Company: The Washington Ballet
Top prizes: Boston International Ballet Competition, Helsinki International Ballet Competition, USA International Ballet Competition, Seoul International Dance Competition, Varna International Ballet Competition
Pre-competition rituals: “Working my butt off! And before any performance, I try to get to a mental place that I call ‘home.’ Nobody’s there but me and the ballet.”
Backstage music pick: “The song that Lil Wayne made for Michael Phelps called ‘I’m a Go Getta.’ Or Coldplay, Eminem or R. Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ or ‘The World’s Greatest’ from the Ali movie.”
Why he keeps competing: “In a company, you don’t always get a lot of individual attention. But when you train for a competition, every little thing is scrutinized. I grow a lot. It’s also a great networking tool. So many directors and prominent choreographers come to scout.”
What he does with his trophies: “My mom takes them. Each time, she’s like, ‘You’re gonna mess this up or lose it.’ But she likes to have them, so I’m fine with it.”
Worst mistake: “Holding back because I didn’t want to make a mistake.”
Favorite competition memory: “My first competition. I didn’t get a medal, but I was able to just let go and dance completely and leave everything on the stage. It was the first time in my life that someone told me they cried watching me dance.”
School: The Royal Ballet School
Top prizes: Prix de Lausanne, Youth America Grand Prix
In the wings: “I always review the storyline of the ballet and how my variation fits in that. I try to convince myself that I’m actually my character and this is happening to me. Then I pray.”
Good luck charm: “An energy wand that my friend’s mom (who’s a bit of a hippie) gave me last year. It’s literally just a little bronze-colored stick, five or six inches long. But it’s supposed to pull all of the negative energy around you into the wand and then give out positive energy. Ever since she gave it to me, it’s come with me to every competition.”
Worst mistake: “This year at YAGP Regionals, I fell during my Giselle variation. I was just doing a single turn! But I got back up and finished. My teacher always says, ‘If anything goes wrong, you still have to bow like it was the best dance ever.’ “
Strategy for nerves: “I stop thinking about the competition and focus on something completely random, like puppies.”
Dealing with the rivalry: “I like the competitive environment. It pushes me. Seeing all of those amazing dancers makes me want to be better. I want to be the best, I guess.”
School: Southland Ballet Academy
Top prizes: Youth America Grand Prix, Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards
Pre-performance ritual: “I always eat a little piece of chocolate before I dance.”
Good luck charm: “My mom writes notes like ‘good luck’ or ‘have fun’ in my pointe shoes.”
Strategy for nerves: “It’s hard in the early rounds because everybody is sizing each other up. But once it gets down to the end, you become friends with the other dancers and can just talk backstage.”
How she breaks the ice with her competitors: “Sometimes I’ll compliment someone’s tutu. And the usual: ‘Good job,’ ‘good luck.’ ”
What she tells herself right before going on: “Have fun, and whatever happens, happens. You’re lucky to be doing this right now, so enjoy it.”
Hollywood could make a movie about Sarah-Gabrielle Ryan's big break at Pacific Northwest Ballet.
It was November 2017, and the company was performing Crystal Pite's film-noir–inspired Plot Point, set to music by Bernard Hermann from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Ryan, then a first-year corps member, originally was understudying the role of another dancer. But when principal Noelani Pantastico was injured in a car accident, Ryan was tapped to take over her role.
Early Successes—and Struggles<p>Ryan, now 23, has been dancing since she was 3 years old, when her parents enrolled her in tap, jazz and ballet classes at a local dance studio. At age 5, her teacher recommended she pursue more rigorous ballet training at Philadelphia's acclaimed Rock School for Dance Education.</p><p>Ryan flew up the levels there, and by the age of 12, she'd advanced to the top, the youngest student in her classes. Although she held her own with high-school–aged peers, Ryan knew she was different. "Everyone was older," she says. "You were expected to look a certain way, but I was still going through puberty!"</p><p>That didn't stop Pennsylvania Ballet, which then did not have an affiliated school, from casting Ryan in its annual <em>Nutcracker</em>. Ryan was 10 when she danced her first role, a toy soldier. Miami City Ballet School director Arantxa Ochoa was a principal dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet at the time, but she noticed the young dancer.</p><p>"I just remember her beautiful eyes and big smile," Ochoa recalls.</p>
Jayme Thornton for Pointe
Ryan with company dancers in Jerome Robbins' West Side Story Suite
Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB
A New Home<p>Ryan had attended Pacific Northwest Ballet's summer intensive the summer after joining PBII. She was among 30 young women enrolled in Peter Boal's class that summer—all excellent dancers, he says—but Ryan stood out.</p><p>"She had this kind of go-for-broke presence," Boal says. "A gutsiness." He made a mental note. A year later, when Ryan contacted him about an audition, Boal invited her to attend class when the company toured to New York City. At the end of that class, Boal offered Ryan a contract; she joined PNB as an apprentice in the fall of 2016.</p><p>"I loved PNB's rep, I loved the idea of working for Peter," Ryan says. Although she was scared about moving across the country, she calls it "good scared."</p>
Ryan in Ronald Hynd's The Sleeping Beauty
Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB
Finding Her Voice<p>During this long pandemic year, Davis and Ryan have had ample opportunity to explore their partnership. They share a Seattle apartment with two miniature Australian shepherds, Hawk and Magpie, who make frequent cameos during the online classes the couple both take and teach.</p><p>PNB's 2020-21 season is all-digital, and when the dancers returned to the studio last August, only those who co-habitated could partner one another. In the company's opening program, Ryan and Davis reprised the pas de deux from Balanchine's "Rubies." While dancing for cameras instead of live audiences hasn't been ideal, Ryan says she's learned how to use her face to convey emotions in a more intimate way, instead of playing to the second balcony.</p><p>Beyond the pandemic, the past year also ushered in frank national conversations about race and racism, which freed Ryan to speak more openly about her Latin heritage. "It gave me a voice I didn't always have before," Ryan says. "I always knew I was different, especially in ballet, but didn't often talk about it."</p>
Jayme Thornton for Pointe
Maria Kochetkova on How COVID-19 Affected Her Freelance Career, and Her New Home at Finnish National Ballet
When international star Maria Kochetkova embarked on a freelance career three years ago, she never envisioned how a global pandemic would affect it. In 2018, the Russian-born ballerina left the security of San Francisco Ballet, a company she called home for more than a decade, for the globe-trotting life of a guest star. Before the pandemic, Kochetkova managed her own performing schedule and was busier than ever, enjoying artistic freedom and expanding her creative horizons. This all changed in March 2020, when she saw her booming career—and her jet-setting lifestyle—change almost overnight.
After months of uncertainty, Kochetkova landed at Finnish National Ballet, where she is a principal dancer for the 2020–21 season. Pointe spoke with her about her time during the quarantine and what helped her to get through it, her new life in Helsinki, and what keeps her busy and motivated these days.
Kochetkova, Michal Krčmář and Alfio Drago in "Le Corsaire" at Finnish National Ballet
Roosa Oksaharju, Courtesy Finnish National Ballet
Despite major pandemic shutdowns in New York City, Alexandra Hutchinson has been HIIT-ing her stride. Between company class with Dance Theater of Harlem and projects like the viral video "Dancing Through Harlem"—which she co-directed with roommate and fellow DTH dancer Derek Brockington—Hutchinson has still found time to cross-train. She shares her motivation behind her killer high-intensity interval training at Studio IX on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
Viktoria Maley, Courtesy DTH