Ballet Careers

For Startup Choreographer Blake Johnston, San Francisco Ballet's Unbound Festival Offers Endless Inspiration

Johnston rehearsing her ballet "Filamentous." Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

Blake Johnston couldn't have planned a better year to join San Francisco Ballet. Not only has she dreamt of dancing for SFB since entering the company school in 2013, but the first-year corps member is also an aspiring choreographer. For Johnston, rehearsals for SFB's Unbound: A Festival of New Works means diving into a deep pool of creativity.

"I get to see all these new people, the whole process," Johnston, 21, says between rehearsals. "If I have a five-minute break, I'll run into the hallway to see if anything is happening."


Peeking behind the scenes is nothing new for Johnston. Named the school's inaugural Choreographic Trainee in 2016–17, she shadowed William Forsythe and Liam Scarlett as they, respectively, set Pas/Parts 2016 and Frankenstein on the company last season, and received informal mentoring from fellow dancer-choreographer Myles Thatcher.

Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

"I always see her soaking things in," says Thatcher, a close friend as well as Johnston's colleague in the corps. "That's the most valuable thing about the festival."

At SFB's annual Student Showcase in May, Johnston premiered her first staged work, the contemporary ballet Filamentous. "It was like, 'That's my baby! It's mine!' Even seeing the program with my name on it, very official—that was really rewarding."

For Unbound, Johnston is cast in new ballets by Arthur Pita, Justin Peck and Trey McIntyre, and learning their choreography was her primary focus. But she's also studying their working styles closely.

"Pita had the whole picture of what he wanted to do, but we all created the steps together," she says. "Justin was like, 'I'm not really sure what this is going to be,' but when we finished it, it had a vision—I don't even know how that works! I wish I could read his mind. For me, is it better to go in with stuff planned, or just wing it? That's something I'll have to learn for myself."

The festival has provided generous inspiration for Johnston, as she moves forward with her two-pronged career. "Mentally you get really tired, because you're learning so much," she says. "But it's really cool to see these experienced choreographers still challenging themselves," she says. "It makes me want to be a little braver. Why not?"

Ballet Stars
Karolina Kuras, Courtesy NBoC

It's hard to imagine the National Ballet of Canada without ballerina Greta Hodgkinson. Yet this week NBoC announced that the longtime company star will take her final bow in March, as Marguerite in Sir Frederick Ashton's Marguerite and Armand.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by BLOCH
Courtesy BLOCH

Today's ballet dancer needs a lot from a pointe shoe. "What I did 20 years ago is not what these dancers are doing now," says New York City Ballet shoe manager Linnette Roe. "They are expected to go harder, longer days. They are expected to go from sneakers, to pointe shoes, to character shoes, to barefoot and back to pointe shoes all in a day."

The team at BLOCH developed their line of Stretch Pointe shoes to address dancer's most common complaints about the fit and performance of their pointe shoes. "It's a scientific take on the pointe shoe," says Roe. Dancers are taking notice and Stretch Pointe shoes are now worn by stars like American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, who stars in BLOCH's latest campaign for the shoes.

We dug into the details of Stretch Pointe's most game-changing features:

Keep reading... Show less
News
Alice Pennefather, Courtesy ROH

You ever just wish that Kenneth MacMillan's iconic production of Romeo and Juliet could have a beautiful love child with the 1968 film starring Olivia Hussey? (No, not Baz Luhrmann's version. We are purists here.)

Wish granted: Today, the trailer for a new film called Romeo and Juliet: Beyond Words was released, featuring MacMillan's choreography and with what looks like all the cinematic glamour we could ever dream of:

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos

What do Diana Vishneva, Olga Smirnova, Kristina Shapran and Maria Khoreva all have in common? These women, among the most impressive talents to graduate from the Vaganova Ballet Academy in recent years, all studied under legendary professor Lyudmila Kovaleva. Kovaleva, a former dancer with the Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky), is beloved by her students and admired throughout the ballet world for her ability to pull individuality and artistry out of the dancers she trains. Like any great teacher, Kovaleva is remarkably generous with her wealth of knowledge; it seems perfect, then, that she appears as the Fairy of Generosity in this clip from a 1964 film of the Kirov's The Sleeping Beauty.

Keep reading... Show less