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Seeing Double: Insights From The Team Behind Red Sparrow's Ballet Scenes

ABT principal Isabella Boylston, Jennifer Lawrence's dance double in "Red Sparrow," and Lawrence in a shot from the film. From left: Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine; Murray Close, Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

As the star of the 20th Century Fox thriller Red Sparrow (opening March 2), actress Jennifer Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a former Bolshoi ballerina who becomes a dangerous and cunning spy. Though ballet is relegated only to the first 10 minutes of the film, Lawrence needed to dance six minutes of Firebird choreography by Justin Peck alongside dancer-cum-actor Sergei Polunin. In the fall of 2016, on Peck's recommendation, director Francis Lawrence invited American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston to be Lawrence's dance double and asked Kurt Froman, a former New York City Ballet dancer whose many credits include training Natalie Portman for the 2010 film Black Swan, to turn the notoriously clumsy Lawrence into a convincing ballerina in just four months.


They started in the studio. Peck and Froman spent a week building material on Boylston and fellow ABT principal James Whiteside, who acted as a stand-in for Polunin. "We were rehearsing our normal ABT season as well, so we would just rehearse after hours, whenever we could squeeze it in," says Boylston. During this time, Froman also started working with Lawrence in New York. "In my first rehearsal with Jen I had to explain alignment," says Froman. "I told her that for the whole movie, whether she was dancing or not, dancers have a certain way of holding their shoulders back and their ribs closed and kind of a freedom of movement." Froman spent much of the next four months in Los Angeles, training Lawrence in her garage, where she'd set up ballet barres and mirrors.


Kurt Froman leading an onstage warmup before a performance of the 2nd National Tour of "Billy Elliot, the Musical." Photo by Kyle Froman, Courtesy Kurt Froman.

In January of 2017, the groups converged in Budapest to film in the Hungarian State Opera House. Dancers from the Hungarian National Ballet were cast as the corps. "We were really lucky because they were very classical in their style, and believably Russian-looking," says Froman. Accustomed to working with Whiteside, Boylston had to quickly adjust to partnering with Polunin. "We actually didn't even really know each other, but I was impressed by how quickly we were able to make it feel natural," she says.



Though the cameras would focus mostly on Lawrence's upper body, she had to perform the same choreography as Boylston and follow the same footprint onstage in order for the film's editors to graft the footage together. Otherwise they would be lit differently. "If Isabella was in plié before a turn, Jen would have to be in plié, and if Isabella was on pointe, Jen would have to be on demi-pointe. Those highs and lows had to completely correspond," explains Froman. On most film sets Froman has worked on, about 50 extras may sit in the audience, and a full crowd is later edited in. "But in Budapest, they filmed with probably a thousand people," says Froman. "Jen was performing to a full audience. I can't even begin to imagine what that must feel like when you're used to the privacy of the camera."



For Boylston, dancing for the film came with different challenges. "It was so grueling. We shot really long days and we would shoot the same sequence over and over," she says. "They want to get as many takes and angles as possible so they can edit it together." Another main change from the ballet world was the budget. "They made three of the same exact tutu so that during the shoot, once the first tutu was deemed rumpled, I moved to another one." From costumes to trainers, an enormous amount of time, effort and funds went into filming just six minutes of choreography for the screen—a far cry from the dance world, where a full-length ballet can be mounted within weeks.

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Ballet Stars
Canadian junior finalist Mya Kresnyak in a variation from "Paquita." Photo by Richard Finkelstein, Courtesy USA IBC.

On June 10, 119 dancers from 19 countries gathered in Jackson, MS to compete in the USA International Ballet Competition. Today, the USA IBC announced the list of 32 finalists, who will compete for medals and cash awards in Round III, held June 19-21. All of the finalists will receive a travel stipend, and medalists and award winners will be announced at the competition's gala on June 22. See the full list below, and stay tuned all week on our Facebook and Instagram pages as we bring you the latest from Jackson, live.

