Ballet Stars

2017 Stars of the Corps: Francesca Velicu of English National Ballet

Francesca Velicu in Pina Bausch's Le Sacre du printemps by English National Ballet. Photo by Laurent Liotardo, Courtesy ENB.

There was total silence by the end of English National Ballet's first go at Pina Bausch's raw Rite of Spring, and much of the performance's success came down to a tiny dancer: Francesca Velicu. Handpicked to be The Chosen One, the Romanian corps member threw herself into the role with an innocence that made the ritual newly terrifying. "It brought me the most intense and emotional moments that I'll ever experience onstage," she says.

At just 19, Velicu is already walking in the footsteps of ballet's reigning Romanian star, her ENB colleague Alina Cojocaru. Born in Bucharest, Velicu earned top finishes at Youth America Grand Prix and completed her training at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. In 2015, she joined the Romanian National Ballet under Johan Kobborg, who fast-tracked her: In one season, she danced Kitri, Theme and Variations and numerous soloist roles, honing her effervescent technique with breezy confidence.


ENB artistic director Tamara Rojo clearly agreed, and after Kobborg's abrupt exit in Bucharest, Velicu relocated to London in 2016. The versatile young dancer relishes ENB's diverse repertoire, from the classics to Akram Khan and Bausch. "Since I joined the company, I've had challenge after challenge," she says, adding: "Being coached every day by some of the greatest names in the ballet world can only inspire you." Odds are the determined Velicu, whose goals include dancing Manon and Juliet, will make her mark there.

Francisco Estevez, Courtesy Colorado Ballet Academy

When you're looking for a ballet program to take you to the next level, there are a lot of factors to consider. While it's tempting to look for the biggest name that will accept you, the savvy dancer knows that successful training has more to do with the attention and opportunities you'll get.

We put together a few of the most important things for dancers to look for in a summer or year-round training program, with the help of the experts at Colorado Ballet Academy:

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Everything Nutcracker
Pennsylvania Ballet demi-soloist Thays Golz as the Sugar Plum Fairy during a stage rehearsal for George Balanchine's Nutcracker. All photography by Arian Molina Soca.

For many professional ballet dancers, Nutcracker means weeks of performances. That usually translates to multiple casts—and important breakout opportunities for those in the junior ranks. On the afternoon of December 13, Pennsylvania Ballet demi-soloist Thays Golz made her debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy along with her Cavalier, corps member Austin Eylar. For the Brazilian-born dancer, who joined PAB in 2018 after two seasons at Houston Ballet, Sugar Plum marks one of her first principal roles.

"I'm really excited," says Golz. PAB artistic director Angel Corella appointed 12 casts of Sugar Plum Fairies over the run's 29 performances. "When I first found out, I was like, 'Pinch me!' I still can't believe it."

We caught up with Golz just before her debut to see how she prepared for her big break.

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Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy US Prix de Ballet

The US Prix de Ballet is taking an unconventional approach to the ballet competition—by putting the competitors' health first. After a successful first year in 2018, the Prix is returning to San Diego, CA this February with an even more comprehensive lineup of wellness workshops and master classes, in addition, of course, to the high-level competition.

Though the talent is top-notch, the environment is friendly, says HARID Conservatory faculty member Victoria Schneider, who serves on US Prix de Ballet's elite panel of judges. "The wellbeing of the dancer is the main focus," says Schneider, who awarded three scholarships to HARID at last year's competition.

US Prix de Ballet was born after its founders traveled to the Japan Grand Prix International Ballet Competition in 2016. "The company ran every aspect of the competition with professionalism, dignity, honor and precision," says founder Neisha Hernandez. "We knew we wanted this level of experience for America."

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