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Fur and Feathers: Our Favorite Ballet Creatures (Minus Swans and Firebirds)

Mr. Jeremy FIsher, from Sir Frederick Ashton's "The Tales of Beatrix Potter."

Animal roles might not typically be what dancers dream of performing…but they're oh-so-fun to watch. You can't help falling under their spell (and perhaps aspiring to dance one someday). Here's a round-up of some of our favorite furry and feathered roles.

Bunny Hop

Run. Dance in a circle. Pretend to be a rabbit. It might sound like a creative movement combo, but don't let that fool you. The role of Peter Rabbit in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Tales of Beatrix Potter requires fierce technique—not to mention the ability to project personality while wearing an animal head and fur suit.


Four-Legged Interlude

Who do you turn to for halftime entertainment during a quartet of fairy variations? Dancing lizards, mice and a frog of course! This charming quintet of creatures light up the stage in David Bintley's Cinderella.



Do the Chicken Dance

Ever get the classic "don't make chicken arms" correction in class? Well, there is a ballet role that requires a whole of lot of chicken-ness—though not perhaps in the sense that your teacher meant. These balletic barnyard birds strut, shuffle and flap their wings through Ashton's La Fille mal Gardée, performed here by Bavarian State Ballet.


Cats on the Loose at a Royal Wedding

Sounds like a bad idea, but it works beautifully in the realm of Sleeping Beauty. (Because, fairy tales.) And this sassy, gleefully pas de chat-ing pair clearly conveys that they're royalty on par with the human guests.


Amphibian Allegro

What does the dance embodiment of three cappuccinos look like? Perhaps this solo by Jeremy Fisher—another memorable character from Ashton's Beatrix Potter.


A New Bird

Tutu? Check. Pointe shoes? Check. Metallic feathers? Check! The Cuckoo from Justin Peck's The Most Incredible Thing is a modern ballet bird full of dazzling footwork and contemporary freedom. And it's a perfect showcase for New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck's laser-sharp precision and speed.


Party Animal

Some characters just take on lives of their own…like Boston Ballet's Nutcracker party scene bear. Onstage—and off—this creature adds an irresistible dash of fun to whatever scene he's dancing in.

The Conversation
Ballet Stars
Maire-Agnès Gillot in The Sleeping Beauty, via YouTube.

Fairies crop up everywhere in classical ballet, from sylphs to dryads to, of course, the ranks of fairies who attend Aurora's christening in The Sleeping Beauty. These delicate and mystical creatures stretch the reaches of ballet technique, forcing dancers to embody an otherworldly ideal. In this 1999 clip from the Paris Opéra Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty, former étoile Marie-Agnès Gillot dances the luxurious Lilac Fairy variation. With her refined, gentle power, Gillot truly finds the sublime in her interpretation of this magical character.

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Natalia Osipova in rehearsal. Photo by Alastair Muir, Courtesy Sadler's Wells

You never quite know what's going to happen when Natalia Osipova steps onstage—you know you're in for something extraordinary, but the exact nature of what you'll get is a mystery until it's happening. It's only fitting, then, that we would learn of Force of Nature, a new documentary following a year of the ballet superstar's career, a day before its limited release in the UK.

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