This week, master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based ThePointeShop answers another of your pointe shoe questions: "How come my pointe shoes fit perfectly at the fitting and don't anymore at home?" Lee explains the ways that your feet change throughout the day and the year, and the importance of trying your shoes on under different conditions.
Just days before the world shuttered under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic, and the curtain came down indefinitely on dance companies everywhere, Pennsylvania Ballet soloist Sydney Dolan debuted Gamzatti in La Bayadère with captivating ease. Her jumps soared, her technique was sound, and her cheeky smile paired with exquisite port de bras was beguiling. Though she didn't know the company would soon cancel the remainder of its season, her beautiful performance acted as a kind of send-off into the unknown.
Dolan's career could be described in one word: charmed. At just 19 years old, she's flown through the ranks at PAB, debuted a long list of roles, won a Princess Grace Award and been named one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch." Yet it's her challenges that have shaped not only her training but her outlook, giving her a solid foundation for becoming one of Pennsylvania Ballet's rising stars.
Dolan as Gamzatti in Pensylvania Ballet's La Bayadère
Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy PAB
An Unconventional Education<p>Dolan began dancing at age 3 at Burke Civic Ballet in Northern Virginia. A few years later her family moved to Cary, North Carolina, where she picked up her training more earnestly at International Ballet Academy. There she met teacher Miguel Campaneria, who would eventually become her sole coach and mentor. "As soon as I saw her dance for the first time, I knew she was special," says Campaneria. "She had a light about her."</p><p>At 12, after a fallout between Campaneria and IBA was magnified by a subsequent noncompete contract, Dolan had to choose between a traditional conservatory dance education and a somewhat nomadic training experience with her beloved teacher. "I chose to go with Miguel," says Dolan. "I trusted him. He could see things in me that other teachers couldn't."</p><p>The next two years proved challenging. In order to abide by the noncompete, Dolan had to travel 25 miles to take class from Campaneria in rented studio space. Though 10 others initially joined their venture, the setup proved difficult for many of them, and by the end it was just Dolan, Campaneria and one other student. The training schedule also required her to transition to online schooling. </p>
"I know I can't skip out on those extra 10 minutes of practice just because I made it in a magazine," says Sydney Dolan
An Unexpected Career Start<p>In the summer of 2016, Dolan and Eyler attended Pennsylvania Ballet's Company Experience week, an intensive taught by artistic director <a href="https://www.pointemagazine.com/tag/angel-corella" target="_blank">Angel Corella</a>. After the first day, Corella pulled them into his office and offered them trainee positions, with the promise of a second company contract by that January. "I was struck by her technique," Corella says. "She has beautiful lines, she has excellent turns, she is very professional. I knew I wanted her in the company."</p><p>Then Corella asked for their ages—he thought Dolan, then 15, was older. Though her age presented hurdles—in terms of finishing her education, finding proper housing, and complying with child employment laws—Corella decided she was worth it. Dolan herself was less sure. She had made great progress with Campaneria and didn't know how her parents would feel. Then, one week before PAB's season started, Corella let Dolan know that two second company contracts were immediately available for her and Eyler—allowing them to bypass the trainee level entirely.</p><p>Campaneria was concerned. "I have seen dancers get everything at a young age, and it's too much too soon," he says. But, Dolan says, "I just felt strongly it was the right choice." Following her gut instinct, she accepted. </p>
Dolan as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Nutcracker
Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy PAB
Second Company Life<p>Dolan's first company rehearsal with PBII was for <em>Nutcracker</em>, and it was like drinking water through a fire hose. Outside of a few videos, it was her first time seeing George Balanchine's choreography, let alone dancing it. "I had to pick my jaw up off the floor," Dolan says. "It was the most basic choreography, but I couldn't stop bumping into people." Suddenly, she was going from one-on-one coaching to dancing in the corps every day. "I lacked experience working with other people. It took a while to get used to."</p><p>Throughout the year she developed crucial skills for corps work, such as communicating constructively and developing spatial awareness. "I learned what it was like to be in a company rehearsal and proper etiquette," Dolan says. She also got the stage experience she'd lacked. "We were in every main company performance," she says. </p><p>She struggled to fit in, however, and often felt the need to earn the respect of her fellow dancers. She was a sophomore in high school, taking online classes and living with relatives in the area, while her PBII colleagues were over 18. "In the back of my head there has always been a voice asking me if I deserve to be where I am at this age."</p>
