Ballet's Next Generation

This weekend I was lucky enough to catch a performance of Protégés III: The International Ballet Academy Festival. This was the third time The Kennedy Center invited students from distant corners of the world to show off their elite training in our nation's capital.

The program started with a charming piece from the Royal Danish Ballet School, which strung together excerpts of Bournonville's most famous ballets with little vignettes of the dancers whispering, shyly flirting and giving each other soft kisses. I don't think I've ever seen a piece that felt so perfectly suited to the young teenagers who were dancing it. What struck me most though, was how elegant the male dancers were. Although the girls looked a bit stiff, the guys had a really nice sense of refined épaulement, and moved with an easy upper body carriage supported by strong technique in their lower bodies.

Next came Tokyo's New National Theatre Ballet School—and they blew me away. I'd never heard much about this school (the ballet program has only been around since 2001), but the dancers looked like seasoned pros. Their director is Asami Maki, who trained at Les Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo and the School of American Ballet, and she's turning out some great talent. The students were completely in sync with one another, and had a great sense of musicality. The girls showed off fluid upper bodies, and the boys dazzled with powerful jumps.

Julio Bocca Foundation School of the Arts' mission places a strong emphasis on exchange between art forms, which was clear with their mix of short pieces. The dancers started out barefoot, accompanied by two singers, and ended in pointe shoes. Although these dancers were not as advanced as the others on the program, they gave a heartfelt performance. 

The big finale was reserved for the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, which performed Leonid Lavrovsky's Classical Symphony to Prokofiev. These students, led by the sublime Joy Ann Womack (from Texas) were simply jaw dropping. They brought so much energy to the stage, backed up by nearly impeccable technique. I can't wait to see how they grow once they become professional.

Latest Posts

xmb photography, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

The Washington Ballet's Sarah Steele on Her At-Home Workouts

Ballet at home: Since she's not preparing for any immediate performances, Steele takes ballet barre three to four times a week. "I'm working in more of a maintenance mode," she says, prioritizing her ankles and the intrinsic muscles in her feet. "If you don't work those muscles, they disappear really quickly. I've been focusing on a baseline level of ballet muscle memory."

What she's always working on: Strengthening her glute-hamstring connection (the "under-butt" area), which provides stability for actions like repetitive relevés and power for jumps. Bridges are her go-to move for conditioning those muscles. "Those 'basic food group'–type exercises are some of the best ones," she says.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Hiding Injuries: Why Downplaying Pain Can Lead to Bigger Problems Down the Road

Sabrina Landa was thrilled to be offered a traineeship with Pennsylvania Ballet. "As a trainee, everything felt like a chance to prove myself as a professional," she says. Her training hours increased and she was dancing more than she ever had before. When Landa began experiencing pain in her metatarsals partway through the 2018 Nutcracker season, she notified the staff. "But in fear of losing my shows, I downplayed the severity of it," Landa says.

She notes that no one pushed her to keep dancing but herself. "I was 18 and was aiming to receive a contract by the end of the year," she says. "I felt so much anxiety over missing an opportunity that I was afraid to be honest about my pain." Pennsylvania Ballet's artistic staff were understanding and supportive, but Landa minimized her injury for the next few months, wanting to push through until the season ended and contracts were offered. But after months of pain and an onset of extreme weakness in her foot, Landa was diagnosed with two stress fractures in her second and third metatarsals. She spent the next three months on crutches and six months off dancing to allow for the fractures' delayed healing.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Skjalg Bøhmer Vold, Courtesy Merritt Moore

How Quantum Physicist Ballerina Merritt Moore Learned to Dance With a Robot (Plus, Her Newest Film)

When the world went into lockdown last March, most dancers despaired. But not Merritt Moore. The Los Angeles native, who lives in London and has danced with Norwegian National Ballet, English National Ballet and Boston Ballet, holds a PhD in atomic and laser physics from the University of Oxford. A few weeks into the coronavirus pandemic, she came up with a solution for having to train and work alone: robots.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks