When the choreographer Alexei Ratmansky joined American Ballet Theatre as artist in residence eight years ago, the company hadn't had a house choreographer since the days of Antony Tudor. The gamble seems to have paid off handsomely. In that time Ratmansky has either made or restaged 12 ballets for the company. In 2011, the company extended his contract to 2023. Such commitments are practically unheard of at a time when top dancers and choreographers hop from company to company, continent to continent. The scale and ambition of the works Ratmansky is making for ABT is a rarity too, in a world of tight budgets, scant rehearsal time and pared-down esthetics.
Set design for new "Harlequinade." Courtesy ABT.
Black Swan wasn't the film industry's first ballet-themed psychological drama. In The Red Shoes (1948), theater and life conflate, with tragic results for the dancer caught in the middle. Unlike Black Swan, however, The Red Shoes starred a real life ballerina. Moira Shearer, then a leading dancer with Sadler's Wells Ballet (now The Royal Ballet) plays Victoria Page, a young prodigy who catches a Russian impresario's eye, joins his company and stars in a new ballet based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Red Shoes.
In this clip from the dance sequences, the ballet character sees the infamous shoes at a carnival booth and immediately covets them. Shearer's skill as a dancer and actress are evident. Each twirl, reach and penché evokes her desperate longing. The shoemaker, danced with incredible precision by famous choreographer Léonide Massine, taunts the girl. When she finally leaps into the red shoes (with kitschy film effects), she forgets her partner completely. She dances with bounding energy, depicted by Shearer's crisp, light petit allégro. Later, it becomes clear that the shoes have a fatal sort of magic, both onstage and off.
Whether you've been lucky enough to watch American Ballet Theatre's Gillan Murphy dance Swan Lake's Odette/Odile in person or you're one of the 100,000+ who've watched her performance on YouTube, the magic happening on stage is obvious. Even off stage, it's easy to see why the role is such a perfect fit. Supremely graceful with her long limbs and quiet nature, Murphy certainly looks the part of Odette. Yet there's also an Odile-like spark in her eyes as she speaks, one that was even more noticeable while teaching a younger generation the famous black swan pas de deux during Cloud & Victory's master class in New York City last month.
After we learned how to master Odile's swan arms (the trick is to relax your elbows while still keeping resistance, according to Murphy), we caught up with Murphy for her take on the famous role.
Learning a variation for the first time is definitely one of the most rewarding parts of ballet. And when American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston teaches you that variation as part of a master class series hosted by dancewear brand Cloud & Victory, the whole process gets even more exciting. Dreamt up by Cloud & Victory founder Min, the day-long workshop at Joffrey Ballet School in New York City consisted of a technique class taught by fellow ABT principal Gillian Murphy, as well as variations from both Murphy and Boylston. After Murphy taught Black Swan, Boylston gave the dancers another classic with Act I of Giselle. If you weren't lucky enough to be among the dozens of aspiring ballerinas gathered at the master class, check out some of Boylston's tips for learning Giselle at home.
Since joining American Ballet Theatre as a soloist in 2008, Russian-born Daniil Simkin has become a fixture in the New York City dance scene. In addition to performing leading roles with ABT in everything from Giselle to Whipped Cream, Simkin has also spearheaded his own side projects like 2015's INTENSIO and, most recently, his Falls the Shadow at the Guggenheim Museum's rotunda.
You probably remember watching "Sesame Street" in your pre-ballet days, but did you know that some of your favorite ballet dancers and companies have appeared alongside your favorite PBS characters?
We've rounded up some our most beloved ballet scenes from the classic children's program below.
Count Suzanne Farrell's turns
Remember the days when you counted "1, 2, 3, 4" instead "and, 5, 6, 7, 8"? Relive that time as you—and the Count—add up the legendary Balanchine muse's turns in this 1985 episode.
Petite and fine-boned, American Ballet Theatre's Rachel Richardson can look younger than her 21 years, vulnerable in a way that makes you want to give her a hug. That is, until she begins to move. Elegant and precise, with beautifully articulated legs and feet, Richardson radi- ates authority onstage, commanding attention rather than asking for it. There's a lot of power in that delicate frame.
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy of ABT.
Striving for higher extensions, more turnout and bigger jumps may be at the top of your agenda in daily class. But what about those finer points of your technique, the subtleties that make a dancer really shine? They need just as much of your attention, and letting seemingly innocuous bad habits linger will impact your overall dancing.
"There are no shortcuts in ballet," says Cynthia Harvey, artistic director of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre. "You can't expect good results by ignoring details that are the building blocks of technique." We break down five bad habits that are easy to overlook—but have a major impact.