Rising Through the Ranks<p>In 2017, one year after joining PBII, Dolan became an apprentice. Corella, noting her nerves of steel, started pushing her instantly. By the time she finished the season, she'd performed Lilac Fairy in <em>The Sleeping Beauty</em>, Dewdrop in <em>George Balanchine's The Nutcracker</em>, the pas de trois in <em>Swan Lake</em> and the soloist in Balanchine's "Rubies." She joined the corps de ballet in 2018, rising to demi-soloist for the 2019–20 season. Then in October, after her debut as a Flower Girl in <em>Don Quixote</em>, Corella promoted her to soloist. "Her dancing in <em>Don Quixote</em> was something we had never seen before—I had to promote her," Corella says.</p><p>Despite her success, Dolan admits to having her fair share of insecurities. One, her turnout, stems from a comment she overheard about herself at a competition years ago. "To this day I work tirelessly on it." Yet she doesn't let those anxieties keep her down for long. "I try to tell myself that there isn't a single dancer out there who isn't insecure about something." </p><p>"It's clear to everyone in the company that she is where she is because of her technique, artistry and commitment to the company," says Corella. "If anything, she can take it easy sometimes."</p>
Dolan with Sterling Baca in La Bayadère
Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy PAB
Looking Ahead<p>Outside of ballet, Dolan is a self-proclaimed homebody who loves knitting and reading. She developed a love of cooking from her father, a chef. "For me, it's all or nothing," she says. "If I cook, I have to make something extravagant." She also enjoys writing, a passion she says she inherited from her mother, and keeps up with a blog (balletprose.com) she started when she was 16.</p><p>Eyler also plays a starring role in her story. After meeting at ballet school, a friendship blossomed. "Over time our connection grew and we started dating," Dolan says of the corps dancer; they now live together. "We're such bunheads—if I'm struggling with something, he has an eye that I trust." Beyond dancing, the two love to explore Philadelphia's restaurant scene.</p><p>As for Dolan's future at PAB, Corella doesn't beat around the bush. "I, of course, hope she will be a principal dancer. She is very special, and it would be hard not to acknowledge that."</p><p>Dolan tries to stay grounded: "I know I can't skip out on those extra 10 minutes of practice just because I made it in a magazine," she says. "I don't want to stay stagnant." Still, the accomplishments come with pressure. "But it's good pressure. Constructive pressure."</p>
Last weekend, Youth America Grand Prix took to the internet, hosting its first virtual pas de deux competition. Over the course of three days, YAGP streamed videos from its regional events' highest-ranked competitors for a panel of esteemed judges. And, drum roll please... YAGP has just announced the winners, spanning three categories: Senior Classical, Junior Classical and Contemporary.
You can watch the full virtual awards ceremony, hosted by YAGP director of external affairs Sergey Gordeev, below, or scroll down for the list of winners. And if you're missing the thrill of competition, don't fear: Gordeev announced that registration for the 2021 season will open on July 10, with both in-person and virtual options available.
Congratulations to all!
Senior Classical Pas de Deux<p><strong>1st Place (tie)</strong></p><p>Margarita Fernandes (age 14) and Antonio Casalinho (age 16)</p><p>Conservatorio Internacional de Ballet e Dança Annarella Sanchez, Portugal</p><p><br></p><p>Michela Caprarulo (age 15) and Riccardo Umberto Bruttomeso (age 17)</p><p>Il Balletto, Italy</p><p><strong>2nd Place </strong><br></p><p>Alexis Workowski (age 15) and Josue Gomez (age 16)</p><p>Fort Lauderdale Youth Ballet, Florida </p><p><strong>3rd Place </strong><br></p><p>Catherine Rowland (age 15) and Paul Piner (age 18)</p><p>International Ballet Academy, North Carolina</p>
Junior Classical Pas de Deux<p><strong>1st Place </strong></p><p>Ana Luisa Negrao (age 15) and Vitor Vaz (age 15)</p><p>ITEGO em Artes Basileu Franca, Brazil</p><p><strong>2nd Place </strong><br></p><p>Madison Brown (age 14) and Brady Farrar (age 14)</p><p>The Art of Classical Ballet, Lents Dance Company and Stars Dance Studio, Florida</p><p><strong>3rd Place </strong><br></p><p>Nina Miro Verger (age 9) and Asier Bautista (age 11)</p><p>Escola de Dansa d'Alaro and Jove Ballet de Catalunya, Spain</p>
Contemporary Pas de Deux<p><strong>1st Place</strong></p><p>Emma VanDeWater (age 17) and Styles Dykes (age 19)</p><p>Odasz Dance Theatre, New York </p><p><strong>2nd Place </strong><br></p><p>Livia Childers (age 14) and Reed Henry (age 15)</p><p>Ballet CNJ, New Jersey</p><p><strong>3rd Place (tie)</strong><br></p><p>Farrah Hirsch (age 14) and Chase Vining (age 18)</p><p>Master Ballet Academy, Arizona</p><p><br></p><p>Natalie May Dixon (age 17) and Tyler Schellenberg (age 18)</p><p>Edge School, Canada </p>
Ask a hundred people what musicality is, and you're likely to get a hundred different answers. "Musicality is where an artist's personality shines brightest," says Smuin Contemporary Ballet member Ben Needham-Wood. For American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt, "it's what distinguishes one dancer from another. It helps me express myself more vividly and emotionally."
