New York Theatre Ballet's Giulia Faria and Joshua Andino-Nieto in Merce Cunningham's Scramble. Julie Lemberger, Courtesy NYTB.

Standout Performances of 2019: Audience Favorites

Over the past 12 days, we've been releasing our Standout Performances of 2019. Now, just hours before 2019 comes to an end, we're sharing what our readers loved this year. We were flooded with responses, so we're highlighting 10 of your submissions (plus an extra 15 honorable mentions). Read on for Pointe readers' favorite companies, casts and dancers. And lastly, a huge thank you to all who shared their favorites with us.


Ballet West Principals Beckanne Sisk and Chase O'Connell in John Cranko's "Onegin"

"Ballet West's Onegin with Beckanne Sisk and Chase O'Connell in April of this year was the most amazing show I've seen in recent memory. I wish I had bought tickets for every night of the show. They should be recognized for a truly beautiful and breathtaking performance." —Maribeth

New York Theatre Ballet in Merce Cunningham's "Scramble"

"I loved New York Theatre Ballet's performance of Merce Cunningham's Scramble at Danspace Project last March." —Susan

Complexions' Tatiana Melendez and Simon Plant in "Bach 25" and "Woke"

"This past February I was so impressed by Complexions' Bach 25 and Woke, which had their New York premieres at The Joyce Theater. Tatiana Melendez and Simon Plant impressed me the most." —Maria

Cincinnati Ballet Soloist Joshua Stayton in The Kaplan New Works Series

"Cincinnati Ballet soloist Joshua Stayton's performance at The Kaplan New Works Series in September was just amazing. His performance in Neat by Taylor Carrasco was so emotional that it brought me to tears. His performance in Swivet by Andrea Schermoly was so energetic that you felt your heart was going to burst from excitement. He is a wonderful dancer that brings so much emotion to all of his work that he brings the story of the choreography alive." —Liliane

Charlotte Ballet in Christian Spuck's "Leonce and Lena"

"My favorite performance of 2019 was definitely Leonce and Lena performed by Charlotte Ballet. It was my first time seeing a true avant-garde European ballet in America; very different and very contemporary." —Will

Bolshoi Ballet Principal Artemy Belyakov in "Spartacus"

"Without a doubt, the Bolshoi's performance of Spartacus in August at the Royal Opera House. Artemy Belyakov as Crassus blew me away!" —Euphane

The Black Iris Project's Houston, Texas Debut

The Black Iris Project in A Mother's Rite

Courtesy Black Iris Project

"The Black Iris Project is black excellence. Sitting through this ballet, I felt Jeremy McQueen's passion. He created beautiful and thought-provoking pieces which encompassed issues that exist in the black community. My two favorite pieces were A Mother's Rite and What Lies Within. These pieces shed light on topics people generally overlook, like grief and self acceptance." —Cortney

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Corps de Ballet Dancer Jonathan Breight in "The Nutcracker"

"Jonathan Breight, a corps member with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, for his performance of the Nutcracker Prince in The Nutcracker. It is his first year in the corps, and he performed a principal role with true artistry and pure technique. He is involved in the PBT community, even teaching for the school. He truly deserves recognition as he inspires all his fellow dancers and students, and is a good role model and humble." —Jennifer

Ballet Austin in Stephen Mills' "Grimm Tales"

Jordan Moser, Courtesy Ballet Austin

"Ballet Austin's Grimm Tales, choreographed by artistic director Stephen Mills and featuring the work of visual artist Natalie Frank. The ultimate collaboration between artists and the first ballet funded by the Butler New Choreography Endowment." —Anne

Arch Ballet in Sheena Annalise's "Two Steps Backward"

"Take notice of this creative ballet company, Arch Ballet. The director, Sheena Annalise is forward-thinking to say the least. She has mixed her performances with various classical techniques and modern philosophies to draw the audience into the beauty, message, form, style and pace with a truth to give you pause. I am honored to nominate their November performance of Two Steps Backward at Abrons Theatre in New York City." —Mariam

Other Favorites

Royal Danish Ballet in Gregory Dean's Cinderella

New York City Ballet principal Lauren Lovette in Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering

Smuin Ballet's The Christmas Ballet

The Royal Ballet and Company Wayne McGregor in Wayne McGregor's The Dante Project (Inferno)

New Adventures's James Lovell in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake

Boston Ballet's Full on Forsythe program

Francesca Hayward in the film Romeo and Juliet: Beyond Words

Colorado Ballet in Septime Webre's Wizard of Oz

American Ballet Theatre soloists Catherine Hurlin and Aran Bell in Jessica Lang's Let Me Sing Forevermore

Ballet Magnificat in Jiri Sebastian Voborsky's Deliver Us!

