Pointe Stars

James Whiteside on Being Disney Japan's Newest Prince

James Whiteside and Misa Kuranaga. Photo via Instagram.

Last week you might have seen Instagram light up with photos of American Ballet Theatre's James Whiteside and Boston Ballet's Misa Kuranaga dancing a Beauty and the Beast pas de deux for Disney Japan in Tokyo. When we realized that Whiteside had also choreographed the piece, we wanted to know how this Disney/ballet crossover came to be. We caught up with Whiteside to get all the details.

What's this pas de deux for? Where will it be released?

The pas de deux will be a bonus feature on a Japanese exclusive DVD and Blu Ray release of a new series called Disney Ballet Mousercise. It's essentially a ballet lesson series that uses well-loved Disney characters and songs. It will only be available in Japan, but I'm hoping it ends up online at some point!



How did Disney Japan find you?

Misa texted me asking if she could share my contact information with Disney Japan. She was the one who suggested that I choreograph the pas de deux. The Disney Japan representatives emailed me, and we met in Orange County while we were on tour with ABT's Whipped Cream.

What music did you use and where did you find your choreographic inspiration?

Disney chose the music. It's a newly arranged piano version of "Tale as Old as Time," from the Disney classic Beauty and the Beast. I wanted the pas de deux to feel like the wedding pas in a three act classical ballet. My inspirations were the original Beauty and the Beast Disney film, Frederick Ashton's Cinderella and much of Alexei Ratmansky's work, since I'm constantly surrounded by it at ABT.



Was Misa the obvious choice for your Belle?

Misa was the perfect Belle! She was cast before me, but if I had cast it I would've chosen her as well! She has the same headstrong attitude as Belle.

What was it like filming in Japan?

I was there for 10 days, in Tokyo for 7. We rehearsed at Shinjuku Mura Studios. Misa learned the whole pas de deux that I made in one day! We filmed in the Persimmon Hall Theatre in one day and we had a beautiful ballroom set with a starry night sky in the background. There were four cameras shooting the pas de deux from different angles and depths.



Did you and Misa have any other fun adventures while in Japan?

I tried to get in as much sightseeing in as possible. My first day, before Misa arrived, I went to Tokyo Tower and climbed all the way up to the top. It's an awful lot of stairs! There was also "One Piece Park" which is based on the popular anime series (which I adore). I saw the live "One Piece" stage show. It was hysterical! Misa and I had some wonderful meals in Tokyo too! Japanese food is incredible.


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Angela Sterling, Courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet

Clear your schedule now for Monday, January 29th, 2:45PM (EST)/ 11:45AM (PST). Pacific Northwest Ballet will be live-streaming rehearsal from Kent Stowell's Swan Lake, straight from their Seattle, WA-based studios. To psych us up for their on stage performances February 2nd - 11th, PNB is letting us in on their Act II rehearsal.

From the corps of swans to Odette and Prince Siegfried's pas de deux, and the infamous four swans, this rehearsal is not to be missed. You can sign up now for a live-stream reminder on their site. In the meantime, we'll be brushing up on our Cygnets with this PNB sneak peek.

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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Lopez in Circus Polka. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB.

When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

Keep reading at dancemagazine.com.

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Videos are a great alternative when auditioning in person isn't possible. Here are some general guidelines for making a good impression.

1. Follow directions. Before filming, research what each school you're interested in requires. "It demonstrates your ability to follow instructions, and schools pay attention to that," says Kate Lydon, artistic director of American Ballet Theatre's summer intensives and the ABT Studio Company. "If the guidelines haven't been followed, your video might not be watched the whole way through." You may need to make multiple versions to accommodate different schools.

2. Videos should be no longer than 10 minutes. "Keep it short, simple and direct," advises Philip Neal, dance department chair at The Patel Conservatory and artistic director of Next Generation Ballet. "You have to be sensitive to how much time the director has to sit down and look at it." Barre can be abbreviated, showing only one side per exercise, alternating. Directors will be looking at fundamentals—placement, turnout, leg lines, stability—but don't ignore musicality or movement quality. Make sure music choices match combinations and are correctly synced in the footage.

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Career
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I want to be a professional dancer, but my parents won't listen. They either don't think I can do it (contrary to what my teachers have said) or they won't let me take the necessary steps to become a professional. Please help. —Audrey

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Videos

They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

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Summer Study Advice
The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

This story originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Pointe.

As a young student at a small ballet school in upstate New York, I was obsessed with getting into the School of American Ballet. From the age of 10, I entered class each day with the ultimate goal of studying at SAB dangling before me like a carrot on a stick. Every effort I made, every extra class I took was for the sole purpose of getting into what I thought was the only ballet school that really mattered.

I auditioned for SAB's summer program for the first time when I was 12. In the weeks that followed, I became a vulture hovering over my family's mail, squawking at my mother if the day's letters were not presented for my inspection when I walked through the door. The day the letter finally arrived, it was thin and limp. I cried for a week as I dealt with the crushing feeling of rejection for one of the first times in my life.

My mind filled with questions and self-doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough? I figured I must be too fat, too slow, my feet too flat. I had worked so hard. I had wished on every fallen eyelash and dead dandelion in pursuit of my single goal, just to have a three-paragraph form letter conclude that I was a failure. For a while, I let myself wallow in the comfort of my resentment, content to believe that success should have come easily, and that to fall was the same as to fail.

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