Have you ever wondered what Daniil Simkin thinks about when he whips off a series of effortless pirouettes? Or how Polina Semionova initiates her "swan arms" when she dances Odette/Odile? Both dancers are now part of a new streaming platform called Dance-Masterclass, which offers targeted lessons from the ballet world's biggest stars to dancers of all levels. Launched in February, the platform presents 10 to 12-plus gorgeously filmed lessons from a new master teacher each month, with options allowing for private feedback.
The project was founded by Caspar Hees, a cinematographer and former ballet dancer based in Berlin. As a young ballet student, he says, he idolized Mikhail Baryshnikov and used to wonder how he trained and what advice the Russian star would have had for him if given the chance to meet. "But he was a superstar and unreachable," says Hees. That desire inspired Hees to create Dance-Masterclass last spring with producer Fabian Döring, with the hopes of giving dancers the opportunity to learn directly from world-famous artists.
They first reached out to Simkin, a principal with both American Ballet Theatre and Staatsballett Berlin, who loved the idea. Soon they started lining up other dancers, including Staatsballett principals Semionova and Iana Salenko, and choreographer Juliano Nunes. Bayerisches Staatsballett principal Osiel Gouneo and New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck are also on deck, as well as a free, 30-minute conversation between Simkin and the legendary Sylvie Guillem this summer.
Rather than full technique classes, each dancer's $90 series is targeted to one area of expertise. "This way it is easier for students to focus," says Hees. For instance, Simkin, whose series launched last week, tackles pirouettes and turns. He breaks down the major elements
, from balance to the preparation to the upper body, and offers exercises, turn combinations and a few of his own secrets. But he also gets candid about his career and training, with personal anecdotes of how he handled rejection and other challenges. "Rather than a larger-than-life figure, Daniil becomes more of a friend," says Döring.
Simkin and crew during the filming of his masterclass series
Courtesy Dance Masterclass
Dance-Masterclass also offers a limited number of premium packages (priced at $480), each of which allows dancers to send in a video for personalized feedback. The featured artist will then send a written analysis and review, a personal training plan and a private video message offering advice for improvement. It's a big commitment for the artists, says Döring, especially once pandemic restrictions ease and performances start up again, but they are excited to do it.
Hees and Döring hope Dance-Masterclass will be a useful resource for dancers for years to come. "This is not an 'influencer' project," says Hees. "Our main goal is education, packaged in a way that's inspiring and entertaining."