Ballet Stars

Swan Lake's Black Swan pas de deux has long been an opportunity for dancers to display their virtuosity and test the limits of technique. But in this week's #TBT, daredevil Cuban dancers Lorna Feijóo and José Manuel Carreño bring the duet to a new level. In this clip of the variations and coda performed at the Festival de Ballet de la Habana in 2000, both the dancers and the audience get swept up in the excitement.

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Ballet Stars
Natlaia Makarova, via YouTube

The third act variation from Raymonda is deceptively simple–legato and heavy on bourrées and épaulement, it has few pirouettes or showy extensions. Instead, the piece calls for artistry and aristocratic command in order to convey the character's regal persona and the dance's Hungarian flavor. Soviet prima ballerina Natalia Makarova is legendary for her emotive, passionate performances. She interprets the variation with rich soulfulness, flowing through positions with sinuous, unfurling limbs. Her feet tremble like the piano keys as she bourrées, surging and slowing with the tempo. Throughout the variation, her lifted sternum and sophisticated épaulement drum up drama that culminates in her final pose with her head tossed completely back over her shoulder.

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Viral Videos

The 1980s were an exciting time at the Paris Opéra Ballet, with Rudolf Nureyev as its director and virtuosic étoiles, like Sylvie Guillem and Patrick Dupond, onstage. These two young stars made a dream team. With raw energy and sublime technique, Guillem and Dupond, only 19 and 24 years-old respectively, are brilliant in this 1984 performance of the pas de deux from Le Corsaire.

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Ballet Stars
Leanne Benjamin and Luke Heydon in "Coppélia," via YouTube.

Dancing with The Royal Ballet from 1992 until 2013, former principal Leanne Benjamin tackled just about every role in the classical gamut, from Juliet to Nikiya to Giselle. As the young and spirited Swanilda in this clip from Coppélia, Benjamin reveals that she has equal talent for the silly as the serious. Her comedic performance in Swanilda's doll dance is this role at its best.

In an effort to trick the scheming Dr. Coppelius and save her beloved Franz, Swanilda pretends she is the doll Coppélia come to life. As she begins to dance, Benjamin is stiff and mechanical one moment and then flopped over like a rag doll the next. Dr. Coppelius, played by character artist Luke Heydon, watches her enthralled and Benjamin's gaze is fixed in a plastic stare. But when the toymaker looks away, Benjamin's Swanilda breaks doll character and frantically tries to figure out an escape. Feebly, Dr. Coppelius tries to keep up with her. Although we feel some sympathy for the delusional old toymaker, we can't help laughing at Swanilda's antics. And that slap at 1:55? Gets us every time. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Ballet Stars

Throughout the year, ballet companies are celebrating what would be Jerome Robbins's 100th birthday. One of America's most prolific and versatile dancemakers, Robbins is often remembered for his choreography for Broadway musicals like West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof. However, his ballets, from Fancy Free to Afternoon of a Faun, are equally iconic. One of his best-loved pieces, among dancers and audiences alike, is Dances at a Gathering, a lyrical ballet inspired by Chopin's piano compositions. The hour-long piece features 10 dancers, all dressed in different colors, who move in and out of solos, duets and group dances; it's a staple in company repertories around the world.

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Ballet Stars
Alicia Graf Mack in Robert Garlan'ds "Return." Photo by Robert Garland, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Alicia Graf Mack has consistently defied just about every limitation and expectation throughout her dance career. She was a leading performer with three incredible companies: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, from which she retired in 2016, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. She also earned two college degrees in the midst of her performing career (from Columbia University and Washington University in St. Louis, no less) and has even written for Pointe, including our June/July 2014 cover story on Misty Copeland, Ebony Williams and Ashley Murphy. This week we're throwing it back to this wonder woman's 2004 performance of Robert Garland's Return with Dance Theatre of Harlem.

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Ballet Stars
Steven McRae at the 2003 Prix de Lausanne performing the variation from "Le Corsaire." Photo Courtesy Prix de Lausanne.

This week, young ballet dancers from across the globe have been studying and competing for coveted scholarships at the Prix de Lausanne. This infamous competition has been a launch pad for many of the ballet world's biggest stars. One such star is Royal Ballet principal Steven McRae, who was a prize winner in 2003 with these two outstanding performances in the finals.

While just a lanky 17 year-old in this clip, he nonetheless performs the virtuosic slave variation from Le Corsaire with aplomb. He brings impressive height and length to his jumps and conveys the character's pride and passion with intense eyes and a dramatically arched back in the final pose.

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Ballet Stars

There are few opportunities as rewarding for a dancer as having choreography created on you. Sir Anthony Dowell, former principal and then artistic director of The Royal Ballet, is one of those rare few who had the chance to originate many roles throughout his performing career. Dowell was a particular inspiration for Sir Frederick Ashton; the choreographer created many roles for him, including original choreography for the Prince in The Royal Ballet's production of Sleeping Beauty. In this variation from Act II, Dowell comments on, and demonstrates, the unique sense of self-possession that comes with performing a specially-created role.

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