ABT's Calvin Royal III in Alexei Ratmansky's Serenade after Plato's Symposium. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

The Standouts: Our Top 12 Favorite Performances of 2016

Miami City Ballet's National Tour

Artists of Miami City Ballet in Justin Peck's Heatscape. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.

In late April at the Harris Theater, Chicagoans found Miami City Ballet firing on all cylinders, following the company's Lincoln Center debut and an engagement at Northrop in Minneapolis. Stage-filling Balanchine classics like Bourrée Fantasque, Serenade and Symphony in Three Movements struck a perfect balance between relaxed exuberance and clean execution, while seasoned stars like Jeanette Delgado and Renato Penteado shone in contemporary works by Justin Peck (Heatscape) and Liam Scarlett (Viscera), respectively. Most memorably, a dream team of 23 artists—including the irrepressible Nathalia Arja—gave a commanding presentation of Symphonic Dances, created for MCB by Alexei Ratmansky.


Those who caught the company during its spring tour were grateful for the occasion to exhale; the circumstances around Edward Villella's departure as artistic director raised hackles and agitated dust, which took a long time to settle. Leadership transitions are rarely tidy, but there's no doubt that Lourdes Lopez has successfully restored the vigorous, singular spirit of Miami City Ballet. —Zachary Whittenburg


Tiler Peck

Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

Any role created to celebrate the unique gifts of a special dancer is, by definition, a hard one to step into. Nearly four decades after its premiere, Ballo della Regina remains inextricably associated with Merrill Ashley, and for good reason: Balanchine's breezy curtain-raiser calls for crystalline technique, luxurious épaulement and nonchalant musicality—an uncommon concoction.

During New York City Ballet's winter season, Tiler Peck exceeded high expectations in her Ballo debut, with fellow principal dancer Gonzalo Garcia, bringing coloratura phrasing to the punishing pointework and awe-inspiring core strength to the pas de deux. It wasn't a performance to make you forget Merrill Ashley, but rather, an iteration of the original which Peck made entirely her own. Appropriate for a ballet choreographed to music Verdi composed for an opera, her dancing looked like singing sounds. —Zachary Whittenburg


Yulia Stepanova

Stepanova as a wickedly intelligent Odile. Photo Courtesy Ani Collier.

Not many dancers have performed Odette/Odile with both the Mariinsky and the Bolshoi Ballets. Yulia Stepanova, a 2009 graduate of the Vaganova Ballet Academy, performed Swan Lake on tour in London in 2014, when she was still a coryphée with the Mariinsky. Last summer, she returned to Covent Garden with her new company, the Bolshoi, and demonstrated a newfound maturity.

Despite a late change of partner, the performance reached a perfect balance. Stepanova's vintage Vaganova style and soulfulness have always stood out, and nothing seemed forced in her fluid, elegant phrasing. The 27-year-old is also coming into her own as a dramatic dancer: Her melancholy, guarded Odette was in complete contrast with her Odile, a wickedly intelligent yet never over-the-top creature. New Bolshoi director Makhar Vaziev clearly has plans for Stepanova, and promoted her to principal (skipping two ranks) following the tour, in September. Her Swan Lake certainly promises great things to come. —Laura Cappelle


The Cast of Serenade after Plato's Symposium

ABT's men in Alexei Ratmansky's Serenade after Plato's Symposium. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

At its spring gala in May, American Ballet Theatre unveiled a new work by Alexei Ratmansky unlike anything he has done before. His Serenade after Plato's Symposium, set to Leonard Bernstein's music of the same name, is a chamber ballet for seven men and one woman. Drawing from both Plato's Symposium (a series of monologues about love) and the music, Ratmansky created a work with an almost Socratic feel, a dialogue of ideas. Each dancer introduced a contrasting “argument," with movements as articulate as words. The mood shifted from grave to ecstatic to drunkenly gleeful to darkly longing. The dancing was phenomenal, particularly Herman Cornejo, who opens the ballet with a grave soliloquy. But also Calvin Royal III in a melancholy passage that ends with a group embrace, and a syncopated romp by James Whiteside, in which he careens cheekily across the stage like the sailors in Fancy Free. Blaine Hoven, too, shone in a rippling solo full of loose and limber moves. (He was promoted to soloist at the end of the season, for good reason.) —Marina Harss


Tamara Rojo and Irek Mukhamedov

Mukhamedov and Rojo: perfectly paired as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Photo by Laurent Liotardo, Courtesy ENB.

