even decades, they spend every moment trying to impress that one person at the front of the room—and benefiting from that person’s mentorship. When a director leaves, it can seem like the world has been turned upside down.

With a change of the guard imminent at Miami City Ballet (founding director Edward Villella will leave at the end of the 2013 season), another group of dancers is about to face the upheaval that follows a leader’s departure. The new director will have his or her own taste in dancers and repertoire, and a particular vision for the company—one that might have little to do with his or her predecessor’s.
But while a change of leadership can make you feel suddenly vulnerable, it’s also an opportunity. The reevaluation process isn’t a one-way street: It’s a chance for you to reassess your place in the company, too. It can be the push you need, either to rededicate yourself to the path you’ve been following or to be proactive about finding a new one. And whether you end up staying with the company or leaving, you’ll get to work with a new person who will stretch and challenge you in different ways.

What Does the New Director Want?
So what can you expect when a new director takes over? “It can be tricky,” says Ashley Wheater, who took the helm of The Joffrey Ballet in 2007. “I started by meeting with each of the dancers, telling them about myself and my vision.” Listen closely to the new director; it can help you decide for yourself whether the company will still be a good fit for you.

Director-dancer chemistry can be difficult to decode. But nearly every director is looking for dancers who are hard workers. If you think you’d like to stay with the company, make a point of showing the new director your dedication. Wheater spent his first year at The Joffrey assessing the company, and disciplined dancers quickly rose to the top of his list. “I started to look at their work ethic, and eventually it all became transparent,” he says.

Even the smoothest transitions have their bumps, so you should expect some upheaval. Under Wheater, The Joffrey’s company roster changed significantly. “I got flack, especially from the press,” Wheater remembers. But the decisions, he emphasizes, were professional, not personal—an important, albeit difficult, thing for dancers to keep in mind. Today, half of the company is made up of new hires. “I did not come to drill an army,” Wheater says, “but to further an artform.”

If You Leave
If you thrived under your old director but have trouble seeing eye to eye with the new one, it might be time to move on. Amy Fote, who danced with Milwaukee Ballet for 14 years, chose to leave her longtime home after Michael Pink came on as artistic director in 2002. He had a new vision for the company and she felt the tone changed quite a bit. (“He has a strong personality,” she says.) She wasn’t enjoying the work anymore, and realized MB was no longer the right fit.

If you decide to leave—or are let go, as several of the MB dancers were—take advantage of a chance to plan your next step. Are you looking for a company that resembles your former home in size and repertoire, or do you want to make a bigger change? Are you willing to accept a demotion or a lower salary at a company that will give you the artistic opportunities you want?

Craving a change, Fote knew that she needed a place where she could rediscover her love of dance. “I was wavering between trying for Houston Ballet or the Royal New Zealand Ballet—or retiring,” she says. After much deliberation, Fote joined Houston Ballet in 2005. She took a demotion to first soloist in the process, but felt the diverse repertoire at HB was worth it. In Houston, Fote found herself busy learning a number of ballets, with less rehearsal time and higher expectations. She flourished in the fast-paced environment. And she worked well with artistic director Stanton Welch, who eventually promoted her to principal.

Even if the circumstances of your departure are less than ideal, try not to burn bridges. “Michael and I ultimately parted on a good note, which was important to me,” Fote says. “I was even invited to MB to dance in a gala a few years ago.”

If You Stay
If you decide that you’d like to stay on under the new director, you can do more than just hope he’ll choose to keep you. Make your feelings known. Set up a meeting to discuss your interest and the reasons you would do well under his leadership.

For Sarasota Ballet principal Kate Honea, the transition from Robert de Warren to Iain Webb in 2007 brought much trepidation. “I didn’t want to leave—I knew this was my home,” she remembers. “But I was nervous. I was used to Warren; I was so comfortable. And I worried that Iain wouldn’t like my style.” Honea’s fears were assuaged after she arranged a meeting with Webb. “He was very positive about me,” she says. “He was also full of great ideas. Because he wasn’t a choreographer, he had plans to bring a lot of work to the company, including ballets by Ashton and Balanchine. I was excited by that.”

Even if you and your new director do reach an agreement, there will be an adjustment period, which is often as challenging as starting over at a new company. Honea remembers being surprised by the sea of new faces that appeared at SB after Webb took over. “They were all younger than I was,” Honea recalls. “I had to step up my game.” With Webb’s rank-blind casting style, Honea often found herself in the first cast for one role and the third for another. “The whole environment was different. I had to get used to sharing a role, which was new for me.” And Webb demanded a different style of dancing, as well. “I had to learn to use more of my body, especially for the new Ashton repertoire,” she says. “I needed to bend more and use my épaulement.”

Give yourself time to adjust to the new situation, and embrace it as a chance to grow. Honea doesn’t regret her decision. “Iain pushes me in a different way.”



























Francesca Velicu in Pina Bausch's Le Sacre du printemps by English National Ballet. Photo by Laurent Liotardo, Courtesy ENB.

There was total silence by the end of English National Ballet's first go at Pina Bausch's raw Rite of Spring, and much of the performance's success came down to a tiny dancer: Francesca Velicu. Handpicked to be The Chosen One, the Romanian corps member threw herself into the role with an innocence that made the ritual newly terrifying. "It brought me the most intense and emotional moments that I'll ever experience onstage," she says.

