Ballet Stars

Standout Performances of 2019: San Francisco Opera's Corps de Ballet in "Rusalka"

Beth Maslinoff, Rachel Little and Jackie McConnell in San Francisco Opera's Rusalka. Cory Weaver, Courtesy San Francisco Opera

There was a special surprise for ballet lovers hidden in San Francisco Opera's June production of Antonín Dvořák's tragic fairy tale Rusalka: a magical five-minute dance that celebrated and sent up the fairies, sylphs and swans of the Romantic era. Most of SFO's productions offer small roles for the company's talented corps dancers, who hail from companies like Smuin Contemporary Ballet and Post:Ballet. But in Rusalka's Act II ballroom scene, the ensemble got well-deserved center stage and brought the house down with historically detailed, hilarious choreography created by Andrew George and staged by SFO dance master Lawrence Pech.


SFO solo dancers Rachel Speidel Little and Christopher Nachtrab led the fanfare as a prototypical prince and princess. Their pas de deux was soon crowded out by a swirling ensemble of ballerinas in long tulle tutus, colorful waist ribbons and fairy wings, evoking Marie Taglioni's arm-crossed Sylphide, Carlotta Grisi's sorrowful Wili and Pierina Legnani's heartbroken Odette in a series of balletic inside jokes. As Dvořák's tempo built to its crescendo, the dancers delivered their campy portraits faster and faster, leaping, weeping, collapsing and high-kicking until the wings came off and the audience was roaring.

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Are you a total bunhead who loves to write? You might be the perfect fit for Pointe. We're seeking an editorial intern who's equally passionate about ballet and journalism.

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Rachel Neville, Courtesy Ellison Ballet

If you've got your heart set on dancing for, say, San Francisco Ballet, you should attend a school that specializes in Balanchine, right? Not necessarily: It's actually a misconception that you have to train in a particular style or technique in order to pursue a career in that style. Ellison Ballet in New York City—which specializes in Vaganova technique—is living proof: Graduates of Ellison's year-round program and summer intensives go on to ballet companies that perform in a wide range of styles, and use what they've learned from Vaganova to land jobs.

Here are five reasons why studying Vaganova technique can actually make you a sought-after dancer for any number of ballet companies:

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Karina González in Ben Stevenson's Coppélia. Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

Are you more of a Giselle or a Juliet?

I've always said that my favorite role is Juliet, because of her vulnerability and maturity throughout the ballet. But now that I've performed Giselle, I find her so incredibly enjoyable, from being a village girl who falls in love for the first time to the most tender, almost weightless dancing in Act II.

Are you more at home in the studio or onstage?

I love the time in the studio. The process of starting from zero to getting better each day is so rewarding. My favorite phrase in rehearsals is "Let's do it again, so I can sleep in peace tonight." I need to feel so comfortable in the studio so that when I am onstage there are no bad surprises.

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Dancers certainly don't need anyone to tell them how physical their profession is. But now, we have the data to prove it.

Researchers at InsuranceProviders.com analyzed data from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), a national organization developed through support from the U.S. Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration, to determine the 20 most physically demanding jobs in the country. They analyzed the level of strength, stamina, flexibility and coordination required for a host of jobs, and each category was assigned

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