When José Pablo Castro Cuevas got scouted by The Joffrey Ballet at Youth America Grand Prix Mexico back in 2015, he'd never even heard of the company—let alone its official school and training program, the Joffrey Academy of Dance. Now in his second year as a full-fledged member of the company, Castro Cuevas says with certainty that he's where he is today because he spent that fateful first summer intensive at the Joffrey Academy in Chicago, Illinois.
"I'd never even considered that joining a company could be possible for me," he says. "Those five weeks prepared me physically, mentally and technically for everything that would come after." Five years from now, you could well be saying something similar about your own journey to becoming a professional ballet dancer.
A Proven Track Record<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTE2NTE5Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2Mzg5OTc1N30.W3Lba4PIznqSazk9m_cYCO_IESW9ETZTXr0qMae7gV0/img.jpg?width=980" id="fe4d6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c22ba7a17f176e4ed90d925295175d53" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="6720" data-height="4480" />
Academy Director Raymond Rodriguez leading class at the Joffrey Academy
Cheryl Mann, Courtesy the Joffrey Academy<p>As Abbott Academy Director Raymond Rodriguez is quick to point out, the numbers don't lie: "Twelve out of 43 dancers in the company started at the <a href="http://joffrey.org/summerintensives" target="_blank">Academy's summer intensive</a>." That figure becomes even more impressive when you consider that the Joffrey Academy of Dance has only been in existence for 11 years. (Though they're easily and often confused, it's important to note that New York City's Joffrey Ballet School is completely separate from Chicago's Joffrey Ballet and the Joffrey Academy of Dance.)</p><p> How have so many dancers successfully progressed from summer intensive to Pre-Professional Division to Trainee Program to Studio Company to main company? In large part, it's simply because the summer intensive is mandated for any dancer hoping to join the year-round residential training program. </p><p>"We want to get to know them a lot better than we can in one audition," explains Rodriguez. Spending five weeks assessing all aspects of an aspiring dancer's readiness—not just technical ability, but also maturity and drive to improve—helps the Academy faculty set dancers up for success as pre-professionals and, eventually, as professionals. </p>
“Joffrey-centricity”<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTE2NTE2Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNjg0MTAzMn0.SYE9z8Kl_M4Mz0OZsyiFqc75kJ-7NAVK8OmVG9CC3f4/img.jpg?width=980" id="1129d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="01a4833d7398723944feeeaf53dfc6fe" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1125" data-height="1693" />
Castro Cuevas during his first summer at the Joffrey Academy
Courtesy Castro Cuevas<p>Thinking back on the summer of 2015, Castro Cuevas fondly remembers the variety and novelty of the Joffrey Academy's summer curriculum. "I was taking so many kinds of classes for the first time ever, from amazing teachers with incredible backgrounds," he recalls. "I can't believe how much I progressed in those five weeks."</p><p> Rodriguez notes that while breadth of curriculum is a Joffrey Academy hallmark, that variety is grounded in a consistent group of world-class instructors who really get to know students well. "One thing that sets us apart from other intensives is that we don't bring in guest faculty," he says. "If a new teacher comes in for a week, the line of communication is broken as soon as they leave. We believe that dancers at our intensive stay mentally and physically healthier when there's as much consistency as there is in the year-round program."</p><p> That's not to say that choosing the <a href="http://joffrey.org/summerintensives" target="_blank">Joffrey Academy summer intensive</a> means you'll miss out on the excitement of learning from dance-world celebrities. Just this past summer, Christopher Wheeldon and Justin Peck Zoomed in to discuss excerpts from works they've created on Joffrey dancers. The difference, as Rodriguez says, is that "we bring in international icons who are deeply connected to The Joffrey Ballet."</p>
Ready and Willing
Courtesy Castro Cuevas
Summer intensives are much more than just a way to stay in shape over a break. The rigorous schedule, as well as exposure to new teachers, programs and styles, sets dancers up for the school year ahead, and allows them to make huge strides towards their dance goals. Intensives are often the gateway to pre-professional programs and other opportunities, so selecting the intensive that will help you meet your goals is key.
