When the world went into lockdown last March, most dancers despaired. But not Merritt Moore. The Los Angeles native, who lives in London and has danced with Norwegian National Ballet, English National Ballet and Boston Ballet, holds a PhD in atomic and laser physics from the University of Oxford. A few weeks into the coronavirus pandemic, she came up with a solution for having to train and work alone: robots.
Alice Williamson, Courtesy Merritt Moore
Développé écarté relevé "is in every class, every ballet," says Lauren Anderson, former principal dancer and current program manager of education and community engagement at Houston Ballet. Below, she gives you the keys to success for this "light and lovely" repertoire staple.
Houston Ballet principal Karina González, partnered by Chun Wai Chan, does relevé développé écarté devant in Justin Peck's Reflections.
Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet
First Steps<p>Before you do anything else, shift your weight onto the standing leg. "Then it starts with a coupé," says Lauren Anderson. She begins building the développé at the barre, with an exercise that repeatedly goes to coupé and back to fifth, then progresses up to retiré and returns, then through coupé and passé to attitude in second, and finally to a full extension. Each passed-through position is important, she says: "It's not coupé, whack!"</p><p>Failing to shift the weight in advance causes a host of problems, says Anderson. "You get to retiré and raise the hip. <em>Then</em> you shift your weight, lift the hip again, and now your butt is out in the développé." To avoid falling, dancers are forced to grip their working thighs and hips, which can lead to hip-flexor tendinitis.</p>
The Back Shapes the Arms<p>"The back of your body makes the front of your body look good," Anderson says. Feel the port de bras grow from the base of your spine. As your back takes the arm up, turn your chin toward the fold in your arm, and look up at your hand. The side arm, she specifies, should be in second position. Any tilt of the line must be shaped by the back, not by dropping that arm. </p><p><strong>Tip:</strong> Anderson has students do a simple experiment in pairs to help them find and activate their back muscles. Facing each other, standing tall in sixth position, they each extend an arm as if to shake hands. Then they gently press their hands together to feel the muscles fire in their backs. There's a nice little bonus: "When you activate your back, your shoulders can't go up. Your muscles act like a swing tack from your shoulder blades to that top rib."</p><p>No partner? No problem. In the video below, Anderson shares another back-activating exercise that you can do on your own.</p>
"Tell the Truth"<p>Looseness in the working hip is imperative for the leg to go up. But lifting the hip to cheat your leg higher actively impedes improvement. Instead, keep the working hip close and present the back of your heel as you draw the foot up into développé. Lift your standing kneecap to activate the back of that leg and engage your "second booty," which Anderson describes as the place where the glutes and the back of the thigh connect. "Then—<em>boom-shacka-lacka!</em>—the développé becomes free. And there's hope, because now you have something to work from."</p><p><strong>Tip:</strong> In her own extension struggles, Anderson found a floor exercise from the Graham modern technique particularly helpful. "Sit up really tall in the butterfly position with your feet in demi-pointe and your heels lifted. Trying to keep your little toes on the floor, slide your feet forward [until your legs are straight], flex and point, then come back." She credits this exercise with activating her turnout and connection to the backs of her legs. (<a href="https://youtu.be/vitRYWTQuys?t=160" target="_blank">Click here</a> for a video demonstration.)</p>
Add the Relevé<p>If you are executing a développé relevé from fifth, the relevé should happen simultaneously with the scoop to coupé. Most of the time, though, relevé écarté comes from fondu. In that case, relevé as the foot moves up through passé. Either way, Anderson is clear that the toes of the standing foot should move underneath you as you spring onto pointe. It's not incorrect to take the body over to where the toes are (Anderson calls this a "risevé"), but "then you have to be ready for a <em>serious</em> shift of weight."</p>
Much like everything else this year, the XVI Russian Open Ballet Competition Arabesque-2020 was unlike any in its three-decade history. Rescheduled and shortened because of the coronavirus pandemic—and on the brink of cancellation until the very last moment—the competition nevertheless took place October 24 to November 2 at the historic Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre.
