Petite, rosy-cheeked and quick to break into a smile, Dominique Larose looks every bit a regular 15-year-old. As she starts across the floor in grand allégro, however, the shy droop of her head suddenly unfolds to a regal length. Larose’s upper body lifts and her back arches into pliant arabesques. Her flexible extensions only enhance the impression of gazelle-like grace. A student at Ayako School of Ballet in Belmont, California, Larose seems to shed any adolescent coltishness with her poise and calmly focused concentration.

 

That focus was an asset last January, when Larose was one of the youngest dancers to compete in Switzerland’s prestigious Prix de Lausanne. After performing a variation from La Bayadère and a solo from Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia, Larose was offered a three-year scholarship to the Zurich University of the Arts—an opportunity she plans to pursue.

 

Larose liked that Lausanne lacked the pressure-cooker atmosphere of other competitions. “I felt like we didn’t have to be competitive with each other,” Larose says, noting that she stays in touch with friends she made. “It was like everyone had the opportunity to be a winner.”

 

Larose wasn’t all that serious about dance when she started studying at the Ayako School nine years ago, only taking one class a week. But everything changed one summer when director Ayako Takahashi asked Larose to replace another dancer at a competition in Las Vegas. “She practiced and practiced all by herself. She had so much motivation,” Takahashi recalls. “After the competition, it was like she was suddenly inspired.”

 

Now, a typical day finds Larose leaving the house by 7:15 am for high school, where she immerses herself in math, science and French until 3 pm. Then it’s off to the studio for ballet, modern and pointe classes, plus rehearsals if the competition ensemble has an upcoming performance.
Located in a business park just off the freeway, Ayako is modestly scaled. Dance trophies jumbled on sagging shelves line the walls of the slightly industrial-feeling studios. Young students aren’t pressured  into a heavy schedule, but Takahashi and her staff willingly put in extra hours to coach the most serious dancers, like Larose, for major events. Students can also audition for the competition ensemble, which gives them opportunities to work with professionals like Oakland Ballet choreographer and interim director Michael Lowe, who teaches at the school.

 

“Dominique can do a lot of things already,” observes Lowe. “She has such a wonderful lyrical, legato quality and phenomenal feet and extensions, but she’s still finding things out for herself. I think she’s not even aware yet of the extent of her facility or her potential.”

 

Check out a great video of Dominique performing here!

 

At A Glance:


Ayako School of Ballet
Founded: 1976
Director: Ayako Takahashi, former principal with Tokyo City Ballet Company and Matsuyama Ballet Company
Technique Taught: Vaganova
Classes Offered:  Ballet technique, pointe, variations, modern, jazz, character. There is also a competition team and Takahashi directs the associated Peninsula Youth Ballet.
Number of Students:  250
Alumni: American Ballet Theatre, Ballet San Jose, Oakland Ballet, and ODC/Dance, among others
Focus: With a foundation rooted in Vaganova, Takahashi’s school focuses on correct technique and emotional as well as physical development. Takahashi believes in challenging dancers, but also emphasizes the health and well-being of her students.
Website: www.ayakoschool.com








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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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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!


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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).

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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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