Ballerina Maria Kousouni is used to an attentive audience. But when she stepped onstage in Paris this past July, her audience—not to mention the venue and the costumes—were a little unusual. After all, opening a couture fashion show for designer Celia Kritharioti during Paris Fashion Week—with British Vogue's editor in chief in the crowd—isn't exactly a typical gig. "I never imagined that I would be opening a haute couture fashion show in Paris," says KousounI, a principal dancer with the Greek National Opera Ballet. "To enter this world of fashion and beauty, which you usually admire from a distance, is a rare experience in a dancer's career."
When American Ballet Theatre corps member Lauren Post started up her summer company, Co-Lab Dance, last year, she was looking for a way for her and her colleagues to keep dancing through ABT's two-month layoff. "The Met season ends and we're all in such great shape," says Post. With the help and encouragement of her mentor, she was able to raise enough money to produce her first season last September.
Those performances were a big success, with sold-out shows and a waiting list for tickets. Now, as Co-Lab Dance prepares to open its second season, Post has expanded on her early momentum with a residency and performance at Kaatsbaan International Arts Center and a bigger theater for the company's New York City shows September 6-7. It's a lot to plan—and was made all the more complicated when Post learned that she was due to have a baby two weeks before opening night. (She gave birth earlier than expected, on August 6, to a beautiful baby girl.)
American Repertory Ballet's Ryoko Tanaka remembers her first class in the United States. She was 18 years old and a scholarship student at the Milwaukee Ballet summer intensive. "At barre, I reached out during demi-plié, and I saw the guy across from me in the class. I could tell he was enjoying himself. I could tell these people loved ballet. And I felt I fit." From then on the Japan native, now in her first season as a full company member with ARB, was certain the U.S. was where she was meant to make her career.
For dancers like Tanaka who cross borders to join American companies, the challenges of being far from home, adjusting to a new culture and navigating visa applications quickly become a fact of life. Yet, as these expat dancers' stories show, with a little patience, dancing abroad can be an incredible adventure.
In early October, Colorado Ballet's Francisco Estevez will take the stage as Basilio, his first role as a principal. While this is a momentous occasion for any dancer, it's amplified for Estevez, who since 2013 has battled two cancer diagnoses.
After undergoing surgery for testicular cancer, the now 30-year-old dancer was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a rare form of blood cancer, in April 2018. He spent the following summer layoff undergoing treatment, adjusting to the many side effects that come with the oral chemotherapy drug. Though Estevez still takes the pills each night, he's hopeful that down the road he'll be able to stop. "The research is advancing quite quickly," says Estevez. "Twenty years ago this would have been a terminal illness, but with the advent of this new drug, people have been able to stay on it and live fairly normal lives."
Chiara Valle is just one of many dancers heading back to the studio this fall as companies ramp up for the season. But her journey back has been far more difficult than most.
Valle has been a trainee at The Washington Ballet since 2016, starting at the same time as artistic director Julie Kent. But only a few months into her first season there, she started experiencing excruciating pain high up in her femur. "It felt like someone was stabbing me 24/7," she says. Sometimes at night, the pain got so bad that her roommates would bring her dinner to the bathtub.
On a sunny July weekend, hundreds of Seattle-area dance fans converged on tiny Vashon Island, a bucolic enclave in Puget Sound about 20 miles from the city. They made the ferry trek to attend the debut performance of the fledgling Seattle Dance Collective.
SDC is not a run-of-the-mill contemporary dance company; it's the brainchild of two of Pacific Northwest Ballet's most respected principal dancers: James Yoichi Moore and Noelani Pantastico. The duo wanted to create a nimble organization to feature dancers and choreographers they felt needed more exposure in the Pacific Northwest.
While most ballet casts are 100 percent human, it's not unheard of for live animals to appear onstage, providing everything from stage dressing to supporting roles. Michael Messerer's production of Don Quixote features a horse and a donkey; American Ballet Theatre's Giselle calls for two Russian wolfhounds; and Sir Frederick Ashton's La Fille Mal Gardee requires a white Shetland pony. Another Ashton masterpiece, The Two Pigeons, is well known for its animal actors. But though ballet is a highly disciplined, carefully choreographed art form, some performers are naturally more prone to flights of fancy—because they're birds.
Dancer-made dancewear is tried and true, from Boston Ballet principal Ashley Ellis' RubiaWear to Ballerina Couture by National Ballet of Canada's Tina Pereira. As a designer myself (@littlebirdskirts), I'm always inspired by how my colleagues bring their unique style into the studio, as many of them also create their own pieces to wear in class and rehearsal. Beyond the bigger name brands, you don't have to go far to find one-of-a-kind dancewear—and you can feel good about supporting other artists' work. Check out these five professional dancers who have developed their own creative dancewear lines—you may even find a new back-to-class look!
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Though the Royal New Zealand Ballet has seen a lot of upheaval in recent years, it's now attracting dancers from the U.S. again. Six American women are currently working for the Wellington-based company: Two of them, soloist Katherine Minor and dancer Leonora Voigtlander, joined in 2014, shortly before the end of Ethan Stiefel's tenure as artistic director, while the others were drawn to the vision of current director Patricia Barker. In 2018, the former Pacific Northwest Ballet star and director of Grand Rapids Ballet hired principal Katharine Precourt (previously a first soloist with Houston Ballet), soloist Kate Kadow, and dancers Caroline Wiley and Clare Schellenberg. (Two other American dancers—former Miami City Ballet principal Simone Messmer and 17-year-old Nicole Denney, are currently there through September as guest artists.) We sat down with all six of them to find out what it was like moving across the world and adjusting to life in Kiwi land.
Erica Lall, a member of American Ballet Theatre's corps de ballet, accomplished an impressive feat this spring: she danced in every single one of ABT's spring Metropolitan Opera House season performances. That's 64 shows—actually, as Lall notes, "it would technically be 69 shows at the Met," since she performed in all of the ABTKids performances as well.
When we watch dancers with drool-worthy arches, we assume they either worked really hard for them or they were born with them. Professionals spend years training the articulation of their foot muscles. But some of us who have made it in the big leagues still need some help when it comes to line and flexibility. Most dancers would never admit what I am about to share, but here goes: There is a contingent of artists who pad the tops of their insteps to project the appearance of naturally curved feet.
At age 15, Ben Malone made his Nutcracker debut in the party scene. But unlike many of his peers, dancing had not been his childhood dream. While other tiny tots aspired to tutus or tunics and can remember the days of being chin high to the barre, Malone dreamt not of costumes, but of a uniform. "I've thought about being a cop since I was quite young, maybe three or four," he says. "My mother [a federal prosecutor] worked very closely with law enforcement, so growing up I'd be running around her office and see the FBI agents and state police officers and think how cool they looked, and how I wanted to be like that someday." But before Malone dedicated his life to serve and protect, he found the thrill of the stage.