Ellison Ballet in New York City offers three distinct summer courses that help students achieve their most important training goals, whether that's being accepted into Ellison Ballet's renowned year-round program, getting a taste of pre-professional life, preparing for ballet competitions and auditions, or dancing for a company in the upcoming season.
Christopher Mitchell (second from right) in EBSI Sr. Men's class with international répétiteur Maina Gielgud and artistic director Edward Ellison
Courtesy Christopher Mitchell
Edward Ellison, artistic director and founder of Ellison Ballet, stresses that it is a dancer's mindset and dedication to working hard that truly sets him or her up for success. Being clear about your goals for the year and your career ambitions can help you choose the right summer intensive where you can achieve the results you really want.
Maya Read, a current Ellison Ballet student who has trained with the school since 2018, says that it is important to look at the current and former students to know if a summer intensive is right for you. "You should look for somewhere that reflects where you want to be as a dancer," she says. "I remember hearing about how many Ellison Ballet graduates joined companies and all the wonderful things they had to say about the school, the teachers and the training. That helped me know it was the right place for me."
Taking ownership of your goals also helps others help you. The Ellison Ballet Summer Intensive teachers, which include year-round faculty as well as prominent guest teachers from around the world, focus on each student as an individual. "They are so passionate about the students, and they want us all to succeed," says Read.
Christopher Mitchell, a dancer with the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company who trained with Ellison Ballet from 2018–20, says that the EBSI also has a unique camaraderie among the students, where everyone lifts each other up. "You can feel comfortable asking other students for help and working toward your goals without any judgment."
Seek out new experiences
Maya Read in Central Park during her time at EBSI
Courtesy Maya Read
A summer intensive is a great opportunity to test out what life as a pre-professional is like."You learn how you need to work when there are no other distractions, like performances, and get used to the structure and the schedule," says Mitchell. There's a lot to learn outside the studio too. "I wanted to come to Ellison Ballet to experience life in New York City, and see if it would be a good match for me," recalls Read. Taking advantage of all the unique arts and culture that New York City has to offer alongside top-notch training could be a goal in itself for some dancers this summer.
Ellison Ballet offers three unique summer courses: a four-week classical training program, and two two-week specialized programs in areas that are crucial for aspiring pros: classical variations and classical pas de deux. "In our four-week EBSI, students are immersed in all aspects of study vital to becoming dancers," says Ellison. That includes ballet technique, pointe, character, contemporary, conditioning, and more, not to mention valuable exposure to the many benefits of Vaganova technique, a signature aspect of Ellison Ballet's program. From there, Ellison encourages students to keep building on their progress with a deep dive into either classical variations or classical pas de deux. "The two-week programs explore classical works in-depth, from choreographic detail to musical nuance. Combining two intensives into a six-week course allows for an even greater opportunity for growth," he says.
Read, who attended the Classical Variations Intensive in 2018 and 2019, says, "The teachers explain the meaning behind all of the steps. It helps the students become trained not just in the body but in the mind, too."
Additionally, Ellison Ballet offers robust men's training as part of its summer programs, with separate daily technique classes and extensive pas de deux work. "We even have professional dancers who attend our programs to further hone their skills," says Ellison. "Many report that after returning to their companies, directors comment about the great strides they've made over their break."
Reap the rewards
Courtesy Christopher Mitchell
"When students approach our programs with an open mind and heart, willing to give themselves completely to the work, the rewards can be substantial," says Ellison. His students are quick to express how the summer intensive was where they first discovered the mental tenacity and courage to push themselves to achieve their biggest goals.
"At Ellison, you really learn how to become a dancer, not just how to dance," says Read.
Mitchell, who is currently dancing in his first season with Dutch National Ballet's Junior Company, says that attending Ellison Ballet was the decision that had the biggest impact on his training. "It was the hard right turn that brought me to where I am today, and what prepared me to be a professional."
The coronavirus pandemic has not slowed down the Mariinsky Ballet's Maria Khoreva. Although Russia's Mariinsky Theater was closed in 2020 from March until August, the 20-year-old first soloist used the time in quarantine to her advantage. She wrote a newly published book titled Teach Me Ballet, and won Best Female Dancer on Russia's hit TV show "Grand Ballet," a competition which brings young ballet dancers from all parts of the country to the national spotlight. (This season, filmed over the summer, was broadcast on Russia's arts channel from November 4 to December 19. All seven episodes are now available on YouTube.)
