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Jane Austen Arrives on the Ballet Stage

Erikka Reenstierna-Cates, Mattia Pallozzi and Monica Giragosian in costume for Pride and Prejudice (photo by Richard Termine, courtesy ARB)

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen's timeless novel of class, family and love, will come to life this spring in Princeton, New Jersey. American Repertory Ballet's premiere on April 21 marks one of the few times Austen's writing has appeared as a full-length story ballet. ARB artistic director and choreographer Douglas Martin told Pointe why the story, famed for its witty dialogue, makes perfect sense as dance.

What inspired you to tackle this?

I wanted a full-length ballet that could be specifically for ARB. It's hard to write a great love story, and Pride and Prejudice has many different kinds of relationships at its heart, because of the Bennet sisters. That gives me many lead couples and all kinds of ideas about how people can interact with each other.

What music are you using?


No one has written a ballet score for this story, so I needed to find something that was not only beautiful to dance to but also reinforces the libretto. I did some research and found out that Jane Austen collected Schubert and Mendelssohn, but also a composer named Ignaz Pleyel, whose work reminds me of Mendelssohn's melodic themes. I'll be using his music for the score. It should remind you of the era, but the emotion needs to come through.

Will you use period movement, too?

There will be jigs, reels and minuets, but when a relationship is happening—in a ballroom scene, for example—classical steps will happen in the midst of the group.

What has it been like to go from the page to the stage?

I've put in about two years just trying to understand the book and figure out where to condense. Each character will need to possess a unique movement style and posture. This will define and express the character, along with the characters' feelings toward one another. The music will also help set the emotion and pace of each scene. Lots of people have told me they can't imagine this story as a ballet. But once you understand the emotion, it can come through the body. Dance is just another language.

Cauthorn and Strongin, two to watch at SFB, in "Frankenstein." Photo by Erik Tomasson. Courtesy SFB.

Max Cauthorn was an on-the-rise corps member when he stepped into the title role of Liam Scarlett's Frankenstein last February; when the curtain came down, he was San Francisco Ballet's newest leading man. In his first full-length starring role, he carried the physically and emotionally demanding three-hour ballet with fluent technique and a natural charisma. But he didn't do it alone: In her own lead-role debut with SFB, soloist Lauren Strongin brought tenderness and steely integrity to Frankenstein's true love, Elizabeth.

Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

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Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy New York City Ballet.

This time of year, we're used to seeing dancers embodying the flavors of The Nutcracker's magical Land of Sweets. But the real-life equivalents of those seasonal treats are more than just holiday guilty pleasures, and have benefits that could help you get through a crazy month of performances. Here are a few reasons to indulge in the spices and flavors of the season—now, and all year long.

Peppermint

This powerhouse herb has an abundance of benefits to help you get through a busy performance season. It's been known to aid digestion and help calm anxiety, and one study found that inhaling its vapors may improve athletic performance. Smelling peppermint has also been found to increase focus. You don't just have to get it from candy canes: Try brewing a hot cup of peppermint tea between rehearsals, or to wind down after a long day.

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Audience members can meet and adopt featured dogs during intermission. Photo Courtesy Richmond Ballet.

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Given the thousands of incarnations The Nutcracker has undergone—from tiny-tot productions in small-town studios to grand modern classics—the ballet's Grand Pas de Deux from Act II has remained remarkably intact. With slight variations, most professional dancers have seen its familiar choreography at some point or another. Tchaikovsky's radiant score calls to mind elegant promenades, partnered penchées and slow, supported développés.

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Photo by Taylor-Ferné Morris.

I have flatter feet and want to make them look better on pointe. Are there any special pointe shoes for my foot type? —Joana

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