Your Career

Company Life: Summer Programs for Professional Dancers

Caralin Curcio at the International Summer Course for Professional Dancers. Courtesy Kathleen Breen Combes.

While New York City Ballet was off last August, corps member Sasonah Huttenbach was hard at work at the Danish Ballet Masters program, a two-week Bournonville workshop in New York City led by former Royal Danish Ballet dancers Mogens Boesen and Linda Hindberg. While they have always offered a student intensive, last summer Boesen and Hindberg added a program for working dancers. “A lot of professionals just lean toward open classes or giving themselves class during layoffs, but sometimes you need the basics because you're rehearsing and performing so much," says Huttenbach, who attended the student intensive twice before joining NYCB. “It was great to spend time off perfecting my alignment and technique."

Wondering about how to spend your summer layoff weeks this year? While teaching or performance gigs are good ways to stay busy, off-time can also be perfect for brushing up your technique, exploring another style and networking with a broader range of dance professionals. From big cities to the beach, programs geared towards professionals can help reinvigorate your career and remind you that you can always go back to summer camp.


Hone Your Technique, Find a Mentor

Boston Ballet principal Kathleen Breen Combes spends her summers at the International Summer Course for Professional Dancers in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, which takes place in Spain's scenic Canary Islands during the last two weeks of July. The annual, yet unofficial, meeting of a small group of international dancers became an official program last year. The intensive is run by former Lyon Opéra Ballet dancers Anatol Yanowsky and Carmen Robles (the parents of Combes' husband, former Boston Ballet principal Yury Yanowsky) at the Choreographic Centre of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

“You work on rep all season, so this is a chance to fine-tune your technique," Combes explains. “No matter your rank, you come here and we work hard, together." Yanowsky and Robles alternate teaching an intense daily technique class from 12 pm to 2 pm. “They don't want to change your style, but are focused on making your style as clean as it can be," says Combes. Studios are available in the afternoon for working on gala pieces or choreography, and if you can still walk, evening floor barre and technique classes for pre-professional students are also open to the group. Most recently, Combes has used the summer program to get back in shape after having her first baby. And she admits it doesn't hurt to be getting your butt kicked five minutes from the beach.


Shelby Elsbree at the International Summer Course for Professional Dancers. Courtesy Kathleen Breen Combes.

In addition to working on her technique, Huttenbach credits the personal attention she received from Boesen and Hindberg with helping her make the transition from student to company member. “When you get thrown into the company, it becomes all about self-motivation," says Huttenbach. “Linda and Mogens became my mentors and gave me advice on how to work throughout the year, so now every morning for company class I think about their corrections and things they have told me."

Supplement Your Repertoire

Summer can also be a time to learn new repertoire and push yourself out of your comfort zone. At Springboard Danse Montréal, professional and advanced pre-professional dancers ages 19 and up spend three weeks every June immersing themselves in cutting-edge choreography with an impressive roster of international companies and emerging choreographers. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet dancer Evan Supple auditioned for Springboard before graduating from Marymount Manhattan College. “I was eager to go," says Supple, “but then I realized that I wanted to be more focused on ballet." Supple decided to go for it anyway, and the overall experience—including daily ballet, modern floorwork and Gaga classes, in addition to rehearsing and performing Alexander Ekman's Cacti—was life-changing. “I learned new concepts and ways of moving," he says. “A big shift happened in my brain and I began to see less separation between ballet and contemporary dance." Likewise, the class he was most afraid of, Gaga, gave him some nuggets of wisdom he thinks about every day as he takes barre.

For Huttenbach, studying Bournonville repertoire, with its focus on foot articulation and petit allégro, has only made her Balanchine work stronger. She received one-on-one coaching during two-hour Bournonville variations classes; each dancer is assigned an individual variation and encouraged to tell a story through classical movement. “You don't always get that in the corps," explains Huttenbach.

Broaden Your Professional Circle

A huge benefit to attending a professional summer program is being able to network beyond your company. For instance, Danish Ballet Masters includes classes with Royal Danish Ballet artistic director Nikolaj Hübbe. Last summer in Las Palmas, “there were dancers from Berlin, Copenhagen, Boston, Alberta and more," says Combes. The international mingling can create a cross-pollination of ideas and increase your knowledge of what is happening in the larger dance world.