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Ulrik Birkkjaer and Susanne Grinder in Bournonville's Napoli." Photo by Costin Radu, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow Dance.

On June 20, Royal Danish Ballet will open the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival with a weeklong run in the historic Ted Shawn Theatre. The celebrated relationship between the Copenhagen-based company and the Pillow dates back to 1954, when leading RDB soloist Inge Sand stepped in to replace a dancer from another company at the last minute, resulting in her U.S. debut. Her popularity led to the company's inaugural U.S. performance at the festival the next summer. According to the Pillow's director of preservation, Norton Owen, this was also the first time that works by August Bournonville, the famed 19th-century Danish choreographer, were seen in this country. Following its success at Jacob's Pillow, RDB made its New York City debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1956, and in 1957 the King of Denmark knighted Jacob's Pillow founder Ted Shawn for his role in bringing Danish ballet to America. Over the next 20 years, soloists from RDB returned to the Berkshires frequently to great acclaim; their most recent visit was in 2007.

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Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Houston Ballet soloist Harper Watters has a good thing going on. Not only is he one of the company's rising young dancers, but he's also a ballet celebrity on social media, where he charts his life on Instagram and on his hugely popular YouTube series, "The Pre Show" (which he describes as "tons of ballet, banter, boys and lots of backstage shenanigans").

The Dover, New Hampshire, native, who seems just as comfortable in a pair of pink heels as he does onstage, trained at Walnut Hill School for the Arts and Portsmouth School of Ballet. While a member of Houston Ballet II, he landed an apprenticeship with the company after winning the Contemporary Dance Prize at the 2011 Prix de Lausanne. He joined the main company that same year and was promoted to soloist in December 2017. Known for his big personality, elegantly long lines and sensual flow in contemporary work, Watters, 26, is ready to take on the next phase of his career. He recently spoke with Pointe about his new rank and his mission to help others feel proud of who they are.

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Sara Webb and Connor Walsh with Artists of Houston Ballet in "Swan Lake" choreographed by Stanton Welch. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.


The Australian Ballet's Triple Bill, Verve, Includes New Work by Company Dancer Alice Topp

Verve, a triple-bill program from The Australian Ballet running June 21-30 in Melbourne, will host revivals of works from resident choreographers Stephen Baynes and Tim Harbour, as well as a world premiere from company coryphée Alice Topp. Topp's Aurum is inspired by kintsugi, a Japanese art in which broken ceramics are mended using lacquer colored with silver or gold, so that the cracks are emphasized, instead of hidden. In Aurum, Topp applies that philosophy to the human ability to find beauty in vulnerability and imperfections. Completing the bill are Baynes's Constant Variants, which pairs neo-classical ballet with a Tchaikovsky score, and Harbour's Filigree and Shadow, a contemporary ballet featuring striking set and lighting design.

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ABT principals Christine Shevchenko and James Whiteside rehearse "Swan Lake" in Singapore.

In the middle of American Ballet Theatre's spring season, principal dancer Christine Shevchenko takes a break from her comedic role of Pierrette in Harlequinade to (briefly) transform into a swan. During the half hour rehearsal, Shevchenko seamlessly transitions from Odette to Odile, running through her various solos without pause—save for the short conferences with ballet mistress Irina Kolpakova, which switch between Russian and English almost as quickly as Shevchenko whips out her fouetté turns (but more on those later).

"The rehearsal process is a lot different right now because every week it's a new ballet," Shevchenko says during a rehearsal break last week. "I'm really trying to squeeze in as many Swan Lake rehearsals as I can, and at the same time, I'm trying to prepare for Don Quixote, which is the week after," she explains of juggling the season's eight programs. "This is my first year as a principal during the Met season, so I'm learning how to figure it out as we keep going. In a way, I'm used to doing parts last minute because that's how I got most of my roles," she says. Ahead, Shevchenko shares exactly how she's gearing up for her Met debut on June 20.

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