Arabesque and Its History<p>Originally named after the great Russian ballerina <a href="https://www.pointemagazine.com/ekaterina-maximova-vladimir-vasiliev-2412828770.html" target="_blank">Ekaterina Maximova</a> (the full name is the "Ekaterina Maximova Arabesque Ballet Competition"), Arabesque is a biennial event that regularly draws hundreds of young dancers from Russia and around the world. They compete in two categories: junior (13–17 years old) and senior (18–25 years old).</p><p>Legendary Bolshoi dancer Vladimir Vasiliev serves as its artistic director and jury chairman. Vasiliev, now 80, has been closely involved with the competition for the last 30 years.</p><p>"The competition has become a launching pad for many dancers in their future careers," says Vasiliev.<strong> </strong>Past prize- and diploma-winners include ballet stars like Maria Kochetkova, Daniil Simkin, Viktoria Tereshkina, Ivan Vasiliev, Vadim Muntagirov and Kimin Kim.</p>
Yuri Chernov, Courtesy Arabesque-2020
Arabesque-2020 by the Numbers<p>Initially, the organizers were expecting more than 300 participants from 27 countries, including the U.S. "There were so many applications for this year's competition that we didn't know how we would be able to evaluate everyone who had applied," says Vasiliev. "But the pandemic has made its own adjustments."</p><p>Because of the coronavirus, nearly 65 percent of the applicants couldn't attend. Still, 107 young dancers and choreographers took part. They spanned 11 countries, including Argentina, Japan, Greece, Finland, Spain and the UK. Competitors from Russia hailed from 20 cities.</p><p>"Even though we had fewer participants, those who did come had a particularly memorable time here because they were eager to be onstage after a monthslong hiatus," says Vasiliev. "I am really glad that we were able to give them this opportunity. And I enjoyed, as never before, seeing their desire and drive to become the best in their profession."</p>
Health Safety Measures<p>The organizers followed strict health safety protocols. In addition to providing a negative COVID test, all participants and staff were required to wear masks. (Dancers could take off their masks only during rehearsals and while onstage.) Temperature checks were conducted at the theater's entrance, and access to the building was restricted for the entire duration of the competition. In the studios, special purifying devices were installed, cleaning air 24 hours a day; and sanitizers and masks were available in common areas. Spaces were disinfected before and immediately after each event of the competition.</p>
Discovering New Talent<p>Seventeen dancers advanced to the third and final round of the competition, with winners announced on October 30. This year, the Grand Prix was not awarded. It has been given only three times in the competition's history; its most recent recipient, Korean-born Kimin Kim, is now a principal dancer with the Mariinsky Theatre.</p><p>Kubanych Shamakeev and Liriy Wakabayashi, leading soloists with the <a href="http://en.chelopera.ru/" target="_blank">Chelyabinsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater</a> in Russia, were the undisputable favorites—and a true discovery—of this year's competition, winning the jury over with polished duets from <em>Don Quixote</em> and <em>Esmeralda</em>. Shamakeev won first place in the senior men's category and Wakabayashi placed second in the senior women's (first place was not awarded). They also took first prize in the contemporary dance competition and received the Press Jury Award.</p><p>"We wanted to show not just a competition number but a true theatrical performance," says Wakabayashi. Originally from Japan, she received her formal ballet training in Europe, graduating from the Royal Ballet School Antwerp in Belgium. While the pair say it was challenging to perform without an audience in the theater, they knew there was a live broadcast being watched by thousands of viewers online, including their families back home.</p>
Wakabayashi and Shamakeev perform the Grand Pas de Deux from Don Quixote
Andrey Chuntomov, Courtesy Arabesque-2020
Yuri Chernov, Courtesy Arabesque-2020
Natalia Osipova, a current principal of The Royal Ballet, is known for her Kitri and the charismatic bravura she brings to the stage. However, as Dulcinea, the idealized heroine danced by the same ballerina in Don Quixote, Osipova portrays a softer character with pixieish charm. In this clip from 2008, filmed at a guest performance while Osipova was a soloist with the Bolshoi Ballet, she seems to barely skim the floor, floating through Dulcinea's variation.
How College Prepared Charlotte Ballet's Raven Barkley for a Dance Career—and a Future in Computer Science
This is one of a series of stories on recent graduates' on-campus experiences—and the connections they made that jump-started their dance careers. Raven Barkley graduated from SUNY Purchase with a BFA in dance with a concentration in ballet in 2015.
On a busy weekend during her senior year at SUNY Purchase, Raven Barkley attended a crowded open audition for Charlotte Ballet, which she'd been interested in for years. Despite her nerves, she felt prepared. "Purchase helped me get a job because it provided me with the tools that I needed to go out into the world," she says. After making it through the audition and company class a few weeks later, Barkley was offered a position with Charlotte Ballet II.
Barkley (right) in Bryan Arias' When Breath Becomes Air at Charlotte Ballet
Jeff Cravotta, Courtesy Charlotte Ballet
Behind the Scenes<p>During a dance production course at Purchase, Barkley learned how much it takes to put on a performance. She got to be a stagehand, design lighting and even operate the sound board. "I have so much respect for the production crew. Here at Charlotte Ballet, I love hanging out with the production staff."</p>
Right Brain, Left Brain<p>In addition to expanding her dance training, Barkley discovered her love for computer programming during college. Because of her stellar academic performance, she was even asked to be a teaching assistant in a programming games course. She says, "I'm a huge computer science and math geek. It's something I definitely want to pursue after my dance career."</p>
Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Charlotte Ballet