Sergei Polunin in Romeo and Juliet, Rasputin and Satori

English National Ballet in Akram Khan's Giselle

Sacramento Ballet in Amy Seiwert's The Nutcracker

The Royal Ballet principal Marianela Nuñez as Kitri, Juliet and Manon

East Coast Contemporary Ballet's Unveiled program

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The author, Lucy Van Cleef, dancing Balanchine's Serenade at Los Angeles Ballet. Reed Hutchinson, Courtesy Los Angeles Ballet

My 12-Year Journey to a Bachelor’s Degree While Dancing Professionally

If you'd have told me in 2009 that it would take 12 years to earn my bachelor's degree, I never would have believed you. Back then, I was a dancer in my early 20s and in my second year with Los Angeles Ballet. I was used to the straightforward demands of the professional ballet world. I knew that hard work and willpower were the currency you paid in the studio, and that the thrill of live performance made all that investment worth it. What I didn't know then is how life's twists and turns aren't always so straightforward. In hindsight, I can see how my winding road to higher education has strengthened me—and my relationship with the ballet world—more than I ever could have imagined.

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Margaret Severin-Hansen, teaches class at Carolina Ballet's summer intensive. Cindy McEnery, Courtesy Carolina Ballet

7 Tips for Making the Most of Your Summer Intensive

Last summer many intensives were canceled or online-only. And the past school year has been spotty and strange for many, as well. All the more reason to look forward to an in-person summer program this year with excitement—but also, perhaps, some nerves. Take heart, says Simon Ball, men's program coordinator at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. "Once you get there the first day, all those fears will be relieved."

Here, Ball and two other experts share their advice for how to make the most of this precious opportunity to dive deep into dance—and how to handle complications that may get in the way, like injury and drama.

1. Show Off...Your Work Ethic

Summer intensives offer a preview of company life: You'll be dancing in a variety of styles over the course of the day, and all day, everyday. But that doesn't mean you have to be company-ready on day one! Though the first day may be filled with placement classes, try not to approach every class as an audition. "This year has taught us that the work is the important thing," says Ball. "Let go of trying to impress. The best impression I ever receive as a teacher is when I see someone receptive to doing things differently, even if that means taking one step backwards initially, to be able to take two steps forward by the end of the summer."

Angelica Generosa, a principal with Pacific Northwest Ballet, clearly made a splash during her first of three summers at the Chautauqua Institution's School of Dance. At 14, she was cast to dance the pas de deux from Balanchine's Stars and Stripes in the final performance. Generosa describes her younger self as "very eager." She'll be a guest teacher at Chautauqua this summer, and says that a similar eagerness catches her attention: "Dedication, and willingness to try. That twinkle in the eyes when a step is really challenging."

2. Make Friends

Even if friends from your year-round school will be with you this summer, branch out. During breaks at the studio, you may be tempted to spend time on your phone. "Take your headphones off," suggests Margaret Severin-Hansen, director of Carolina Ballet's summer intensive. "Share that ballet video with the person sitting next to you! Their eyes might see it differently; you could learn something. Or find that you have other things in common, too."

Do things outside the studio, too, even if your social circle is limited for safety reasons to a "pod" of classmates. "Sign up for activities," says Generosa. Go on that weekend shopping trip, or out for ice cream. "Be open," she says. "These are people you might see along the way in your future."

Simon Ballet, wearing dark clothing, is shown from behind demonstrating ecart\u00e9 arms while in front of him, a class of teenage ballet students perform d\u00e9velopp\u00e9 ecart\u00e9 devant on pointe in a medium-size studio. The dancers, all girls, wear leotards, pink tights and pointe shoes.

Simon Ball leads class at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.

Courtesy CPYB

3. Stay Healthy

"The first week is tough—you're going to be sore," says Ball. "Prepare yourself." He means that literally. Before your program begins, ramp up cross-training, especially cardio to build your stamina. Severin-Hansen recommends you also keep dancing. It no longer matters that your regular school might be on break: We now know it's possible to take virtual classes from home or in a rented studio. If you're on pointe, make sure to put the shoes on every day, at the very least for some relevés. Keep the skin on your toes tough; the last thing you want is to be sidelined by blisters.

