Many of us take our ballet training for granted. But for dancers living in Puerto Rico, which is still reeling from the devastating affects of last month's Hurricane Maria, pursuing a ballet career or simply taking class must now feel insurmountable. What do you do when Mother Nature not only destroys your dance studio, but your home and the majority of the city you live in? Priorities must shift to those of basic survival.
Now, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports that the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School is trying to help six Puerto Rican dancers resume their training. The students, whose studio in San Juan was badly damaged, had recently attended SCBS's summer intensive. School directors Ariel Serrano and Wilmian Hernandez have started a fundraising effort called "Sarasota And Puerto Rico Dance Together" to temporarily relocate the dancers. While they can easily offer them scholarships, Serrano and Hernandez must raise an additional $36,000 to provide housing, food and living expenses for one year. (SCBS has a dormitory for female students, but not for male students.)
When I was 4 or 5, I told my mom, "I want to go to a real dance school with barres and a mirror." My preschool recommended Chicago's Ruth Page Center for the Arts. That's where I trained until I left for Cuba a year ago. I went to regular school during the day, and then had ballet class for four or more hours per day during the evenings and weekends. Nobody in my family has a dance background, but they've been supportive through all of it.
My school in Chicago teaches a technique that draws on Vaganova, Cecchetti and Bournonville. I went to very different summer intensives, as well: American Ballet Theatre, the Royal Ballet School in London and Boston Ballet. Then, two summers ago, Ruth Page School of Dance director Victor Alexander, who is Cuban, arranged an exchange with the Cuban National Ballet School. A group of eight Cubans came to Ruth Page's summer intensive. I had to learn an entire pas de deux as well as a contemporary ballet piece in 10 days, and then perform them. I'd never had to do anything that quickly; it was hard work but exciting. I then realized that if I could dance professionally, I wanted to.
Conley in class at the Cuban National Ballet School. Photo by Alex Garcia.
"When I compete, I'm the type to get nervous and shaky," says 19-year-old Eleanor Rodriguez. Growing up, the Phoenix, Arizona native had competed in figure skating and archery, but last month she got her first taste competing in the ballet world when she traveled to Lisbon, Portugal for the Royal Academy of Dance's Genée International Ballet Competition. Rodriguez, who has been most recently studying at the Russian-based Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, trained mainly in the RAD style under Mary Mo Adams. "I've been working in the curriculum my whole life, and the Genée is the height of that experience."
Rodriguez was also the only American participant, adding to the pressure. "I definitely feel like I have to represent," she said a few days before leaving for the competition. "But I've been training really hard. I'm as ready as I can be." She prepared two solos ahead of time—the second Shades variation from La Bayadère and a "Dancer's Choice" neoclassical solo choreographed by her Master Ballet Academy teacher Albert Cattafi. Once in Lisbon, Rodriguez enjoyed four intense days leading up to the semi-finals that included classes, coaching sessions with RAD faculty and learning another solo created especially for the Genée by Portuguese choreographer César Augusto Moniz.
Photo by Ed Flores, Courtesy RAD.
While Rodriguez, who joins Ballet Arizona's Studio Company this fall, did not make it to the final round, she felt the experience was well worth it. "I loved receiving coaching and having an opportunity to perform." We asked her to share how she stayed calm and maintained perspective during the competition, below.
Every four years, dancers from around the world gather in Jackson, Mississippi to compete for medals, cash prizes, scholarships and company contracts as part of the USA International Ballet Competition. While every competition boasts famous former competitors, the USA IBC's impressive list includes Isaac Hernandez, Sarah Lamb, Misa Kuranaga, Nina Ananiashvili, Brooklyn Mack, Daniil Simkin and many more. Though the competition runs from June 10-23 of 2018, it's not too early to apply; applications for the 11th USA IBC opened this week.
If you're 14 years old but itching to enter the competition circuit, it's your lucky year. USA IBC has lowered its age requirement from 15 to 14 (the Prix de Lausanne made a similar change last month). Older dancers can also participate; the competition has extended the senior division limit from 26 to 28 years of age.
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.
Over the past week, 52 dancers from 14 countries trained in the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus flocked to Lisbon, Portugal, for the 2017 Genée International Ballet Competition. After four days of coaching (see highlights on our Instagram), the dancers competed in two days of semi-finals. By Saturday, the pool had been narrowed to just 11 contestants who performed in the finals at Teatro Camões; five lucky dancers took home medals.
The prestigious gold medal (past winners have included ballet stars such as Stella Abrera and Steven McRae) went to 18-year-old British student Harris Beattie. Beattie made Genée history this weekend as the first dancer ever to win all three awards: gold medal, Dame Margot Fonteyn Audience Choice Award and the Choreographic Award, which he received for his Dancer's Own variation entitled Torn, which he co-choreographed with his teacher, Karen Berry. Beattie trains at the Central School of Ballet in London.
Gold medal, the Dame Margot Fonteyn Audience Choice Award and Choreographic Award winner Harris Beattie. Photo by Bruno Simao, Courtesy of the Royal Academy of Dance.
On September 7, The Genée International Ballet Competition—the Royal Academy of Dance's flagship event—gets underway in Lisbon, Portugal. Founded in 1931, the Genée recognizes top talent with medals and cash prizes, as well as exposure to company and academy directors. Competitors perform a classical variation, a commissioned piece by an emerging choreographer, and a "Dancer's Own" solo, choreographed by either the competitor, their teacher or a peer.
The 10-day competition, which hosts young dancers trained in the RAD syllabus from around the world, has helped launch the careers of many of today's ballet stars. Just who, exactly? Take a walk down memory lane as we reveal eight familiar faces.