Ballet Stars

Eight Companies, One Iconic Choreographer: Inside Rehearsals for New York City Center’s Balanchine Festival

Wendy Whelan leads a crowded morning class. "The energy was amazing," she says. "Among the visiting companies, there was such a shared respect and friendliness toward each other." Kyle Froman.

On a crisp day in late October, the studio air is thick and hot as dozens of sweaty dancers finish up grand allégro at New York City Center. Despite the fact that many of them are jet-lagged, there is a palpable, positive energy throughout the studio. Teaching class is former New York City Ballet star Wendy Whelan, which seems fitting. The dancers, culled from eight major companies around the world, are getting ready for opening night of Balanchine: The City Center Years, a five-day festival highlighting the choreographer George Balanchine's early works.


NYCB was officially founded at City Center in 1948, 16 years before the company moved into its current, much larger home at Lincoln Center. Some of Balanchine's most groundbreaking works, such as 1957's Agon, were created while the company was in residence there. To celebrate its 75th-anniversary season and its place in dance history, City Center invited eight companies—American Ballet Theatre, The Joffrey Ballet, Mariinsky Ballet, Miami City Ballet, NYCB, Paris Opéra Ballet, The Royal Ballet and San Francisco Ballet—to showcase 13 Balanchine ballets over six programs. Each troupe prepared one to two ballets for the festival, ranging from modernist (The Four Temperaments, Agon) to classical (Divertimento No. 15, Symphony in C) to sweepingly lyrical (Serenade).

The event had New York City audiences buzzing with excitement, but it couldn't compare with the excitement of the dancers themselves. "I have friends here from all over the place, even some who I know only from Instagram," says Mariinsky Ballet principal Xander Parish. "This brings us all together and makes the ballet world even smaller."

Pointe went behind the scenes with the dancers to capture the festival's final preparations.

Mariinsky principals Kimin Kim and Viktoria Tereshkina run through Balanchine's 1960 Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux.

Photography by Kyle Froman

The Conversation
Ballet Training
Via Burst

I'm a ballet dancer of 13 years, but I only got serious about it a few years ago, and very recently realized that I might want to pursue ballet professionally. I've contemplated auditioning for several prestigious pre-professional programs. But now I'm a junior in high school, so I'm worried it's too late. Should I still go for it, or am I better off staying at my current studio and going to college? —Lexi

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The Royal Ballet's Vadim Muntagirov and Marianela Nuñez in La Bayadère. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy ROH.

Do you ever wish you could teleport to London and casually stroll into The Royal Opera House to see some of the world's best-loved ballets? Well, we have a solution for you: The Royal Ballet's 2018-19 cinema season.

Whether live or recorded, the seven ballet programs listed below, streaming now through next October, will deliver all of the magic that The Royal Ballet has to offer straight to your local movie theater. Can you smell the popcorn already?

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Ballet Stars
Tetsuya Kumakawa, via YouTube

Tetsuya Kumakawa, a former principal with The Royal Ballet and the founder and artistic director of K-Ballet in Tokyo, could make an audience gasp with his wildly powerful and inventive allegro. A boyish, dare-devil dancer, Kumakawa was a natural fit for roles like Franz in Coppélia. Watching him in this clip of Franz's Act I variation, it seems Kumakawa must have some sort of gravity-defying DNA.

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Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Your teacher at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Marcia Dale Weary, recently passed away. What impact did she have on you?

I feel deeply indebted to her. She shaped my life's course, and I know that were it not for her, I would not be living out my dream today. She led by example through her remarkable commitment to her work, as well as her genuine kindness and generosity.

You were a trainee with San Francisco Ballet. What was that experience like?

It was an exposure to different schools of thought. We were mostly in the full-lengths, and watching run-throughs of Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote was revolutionary for me. But I was young and far away from home. That transition was hard. My body started changing. It wanted to be fleshy. Biology is cruel in that way. I desperately wanted to fit in, but it wasn't meant to be.

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