Teachers encourage it, directors seek it out and dancers who possess it bring choreography to life in compelling ways. But what exactly is musicality, and how can dancers get more of it?
Putting Musicality Into Words<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQyOTYxNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNzMyNDMyNX0.ufIhcrrxZQf6zHyfJUAoEgu8WDcNfP4GRq7HJUKc6rU/img.jpg?width=980" id="f452d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c365b87f75ff74801bf1946e179de394" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="David Morse, wearing a blue sleeveless T-shirt, is shown from the waist up making gestures near his face with his hands." />
David Morse rehearses one of his ballets at Cininnati Ballet.
Jenifer Denham, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet<p>Musicality could be loosely described as a dancer's unique emotional and intellectual relationship to a piece of music, as expressed in their execution of choreography. "I connect musicality to rhythm, phrasing, tonality and mood—all these elements that allow the body to inhabit music from the inside out," says Atlanta Ballet choreographer in residence <a href="https://www.pointemagazine.com/search/?q=claudia+schreier" target="_blank">Claudia Schreier</a>.</p><p>Comparing two dancers in the same role can help make it clearer, says <a href="https://www.pointemagazine.com/search/?q=david+morse" target="_blank">David Morse</a>, a Cincinnati Ballet soloist, choreographer and class accompanist. He cites Royal Ballet principals <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SKLSOGtayE" target="_blank">Natalia Osipova</a> and <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9UFQtoy8NA" target="_blank">Marianela Nuñez</a> in the Black Swan variation as a good example. "Natalia has this punch behind everything," he says. "When she goes from Point A to Point B, there's power on the front end and then a suspend. With Marianela, there is an airiness in arriving at the next position, more like a sustain across the beat. They could not be more different, in large part due to those small increases and decreases in speed."</p>
Claudia Schreier rehearses her ballet Passage with Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Rachel Neville, Courtesy Schreier<p>Most of those choices are made in rehearsal, but sometimes they reflect a dancer's spontaneity. Miami City Ballet principal soloist <a href="https://www.pointemagazine.com/search/?q=lauren+fadeley" target="_blank">Lauren Fadeley</a> remembers feeling caught off guard when MCB's orchestra played unexpectedly slowly during Balanchine's <em>La Valse</em>. "But our rehearsal pianist came up to me afterward and said, 'That was one of the most musical performances of that ballet I've ever seen,'" says Fadeley. "You have to listen to the music and just dance. And enjoy it—that's what will really shine through."</p><p>These examples demonstrate a deeply personal element that each dancer can find within themselves. "The dancers we look up to are the ones who bring their true selves to every step through their musicality," says Schreier. "What we really get drawn to is that freedom. And that comes from exploring their relationship to the music and falling in love with it in their own way."</p>
The Building Blocks<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQyOTY1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTAxNjg2N30.naY_gY5jxYi3TEceqFSibHYKERs0cuVlLIe4KSRBsyk/img.jpg?width=980" id="c6831" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="205ffcf1ca24a75cafa270b5c8e72b97" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Wearing white skirted costumes, Ben Needham-Wood crosses his arms and lifts Terez Dean by the shoulders as she extends her left leg straight in front of her and tucks her right leg underneath her." />
Ben Needham-Wood and Terez Dean in Amy Seiwert's Renaissance
Chris Hardy, Courtesy Smuin Ballet<p>Paradoxically, dancers reach that level of musical freedom through deliberate, dedicated practice. "It has to start from barre," says Brandt, who describes herself as "rigid" about doing combinations at the ballet master's prescribed tempos because "it trains your body to handle the demands of a faster dégagé than you're used to, or a slower adagio, when you get onstage." Having so much command over her musicality, she says, "makes me feel like I can get lost in what I'm doing—like I can be an embodiment of the music, versus the music being a separate entity." On the other hand, deliberately playing with the rhythms and patterns at barre can lead to equally important insights, says Brandt.</p>
Be Your Own Maestro<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQyOTYzMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTMwMTUwMn0.RiDWrOoSvpsc0ZUUu0LfCHVgAaAMj8j1uJ4etZTtzQI/img.jpg?width=980" id="c7b2f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5d79b0c3c4f88666f75cc97eee31adad" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Chase Swatosh, in lack tights and a white T-shirt, tosses Lauren Fadeley into a grand sissone. She wears a black leotard, pink tights and pointe shoes." />
Lauren Fadeley and Chase Swatosh in Balanchine's The Four Temperaments
Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB<p>Dancing at home is ideal for exploring your own sense of musicality and artistic voice, because you can turn off the Zoom camera and take some risks, free of any feedback but your own sense of what feels authentic. "This is not about proving anything to anyone. This is about taking an opportunity to discover what you're able to do," says Needham-Wood.<br></p>