Ballet Stars

Boston Ballet's Misa Kuranaga on Her Favorite Role and How She Stays Motivated in the Studio

Rosalie O'Connor; Courtesy Boston Ballet

What comes naturally to you?
My emotion onstage. I don't have the ideal ballerina body, so I have to move to prove myself. My strength is that I can work hard and I don't think it's hard; I enjoy it.

You went to the School of American Ballet after your apprenticeship at San Francisco Ballet. Did that experience change you?
Hugely. I had coordination and could do some tricks, but no basic technique. I came to the United States from Japan and hit the wall. What do you do? You have to fix it. SAB gave me confidence to be a dancer because I was able to fix myself.


Is there a skill you've acquired that you're particularly proud of?
I had no turnout when I came to the U.S.; that's partly why I wasn't rehired by San Francisco Ballet. American companies care about that so much, everyone has an amazing way of using their feet. I really admired that. SAB gave me turnout and footwork—I'm still working on it every day.

How do you prepare for the rehearsal day?
I take class as a training session, not just to warm up. I'm always close to the mirror, side view, checking my turnout and line to improve myself. If I see something, I fix it right away. If it doesn't come overnight, I fix it on a month plan or a year plan. That way I have a goal that motivates me every day. It's fun.

Do you have a favorite role?
My favorites are dramatic roles. I don't particularly like Kitri in Don Quixote because the story is shallow—you're just a happy girl. In Swan Lake you are half bird and half woman, depressed, and then this evil, deceptive creature. Tatiana, in Onegin, is such a shy girl, then she grows into a sophisticated married woman who has to reject her real passion. Those things are so deep, so interesting.

Are there performances or dancers you return to for inspiration?
Gelsey Kirkland's Nutcracker or Theme and Variations. Natalia Makarova. Misha Baryshnikov is still my favorite male dancer.

What is it like working with your coach, Larissa Ponomarenko?
It's really fulfilling. She's about my height, and because of that, she wasn't always the first one to be chosen. Larissa mastered how to make herself look big and long, and she teaches me all that. It's a treasure.

Ballet Careers
Sisters Isabella Shaker and Alexandra Pullen. Photo Courtesy Alexandra Pullen.

This is the second in a series of articles this month about ballet siblings.

My mom was in the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. A generation later, so was I. As if that's not enough for one family, my younger sister Isabella Shaker dreams of following in our dancing footsteps. Her endeavor, and her status as somewhat of a child prodigy, stirs feelings of pride and apprehension within me, since I have lived through the ups and downs of this intense yet rewarding career.

Ballet will always be my first love and the thing that brings me the most joy, and my dance career has opened endless opportunities for me. However, it's a difficult career path that requires a lifelong dedication. It's super competitive and can lead to body image issues, physical injury and stress. Most dancers will face some of these problems; I definitely dealt with all three.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Jayme Thornton

It's National Bullying Prevention Month—and Houston Ballet breakout star Harper Watters is exactly the advocate young dancers facing bullying need. Watters is no novice when it comes to slaying on social media, but his Bullying Prevention Month collaboration with Teen Vogue and Instagram is him at his most raw, speaking about his own experiences with bullies, and how his love of dance helped him to overcome adversity. Watters even penned an incredible op-ed for Teen Vogue's website, where he talks candidly about growing up queer. Catch his amazing anti-bullying video here—and, as Watters says, "Stay fabulous, stay flawless, stay flexible, but most importantly, stay fearless."

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News
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

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