The first time I saw Sleeping Beauty was on video, the Kirov version with Larissa Lezhnina. The music for the first entrance gave me butter- flies. Aurora comes out, and it captured my heart. Larissa coached me for my first sea- son of Aurora, and just the fact that we were sharing the same studio—I couldn't get over it. One of the things she encouraged me to explore is after Aurora faints: You get back up, you look up at your parents and re- center yourself. For me, what feels natural is that you don't want anyone to worry. Maybe there is a moment where you get a little embarrassed. It's those small moments that make it feel very personal to me.


I always hear that Aurora is not a very dramatic role. I disagree—she has to go through a distinct transformation. To capture that 16-year-old essence, I think about when I was 16, which is when I started as an apprentice at SFB, and felt like a child acting like an adult. Aurora has moments of innocence and tenderness, but she finds her voice and her independence as a woman.

Doing my first Rose Adagio onstage, I was very, very nervous. I stepped up for the first attitude and I got super-scared, and I thought, You've done the work. You can do it. Then I trusted my body to do what I had to do. I ask my suitors to give me 10 minutes before the curtain goes up, and we try the attitude balances, the promenades and pirouettes. It's all about where they offer their hand—if it's in the wrong place, I just have to power through. But I try as much as possible to not have much weight on them at all, so that when I release the hand it's not a huge change.

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

What I've always loved about Sleeping Beauty is how closely the music is linked with the choreography. In Aurora's first-act variation, she goes through a series of hops on pointe, and at the end of the Rose Adagio there's an arpeggio when she does a series of bourrées to fifth position. That's her youth and exuberance, and then she reins it back in before the diagonal of pirouettes. In the second act there needs to be this ethereal, romantic quality in order to show her maturity, so the wedding will make sense. Creating that arc has been the biggest challenge.

I don't like to watch the Prologue—if I'm already drawn into the story, my entrance doesn't feel fresh. I stay in my own world up until the first act begins, and I visualize my birthday party. It's all about tricking yourself.

Regardless of what I'm dancing, I always take a clean, proper ballet class in the morning. I never skip that, ever. And every single class I practice my attitude balance.

TIP: "Eye contact is very empowering. In the Rose Adagio, eye contact helps me be present with my suitors, versus concentrated on what I have to do. Your energy gets into sync."

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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