At just 19, Velicu is already walking in the footsteps of ballet's reigning Romanian star, her ENB colleague Alina Cojocaru. Born in Bucharest, Velicu earned top finishes at Youth America Grand Prix and completed her training at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. In 2015, she joined the Romanian National Ballet under Johan Kobborg, who fast-tracked her: In one season, she danced Kitri, Theme and Variations and numerous soloist roles, honing her effervescent technique with breezy confidence.

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Pointe Stars
Alana Griffith in "La Sylphide." Photo by Mark Frohna, Courtesy Milwaukee Ballet/

Rising lazily from an armchair, shrugging her shoulders and limply snapping her arms side to side, Alana Griffith imbued the title role in Septime Webre's ALICE (in wonderland) with the unmistakable boredom and longing of youth. Throughout the performance, her ability to bring personal depth to both the character and to Webre's challenging choreography revealed a special dancer coming into her own as an artist.


Alana Griffith in "ALICE (in wonderland)". Photo by Mark Frohna, Courtesy Milwaukee Ballet.

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Pointe Stars
Screenshot from CNN Style video

While ballet may feel female-dominated in that there are plenty of onstage opportunities for women, key behind-the-scenes roles like choreographer and artistic director are still largely held by men—a point that is increasingly being raised and questioned in the dance world thanks to female choreographers like Crystal Pite and Charlotte Edmonds. Also helping to break that mold is rising female choreographer Kristen McNally, who not only choreographed a recent duet for CNN Style, but also paired two women to bring it to life.

In the short film, which features McNally's choreo and is directed by Andrew Margetson, Royal Ballet first soloist Beatriz Stix-Brunell and principal Yasmine Naghdi changed the expectations on gender roles in ballet—and the end result is awesome. Nearly identical in appearance, the dancers' movements and lines also mirror each other throughout the piece, even when dancing in canon. Even more impressively, McNally told CNN Style, "The dancers and I did two rehearsals and then we shot the film."

Check out the full duet for yourself, below.


Training
Photo by Lambtron, via Wikimedia Commons

Can you superglue your vamp? I am new to pointe and don't know where to apply it. —Amanda

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Pointe Stars

The tambourine variation from La Esmeralda is a competition favorite, but the full pas de deux isn't seen as often. That's a shame, because it contains some of the most technically challenging classical choreography to be found. In this video, Yuan Yuan Tan and Felipe Diaz take on this balletic feat with amazing power and ease.

Tan, who was awarded a permanent contract with San Francisco Ballet after performing this role as a guest artist in 1995, is a youthful but commanding presence. Her extensions crawl right up to her ear, and she rises from deep lunges en pointe to arabesque without ever seeming to get tired. After an endless series of promenades (4:00), Tan again lunges low to the floor and then teasingly runs away from Diaz, inviting him to follow her. In her variation, she oozes gypsy spunk, enticing the audience with dramatic details. She takes the variation at a quick pace, blending each movement smoothly into the next.

Diaz, who was a soloist with SFB and is now a ballet master for the company, shines in his own right. The adagio reveals his partnering prowess. From 2:15—2:35, Diaz supports Tan almost continuously in a string of carries and lifts–and his variation is chock full of bravura. All the way through the coda, the technical fireworks in this pas de deux never stop coming. We can't get enough! Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

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Tanaquil Le Clercq at the 1967 book signing. Reprinted with permission from Dance Magazine.

Ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq may have been known for her long-limbed dancing and versatile grace, but it turns out that her renown didn't end there. In 1967 the former New York City Ballet star published The Ballet Cook Book, a mix of ballet history, food stories and the pièce de résistance: recipes collected from over 90 famous NYCB dancers and choreographers including George Balanchine (her then husband), Jacques d'Amboise, Melissa Hayden and Allegra Kent.

Why bring this up now? This year marks the 50th anniversary of her book's publication, and in celebration, food scholar Meryl Rosofsky is curating a program exploring the context of the book. Held on November 5 and 6 at the Guggenheim Museum, the program will include live performance excerpts with roles originated by Ballet Cook Book contributors including Balanchine's The Four Temperaments, Bugaku, Stars and Stripes and Western Symphony as well as a panel conversation with d'Amboise and Kent (both of whom were at the original book signing) as well as current NYCB principals Jared Angle and Adrian Danchig-Waring, both talented cooks.That certainly seems like plenty of excitement to us, but attendees can also stop into the Guggneheim's Wright Restaurant to taste select dishes from The Ballet Cook Book including Le Clercq's Chicken Vermouth, Balanchine's Slow Beet Borschok, Hayden's Potato Latkes and Kent's Walnut Apple Cake.

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Studio to Street

Don't expect to catch Simone Messmer wearing a leotard—at least, not for company class. “Ballet class is for me," she says. “It happens every day, so it turns into a major part of how you set yourself up for the day and how you're feeling. I think it's really important to take control of that." In class, the Miami City Ballet principal prefers comfortable separates with clean lines and long sleeves. When it's time for rehearsal, she'll bring out her leotards and tights. “And I tend to bring the skirt or tutu that's appropriate for the role. I try to start right away, to get a feeling for it," she says.

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