If you are recovering from an injury or managing something persistent like tendonitis, take action even further in advance. Find out if your intensive provides access to physical therapy, and if not, make a plan before you leave home. Learn exercises and massage techniques that you can do on your own, and ask about virtually checking in with your regular doctor or PT. Once you arrive, says Ball, communicate with your instructors. "Chances are it's a common ballet injury that teachers understand. They'll be able to help you."

During her summer intensives, Generosa often suffered flare-ups of inflammation. "I knew the tendonitis in my knees was from over turning out, and in my ankles from lifting my heels in plié." She was able to alleviate some of her pain by dancing more thoughtfully, addressing those habits. She also got creative about taking care of her tendons during off-hours. "I basically did ice baths in Chautauqua Lake."

4. Deal With Disappointment Constructively

Whether you're placed in a lower level than you'd like or were hoping for a soloist role that went to someone else, disappointment is understandable. Try, on your part, to understand too. The faculty may believe you'll thrive more in that particular group, or see a technical issue better solved by not pushing you too fast. If you're not sure exactly what you should be working on, ask. "Trust that you can make the most of your experience, whatever level you're in," says Ball. "Don't be afraid of the conversation."

5. Avoid Drama

Competition is inevitable, but unproductive competition is unnecessary, and bullying unacceptable. Severin-Hansen lays down a very clear guideline: "Nobody should ever feel uncomfortable." If you hear or see anything that bothers you—whether directed at you or someone else—don't hesitate to speak up. "If there's even one person creating drama, you feel it in the class. Summer is short. There's no room for that." Tell the resident advisor in the dorms, or bring the problem to the school administration.

Angelica Generosa performs an arabessque elong\u00e9 on pointe while her partner stands behind her holding her waist and with his left leg in tendu. She holds her left hand on her hip and extends her right arm out to the side with her palm up. Angelica wears a purple leotard, black tights and a white Romantic tutu while Kyle wears a yellow shirt, black tights and tan slippers.

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Angelica Generosa (shown here in rehearsal with Kyle Davis) made notes of corrections she'd received and variations she'd worked on during her summer intensives to help retain what she had learned.

Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB

6. Fuel the Long Day

Depending on your housing arrangement this summer, you may be on your own for buying or preparing your own meals. Generosa recalls her first time living in a dorm and eating cafeteria food: "I wanted to try everything: pizza, chicken tenders, the salad bar, the dessert section—that was also my introduction to coffee." She found, however, that caffeine and sugar rushes would give way to energy crashes, and soon enough her better knowledge prevailed. "I told myself, 'Angelica, get your protein, vegetables, complex carbs—the right kind of energy.'"

Masking requirements may make snacking at the studios slightly more difficult. Nonetheless, there will almost certainly be somewhere you can safely have a nibble in between classes, whether that's a dancers' lounge or socially distanced in the studio itself. Make sure you always have something with you that's easy to munch on during breaks. Ball recommends protein bars or fruits and veggies. "Hydrating is huge," he adds, and suggests bringing packets of powdered electrolyte supplements to add to your water.

7. Retain Corrections

Take a moment each evening, Severin-Hansen advises, to write a few things down. "Say the whole class got a general correction, like 'Use your head.' The person who takes notes will think about it: 'When could I have used my head?' It's all about how you come back the next day and improve."

Generosa set a goal for herself to get better every day. To accomplish this, she would stay late to practice, she says, "so my body could adjust to what I was trying to achieve in that class." If you're inclined to follow her example, ask a friend to practice with you. You can film each other to get a glimpse of your own progress.

At the end of her Chautauqua summers, Generosa made notes of some things she had worked on and which variations she'd learned. "Then it wasn't like I left and that was that. I brought the summer experience with me, for my whole year."

Michael Cousmano, AKA Madame Olga. Courtesy When I'm Her

New Documentary "When I’m Her" Shows How Madame Olga’s Positive Affirmations Can Transform Ballet

Michael "Mikey" Cusumano was a rising star at American Ballet Theatre in the 1990s, joining the company at 15 years old and dancing principal roles by age 16. But the high pressure of ballet proved detrimental to his emotional and mental well-being. "I couldn't find the joy in ballet anymore," says Cusumano.

After 10 years as a professional ballet dancer, Cusumano transitioned to Broadway, where his alter ego, a sparkly-turban–wearing Russian ballet instructor named Madame Olga, was able to fully emerge. In Madame Olga, Cusumano became the ballet teacher he wished he had growing up. While Olga's classes feature the same technical rigor as any other intermediate-advanced ballet class, they also incorporate her signature humor and positive affirmations. It's common for Madame Olga's students to vocalize those affirmations while dancing (for example, saying "love" out loud while doing an adagio combination).

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