Ballet Stars

Houston Ballet's Linnar Looris and Jared Matthews to Lead Estonian National Ballet

Houston Ballet's Yuriko Kajiya and Linnar Looris in "The Merry Widow." Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy of Houston Ballet.

With Houston Ballet's Sunday performance of Marie, the company bade farewell not only to its spring season, but to two of its most beloved leading men: principal Jared Matthews and first soloist Linnar Looris each took their final bows on the Wortham Theater Center stage. Both men will travel soon to Estonia, where they will work together to lead the Estonian National Ballet, with Looris serving as the company's artistic director and Matthews as the assistant to the artistic director.


For Looris, this is a homecoming—his ballet story began in his native Estonia, where he first started his training at the Tallinn Ballet School, located in the nation's capital. Before joining Houston Ballet as a first soloist, Looris danced for several years as a principal with the Estonian National Ballet. He will now step in to replace Thomas Edur as the artistic director of the company.

Matthews will work closely with Looris, serving as the company's assistant to the artistic director. For Matthews, the venture to Estonia will take him far from home. A Houston native, he began his training at the Ballet Center of Houston, finally returning to Texas to dance with the Houston Ballet after a long career as a soloist with American Ballet Theatre. But Matthews seems excited at the prospect of working abroad.

"I've had a great career," says Matthews in a statement. "I'm looking forward to being in front of the room helping dancers achieve their goals and dreams, as my teachers and coaches did for me."

Ballet Stars

What do Diana Vishneva, Olga Smirnova, Kristina Shapran and Maria Khoreva all have in common? These women, among the most impressive talents to graduate from the Vaganova Ballet Academy in recent years, all studied under legendary professor Lyudmila Kovaleva. Kovaleva, a former dancer with the Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky), is beloved by her students and admired throughout the ballet world for her ability to pull individuality and artistry out of the dancers she trains. Like any great teacher, Kovaleva is remarkably generous with her wealth of knowledge; it seems perfect, then, that she appears as the Fairy of Generosity in this clip from a 1964 film of the Kirov's The Sleeping Beauty.

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Sponsored by BLOCH
Courtesy BLOCH

Today's ballet dancer needs a lot from a pointe shoe. "What I did 20 years ago is not what these dancers are doing now," says New York City Ballet shoe manager Linnette Roe. "They are expected to go harder, longer days. They are expected to go from sneakers, to pointe shoes, to character shoes, to barefoot and back to pointe shoes all in a day."

The team at BLOCH developed their line of Stretch Pointe shoes to address dancer's most common complaints about the fit and performance of their pointe shoes. "It's a scientific take on the pointe shoe," says Roe. Dancers are taking notice and Stretch Pointe shoes are now worn by stars like American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, who stars in BLOCH's latest campaign for the shoes.

We dug into the details of Stretch Pointe's most game-changing features:

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Ballet Careers
Ali Cameron, Courtesy Queensland Ballet

An artistic director's position was far from Li Cunxin's mind when the Brisbane-based Queensland Ballet came calling in 2012. Since his retirement from the stage in 1999, the Chinese-Australian dancer had embarked on a highly successful career at the helm of a stockbroking firm. His wife, former dancer and current Queensland ballet mistress Mary McKendry Li, changed his mind, Li remembers. "She said, 'Wouldn't it be nice to give something back to the art form that we both have benefited so much from?' "

Seven years later, Li's contribution has been dramatic. Queensland Ballet, once a struggling choreographer-led company, has become one of Australia's most exciting repertoire ensembles, with Liam Scarlett on board as artistic associate. The budget has more than quadrupled, to over $20 million USD, and Li has launched not one but three major construction projects, with world-class headquarters, a theater and a new academy all in progress.

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News
Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've rounded up some highlights.

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