Allison Walsh and Billy Cannon in Darrell Grand Moultrie's "Differences in Sections." Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy BalletX.

Simply Sensational: The Top 10 Standout Performances of 2012

Alina Cojocaru
At 31, The Royal Ballet’s Alina Cojocaru finally got the ultimate gift for a dancer: a full-length ballet created on her. John Neumeier choreographed Hamburg Ballet’s Liliom just for Cojocaru, tailoring the role of Julie, a poor waitress in love with a tough carousel barker, to Cojocaru’s gentle, vulnerable presence and delicate technique. “I had been longing to work with Alina. She is a choreographer’s dancer,” he says. “I couldn’t imagine anyone else as Julie.” Cojocaru carried much of the ballet on her shoulders, lending emotional resonance to her character’s angelic sense of forgiveness. Every step seemed born spontaneously of her stream of consciousness. Liliom was so well-received that a DVD is in the works, and for Cojocaru, it marks another milestone in her career. —Laura Cappelle


Sylvie Guillem
You can take away the pointe shoes, get rid of the bun, forget the tutu: Sylvie Guillem’s ballerina-ness is in her very soul. Guillem brought her repertory program, 6000 Miles Away, to New York this spring, performing two un-balletic pieces by William Forsythe and Mats Ek. But there were enough flashes of those peerless legs and feet to show us that, at 47, Guillem still boasts impeccable technique. And the elegant ease—almost nonchalance—that made her such an astonishing Aurora? It’s still there, and it still captivates. She may be one of the ballet world’s most notorious rebels, but she’ll always be ours. —Margaret Fuhrer


Emily Ellis
It didn’t take long for audiences to notice Washington Ballet’s Emily Ellis. Last season—her first with the company—she brought deadpan kookiness to Twyla Tharp’s Push Comes to Shove, then showed off her purity of line and refined technique in a classically based pas de deux in Septime Webre’s ALICE (in wonderland). But it was her turn as Daisy Buchanan, the pretty object of Jay Gatsby’s desire in Webre’s The Great Gatsby, where Ellis demonstrated her ability to fully commit to a character. Not quite a heroine, Daisy could have come off as empty or heartless, but Ellis imbued her with deep, lovely sentiment. Girlish in early duets with her Gatsby, Jared Nelson, she evolved into a more self-assured and sensual woman, one familiar with the darker corners of the heart. —Lisa Traiger


Herman Cornejo, Daniil Simkin, Ivan Vasiliev

Le Corsaire
isn’t good for anything, really, except showing off extraordinary men. But when they’re the right men, all the silliness and awkward ethnic stereotyping are worth sitting through. And when they’re Herman Cornejo, Daniil Simkin and Ivan Vasiliev—as they were for one brilliant night this summer at American Ballet Theatre—suddenly the Metropolitan Opera House’s civilized patrons are screaming like teenagers at a rock concert. Between Cornejo’s suave Conrad, Simkin’s gloriously slimy Lankendem and Vasiliev’s outrageous, off-the-rails Slave, there were enough death-defying leaps and endless pirouettes to goad even the most blasé critics to their feet. It was The Man Show, and what an incredible show it was. —Margaret Fuhrer


Allison Walsh
When Allison Walsh stepped onstage in Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Differences in Sections last July, the BalletX dancer resembled a young, glamorous Leslie Caron. But the statuesque poise soon crumbled, revealing a repressed woman full of inner anguish. With sweeping lyricism and Graham-like angst, Walsh plunged full-force to the floor—sometimes rolling violently across the length of the stage—then knelt in moments of tense stillness. For the audience, the solo felt almost uncomfortably voyeuristic, like watching someone’s private breakdown.

Remarkably, Walsh stepped into the role at the last minute to replace an injured colleague. But she found the lack of rehearsal strangely helpful—Moultrie didn’t want her to overthink her interpretation. “He told me not to show a representation of repression, but to really expose myself,” says Walsh. The result was thrilling. —Amy Brandt


Grace Shibley
One of the defining characteristics of a dancer with star potential is the ability to maintain focus in the face of daunting setbacks. Grace Shibley, a striking member of Oregon Ballet Theatre, was already considered an up-and-coming ballerina when, in 2010, a serious foot fracture threatened to derail her career. But the injury only sharpened Shibley’s resolve. With unshakeable will and keen intelligence, she used the rehabilitation process to propel her technique to new heights. When Shibley performed Stravinsky Violin Concerto’s Aria II pas de deux this April, a new physical strength matched her natural ability to explore a role’s nuances. Dancing with a hint of mystery, Shibley gave a mesmerizing performance that foreshadowed an even brighter future ahead.
—Gavin Larsen


