National Ballet of Canada's "The Sleeping Beauty"

The National Ballet of Canada launched its 2009/10 hometown season on November 13 by reviving its long-serving production of The Sleeping Beauty, first staged for the company in 1972 by former Soviet defector and ballet superstar Rudolf Nureyev.

A capacity audience at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre opera house gave opening night leads Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté a justly deserved ovation. There was equal applause for those in supporting roles, notably Bluebird pas de deux couple Sonia Rodriguez and Keiichi Hirano and for Principal Fairy Bridgett Zehr.

Zehr joined NBC from Houston Ballet in 2006 and was made a principal earlier this year. Her incandescent stage presence, extraordinary musicality and true ballerina poise soon made her an NBC audience favorite. Thus the fans were out in strength on November 15 to see Zehr’s debut as Princess Aurora and she did not disappoint them. Where Ogden offers a high spirited princess eagerly on the brink of womanhood, Zehr’s portrayal suggests a more tentative, fragile nature, though one that gains in self-confidence as the drama unfolds.

NBC’s Nureyev production has sometimes been criticized for demoting the Lilac Fairy to a purely mime role — he stole some of her music to give the prince more dancing — and for omitting Tchaikovsky’s musical apotheosis. Yet, as other companies have kept fiddling around with their Sleeping Beauty productions, NBC has stuck with Nureyev’s because its virtues far outweigh its shortcomings. It is now a beloved company heirloom.

Designer Nicholas Georgiadis’ sets and costumes, evoking the courtly grandeur of France’s “Sun King,” Louis XIV, are opulently spectacular, the more so since being given a $700,000 refurbishment in 2006. Although some of the choreography he created for his own role as Prince Florimund seems overly fussy, Nureyev’s general handling of Marius Petipa’s 1890 St. Petersburg masterwork is respectful and dramatically plausible. The geometrics of the major set pieces for the female corps are splendid and the cascade of brilliant variations that fill the ballet, from the Prologue’s fairies through to Act III’s divertissements and grand pas de deux for Florimund and the awakened Aurora, are technically dazzling.

NBC artistic director Karen Kain has a strong attachment to this production. It was her spring board to international stardom more than 30 years ago and now, as the person responsible for staging it, Kain, aided by an artistic staff that also knows the ballet well, pays meticulous attention to every detail. As a result, NBC’s Sleeping Beauty remains among its most fully accomplished productions.

Ballet Training
Hortense Millet-Maurin (third from left) and her classmates perform August Bournonville's La Conservatoire. Svetlana Loboff, Courtesy POB.

As a little girl, Hortense Millet-Maurin fell in love with the wide spiral staircase that dominates the center of the Paris Opéra Ballet School. Today, as a focused 15-year-old POB student, she and her classmate Vincent Vivet navigate the school's spacious architecture on a daily basis. In a hallway strewn with foam rollers and tennis balls, their faces are laced with concentration as they prepare alongside their peers for afternoon ballet class. Color-coded uniforms reflect Vivet's and Millet-Maurin's third division; with only two advanced divisions remaining, they are increasingly close to realizing their professional aspirations: joining the Paris Opéra Ballet. Pointe spoke with these two young dancers to see what it's like studying inside the world's oldest ballet academy.

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Sponsored by Ballet Arizona
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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Ballet Training
Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of The School at Steps.

If you're feeling wobbly in adagio or wish you could hold your piqué attitude a bit longer, there are ways to assess and improve your balance. Try these four exercises, recommended by Heather Southwick, Boston Ballet's director of physical therapy.

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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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