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Photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton

This is Pointe's August/September 2018 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

On a slushy March morning in New York City, Tulsa Ballet's Jennifer Grace took warm-up class onstage at The Joyce Theater, gearing up for the company's second day on tour. Even in a relaxed atmosphere, Grace epitomizes her name. In adagio, her arms move as if through warmed honey, swaying richly though never late. As she piqués into an attitude pirouette, her leg soars high, scooping air like a wing.

Grace feels quite at home in roles like Cinderella's Fairy Godmother; Glinda, in Edwaard Liang's Dorothy and the Prince of Oz; and the Lilac Fairy, in The Sleeping Beauty. "I fairy-godmother a lot," she jokes. It's no wonder. Her stature (at 5' 5", she's one of the tallest women in the company) and singing movement quality cast a commanding aura. "Honestly, it's one of my favorite things," she says of dancing regal, feminine roles. "I get to move scenery around and make love stories come true."

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Tricia Albertson kisses Didier Bramaz after finding the perfect hat in The Concert. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.

Tricia Albertson, as told to Gavin Larsen.

I like to make people laugh, so I was excited to be cast as the Mad Ballerina in Jerome Robbins' The Concert. But the character herself didn't feel like me. She's so bubbly and excited, and I'm a bit more pensive (when it comes to ballet, at least). I didn't want her to come across as stupid—she's still thoughtful. I guess you could say she's flighty, but it's just that she's so excited about the music at the concert that everything else is a blur to her.

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A portrait of Fanny Elssler, Courtesy Olga Smoak.

This Thursday, we're throwing it all the way back to Fanny Elssler, one of the most famous ballerinas of the Romantic period. Elssler may have graced stages far before the age of reality TV and Instagram, but her story is anything but dry. Last week, the Historic New Orleans Collection put on a symposium on the history of dance in New Orleans, of which Elssler played a pivotal role. We spoke with dance historian Olga Smoak to find out more about why this ballerina is still so exciting... nearly 200 years later.

But first, watch a recreation of Elssler's famous "La Cachucha," which she performed in New Orleans in 1841, danced by Rebecca Allen at the HNOC last week. Note the extreme tilts of the torso; they're part of what made Elssler such a captivating dancer in her day.

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Katherine Williams as Myrtha. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe.

With a large exhale, Katherine Williams steps into a series of arabesque chugs, as if the force of her breath is propelling her forward. "Big step out, big," coaxes ballet mistress Irina Kolpakova, watching from the front of a small studio at American Ballet Theatre in May. It's a big step indeed for Williams—after 10 years in the corps de ballet, the 29-year-old is preparing for her debut as Myrtha in ABT's production of Giselle, her very first principal role. One month after the premiere, Williams was promoted to soloist.

"Myrtha is the hardest thing I've ever done," Williams admits. "By the end you feel like you're going to throw up. I was using my breath as much as I could to help me get through it."

While Williams is tall and a natural jumper, she was surprised when artistic director Kevin McKenzie cast her in such a fierce and powerful role. "Generally they give me the happy peasant girl, something softer," she says. "I think it was a leap of faith for Kevin to allow me to embrace a totally different side of myself."

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Jennifer Garner made all of our dreams come true and officially joined the Cindies at American Ballet Theatre's studios this week.

What's been going on in the wonderful world of the Cindies (a.k.a. American Ballet Theatre principals James Whiteside and Isabella Boylston)? Just a casual visit at the ABT studios from actress Jennifer Garner, of course.

Judging from both Boylston's and Whiteside's Instagram accounts, Garner dropped by ABT's company class this week while in New York City promoting her new movie, Peppermint. And this means two major things: Garner has officially earned her Cindy title—at least according to Boylston's Instagram caption, which is about as official as it gets. And, perhaps even more importantly, this picture of the Cindies together means we can finally stop photoshopping Garner onto photos of the dancers (you're welcome).

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Colorado Ballet soloist Francisco Estevez. Photo by David Andrews, Courtesy Dancers for a Cure.

Francisco Estevez is only 29 years old, but he's battling cancer for the second time. In 2013, the Colorado Ballet soloist was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which was swiftly treated with surgery. But during a routine physical in April, doctors noticed that Estevez's white blood cell count was severely elevated. They concluded that he had chronic myeloid leukemia, a very rare form of blood cancer. "At first I thought, how can this be happening again?" says Estevez. "I've had a few moments of sadness, but I've tried to find the humor in it, which has helped. Thankfully my wife [Colorado Ballet soloist Tracy Jones] and I are fortunate to have a good support system here in Denver and around the world."

That support system is coming together in a big way this week. Roughly a dozen Colorado dance organizations are joining forces to participate in Dancers for a Cure, a benefit performance for Estevez on September 6 and 7 at the Lone Tree Arts Center. The concert was spearheaded by Alison Jaramillo, artistic director of Littleton Youth Ballet, where both Estevez and Jones have taught classes during their off-season. "She asked if we wanted to do a benefit performance to raise money for some of the medical costs, as well as future costs," says Estevez. "We didn't know how to feel about it initially—it's always awkward to accept help from those who aren't your family." They eventually agreed, with the condition that the concert also give back to the community somehow. Now, half of the proceeds will go towards the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

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via YouTube

Back-to-school blues bumming you out? This minute-long clip of Ekaterina Krysanova dancing the first bridesmaid's variation in Don Quixote is the perfect pick-me-up. The fiery Krysanova, who was promoted to principal at the Bolshoi Ballet in 2011, is a bright bundle of energy in this punchy solo. Packed with saut de chats and grand jetés, the variation shows off her star potential from the early days of her career. At 0:20, she punctuates her diagonal of spitfire chaînes with a sassy, suspended moment in seconde. Her quick footwork flits along to the musical trills. A performer at heart, as she admitted in 2017 interview with Pointe, Krysanova is clearly unstoppable when she takes the stage. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Ballet Stars
Leanne Cope with Robert Fairchild in An American in Paris. Photo Courtesy Trafalger Releasing.

