Summer Intensive Diary: Dancing in the Heat Wave

This summer, Pointe is taking a peek inside the Joffrey Ballet's International Summer Intensive with guest blogs from dancer Rachel Davis of New Jersey.

 

July fourth marked the midway point of the Joffrey Chicago Program! We had the holiday off so we went to the beach, then to  Navy Pier to see the fireworks.

 

Since this summer has more students in the program than ever before, Joffrey had to rent out an additional studio at 218 Wabash, referred to as “218,” and our level was there last week. Although 218 isn't nearly as spacious and the air-conditioner isn't always on (it's too loud), I actually like 218. The hot air makes me sweat more so I feel like I’ve gotten a full workout at the end of the day. It also heats my muscles faster and keeps them warm.

 

On Monday and Tuesday, our teacher was Suzanne Lopez, a former Joffrey dancer. She was amazing! Her class was more basic than others I’ve taken here, but that’s something I appreciate. I was able to focus on the small steps and details that usually get overlooked when you're doing more complicated combinations. Sometimes in class I feel as though I’m so focused on getting the steps correctly that I lose the freedom to feel the music and just dance. During one combination, we had to arabesque, rond de jambe and then do another arabesque on the opposite side. Ms. Lopez corrected me by saying that I can lift and open my chest more during the arabesques, showing my love for dance. She also gave a universal correction that I really liked: When doing a soutenu, imagine it as a zipper. I'd never thought of that before! I really wish I could have her again.

 

We also started our second ballet repertory piece last week. Ours has a character twist, we get to carry handkerchiefs and have braids in our hair! I can't wait to see what's in store for our last two weeks.

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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