At Springboard, Supple found camaraderie with a talented crop of young dancers, “the future of the dance field," he says. “Everybody that goes there is a working dancer or ends up working, so there are no slackers and there is always a positive energy." What's more, he also met the artistic staff of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet during one of the program's weekend auditions. After keeping in touch and completing a follow-up audition, he received a contract for the 2016–17 season. Even for those who are happily and gainfully employed, it is always a good idea to remember that the dance industry, like every industry, thrives on personal relationships—you never know what the fruit of sowing such seeds will be.


Evan Supple. Photo by Michael Slobodian.


Know Before You Go

Like most professional development opportunities, these programs come with a price tag. However, if you plan in advance you can keep an eye out for cheap airfare and share housing costs with other dancers.

International Summer Course for Professional Dancers in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: 360 euros for two weeks of technique classes; evening classes à la carte. For now, as the program remains intimate, it welcomes any dancers currently in a professional company. centrocoreografico.com

Danish Ballet Masters: $350 for one week or $650 for two weeks of morning Pilates and technique classes. (For professionals, there is an option to attend two weeks of full days for $1,350.) Professionals must submit a CV to be accepted. danishballetmasters.com

Springboard Danse

Montréal: $1,750 for three weeks, housing not included. Audition in person or mail in an application. springboarddansemontreal.com

Traveling?

Look into classes in your destination area. Pacific Northwest Ballet corps dancer Madison Taylor, who spends several weeks in New York City each summer, takes class from Nancy Bielski and Wilhelm Burmann at Steps on Broadway. While traveling through France and England in 2015, she took open class at London's Pineapple Studios and with the company at Paris Opéra Ballet. “It never hurts to ask," says Taylor, remembering her surprise when POB artistic staff said yes to her query about joining company class. She ended up getting a tour and experiencing a raked floor for the first time. “I learn something new about my dancing everywhere I go and with each experience. Different perspectives come back with me."

Elizabeth Abbick as the Snow Queen in Butler Ballet's "Nutcracker." Photo by Brent Smith, Courtesy Abbick.

Pointe caught up with three college dancers last spring to see what it's like juggling ballet, academics and a social life on campus. First up is Elizabeth Abbick, a student at Jordan College of the Arts, Butler University getting her BFA in dance performance and her BA in mathematics.

Abbick studying in the library. Photo by Jimmy Lafakis for Pointe.

Leawood, Kansas, native Elizabeth Abbick faced some tough choices her senior year of high school. Equally talented in math and ballet, she wanted a professional dance career but also desired to plan her post-performance life. "Butler University had always been on my radar because I knew the faculty was stellar and the students are the best of the best. I realized it could offer me both worlds," she says. Now a senior majoring in dance performance and mathematics, she hopes to work on the business side of the ballet world after her stage career.

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If you're in the NYC area and are in need of weekend plans, you might want to consider heading to the Film Society of Lincoln Center to see Jean-Stéphane Bron's documentary, The Paris Opéra. While the film was originally released in France this past spring, it just made its way to the US on October 18th, and it chronicles the 2015-2016 season at the Paris Opera.

Encompassing the entire institution (which was founded in 1669 by King Louis XIV!), dancers will particularly enjoy an inside look at the Paris Opéra Ballet—both in rehearsals and onstage. Most notably, Bron captures the then POB director Benjamin Millepied as he decides to leave his position with the company barely a year after his appointment.

Check out the full trailer below, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center's full listing of showtimes here.

Your Training
Thinkstock.

Bianca Bulle was always prone to ankle sprains. When she was 18, her recoveries became more complicated: She started experiencing Achilles tendonitis due to muscle weakness and fluid buildup in the ankle. "The last thing to get back to normal would be my Achilles, which was so incredibly tight and painful," says Bulle, now a principal at Los Angeles Ballet.

