Still winded from a run-through of Swanilda’s 10-minute Act III pas de deux, Lesley Rausch walks through her variation with Pacific Northwest Ballet ballet master Otto Neubert. “You have a killer instep; show that to the audience,” says Neubert. As they move along the diagonal together—a kind of pas de cheval into chassé pas de bourrée on pointe, 14 subtly different times in a row—he encourages the soloist to make more of the end of each pas de bourrée. New timing and a tighter fifth suddenly make the old-fashioned sequence exquisite. Neubert adds, “Let the movement originate from the shoulders,” and Rausch’s port de bras becomes part of the step’s charm.

 

This dainty variation—like its accompanying pas de deux and coda—was originally created by Petipa, and George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova included it when they made their Coppélia in 1974. PNB called on one of the original New York City Ballet cast members, Judith Fugate, to set the ballet this spring. She only had a few weeks, but, as she says, “Not having everything chewed up and handed to you develops you as an artist.”

 

Swanilda, the ballet’s lead role, certainly calls for an artist. Or two, suggests PNB Artistic Director Peter Boal: “One who walks around on her heels acting feisty and the other an elegant, refined ballerina.” When Swanilda sees her boyfriend Franz falling for the very quiet, very still Coppélia, she investigates and gleefully discovers that Franz’s precious beloved is only a doll. Swanilda saves Franz from the machinations of dollmaker Dr. Coppélius and, without any recrimination, the two get married, completely in love. The dancer performing Swanilda needs to project inquisitiveness, spirit and charm. She needs comedic timing, but tenderness, too. She’s not above an occasional moment of girlish pique. And she’s young: The first Swanilda, in 1870 at the Paris Opéra, was only 16.

 

To get into character, Rausch looked for personality traits she shared with Swanilda: She feels they both have spunk, intelligence and energy to spare. “Five years ago I was very uncomfortable putting myself in an acting mindset,” says Rausch, who is known for a regal, technical excellence that suits abstract Balanchine ballets. She saw an opportunity for growth with this role and enjoyed feeling Swanilda’s childlike wonder and playfulness. Hers was a Swanilda who danced to have fun.

 

Act III presents the most technical challenges. It’s more than just dancing fast at the end of a long ballet. “The pas de deux,” Rausch explains, “has awkward moments, so you’re using your body to make it controlled and smooth.” One such moment is the bird lift—or “nightmare lift,” as Boal calls it. Rausch has to get her hips, not ribs, to make contact with her partner’s shoulder—all in one seamless phrase. To accomplish this, Rausch focused on staying pitched forward and keeping her and her partner’s left hands in front so both could sense her balance.

 

The variation is mostly hops on pointe. Because Rausch has super-flexible feet, she adjusted her arch and pulled back on her ankle to accomplish the plié. Unlike other jumps, “you can’t cushion with your feet here,” says Boal. He recommends coordinating the landing through the knees and quads to cushion above the feet.

 

Also challenging is the coda’s 16-count double manège. Rausch advises: “Pick points to focus on and plan where you’re going to step.” Boal adds, “Bank on the turns. Lean back to round the corner.” Coppélia ends happily for Swanilda, as it did for Rausch. Rausch went on a week earlier than scheduled and gave two strong performances. Her Swanilda never became saccharine and proved a joy to watch. At the beginning of the Act III marathon, she pulled off a luxurious, three-second hold on an airy arabesque. Stamina? Not an issue!

Latest Posts


Jayme Thornton

Roman Mejia Is Carving His Own Path at New York City Ballet

In a brightly lit studio high above the busy Manhattan streets, Roman Mejia rehearses George Balanchine's Allegro Brillante. Though just 20, the New York City Ballet corps dancer exudes an easy confidence. Practicing a tricky sequence of triple pirouettes into double tours his breathing becomes labored, but his focus doesn't waver. He works until he finds the music's inherent rhythm, timing his turns evenly and finally landing them with a satisfied smile.

Since joining NYCB in 2017, Mejia has had the chance to take on ballets ranging from Romeo + Juliet to Fancy Free to Kyle Abraham's hip-hop–infused The Runaway. Though he often finds himself the youngest person in the room, Mejia is rarely intimidated. He's been immersed in ballet since birth. His father, Paul Mejia, danced with NYCB in the 1960s, and his mother, Maria Terezia Balogh, danced for Chicago City Ballet and Fort Worth-Dallas Ballet. Both of Mejia's parents and his grandmother attended the School of American Ballet. Now, Mejia is quickly building on his family's legacy, creating buzz with his shot-from-a-cannon energy, rapid-fire footwork and charismatic charm.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

A Letter from the Editor in Chief

Hi Everyone,

These are challenging times. The social distancing measures brought about by COVID-19 has likely meant that your regular ballet training has been interrupted, while your performances, competitions—even auditions—have been cancelled. You may be feeling anxious about what the future holds, not only for you but for the dance industry. And that's perfectly understandable.

As you adjust to taking virtual ballet class from your living rooms, we here at Pointe are adjusting to working remotely from our living rooms. We've had to get a little creative, especially as we put our Summer Issue together, but like you we're taking full advantage of modern technology. Sure, it's a little inconvenient sometimes, but we're finding our groove.

And we know that you will, too. We've been utterly inspired by how the dance community has rallied together, from ballet stars giving online classes to companies streaming their performances to the flood of artist resources popping up. We've loved watching you dance from your kitchens. And we want to help keep this spirit alive. That's why Pointe and all of our Dance Media sister publications are working nonstop to produce and cross-post stories to help you navigate this crisis. We're all in this together.

We also want to hear from you! Send us a message on social media, or email me directly at abrandt@dancemedia.com. Tell us how you're doing, send us your ideas and show us your dance moves. Let the collective love we share for our beloved art form spark the light at the end of the tunnel—we will come out the other side soon enough.

Best wishes,

Amy

Bethany Kirby, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Ballet Company Costume Departments Jump Into Action, Sewing Masks for Coronavirus Aid

The novel coronavirus pandemic has forced ballet companies worldwide to cancel or postpone their seasons. But it's not just dancers and artistic staff that have found their work at a standstill. Costume departments, a vital component in bringing performances to life, have also hit pause. However, costume shops around the country, including Tulsa Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet and Miami City Ballet, have figured out a creative way to utilize their resources to give back to their communities during this challenging time. We touched base with Tulsa's team to find out what their experience has been like.

Keep reading SHOW LESS