Body Talk

One of the reasons I love going to see dance in small theatres is because I get the chance to watch the dancers up close, and really analyze their performance. This was the case on Thursday, when I went to see Dances Patrelle and Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance at Symphony Space. I sat very close to the stage, and enjoyed picking out the details. What impressed me most, though, was the dancers’ commitment to connecting with the audience and each other, which is sometimes hard to feel in a huge theatre or opera house.

 

 

“3Four1”, a plotless ballet for three women and one man by Cherylyn Lavagnino, led off the program and was a great example of the dancers’ communication skills. The upbeat and playful piece consisted of a seamless procession of duets, solos, and group sections, and this variety of combinations gave the dancers the chance to draw the audience in by either dancing for us, or by showcasing how well they danced with each other. No one seemed to be onstage to show off—this piece was about the relationships between the dancers. The pleasure they took in dancing together, and they way in which they always made eye contact and interacted with each other left no doubt or confusion on that score. The technical strength of all the dancers and solid pointework of the ladies (Selina Chau, Ramona Kelley, and Jackie McConnell) gave them the security to share their joy with us.

 

 

“Double Martini”, by Francis Patrelle, was the other piece on the program that reminded me how clearly dancers can communicate with the audience by committing to their interactions with each other. This piece featured the story of a young ingénue (Marisa Paull) who comes to audition for a rich producer (John-Mark Owen), unseating his current leading lady (Ilona Wall) and her own boyfriend (Jhonatan Mendez) in the process. The dancers played their parts with a clear understanding of who they were, without overdoing it to the point of becoming caricatures, and had a fine grasp of how the relationships between them were supposed to deteriorate or evolve over the course of the ballet. Add to that Paull’s sparkling performance as the young woman that comes ready to impress (by doing tap steps on pointe, no less!), and Wall’s perfectly haughty established diva in white satin, and you’ve got a well-rounded combination of dance and drama that left me wishing it were an evening-length piece.

Ballet Stars

For many a bunhead, "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" is not just a holiday tradition, but a rite of passage. The variation, with its tinkling celesta, bourrées and petit battus, is one that all ballet dancers are familiar with, and getting the opportunity to perform it often represents moving into new realms in your training or career. Such was the case for Soviet ballerina Ekaterina Maximova. In this 1957 clip, the 18-year-old aspirant performed the Sugar Plum variation at a ballet competition, where she represented the Bolshoi Ballet Academy.

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Sponsored by Ballet Arizona
Tzu Chia Huang, Courtesy Ballet Arizona

These days, ballet dancers are asked to do more than they ever have—whether that's tackling versatile rep, taking on intense cross-training regimens or managing everything from their Instagram pages to their summer layoff gigs.

Without proper training, these demands can take a toll on both the mind and the body. But students can start preparing for them early—with the right summer intensive program.

The School of Ballet Arizona's summer intensive takes a well-rounded approach to training—not just focusing on technique and facility but nurturing overall dancer growth. "You cannot make a dancer just by screaming at them like they used to," says master ballet teacher Roberto Muñoz, who guests at the program every summer. "You have to take care of the person as well."

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For any young dancer performing in The Nutcracker, Marie (aka Clara, depending on the production) is a dream role. But Charlotte Nebres, who will be playing Marie in New York City Ballet's Nutcracker this year isn't just bringing her own dream to life—she's also making history.

Charlotte is the first black dancer to ever perform the role of Marie in NYCB's production of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, which dates all the way back to 1954. Charlotte was, of course, hugely excited to perform the role of Marie, but, according to the New York Times, when her mother told her that she was the first black dancer cast in the role, she said "Wow. That seems a little late."

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Courtesy School of Pennsylvania Ballet

While many of us are deep in Nutcracker duties, The School of Pennsylvania Ballet director James Payne has been looking further ahead, finalizing preparations for the school's summer intensive programs. In January, he and his staff will embark on a 24-city audition tour to scour the country for the best young dancers, deciding whether or not to offer them a spot—maybe even a scholarship—in the school's rigorous 5-week intensive focused on high-caliber ballet instruction. Though he'll be evaluating aspirants, he urges that as a student, you should be equally selective in choosing programs that could galvanize your training—and possibly even your career.

We got Payne's advice on strategizing your summer intensive plan before the audition cycle kicks in:

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