It was a pairing no one expected to see again. While Tamara Rojo and Irek Mukhamedov briefly overlapped at The Royal Ballet, when she was a young ballerina and he a superstar nearing the end of his career, Mukhamedov's departure in 2001 didn't allow them to develop a partnership.

Enter choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, who reunited them for Broken Wings, her contribution to English National Ballet's She Said program. They played the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and her great love, Diego Rivera. For Lopez Ochoa, it was a no-brainer to pair Rojo, now ENB's director, with Mukhamedov, who had joined as principal ballet master and character artist at Rojo's invitation.

The Russian dancer has lost nothing of his stage presence and partnering skills: His larger-than-life Rivera was full of color, an apt answer to Rojo's fiery, vulnerable Kahlo. Their pas de deux to Chavela Vargas' La Llorona sizzled with chemistry. Mukhamedov and Rojo prove that dancers over 40 can be a gift to choreographers who are able to channel their experience; let's hope they return for more. —Laura Cappelle


Harrison James

As Albrecht, James' remorse was total and heart-wrenching. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic, Courtesy NBoC.

How do you play a philanderer without coming across as a total cad? It's the dramatic challenge for anyone approaching the role of Albrecht in Giselle. In his June 15 opening-night performance at National Ballet of Canada, 25-year-old Harrison James pretty much nailed it. Partnering NBoC principal and former Bolshoi Ballet star Svetlana Lunkina, James captured the ballet's Romantic Era essence by portraying Albrecht as a young nobleman entranced by the elusive promise of pure, unalloyed love in the form of an innocent peasant girl. He means no harm even as he causes it; his subsequent remorse is total and heart-wrenching.

Born in New Zealand, James completed his training at San Francisco Ballet School, danced for two seasons with Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet and then spent a year with Béjart Ballet Lausanne before joining the NBoC corps in 2013. His combination of strong technique, innate musicality, rock-solid partnering skills and dramatic intelligence soon earned him major roles and a skip-a-rank promotion to first soloist in 2015; little wonder that artistic director Karen Kain has now made James a principal. —Michael Crabb


Frances Chung

As Swanilda, Chung set the standard for comedic acting. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

San Francisco Ballet principal Frances Chung is a technical powerhouse, known for effervescent allégro and bravura pirouettes. But as the first-cast Swanilda in SFB's Coppélia last March, she also set the standard for comedic acting. While attacking Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova's demanding choreography, she built a farcical pyramid one flirty step, and one mischievous glance, at a time—until everything came crashing down in Act II. Chung timed every gesture and reaction to her dual partners, Vitor Luiz (Franz) and Pascal Molat (Coppélius), as well as to Delibes' lively score, creating the hilarious—and believable—illusion that each outlandish new development was a genuine surprise. “What helped most in perfecting our timing was being in character 100 percent of the time," says Chung. “Pascal and I did so in every rehearsal." Practice made perfect: Simultaneously toying with Franz and winding up Coppélius' dolls and delusions, Chung set glorious chaos into motion. —Claudia Bauer


Lauren Fagone

Fagone's powerful swan song: The Rite of Spring. Photo by Sarah Ferguson, Courtesy Richmond Ballet.

It's a rare gift for a dancer to have a career-defining role. For Richmond Ballet's Lauren Fagone, that role was the Chosen One in Salvatore Aiello's The Rite of Spring. She has performed the part many times over the years and garnered critical acclaim for it. Last April in Buffalo, New York, the company star capped her 14-year career at Richmond Ballet with one final, stellar performance of the role, marked by deft skill and fiery passion.

