Céline Gittens and Brandon Lawrence in "Nutcracker." Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Our company's Nutcracker was choreographed by Sir Peter Wright, and it's very traditional. We usually only have two weeks to prepare after the end of the autumn season, so my partner and I start going over the grand pas de deux on our own time before rehearsals start. I like to do my own research through social media or by watching how other company dancers interpret the role, drawing from what I like best and trying to apply that to myself. I also video my rehearsals and later critique them, to try to get my performance up to another level.

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Sterling Hyltin in the first movement of Serenade. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy New York City Ballet.

I just can't help feeling joy when I dance the Waltz Girl. Afterwards, I feel so at peace and nourished as a ballerina.

I love to scuba dive, and Serenade reminds me of a reef, with schools of fish in all these different groupings, and singular entities darting in and out. Everything is blue, and the sweeping, wavelike movements take me to this happy place of doing something else that I love.

Balanchine didn't give it a story, but there's sort of a skeleton, a whisper of something being there—it's the story that you make it. Technically and emotionally, Serenade feels spiritual. I think that the Waltz Girl's first partner was perhaps a great love in her life, and in the "Elegy" she realizes he's gone and not coming back—the Dark Angel boy represents the spirit of the Waltz Boy.


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Karina González in "Romeo and Juliet" choreographed by Stanton Welch. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy of Houston Ballet.

As told to Julie Diana

Juliet is one of my favorite roles—you go through every emotion in just three acts. I had done different versions of the ballet before, but it was an amazing opportunity when my director Stanton Welch created the role for me. I watched a lot of videos to prepare and struggled at the beginning because I was trying to copy what other ballerinas had done. It took me a while to find my own way. But now, every step comes from deep inside.

I love that Juliet starts as an innocent little girl, playing with the nurse like she's her best friend. When she goes to the ball, she sees this person that moves her world around. I'm married now, and know what it means to give everything to someone and make decisions that will change your life. And because of the love you have for that person, it is worth it.


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Lamb with Federico Bonelli in Chroma (photo by Bill Cooper, courtesy ROH)

In Wayne McGregor's high-octane Chroma, The Royal Ballet's Sarah Lamb finds meditative stillness.

As told to Laura Cappelle

Chroma was the first ballet I worked on with Wayne McGregor, and it was like embarking on a relationship for the first time. There's a heightened energy, an expectation and also the desire to be a vehicle for the choreographer's ideas. The creation process was very easy. Wayne didn't give me any information about my role before we started—he doesn't try to analyze anything before it happens. The whole piece is a painting with people: We're in a monochrome environment, wearing light colors, in a white spot.

The first time I appear onstage is for my pas de deux. It often stands out because it comes after a period of loud, staccato, energetic music, and then there is this calm. It's quiet piano music, very meditative—the composer Joby Talbot's title for this section is “…a yellow disc rising from the sea…" One image that I have in my head is of a pebble being dropped into water, and the circles emanating out from it. There's a stillness, but there is also a continuity of movement, an echo and a reverberation.

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Leta Biasucci and Margaret Mullin in The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude (photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB)

Pacific Northwest Ballet's Leta Biasucci on William Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude

As told to Amy Brandt

I first saw a video of The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude as a student at the San Francisco Ballet School summer program. Then we learned a little bit of it in variations class, and it made such an impression on me. It was unlike anything I had learned in my technique classes. It really opened my eyes, and I was so enchanted by this whole new dimension of ballet.

At 11 minutes long, it's very much a sprint. When you hear the first “da-da-da!" you know how exhausted you're going to feel by the end. But with that feeling of exhaustion comes this great sense of exhilaration—every moment of it is thrilling.

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Joaquin de Luz in Prodigal Son
(Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy New York City Ballet)

New York City Ballet principal Joaquin De Luz on the elusive nature of Balanchine's Prodigal Son.

As told to Amy Brandt

Prodigal Son is the most important role of my career, and the most challenging. It's not only powerful physically; it takes you on a journey, and hopefully you take the audience with you. It's also pretty elusive; I still haven't found a formula that I'm content with.

The beginning feels most natural to me. I was a bad kid growing up, very rebellious. The son feels oppressed, like no one understands him. He thinks he knows best. That first entrance is full of power, big jumps and energy. That's the easy part. But the value of this role is in the character and the story.

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Dronina with Harrison James in La Sylphide (Aleksandar Antonijevic, courtesy NBoC)

In August Bournonville's 1836 ballet La Sylphide, every gesture has meaning. The National Ballet of Canada's Jurgita Dronina talks about her first time portraying the Sylphide. As told to Amy Brandt

I had never danced the Sylphide, so I didn't have a full idea of who I wanted to be. It was like writing a new story, on an empty piece of paper. To be honest, I started by watching videos of someone else—I just wanted to get the vision of the ballet. Then we worked on it little by little, scene by scene. I don't think I've ever done a ballet with so much detailed mime. There is meaning behind every step, so you really have to talk with every gesture. Even the smallest turn of the finger makes a difference. I practiced the mime over and over until it became more natural, and I realized eventually that the more simply you say something, the more it comes through. It was a fascinating process.

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Frances Chung and Vitor Luiz in Balanchine's Coppélia
(Photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy SFB)

In Balanchine's comedic Coppélia, San Francisco Ballet's Frances Chung brings out Swanilda's playful side.

All of Swanilda's actions come from a place of pure fun. She's kind of sassy, but I like bringing out her playfulness instead of taking a more bratty approach. The role comes quite naturally to my personality. When my partner and I are in the studio, we're very playful even though we're working hard and refining everything. I try to have a good time and I think that it translates onstage.

As Swanilda, my love for Franz is very youthful, like when you hit someone because you like him. I'm quite confident in myself and in our love, even though I see him blowing kisses at another girl (really a doll). I get mad for a second, but at the end of the day I know he's going to choose me. That's my underlying feeling. When I finally make the connection that she's a doll, I think it's hilarious!

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