Former Royal Ballet first artist Leanne Cope made the ultimate ballet to Broadway crossover. In 2014 she was asked by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon to originate the role of Lise Dassin, a hopeful young ballerina, in his new stage production of An American in Paris. Alongside former New York City Ballet principal Robert Fairchild, Cope starred in critically acclaimed runs of the show on both Broadway and London's West End. Though the production closed in London last January, audiences will have the chance to see Cope and Fairchild in their original roles in a filmed version of the West End production in movie theaters around the US and Canada September 20 and 23. Pointe caught up with Cope to find out what it's like seeing herself on the big screen, her advice for ballet dancers interested in musical theater, and how she managed dancing the same steps eight shows a week... for nearly four years. To see if An American in Paris is coming to a movie theater near you, click here.


What was the best part of doing An American in Paris?

One of the most exciting parts was opening on Broadway and opening on the West End. They were two very different evenings, but by the time we got to London I knew the show much better, so it was nice to know that I felt comfortable in the role. Getting to perform at the White House for Michelle Obama was also amazing—there were so many things, it's hard to pick just a few.

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Peter Frame performing Paul Taylor's solo in George Balanchine's "Episodes." Photo by Monroe Warshaw.

The dance community mourns another loss this week, as we learned former New York City Ballet principal Peter Frame passed away on August 30. Frame, who was 61, trained at the School of American Ballet and was a member of NYCB (his twin brother Paul danced with the company as well) from 1976 to 1990, earning the rank of principal in 1988.

Frame joined SAB faculty in 1993, where he is credited with developing a body strengthening program for the dancers as well as creating a weight training class for men. Additionally, Frame taught at Ballet Academy East, where in a 2017 blog post on their site, he shared one of his fondest memories—dancing in George Balanchine's Episodes, where he was cast in the solo originated by Paul Taylor, who also passed away earlier this week. "Omitted since Taylor performed it, I would reintroduce the solo to the stage," Frame said in the post. "This was one of the most exciting moments in my career." Frame performed the solo from 1986 to 1989, becoming the only person after Taylor himself to dance it until he restaged the piece for Miami City Ballet in 2017.

Described as a "kind and generous spirit" by NYCB principal Megan Fairchild in an Instagram tribute, Frame is being remembered on social media by members of NYCB and beyond. We're sharing some of these touching tributes below; feel free to add your own in the comments.

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A young Paul Taylor in Aureole. Photo by Jack Mitchell, Courtesy PTDC.

Legendary choreographer Paul Taylor, whose illustrious career spanned seven decades, passed away yesterday in New York City at age 88.

Originally from the Washington, D.C. area, Taylor discovered dance relatively late in life, while in college at Syracuse University on a swimming scholarship. He then transferred to the Juilliard School, and in 1954 began to choreograph. In 1955 he joined the Martha Graham Dance Company. Taylor first stirred the dance world in 1957 with Seven New Dances. The piece was composed entirely of long sections of standing, sitting and pedestrian style walking across the stage. Audience members were outraged; critic Louis Horst famously published a blank review in The Dance Observer in response. Since 1954, Taylor has choreographed 146 dances.

Despite his postmodern roots, Taylor quickly found favor with ballet companies. In 1959, George Balanchine invited him to be a guest artist with New York City Ballet for the creation of Episodes, a two-part work that he and Graham were co-creating. Balanchine's section included a solo made on Taylor, which the New York Times described as "disturbingly complex" when NYCB revived it in 1986. (Today, only Balanchine's section of Episodes, sans solo, is performed.) And some of Taylor's most loved works, including Airs, Company B, Black Tuesday, Aureole and Sunset are frequently performed by major ballet companies including American Ballet Theatre, Miami City Ballet and Royal Danish Ballet.

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Jackie Nash with Jacob Bush in Allegro Brillante. Photo by Kim Kenney, courtesy of Atlanta Ballet.

Ballet schools are back in session and dancers are preparing to be back in class with all of its exhilaration, magic, and, of course, struggle.

Today, four dancers reveal what they found challenging as ballet students and how they now look at their technique as professionals.

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Just a few months out from giving birth, Vishneva's performance schedule is jam packed. Photo via www.mariinsky-theatre.com

Diana Vishneva has had a very big year. In 2017, she retired from American Ballet Theatre, performing Onegin with the company one last time, accompanied by her longtime partner Marcelo Gomes. Then, in September, she opened a ballet studio in her home city of St. Petersburg called CONTEXT Pro. Soon after, she marked the fifth edition of her festival of contemporary dance, CONTEXT, with two weeks of performances, workshops and talks in Moscow and St. Petersburg. But the biggest event came several months later, with the birth of her first child. (As she points out with some satisfaction, the timing was perfect—she didn't have to cancel a single engagement.)

The pregnancy allowed Vishneva to step back from an international career that has kept her constantly on the move for the better part of the last two decades. The ballet world receded from her consciousness, but not for long. We spoke in New York, where she resides part of the year, just as she was gearing up for the first of a series of performances and projects. The day after our chat, her son would turn 100 days old.

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