Pointe spoke with Khoreva to find out more about her experience on the show, her fitness regime during quarantine and her new book.
Khoreva (third from left) with her fellow "Grand Ballet" contestants and jury members
Courtesy Mariinsky Ballet
Royal Ballet principal Yasmine Naghdi had been gearing up to star as the Sugarplum Fairy in a December livestream performance of The Nutcracker when London went back into heavy COVID-19 restrictions. The performance was canceled, but Naghdi has been taking this current setback, and the challenges the pandemic has brought over the last 10 months, in stride. In addition to keeping up with her training, she's been taking Italian lessons virtually and preparing elaborate meals with her boyfriend ("We're both real foodies," she says). Last fall, Naghdi, who has always loved cooking, travel, design and self-care, decided to share her offstage passions with fans on her new Instagram page, @lifestyle_by_yas.
Naghdi recently talked with us about staying flexible to the UK's lockdown changes and her post-performance wellness routine, plus offered a recipe for her favorite pasta dish.
Naghdi and Matthew Ball in The Royal Ballet's Nutcracker
Karolina Kuras, Courtesy ROH<p><strong>How was it preparing for the livestream performance of <em>The Nutcracker</em> last month, only to have it canceled due to new COVID-19 restrictions in London?</strong></p><p>We worked so hard to get ourselves up to peak condition, and, I admit, it's been trickier than usual. Normally, at this point in the season we would have performed multiple ballets and our stamina would be in tip-top form. However, this wasn't the case this year. I managed to perform four times from March until December. When the announcement on December 19 came out introducing harsher restrictions, the company was notified and the livestream had to be canceled. This was very sad news for us all, but everyone's health is the main priority. [The show was replaced with an online performance of Christopher Wheeldon's 2017 production of <a href="https://stream.roh.org.uk/packages/alice-s-adventures-in-wonderland-2017/videos/alices-adventures-in-wonderland-2017?_ga=2.41391211.875849276.1610326384-272174007.1608646171" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Alice's Adventures in Wonderland</em></a><em>, </em>available to watch until January 21.] </p><p><strong>What was the inspiration for launching your @lifestyle_by_yas Instagram page during the pandemic?</strong></p><p>I had so much time on my hands that my creativity needed an outlet. In the early stages, I shared meals and the cozy, designed corners in my new home on my ballet Instagram page. But I realized I'd better create an entirely different account exclusively geared towards my other passions, like international travel, interior design, collecting unique decorative objects and sourcing vintage couture. The pandemic restricted my moves, so I haven't been able to share as much as I had hoped. I also love all things self-care, so I plan to include more of my skin-care rituals, makeup, etc. I imagine the page to be something like a mood board while sharing recipes, past travels (with hopefully more travels in the future!) and more.</p>
Yasmine Naghdi's Linguine Alle Vongole Recipe<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ1NDkwMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2NjgzNTg4NH0.AUfgqIPLzrohWBQfE9RpfIYKPCOih-NQt8CgZVt9ufQ/img.png?width=980" id="b87f5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0879746c011be14495610644b7444976" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="A close photo of white plate with linguine pasta, clams and parsley" data-width="2036" data-height="1380" />
Getty Images<p>The ingredients are:</p><p>800 g (1.8 lbs) fresh clams, about 200 g (7 oz) per person</p><p>3–5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped</p><p>1–2 handfuls fresh parsley, finely chopped</p><p>1 pepperoncino (red chili pepper) or dried flakes (amount depends on your preference)</p><p>4–5 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil</p><p>320–400 g (11–14 oz) linguine or spaghetti</p><p>1/2 glass dry white wine</p><p>Earlier in the day, soak the clams in cold water and add 2–3 teaspoons of salt (ONLY). Leave the clams in throughout the day, as they will release sand. </p><p>Finely chop the peeled garlic, parsley and chili so you have this ready when it's time to cook. (Remove the seeds from the chili if you want a milder flavor.)</p><p>Wash the clams in cold water and remove any with broken shells. </p>