Living Doll

Of all the full-length classical ballets, Coppélia charms audiences with humor above everything else. The ballet tells the tale of Swanilda and Franz, who are engaged to be married. When Franz falls for a doll, Swanilda impersonates it, and mayhem ensues. Here, Texas Ballet Theater’s Jayme Autrey Griffith offers her thoughts on the lead role, which she will reprise when the company presents Ben Stevenson’s Coppélia September 21-23 in Fort Worth. For more:  www.texasballettheater.org
—Jocelyn Anderson

The role of Swanilda is special to me because when I was in the academy at Houston Ballet, I got to be the Coppélia doll and switch spots with the principals. Then when I moved to Texas Ballet Theater in 2003, Swanilda was my very first role with the company.

It was pretty easy for me to portray that character because that was who I was. I was only 17 or 18 when I did it. She’s naïve, daring and adventurous, kind of a flirt. I acted like myself. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

I’m pretty intimidated to do it this next time. I’m kind of scared! Last time, I was a new face and no one knew me. Also, I was young and didn’t know any better. Now I’ve performed a lot more, people know me, and they expect something out of me. That adds to the pressure. And I’m not that young girl anymore. I’m married now. I’ve danced Cleopatra and things like that. So it adds a whole new dimension to it.

To go back and be that innocent girl, I have to pay attention to the acting a little more. I’m going to watch how I did it last time, because I think I was natural. But I can’t do the same thing, otherwise I haven’t improved at all. Also, I read a lot whenever I do a part. For Coppélia, I got the children’s books. They break down the story, and I can go through the ballet in my head, matching up some of the words in the books to the steps. Of course, there’s a lot of dancing too. You have all those variations—you want to die afterward—but they are so much fun. Then you save Franz and go into the wedding, when you dance the pas de deux. You’re still young and excited, but you’ve matured a little bit through the whole thing.”

Ballet Stars

For many a bunhead, "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" is not just a holiday tradition, but a rite of passage. The variation, with its tinkling celesta, bourrées and petit battus, is one that all ballet dancers are familiar with, and getting the opportunity to perform it often represents moving into new realms in your training or career. Such was the case for Soviet ballerina Ekaterina Maximova. In this 1957 clip, the 18-year-old aspirant performed the Sugar Plum variation at a ballet competition, where she represented the Bolshoi Ballet Academy.

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Tzu Chia Huang, Courtesy Ballet Arizona

These days, ballet dancers are asked to do more than they ever have—whether that's tackling versatile rep, taking on intense cross-training regimens or managing everything from their Instagram pages to their summer layoff gigs.

Without proper training, these demands can take a toll on both the mind and the body. But students can start preparing for them early—with the right summer intensive program.

The School of Ballet Arizona's summer intensive takes a well-rounded approach to training—not just focusing on technique and facility but nurturing overall dancer growth. "You cannot make a dancer just by screaming at them like they used to," says master ballet teacher Roberto Muñoz, who guests at the program every summer. "You have to take care of the person as well."

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For any young dancer performing in The Nutcracker, Marie (aka Clara, depending on the production) is a dream role. But Charlotte Nebres, who will be playing Marie in New York City Ballet's Nutcracker this year isn't just bringing her own dream to life—she's also making history.

Charlotte is the first black dancer to ever perform the role of Marie in NYCB's production of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, which dates all the way back to 1954. Charlotte was, of course, hugely excited to perform the role of Marie, but, according to the New York Times, when her mother told her that she was the first black dancer cast in the role, she said "Wow. That seems a little late."

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Courtesy School of Pennsylvania Ballet

While many of us are deep in Nutcracker duties, The School of Pennsylvania Ballet director James Payne has been looking further ahead, finalizing preparations for the school's summer intensive programs. In January, he and his staff will embark on a 24-city audition tour to scour the country for the best young dancers, deciding whether or not to offer them a spot—maybe even a scholarship—in the school's rigorous 5-week intensive focused on high-caliber ballet instruction. Though he'll be evaluating aspirants, he urges that as a student, you should be equally selective in choosing programs that could galvanize your training—and possibly even your career.

We got Payne's advice on strategizing your summer intensive plan before the audition cycle kicks in:

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