Ballet Stars

Jurgita Dronina on Making the Role of "Kitri" Her Own

Jurgita Dronina as Kitri in "Don Quixote." Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

When Jurgita Dronina first danced Kitri for a guest performance of Don Quixote with Teatro Filarmonico-Fondazione Arena Di Verona, she was in essence cast against type. "Before Kitri, I was dancing only lyrical or dramatic roles, so I had to start from scratch in finding my own signature in the steps and my own interpretation of the character," says Dronina, who was dancing with Royal Swedish Ballet at the time.


Jan-Erik Wikström, her coach and colleague at RSB, helped her dig deep into the role. From Wikström she learned that a flashier character like Kitri doesn't have to drift into cliché. She used the feisty choreography to begin discovering the bravura side of herself, while maintaining her expressive elegance. "Jan-Erik allowed me to experiment with port de bras and transitions," says Dronina. "The biggest liberty I have taken is the movement of the fan and port de bras—there are so many ways to use a fan. Those movements of the head and upper body must define the character, since the steps must follow the choreography and staging."


Jurgita Dronina with Isaac Hernandez in Alexei Ratmansky's "Don Quixote" with Dutch National Ballet. Photo Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

Playing with the phrasing also helped Dronina make her mark. "There are still plenty of places to be lyrical and soft," she says, "to contrast the other parts that are very quick and on fire. I like to play with those differences, as well as try to find the right balance between humor and charm in her character." Little did she know that developing her Kitri would alter the trajectory of her career: After a guest performance in Alexei Ratmansky's Don Quixote with Dutch National Ballet, Dronina was invited to join the company, a move that eventually led her to become a principal at the National Ballet of Canada.

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via Instagram, Thaler Photography

Having danced with New York City Ballet, Béjart Ballet and the Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Aesha Ash undoubtedly inspired more than a few future ballerinas during her 13-year professional career. But now that she's retired, she's found a way to reach even more young girls, particularly those who live in inner-city neighborhoods, after founding The Swan Dreams Project.

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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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Photo via @isabellaboylston on Instagram.

From baking to leotard design, we love seeing dancers' passions outside of the studio. This week, American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston revealed herself to be an avid reader. She posted a photo on Instagram from her dressing room on the company's tour stop in Lincoln, NE, posing in her black swan tutu with a book in hand and the following caption:

"Hey guys!🚨🚨 Who wants to join my book club? The first book will be THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula K Le Guin. I've always been a huge bookworm, and would love to connect with you guys over some great books! I was thinking we can do an Instagram live in a couple weeks and people can comment in to discuss.😃 📚 🐛 any suggestions on what the next book should be?"

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Debra Austin in "Giselle."

Whenever Debra Austin jumped, she soared—and not only onstage. Invited by George Balanchine to join New York City Ballet at age 16, she was the first African-American woman to enter the company (where she eventually rose to soloist). She later joined Zurich Ballet, returning to the U.S. to accept a principal contract with Pennsylvania Ballet in 1982—a groundbreaking milestone for a black dancer outside of Dance Theatre of Harlem at the time. In this clip from a 1987 production of Giselle, her beautifully pliant feet and effortless ballon shine through the fuzzy video quality. In her Act I variation, the classical, understated purity of her port de bras belie the sheer technical strength of her attitude pirouettes and hops on pointe. Then watch, at 4:00, how she appears to fly through the air as a spectral wili, only to rise ever so delicately for a series of fluttering ronds de jambe en l'air.

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All photos by Jayme Thornton, modeled by Kailei Sin of The School at Steps.

During class, you're tuned in to every aspect of your dancing. But when the day is over, you may be tempted to head home and skip out on a proper cooldown. Don't: Going from grand allégro to a full stop is hard on your muscles. Bené Barrera, an athletic trainer who works with Houston Ballet, says, "If you're doing an end-of-day cooldown, you're going to need at least 20 minutes. That allows the muscles to calm down." And your body should notice the difference: "You'll have less trigger-point pain later, and your soreness might reduce a bit." A proper cooldown may even help you sleep better.

But post-class stretching isn't about sitting in a straddle. "As a dancer, you're never truly isolating one area," says Barrera. Your cooldown should mimic that. "You want to cover the whole body altogether. You don't want to just stretch one muscle group."

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Garrett Anderson. Photo Courtesy Ballet Idaho.

Big news in Boise: Ballet Idaho has announced that Garrett Anderson will succeed Peter Anastos as the company's next artistic director, starting in July. Anderson, who had an extensive dance career as a soloist with San Francisco Ballet and Royal Ballet of Flanders, and later danced with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, has a special connection with Ballet Idaho's home city. He performed with the Trey McIntyre Project in 2011 and later as a guest artist with Boise-based LED, a music, film and dance collaborative. Anderson has also served as the chair of the Dance Department at New Mexico School for the Arts in Santa Fe.


Members of Ballet Idaho in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Photo by Mike Reid, Courtesy ballet Idaho.

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Kyle Froman

"I'm all about comfort and easy clothing because I'm always on the go," Jasmine Perry says. But that doesn't keep the Los Angeles Ballet company dancer from looking stylish. Favoring dresses and athleisure wear, Perry also prefers classic lines and neutral colors like white, black, navy and gray, which are easy to mix and match. The finishing touch: a pair of sneakers from her extensive collection. "I had ankle surgery four or five years ago, so I need a good walking shoe," she explains. "I have a ton of Nikes and running sneakers from Brooks for when I've had a long day at work and need something that feels like clouds on my feet."

But in the studio, you won't find any of the yoga pants or loose-fitting T-shirts she loves so much. "I don't actually have that much attire for layering," Perry says of her strictly leotards-and-tights class style. "It doesn't get that cold here," she explains. "I have a few legwarmers and things for when I'm rehabbing an injury, but they're not part of my daily attire."

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