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Ballet Fantastique Creates a New Holiday Tradition With "Babes in Toyland"

Ballet Fantastique's Tracy Fuller and Gustavo Ramirez in Babes in Toyland. Photo by Bob Williams and Stephanie Urso, Courtesy BF.

Eugene, Oregon–based Ballet Fantastique debuts a forgotten holiday classic December 14–16. Babes in Toyland, co-choreographed and produced by mother-daughter duo and company directors Hannah and Donna Bontrager, pulls from source material ranging from Victor Herbert's original 1903 operetta to Disney's 1961 film. "We watched all the movies and read as many different versions of the story as we could find," says Hannah. The pair distilled the elements they liked best to create their own amalgamated plot. "The story is filled with joviality and lovable, familiar storybook characters," adds Donna. The cast also pays homage to the world's best-known holiday ballet, The Nutcracker. "We've added a character called Mother Gingerbread, and some gingerbread kids," says Hannah.



Donna, who also designed the costumes and sets, drew inspiration from the lavish, Technicolor world of 1950s and '60s Hollywood. "It has this soft nostalgia," she says. The ballet will be set to a custom big-band score, including pieces from Duke Ellington's jazzy Nutcracker, performed live by the Swing Shift Jazz Orchestra. The production features Ballet Fantastique's 17 dancers, as well as 20 students from the company's academy. "This has the potential to bring that holiday sense of community and wonder to our audience," says Hannah.

Ballet Training
Kali Kleiman performing at YAGP's New York Finals. VAM Productions, Courtesy YAGP.

As someone who has judged many ballet competitions, I've had the opportunity to see some breathtaking contemporary solos that combine fantastic technique with well-conceived choreography. Yet it's often hard for us judges to see the artistic intention behind these solos the way we can when watching a classical variation. For one thing, we're simply more familiar with classical ballet's repertoire and characters. But also, when a contemporary solo is just a string of one trick after another, or only delivers one emotion (such as overwrought angst), we don't get to see any artistic depth.

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Francisco Estevez, Courtesy Colorado Ballet Academy

When you're looking for a ballet program to take you to the next level, there are a lot of factors to consider. While it's tempting to look for the biggest name that will accept you, the savvy dancer knows that successful training has more to do with the attention and opportunities you'll get.

We put together a few of the most important things for dancers to look for in a summer or year-round training program, with the help of the experts at Colorado Ballet Academy:

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Ballet Stars
Elle Macy in Benjamin Millepied's Appassionata. Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

Cross-training misconceptions: Before Elle Macy became an apprentice with Pacific Northwest Ballet, she was apprehensive about cross-training. "I was warned that it might bulk you, or not to do certain activities because they could potentially injure you." But a stress fracture in her foot changed her perspective. Unable to bear much weight, Macy reluctantly tried stationary biking at her physical therapist's suggestion. "What I learned is that you're not going to get injured from being on an elliptical for 20 minutes or by taking a Pilates class," says Macy. Today, it's not uncommon to find the soloist training on the elliptical, doing ankle stability exercises, using the Pilates reformer or taking a hot yoga class.

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Courtesy School of Pennsylvania Ballet

While many of us are deep in Nutcracker duties, The School of Pennsylvania Ballet director James Payne has been looking further ahead, finalizing preparations for the school's summer intensive programs. In January, he and his staff will embark on a 24-city audition tour to scour the country for the best young dancers, deciding whether or not to offer them a spot—maybe even a scholarship—in the school's rigorous 5-week intensive focused on high-caliber ballet instruction. Though he'll be evaluating aspirants, he urges that as a student, you should be equally selective in choosing programs that could galvanize your training—and possibly even your career.

We got Payne's advice on strategizing your summer intensive plan before the audition cycle kicks in:

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