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How One Ballerina Took Over the Catwalk During This Summer's Paris Fashion Week

Giannis Vlamos, Courtesy Kousouni.

Ballerina Maria Kousouni is used to an attentive audience. But when she stepped onstage in Paris this past July, her audience—not to mention the venue and the costumes—were a little unusual. After all, opening a couture fashion show for designer Celia Kritharioti during Paris Fashion Week—with British Vogue's editor in chief in the crowd—isn't exactly a typical gig. "I never imagined that I would be opening a haute couture fashion show in Paris," says KousounI, a principal dancer with the Greek National Opera Ballet. "To enter this world of fashion and beauty, which you usually admire from a distance, is a rare experience in a dancer's career."


Kousouni first met Kritharioti when she created costumes for the Greek National Opera's production of Romeo and Juliet. So when
the designer asked Kousouni to choreograph and perform in her ballerina-inspired Autumn/Winter show at Couture Fashion Week, she immediately said yes. "I trust her and jumped in without a second thought because of her professionalism, aesthetic and her artistic point of view," says Kousouni.

Kousini with her husband and dance partner Vaggelis Bikos take to the runway.

GIannis Vlamos, Courtesy Kousini.


But she soon found out that choreographing for a runway show brings unique challenges. Kousouni and her husband, dancer Vaggelis Bikos (who performed with her at the show), visited the venue a couple of months in advance to get an idea of what to expect. They focused on creating flatter choreography that would help them travel down the narrow runway space. Kousouni also notes that while costumes for traditional ballet performances are designed to show off movement, in this instance her choreography needed to show off Kritharioti's designs. "My interpretation as a dancer should not disturb or take over, but only compliment the clothing," she says. "We were so lucky to witness the craftsmanship and the details that go into creating couture clothing. Seeing each stone and feather attached by hand made us more aware of the lines and movements that would best show off all that hard work."



One of the hardest aspects of the performance, says Kousouni, was dancing so close to the audience members, and the near constant photography flashes proved distracting. They also had to contend with the floor being slippery and harder than the opera house stages they're used to. (Kousouni rubberized the tips of her pointe shoes to prevent slipping.) But in some ways, she found adapting to the new environment thrilling, and she emphasizes that versatility is an important part of being an artist. "As a dancer I always try to understand and respect the concept and try to be one with the environment and the team around me—artists should understand the time and space they're in."

Kousouni found the whole experience refreshing because it gave her new challenges and allowed her to experience dance in a completely different environment. "Dancing on the runway, wearing haute couture—it was like performing for the very first time." She adds that as long as pop artists and fashion designers continue to introduce their audiences to ballet with respect, it can only be a good thing for the ballet world.

Ballet Careers
Sisters Isabella Shaker and Alexandra Pullen. Photo Courtesy Alexandra Pullen.

This is the second in a series of articles this month about ballet siblings.

My mom was in the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. A generation later, so was I. As if that's not enough for one family, my younger sister Isabella Shaker dreams of following in our dancing footsteps. Her endeavor, and her status as somewhat of a child prodigy, stirs feelings of pride and apprehension within me, since I have lived through the ups and downs of this intense yet rewarding career.

Ballet will always be my first love and the thing that brings me the most joy, and my dance career has opened endless opportunities for me. However, it's a difficult career path that requires a lifelong dedication. It's super competitive and can lead to body image issues, physical injury and stress. Most dancers will face some of these problems; I definitely dealt with all three.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Jayme Thornton

It's National Bullying Prevention Month—and Houston Ballet breakout star Harper Watters is exactly the advocate young dancers facing bullying need. Watters is no novice when it comes to slaying on social media, but his Bullying Prevention Month collaboration with Teen Vogue and Instagram is him at his most raw, speaking about his own experiences with bullies, and how his love of dance helped him to overcome adversity. Watters even penned an incredible op-ed for Teen Vogue's website, where he talks candidly about growing up queer. Catch his amazing anti-bullying video here—and, as Watters says, "Stay fabulous, stay flawless, stay flexible, but most importantly, stay fearless."

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News
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

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