Danced to Stravinsky's groundbreaking score played live by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Aiello's ballet captured the tension-filled and often brutal rituals of a primitive society.

Fagone's tour-de-force portrayal of the Chosen One revealed both a desperate victim and a defiant heroine. “The brilliance of Aiello's version is that she chooses herself," says Fagone of her character. “She is this fierce being who challenges the very nature of these rituals." —Steve Sucato


Laura Bachman

Lauren Bachman (center) took effortlessly to LADP's style. Photo by James Welling, Courtesy L.A. Dance Project.

When L.A. Dance Project appeared at New York City's Joyce Theater this summer, a fleet-footed soloist in Benjamin Millepied's On the Other Side left me grabbing for my program. Laura Bachman was a delightful surprise in the work, showing off quick, immaculate footwork one moment and shaking her upper body wildly with childlike exuberance the next. She acknowledged the audience's presence with refreshing directness, her chic bob framing dark eyes that sparkled with mischief—inviting you to join the dance, yet advising you to sit back and watch closely.

Bachman caught Millepied's eye during his tenure at Paris Opéra Ballet, where she had been a quadrille (the equivalent of corps de ballet) since 2011. Her precise classical technique and charmingly enthusiastic manner make her an easy standout, yet she took effortlessly to LADP's style, never once seeming like a ballerina trying contemporary dance on for size. Now she is putting her contemporary chops to the test, having left her POB contract this summer to work with Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. —Courtney Escoyne


Seo Hye Han

Han proved a consummate contemporary ballerina. Photo by Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet.

When Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen promoted Seo Hye Han to principal this year, he referenced her company Swan Lake debut in an interview with The Boston Globe. Yet the South Korean dancer's classicism also makes her a consummate contemporary ballerina. Case in point, Karole Armitage's ballet Bitches Brew—with its dancers clad in neon dip-dyed tights, matching hair pieces and pointe shoes—took “electric" to a literal level. Han's costume was more subdued, but her performance, particularly in the bookend solos at the beginning and end of the piece, burned itself in memory more enduringly than the zany colors. The lengthy sections might have been tedious in the hands of another dancer. But Han's intensity—employing a seemingly impossible disassociation between the lyric ease of her upper body and her sharp, dynamic footwork—offered a through-line. With no set, no partner, no plot and not even her full vision to work with (her eyes were often covered by her free-flowing hair), Han injected the movement with a charged current that carried us through Miles Davis' relentless rhythms. —Hannah Foster


Anastacia Holden

Holden in Forgotten Land: wild fury paired with total control. Photo by Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.

The Joffrey Ballet's Anastacia Holden is a compact dynamo whose speed, strong jumps and overall attack instantly mark her as a performer you need not worry about.

Yet it's Holden's theatrical flair that has really come to the fore in recent seasons. And it was in full flower earlier this year when she performed the first “red" duet (partnered by Yoshihisa Arai) in Jiˇrí Kylián's haunting, highly dramatic Forgotten Land. Flying across the stage in her long red dress, Holden blazed her way through this strongly sensual variation with her feverish leaps, powerfully arched back and an overall intensity. There is heat and rage in this variation, a kind of personal exorcism. And the high-impact dynamism of Holden's dancing—a wild fury paired with total control—told the story brilliantly.

Ashley Wheater, the Joffrey's artistic director, describes Holden as “one of the most dependable, smart and committed dancers in the company." He adds: “She brings a musicality to her movement that is not necessarily clear from the choreography. It is a form of alchemy, and the basis of true artistry." —Hedy Weiss


Karen Wing

Wing made a sizzling Carmen. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda, courtesy BalletMet.

From the moment she burst onto the stage last February as Carmen in Gustavo Ramírez Sansano's Carmen.maquia, BalletMet's Karen Wing captivated. Wearing a jet-black dress, red lips and a sly smile, the Petaluma, California–native wowed Columbus, Ohio, audiences and critics alike with a whirlwind portrayal of the iconic Spanish seductress.

