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James Yoichi Moore and Noelani Pantastico warm up onstage. Angela Sterling, Courtesy SDC.

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.

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The Royal Ballet's Alexander Campbell and Yasmine Naghdi in Ashton's The Two Pigeons. Tristram Kenton, Courtesy ROH.

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.

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Sarasota Ballet principal Danielle Rae Brown modeling one of her RAE Boutique leotards. Courtesy RAE Boutique.

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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Royal New Zealand Ballet dancers Kate Kadow, Katherine Minor and Katherine Precourt rehearse Balanchine's Serenade. Photo by Stephen A'Court, Courtesy RNZB.

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.

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Jin Zhang, Erica Lall and Betsy McBride in Swan Lake. Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy American Ballet Theatre

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.

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Ballet Training
Barry Kerollis' (instep enhanced) feet in Mark Morris' A Garden. Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

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.

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Ballet Careers
Ben Malone in Raymonda while at Richmond Ballet, and in his police uniform. From left: Sarah Ferguson, Courtesy Richmond Ballet; Courtesy Malone.

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.

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Ballet Careers
Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

The curtain falls, the costumes are packed away. Dancers say good-bye to the choreography, the adrenaline rush of being onstage and the special camaraderie of performing together. "You put your heart and soul into a show and then you're like, 'That's it?' " says Miami City Ballet principal Jeanette Delgado. "You hope you'll get to dance that piece again, but you can't know for sure."

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Ballet Stars
American Ballet Theatre corps member José Sebastian (center) is launching the Hamptons Dance Project with a cast of fellow ABT dancers this August. Rochelle Brodin, Courtesy Hamptons Dance Project.

From coast to coast, and on the shores of Lake Michigan in-between, professional dancers and choreographers are going one step beyond putting together a summer pickup company. Some are now curating multi-evening festivals in their hometowns and beloved vacation areas, and featuring an impressive range of companies, dancers and dance styles. So get ready to plan your next trip—here are three dance fests in beautiful resort areas to keep on your radar.

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Maria Kochetkova in Wayne McGregor's Chroma. Erik Tomasson, Courtesy Joyce Theater.

Maria Kochetkova's first season as a freelancer has been a whirlwind! A year after leaving San Francisco Ballet, she's already guested in Oslo, Berlin and London. Now, she's got something exciting in the works: From July 16-20, New York City's Joyce Theater will present her first solo program, Maria Kochetkova: Catch Her If You Can. Mounting such a production took a lot of time, self-development and courage, she says—but she's up for the challenge. Between rehearsals in Berlin, Kochetkova talked to Pointe about her favorite moments from the past year, her plans for the Joyce performances, and the ups and downs of life as a rogue ballerina.

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Gianna Forte reveals her scars. Stark Photo Productions, Courtesy The Washington Ballet.

Before I was born, my parents found out that I had a condition called an omphalocele. All of my organs were outside my stomach. I was rushed into surgery as soon as I was born, and they put a little patch in, pushed in my organs and sewed me up. When I was 1 1/2, I had another surgery to remove the patch. Ever since, I've just had a scar on my stomach—I didn't have a belly button, but I had no problems other than malrotation, which means all of my organs were going the opposite way.

I was raised in Connecticut, and stayed there until I graduated high school. It was the year Julie Kent and Xiomara Reyes were taking over The Washington Ballet company and school, and I sent my video and got accepted into their professional training program.

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From left: ABT's Alexandra Basmagy, Lauren Post and Gillian Murphy. Photo by April Giangeruso, courtesy ABT.

On the last day of America Ballet Theatre's 2018 tour of The Nutcracker in Costa Mesa, California, corps member Alexandra Basmagy couldn't hold it in any longer. She broke the news to fellow corps members Gemma Bond and Lauren Post that she and her husband are expecting a little boy in August.

Basmagy was not the first ABT dancer to announce her pregnancy this season—principal Gillian Murphy revealed in December that she and her husband Ethan Stiefel were expecting a boy—nor would she be the last. Post's own announcement soon followed! Artistic director Kevin McKenzie burst out laughing when she told him the news, Post says. "He was like, 'It always happens in threes. Since Gillian told me and then Alex, I've been waiting for the last shoe to drop.'"

There is a veritable baby boom at ABT—Gemma Bond, corps member Alexei Agoudine, soloist Luciana Paris and soloist Thomas Forster are all new parents, and Murphy gave birth to her son, Ax Nathaniel, last month. Basmagy and Post are both in their third trimesters, with due dates on August 5th and August 19, respectively. Pointe interviewed these two moms-to-be, and then caught up with Forster and Paris, to learn how they navigate pregnancy and parenthood alongside a ballet career.

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