Samuel Zaldivar as Boston Ballet's lovable party scene bear. Courtesy Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Boston Ballet.
For dancers, The Nutcracker isn't all winter wonderlands and charming sweets. To bring this ballet to life, we have to spar with swords (often while wearing a clunky head), pirouette in animal suits, and perform day after day with a host of other potentially hazardous costumes and props. Despite the dangers, Nutcracker's eccentric roles can be the most fun to perform. As five dancers describe, Nutcracker's whimsical, albeit taxing, accoutrements have their own kind of magic.
Nathalia Arja in George Balanchine's "Emeralds." Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.
Whether it's a wardrobe malfunction or a spectacular, opera-house–sized fail, onstage mistakes happen to everybody. See how these four professionals survived their worst mishaps—and what they took away from them.
Baca in Ben Stevenson's Cinderella. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet.
"There I was on my very first day at the Metropolitan Opera House: on my hands and knees, center stage," recounts Pennsylvania Ballet principal Sterling Baca. He had joined American Ballet Theatre from the ABT Studio Company two weeks prior and didn't see a crucial casting sheet for the Don Quixote dress-tech rehearsal until minutes before it started.
In a domino-like sequence of unfortunate events, Baca had managed to get only half-dressed, and he missed his entrance and his character's dance with Kitri. Then he remembered too late that he was also supposed to catch Basilio's guitar. He turned around from setting down a tambourine to see the guitar already soaring through the air. He dove for it, but it grazed his fingertips, hit the floor and broke.
Baca had some literal and metaphorical pieces to pick up and apologies to make to the wardrobe and props departments, artistic staff and his fellow dancers. Luckily, everyone understood that he was new and "showed mercy," he says.
The Lesson: Although Baca can laugh about the incident now, he warns that "it only turns into a joke when you don't do it again." His advice? Double- and triple-check every single piece of paper on the call board.
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."
At my first summer intensive away from home, my roommate and I deliberated good-naturedly over bunkbeds and decorations. But the next summer, I walked into a triple dorm room and was met with the least desirable bed choice and nearly every inch of wall space plastered with posters of teen pop artists I didn't care for. (Well, hated.) While my two roommates became fast friends, they were aloof towards me and disregarded my personal space.
It was not an ideal situation, but it was one that I had to learn to live with for five weeks. Venturing away from home for summer programs means intimate spaces, unfamiliar faces and new rules—a recipe for lifelong friends if you're lucky, tribulations if you're not. Either way, learning to deal with residence hall life is good training for what may come later in your ballet career or in college.
Dancer designers seem to be a dime a dozen these days. With three already in Pacific Northwest Ballet's ranks (principals Elizabeth Murphy and duo Lindsi Dec and Karel Cruz), it might seem like an over- saturated market for another dancewear brand to be able to turn heads. Enter Angeli Mamon. With her new line, Belleza Athletica (pronounced "bay-yes-ah"), the corps member is carving out a niche in studio wear with leotards and skirts that match her confident personality.
A cast of courtiers watch former PNB principal Kaori Nakamura and Lucien Postlewaite in "Don Quixote." Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.
Everyone has to start somewhere. It's a mantra you may repeat to yourself time and time again when you see your name next to less-than-desirable roles on the cast list. Perhaps it's the townsperson, the courtier or the garland girl—that character that makes you feel more like part of the scenery than part of the company. Some dancers seem to leapfrog over or power through this initiation stage, getting cast in featured roles during their first professional season. But the majority of us have to come to terms with standing by the backdrop for a few years, mime-clapping for the soloists at the front.
No matter what stage you are at in your career, you've likely dealt with the frustration of being cast in small dance-sparse roles. But these three dancers show that remaining positive in the face of disappointing casting pays off, both for your peace of mind and your future opportunities.
José Martinez and Marie-Agnes Gillot in "Sylvia," via YouTube.
Is there anything more heart-wrenching than a tale of doomed lovers? It's no wonder that so many enduring ballets don't end in happy embraces. John Neumeier's modern Sylvia plumbs the depths of the story for its most melancholy notes. Paris Opéra Ballet étoiles, who make up the ballet's original cast, are masterful storytellers in the emotionally charged ballet.
In this clip from a DVD released in 2006, Marie-Agnès Gillot plays the huntress Diana. Her love faces a fate even more dispiriting than death: Endymion, danced by José Martínez, is doomed to eternal sleep. She dances in memory, a passionate pas de deux with a partner who cannot reciprocate. Diana's inescapable loneliness is etched on Gillot's features: the strong huntress at her most vulnerable.
From left: Peter Walker, Harrison Coll. Photos by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.
A company's corps de ballet is rarely the pool from which title roles are plucked. Yet New York City Ballet seems to buck convention, especially for its full-length production of Peter Martins' Romeo + Juliet. When it debuted back in 2007, the ballet featured a cast of untested corps members and apprentices as the eponymous stars. (A School of American Ballet student was originally tapped to dance Juliet, but she wasn't able to perform due to injury.) At the time Martins, who recently retired as NYCB's ballet master in chief, attributed his casting choices to the characters' ages in Shakespeare's play; Juliet and Romeo are 14 and 19, respectively. Also, he remarked, "Never underestimate youth."
This week, two young Romeos are stepping up from the company's corps. Harrison Coll made his debut on February 13, opening night, alongside principal Sterling Hyltin (the original Juliet in the production's opening night performance back in 2007). Peter Walker follows on Friday, February 16.