The Achilles is the body's largest tendon, attaching the bottom of the calf muscles to the back of the heel. It contracts and releases as you relevé and plié, as well as when you jump and even walk. Tendonitis, or inflammation, of the Achilles is one of the most frequently reported overuse injuries among active people, according to the American Physical Therapy Association. You'll know it by the pain or tightness at the back of the heel. If the condition gets bad enough, the tendon can rupture, which requires surgery to fix.

Achilles tendonitis is especially common among dancers on pointe, but it's not inevitable. With rest and proper conditioning, you can work to avoid it with careful technique and a commitment to cross-training.


Boston Ballet School pre-professional students. Photo by Igor Burlak Photography, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

What Causes It?

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New York City Ballet in Marc Chagall's costume designs for Balanchine's "Firebird."

I am a self-confessed costume nerd who really needs little persuasion to travel nearly 3,000 miles to see a costume exhibition—which is what I did when I set off for California for the new exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage. I knew Marc Chagall primarily for his sumptuous blue swirling paintings featuring violin-playing goats, his incredible ceiling at the Paris Opéra's Palais Garnier, and murals at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, so I was intrigued to see his work with ballet.

Marc Chagall (1887–1985), was born Moishe Zakharovich Shagal in Belarus. He later moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, to study art, apprenticing under famed Ballets Russes designer Leon Bakst. Chagall's work in ballet and opera, however, did not begin until he and his wife Bella arrived in the U.S. as World War II refugees in 1941.

Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage, adapted from an earlier exhibition at the Montreal Music of Art and curated by Yuval Sharon and Jason H. Thompson, is an exciting opportunity to see 41 costumes and nearly 100 designs. But it is the costumes that really steal the show. You won't see any tutus here, but instead amazing, almost cartoon-like realizations of Chagall's artwork. LACMA's exhibition runs through January 7, 2018. For those of you who can't make the trip like I did, here's a rundown of highlights.

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Tiler Peck in "Who Cares?". Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck and Emmy-winning actress Elisabeth Moss (of Mad Men and Handmaid's Tale fame) may seem like unlikely friends, until you dig a little deeper into their backgrounds. Both attended Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica and spent summers at the School of American Ballet in their youths. Moss and Peck's career paths diverged when the former fell in love with acting and Peck went on to study at SAB full time, eventually becoming the star we know today. Now, the pairs' artistic pursuits are uniting in an exciting new project.

According to Deadline.com, Moss will produce a documentary featuring Peck and her work curating BalletNOW, last summer's star-studded, critically acclaimed program at Los Angeles's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Peck was the first woman to lead BalletNOW's programming, and she brought together dancers from companies including The Royal Ballet, Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Paris Opéra Ballet, putting them on stage with tappers, clowns and break dancers (sometimes simultaneously).


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Your Best Body

Looking for creative and healthy ways to get your pumpkin fix this fall? First, back away from the pumpkin-spiced latte—the season's unofficial drink is often laced with sugary syrup and comes with a complimentary mid-rehearsal crash. Instead, try these simple snacks with puréed pumpkin. It's high in beta-carotene, which converts to immunity-boosting vitamin A, and is a good source of vitamin K, iron and fiber. You can buy it canned or make the purée from a "sugar" or "pie" pumpkin (they're commonly available at grocery stores or farm markets).

Fruit-and-Spice Toast

- Spread purée onto whole-grain toast.

- Top with sliced pear.

- Add a dash of cinnamon.

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Pointe Stars

When Maya Plisetskaya first toured abroad with the Bolshoi Ballet, she stunned the world. Her dramatic and technical abilities were far beyond what anyone outside the Soviet Union had seen before. She quickly became an icon, symbolizing Russian ballet.

Plisetskaya was the perfect ballerina to play the Tsar Maiden in The Little Humpbacked Horse when choreographer Alexander Radunsky and composer Rodion Shchedrin recreated the classic Russian folktale in the 1960s. This vintage clip of the ballet offers a glimpse into an era gone by. Although ballet technique has advanced since then, Plisetskaya's performance is still electrifying. She is daring and agile in her manèges and fouettés, while she shows gentle purity and authentic emotion in the pas de deux with the wide-eyed Ivan. Even half a century later, this magnificent artist continues to transfix us with her radiant presence onstage. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


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