The Royal Ballet Live
Peeking into The Royal Ballet studios as the company prepares a new season sounds like every balletomane’s fantasy. Thanks to the internet’s magic, a global audience tuned in when The Royal livestreamed an entire day on March 23. It began with company class at 10:30 am, and by the time U.S. ballet fans woke up, the day was well underway. Four camera crews roaming the building gave the broadcast the feel of a random stroll through the halls: Dancers threw themselves into a sword-fighting rehearsal, Christopher Wheeldon coached soon-to-be soloist Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Liam Scarlett worked on a pas de deux, Wayne McGregor lent commentary, Marianela Nuñez ran her Prince of the Pagodas solo with Monica Mason. Before it ended, Royal Ballet Live reached around 200,000 viewers, and #rblive trended on Twitter as fans chatted with their counterparts across the world. For ballet lovers, it was an unprecedented international moment, a sense of belonging to something bigger than they had ever imagined. Visit The Royal’s YouTube channel to see the highlights again. —Hanna Rubin

Justin Peck
New York City Ballet’s 25-year-old corps member Justin Peck is expertly balancing two careers these days: Movie-star handsome, he alternates partnering ballerinas with creating dances of his own. Peck began making work through the New York Choreographic Institute in 2009. His setting of three movements from Sufjan Stevens’ song cycle “Enjoy Your Rabbit” made such inventive, surprising use of School of American Ballet students that it stole the show at NYCI’s 10th anniversary celebration. Peck’s ability to create exciting phrases and intriguing stage patterns earned him the institute’s first year-long residency in 2011.

This year, his In Creases, set to Philip Glass's Four Movements for Two Pianos, was the first NYCB premiere given at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in over 25 years; MOVES, the company’s touring group, promptly took it to Colorado and Wyoming. In the fall, Year of the Rabbit, Peck’s expansion of his Stevens piece, also entered the repertoire.

 Peck even found time to create Distractions for City Ballet principal Daniel Ulbricht’s summer pickup troupe. “Maybe that title was ironic, considering how busy he was,” says Ulbricht, “but the guys loved it. So did the audience.” —Harris Green


Héloïse Bourdon
Paris Opéra Ballet dancers are famous for elongated lines, incredible elegance—and a stage presence that can seem too chic to connect with the audience. It’s a kind of look-don’t-touch allure. Yet during the company’s U.S. tour this summer, one soloist tore down the stereotype of what a French ballerina could be. In Giselle’s peasant pas de deux, Héloïse Bourdon created a real character in a role that’s all too often used as a show-off divertissement. She looked completely at home in the imaginary village onstage, dancing with a youthful charm and a playful affection for her partner. And underneath her ease and warmth were hard-as-nails technical chops: Her jumps were preternaturally sprightly, her turns dynamically precise. She had the beautiful POB épaulement, but her sunny personality made it enchanting. —Jennifer Stahl


Amber Neumann
Part of what makes Amber Neumann so intriguing is that, while she looks like a 1950s-era girl next door, she fearlessly attacks even the most radically modern choreography. In The Joffrey Ballet debut of Wayne McGregor’s Infra last winter, Neumann brought a palpable warmth, expressiveness and humanity that melted her role’s stylized, automaton-like moves and chilly edges. Blissfully free of classical ballet affectations, Neumann gave us a lonely, anguished character without doing any obvious acting; all the emotion was channeled through her body. A veteran of several major ballet competitions, Neumann has plenty of technique, but in this case it was in the service of an inner emotional fire that was lived rather than demonstrated. —Hedy Weiss




Latest Posts


Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami City Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Juha Mustonen, Courtesy Finnish National Ballet

Val Caniparoli Pulled Zoom All-Nighters For His Upcoming Premiere at Finnish National Ballet

Back in April, it seemed like everyone in the performing arts was either coping with company shutdowns or watching future work evaporate before their eyes. As seasons were canceled or pushed off into the unknown future, choreographer Val Caniparoli took a deep breath and focused on a glimmer of hope: Finnish National Ballet had commissioned him to develop a full-length Jekyll & Hyde, and was determined to move forward with its November world premiere. So, Caniparoli hunkered down in his apartment while honing his vision at all hours to build this psychological thriller into a reality.

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#TBT: Lucia Lacarra and Cyril Pierre in "Thaïs Pas De Deux" (2008)

When Sir Frederick Ashton premiered Thaïs Pas de Deux, a duet set to the "Méditation" interlude from Jules Massenet's opera Thaïs, the ballet was immediately acclaimed as one of his masterpieces, despite the fact that it is only a few minutes long. In this clip from 2008, Lucia Lacarra and Cyril Pierre, then principals of the Bavarian State Ballet, give a tender, enchanting performance that is six-and-a-half minutes of pure beauty.

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