Originally choreographed in 2012 for Luna Negra Dance Theater, Sansano's two-act contemporary ballet takes its inspiration from Pablo Picasso's black-and-white illustrations, created for 1940s reissues of Prosper Mérimée's 1845 novella. Yet while the aesthetic may be abstract, the ballet packs an emotional punch. Wing displayed an alluring mix of brashness, sex appeal, vulnerability and adroit dancing. And whether she was expertly infuriating her fellow cigarette factory workers or enticing Don José and the men in town, Wing was every bit the character of lore and more. —Steve Sucato

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Eighteen-year-old Sarah Patterson (foreground), with her classmates at New Ballet School. She's decided to stay home this summer to take advantage of outdoor, in-person classes. Courtesy New Ballet School.

Why Planning Summer Study This Year Is More Complicated Than Ever

When it comes to navigating summer intensives, 2021 may be more complicated for ballet students than last year. On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic's spring spike in 2020, summer programs went all-virtual or had very limited capacity. This year is more of a mixed bag, with regulations and restrictions varying widely across state and county lines and changing week by week.

Between vaccines and variants, can students aim for a full calendar of intensive training at local and national summer programs?

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Chris Hardy, Courtesy LINES

Check Out These 2021 Summer Intensives Especially for Adults

After a year of shuttered studios, virtual-only classes, and waving to ballet buddies over Zoom, summer intensives are back. For adult students, packing up for a few days of intensive training might seem like a pipe dream, as many of us spent the last year trying to fit in ballet classes while juggling work and, for those of us with kids, remote learning. With the country opening up again, let's start planning (safely!) for workshops that allow us to jump into technique, conditioning and, of course, high-elbowing some new friends.

For in-person intensives, please check the studio's website for detailed health and safety guidelines, including policies on masks, cleaning/hygiene, social distancing, and the policy on having to cancel in-person programs due to COVID-19 restrictions.

CALIFORNIA

Alonzo King LINES Ballet Adult Dance Intensive (virtual only, via Zoom)

May 28–31, San Francisco

Immerse yourself in the celebrated home of Alonzo King, the artistic visionary who created LINES 39 years ago. Now in its second year as a virtual offering, this four-day workshop includes ballet, yoga, Pilates, choreography and contemporary. Students also have the option to drop in to class if they can't commit to all four days.

KENTUCKY

Lexington Ballet Adult Ballet Intensive

July 12–16, Lexington

Why should thoroughbreds have all the fun of training in the horse capital of the world? Reach new heights in your training at Lexington Ballet's Adult Ballet Intensive. Join school directors Luis and Nancy Dominguez and principal instructor Ayoko Lloyd for a five-day workshop that includes conditioning, Pilates, technique and repertoire. All classes are held in the evenings, and the program welcomes beginning through advanced students.

A group of eight smiling adult ballet students\u2014seven women and one man in the middle\u2014pose in a line and stand on their right leg in tendu crois\u00e9 devant.

A group of dancers pose at a past Lexington Ballet Adult Dance Intensive.

Ayoko Lloyd, Courtesy Lexington Ballet

Louisville Ballet Adult Summer Intensive

May 31–June 4, Louisville

Polish off a glass of sweet tea (or two), and then work up a sweet sweat at Louisville Ballet's Adult Summer Intensive. Geared towards beginning through advanced levels, students ages 18+ can take part in half- or full days of training. Classes offered include technique, pointe and jump strengthening, modern, Pilates and yoga. Students will also perform in a livestreamed performance on the final day.

MASSACHUSETTS

Brookline Ballet School Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

June 23–27, Brookline

The Red Sox and New England Patriots may get a bulk of the glory in Beantown, but the city is also a mecca for ballet. At Brookline Ballet School's Adult Summer Ballet Intensive, students (beginner or intermediate level) will spend three weeknights and two weekend mornings in technique and repertoire classes, wrapping up with an informal performance on Sunday afternoon.

