To what do you attribute your success?
To my work. I had to make a real effort to get to where I am because I didn’t have the qualities that the Opéra required. Technique came easily to me, but it took me a while to realize that the company doesn’t care if we can do three turns; they want two clean, beautiful ones.
What’s your best memory on stage?
My promotion to étoile, because the circumstances were pretty unusual. There was a strike that day, so we danced Nutcracker without sets or costumes. I really didn’t expect it to happen then, so it was very special.
Is there anything about your body you would change?
I’d love to have really nice feet. Mine are strong and allow me to do a lot technically, but I’d like to keep that strength and also have high arches. They finish the movement so beautifully.
Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
I eat pasta, and I take a nap! I love to sleep. It helps me relax. I wake up two hours before the show and don’t have time to stress out, so I just get ready.
What skill would you most like to have?
I’d love to be more knowledgeable, to have more of a general education. I joined the company young, so I didn’t graduate from high school, and I don’t have a great memory, so even when I read a book, I forget it. I wish I had studied philosophy.
What’s the least glamorous part of being a dancer?
The strict lifestyle we have to adhere to. We can’t just go out or drink until 3 am if we’re rehearsing the next day. You need to know when you can have fun and when you have to be serious. It’s still pretty glamorous, though!
What would you bring with you to a desert island?
Sunscreen. And chocolate—I always have some in my dressing room.
To what do you attribute your success?
The coronavirus pandemic may have postponed English National Ballet's annual Emerging Dancer competition last spring, but the show must go on—digitally! You can still watch ENB's best and brightest talent during the competition's livestream, taking place on September 22 at 7:20 pm BST (that's 2:20 pm ET). Now in its 11th year, the competition for the Emerging Dancer Award will be broadcast live from the company's East London production studio for the first time. Tickets are available for $6.99 per device and will remain available to view on demand until September 29.
Pointe shoe brand Gaynor Minden recently welcomed 32 young dancers to its coveted roster of Gaynor Girls. But this year, the company included two applicants who push the boundaries of what it means to dance on pointe. While both Mason Simon Underwood and Colleen Werner are longtime GM wearers, they stand out from the rest of this year's group: Underwood is the first ever Gaynor Guy, and Werner is a body-positivity activist.
Mason Simon Underwood<p>Mason Simon Underwood's favorite variation is Aurora Act III, from <em>The Sleeping Beauty</em>. Last month <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/CD-E14vASJ7/" target="_blank">on Instagram</a>, he shared a video of himself rehearsing it in his family's living room. His lines are long and clear as he moves confidently on pointe. Underwood, age 16, started dancing when he was 12, and like many of his peers at the School of Nashville Ballet, he got his first pair of pointe shoes two years ago, at 14. "I was in the level where all my friends were starting, and I thought it was really cool," he says. "I saw some guys on Instagram doing it, so I thought I might as well try."</p><p>While Underwood was the only guy in his school interested in pointe classes, his teachers were supportive. "They encouraged it, and said it would be good for strength and expressiveness," he says. And his hard work has paid off. Having attended virtual intensives at Nashville Ballet School, American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet School over the summer, Underwood is now moving to California to start full-time training at SFB in October.</p>
Mason Simon Underwood practices his pointework at home
Colleen Werner<p>Colleen Werner is not your typical Gaynor Girl. While most are on a pre-professional ballet track, Werner, age 23, is getting her master's in clinical mental health counseling at Trevecca Nazarene University. "One of my overarching career goals is to create an eating disorder treatment program for dancers, because dance was a huge contributing factor to my eating disorder," says Werner.</p><p>Originally from Long Island, New York, Werner began dancing when she was 3. She started on pointe at 13, and attended intensives with the Joffrey Ballet and Eglevsky Ballet before entering New York City's Hunter College as a dance major. But while recovering from an eating disorder, she switched her major to psychology. "I realized that as much as I loved dance, it was coming from a toxic place," she says. After a healthy period of distance from ballet, Werner got back into the studio two years ago. Since moving to Nashville last summer to start graduate school, Werner has made taking classes with Nashville Ballet's Community Division and performing with <a href="https://www.thedancerproject.com/" target="_blank">The Dancer Project</a> a central part of her life. </p>
A new training program at Festival Ballet Providence called Leap Year is welcoming pre-professional and professional dancers who don't have a studio or company to dance for this season.
The endeavor is the brainchild of Kathleen Breen Combes, FBP's executive and artistic director. "I kept getting these emails of dancers saying they just need a place to train this year," says Combes. "I thought, What if we could provide a space for dancers to get stronger, experiment and try new things in a nonjudgmental and no-pressure environment?"
Yury Yanowsky (left), shown here teaching class at Festival Ballet Providence, will head FBP's new Leap Year Program.
Dylan Giles, Courtesy Festival Ballet Providence<p>What makes Leap Year different from typical trainee programs is the schedule. "We'll come in for three hours in the morning, five days per week [plus an hour and a half on Saturday], and work super hard, but then the rest of the day will be free," says Combes. The goal is to accommodate those who need to work or do other things in the afternoon and evenings.</p><p>The program, which is tuition-based and open to dancers ages 18 to 24, will run in three 10-week sessions, beginning in October. Dancers have the flexibility to attend one or multiple sessions depending on their schedules, budgets and goals. Registration is rolling, and interested dancers can apply by sending in a video reel, headshot and resumé.</p>