Watching English National Ballet’s corps de ballet glide through the second act of Giselle, it’s hard to imagine the com­pany’s very existence was in jeopardy five years ago. Two artistic directors had resigned in rapid succession, citing insufficient funding among other reasons. England’s Arts Council was forced to implement a four-year plan to keep the London-based company alive. The odds were certainly against Wayne Eagling when he became director in 2005, but his steady, patient work behind the scenes has resulted in a small revolution.

 

Founded in 1950 by British stars Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin, English National Ballet was designed to bring prestigious guest artists and a classical repertoire to remote areas in the UK. Today, the company continues to tour extensively, but it now cultivates young stars of its own.

 

Eagling quickly realized his mission at ENB would be quite different from what he had known during his previous 13 years as director of the state-funded Dutch National Ballet. Formerly a principal dancer with The Royal Ballet, Canadian-born Eagling appreciated the “family business” feel of ENB, relishing the opportunity to spend more time in the studio. He began building on the company’s existing strengths, including talented dancers and a packed schedule with some 170 performances a year.

 

Insisting on higher-quality repertoire, Eagling challenged the company to add full-length ballets such as Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon. He refocused the dancers around values reminiscent of his own English training: “If we have a style, it is about precision, quality and musicality.” Although the company is a melting pot of training backgrounds and nationalities, Eagling’s ballet masters have helped the dancers achieve the illusion of breathing together. “To me, the most valuable part of ENB is the corps,” says Eagling. “You can always spend money to hire a principal, but you cannot rent a corps de ballet.”

 

Many young dancers are drawn to the opportunities offered by the company’s extensive touring schedule. With 53 perfor­mances of Giselle this season alone, Eagling can afford to take casting risks. (Twenty-year-old Vadim Muntagirov, the company’s rising star, was lured away from a Bolshoi contract by the prospect of dancing a principal role within six months.) The new Emerging Dancer Award has focused even more attention on “young talents bubbling under the radar.” Eagling finds the sheer amount of stage time helps to develop dancers’ stagecraft and artistry. “The biggest challenge is to have a personality onstage,” he says. “How boring is it to see somebody do 10 pirouettes? For me the important thing is what the dancer gives to the audience.”

 

As far as the future is concerned, Eagling’s dream repertoire could prove an original twist in the land of Ashton and MacMillan. He is keen on showing the full-length masterpieces of continental choreographers who have not yet made their mark in the UK, such as John Neumeier’s Lady of the Camellias or Roland Petit’s Carmen. However, the need to design programs that sell remains a constant hurdle. “It’s very difficult to take risks or do a triple bill outside of London. I want to encourage the audiences to come and see ENB in whatever we do, instead of seeing Swan Lake because it’s Swan Lake.”

 

The company will celebrate its 60th anniversary with a new Nutcracker choreographed by Eagling this winter before any potential new ventures. The finances may be more stable than five years ago, but funding new works or even company premières remains an issue. “The biggest challenge,” Eagling ponders wistfully, “is to not just repeat ourselves because of financial restrictions, but to keep moving forward.”

 

At A Glance
English National Ballet

Number of dancers: 67
Contract length: 52 weeks
Starting salary: $32,837 a year (plus per diem payment during tours)
Performances per year: average 170
Website: www.ballet.org.uk




 

Laura Cappelle writes about ballet from France and England.

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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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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