NEW YORK

Kat Wildish Presents (virtual, via Zoom)

June 14–25 and July 12–23

Join master ballet teacher Kat Wildish in a virtual intensive that aims to take your training to the next level. Each day, in one-hour classes, Kat will lead students of all levels from basic to advanced in various ballet exercises. The group will be limited to 20 dancers, so each person will get personal attention.

A group of older adult ballet students in leotards, tights or leggings, stand in two lines with their left foot in B+ position and holding hands, as if rehearsing a ballet.

Kat Wildish (far left) working with adult students at Peridance Capezio Center

Matthew Venanzi, Courtesy Kat Wildish

OHIO

artÉmotion Adult Ballet Summer Workshop

June 14–19, Cleveland

Head to the Buckeye State for a week of training under the tutelage of Ballet West first soloist Allison DeBona and principal Rex Tilton. In this Adult Ballet Summer Workshop, beginner and intermediate/advanced students will fine-tune their skills in two classes every morning: a 90-minute technique class followed by a one-hour class in one of the following disciplines: pointe/pre-pointe, acting, men's and women's variations, conditioning.

PENNSYLVANIA

Amy Novinski

May 24–28 and June 28–July 2, Philadelphia

Those interested in the Vaganova technique may want to check out Amy Novinski's Adult Workshops. For the five-day May workshop, newbie dancers can look forward to classes devoted to ballet, jazz and yoga. For those more advanced, the June workshop offers more rigorous technique, contemporary ballet, pre-pointe/beginner pointe and jazz.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Ballet Academy of Charleston Adult Summer Intensive

July 26–30 and August 2–6, Charleston

Embrace the low-country charm in historic Charleston, where a weeklong Adult Summer Intensive at the Ballet Academy of Charleston invites beginning through advanced students to take classes in technique, stretching/Pilates/yoga, pre-pointe or pointe (for advanced students), variations, jazz, modern, contemporary and choreography. You may choose the half-day or full-day program.

TEXAS

Houston Ballet Adult Intensive

June 1–5, Houston

For intermediate/advanced students with at least three years of ballet training, Houston Ballet's Adult Intensive might be the perfect place to hone your skills. The school has two-, three- or five-day options, and includes ballet technique, variations, yoga and Zumba.

UTAH

May 31–June 5, Salt Lake City

Ballet West welcomes students of all levels to artÉmotion's one-week Adult Ballet Summer Intensive. Classes include ballet, contemporary, pointe, jazz, modern, acting, and men and women's variations. Available in full-day or half-day options, those dancing only in the morning will take two 90-minute technique classes. The full-day experience offers the opportunity to be choreographed on for an in-studio performance on Saturday, June 5. All students will also have a professional dance photo shoot with Logan Sorenson.

A group of four men in dance practicewear face the right corner of the room and raise their arm as if beckoning someone. Three of the men stand in parallel, which the man in the middle sits in a wheelchair.

A men's class at artÉmotion Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

Logan Sorenson, Courtesy artÉmotion

INTERNATIONAL

The August Ballet Retreat in Leeds

August 28–30, Leeds, UK

The three-day August Ballet Retreat in Leeds offers classes for students of all abilities. The mornings are devoted to technique, and in the afternoon, students will focus on repertoire. In the past, The Ballet Retreat has taught solos from Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet and Giselle. One detail is still tentative: If the retreat is unable to take place in person due to the pandemic, it will be offered virtually over Zoom.

Morlaix International Adult Ballet Camp

July 2–10, Morlaix, France

The Morlaix International Adult Ballet Camp is in the heart of France's Brittany region. In this full-day intensive, intermediate through advanced-level students will be led by an international faculty. Dancers can look forward to morning ballet classes and rehearsals in the afternoon. The week of training wraps up with a performance of Bournonville's Napoli at a nearby theater. Please contact the school for information about room and board.

Still shot by cinematographer Benjamin Tarquin, Courtesy Post:ballet

10 Online Ballet Performances to Catch in April

Spring is in full bloom with another round of exciting digital dance offerings. This month, companies across the country are releasing world premieres, season finales, artistic collaborations and more. We've rounded up some highlights below.

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