Ballet Stars

English National Ballet star Alina Cojocaru was still a Royal Ballet principal in 2006 when she guest-starred in the Mariinsky Ballet's production of The Sleeping Beauty. And as this clip of her Aurora proves, she is indeed a vision in Act II's dream scene. Dancing alongside Andrian Fadeyev and Daria Pavlenko as Prince Désiré and the Lilac Fairy, the Romanian ballerina has an air of otherworldly majesty.

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Ballet Stars
Cirio in English National Ballet's "Manon." Photo by Laurent Liotardo, courtesy English National Ballet.

Jeffrey Cirio's meteoric rise is what dreams are made of. A Pennsylvania native, he joined Boston Ballet in 2009 and quickly rose up the ranks to principal dancer by 2012. While he felt Boston was "home," he left to join American Ballet Theatre as a soloist in 2015, where he was promoted to principal after only one year. Now, after a four-month stint as a guest artist with English National Ballet last season, this all-American boy has joined the company as a full-time lead principal. It's hard to believe he's only 27.

Just a day after his performance as Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake with Alina Cojocaru last month, Cirio sat down with Pointe to give an update on his new life living and working in London.

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News
Los Angeles Ballet's Tigran Sargsyan and Petra Conti. LAB opens their fall season this week with a mixed bill including two company premieres. Photo by Reed Hutchinson, Courtesy LAB.

Fall for Dance FestivalWonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.

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Viral Videos
Bucharest National Ballet's 2013 trailer for "La Sylphide,' via YouTube

Few things are more powerful for promoting ballet performances than captivating trailers—especially in today's visually-focused, digitally-connected world.

We've rounded up some eye-catching ads from seasons past and present that not only make us wish we could have seen the show, but also stand alone as short films.

Bucharest National Opera's La Sylphide

Magnifying the scarf which—spoiler alert—brings about the ballet's tragic conclusion, this 2013 Bucharest National Opera's trailer turns that fateful fabric into a beautiful, deadly web. Its windswept movements form a dance of its own.

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Just for fun
Bucharest National Ballet's 2013 trailer for "La Sylphide,' via YouTube

Few things are more powerful for promoting ballet performances than captivating trailers—especially in today's visually-focused, digitally-connected world.

We've rounded up some eye-catching ads from seasons past and present that not only make us wish we could have seen the show, but also stand alone as short films.

Bucharest National Opera's La Sylphide

Magnifying the scarf which—spoiler alert—brings about the ballet's tragic conclusion, this 2013 Bucharest National Opera's trailer turns that fateful fabric into a beautiful, deadly web. Its windswept movements form a dance of its own.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars

We've all dreamt of it: dancing a romantic pas de deux with your real-life love interest. Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg have done it countless times as one of ballet's most beloved on- and offstage couples. In this immaculate 2003 performance with The Royal Ballet, where they were then principals, their chemistry brings magic to their roles in Sir Frederick Ashton's Cinderella.


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Cojocaru and ENB first soloist Junor Souza in ENB's Nutcracker. Photo courtesy of John Ross

In this clip from The Royal Ballet's 2000 production of The Nutcracker, a 19-year-old Alina Cojocaru, now a principal with the English National Ballet, does the near impossible: she makes Clara's adoration for a nutty-looking wooden doll appear genuine. Cojocaru aptly navigates the role's acting challenges: Clara must have both girlish innocence and womanly poise. She's old enough to dance with the adults, but her imagination—with its capacity to fall for dolls and later conjure gargantuan trees and exotic lands—is untamed by age. Cojocaru's winsome smiles and earnest expressions, her commitment to the emotional ups and downs (not to mention her already pristinely-polished technique) make for a convincing Clara.

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Johan Kobborg and Alina Cojocaru in Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Elliott Franks, via Instagram

When Johan Kobborg took over as artistic director of the Romanian National Ballet after retiring from The Royal Ballet in 2013, he vowed to heighten the Bucharest-based company’s profile. Now, Kobborg and his longtime fiancée, Romanian-born English National Ballet star Alina Cojocaru, are getting ready to introduce the company to New York City audiences. Tomorrow night, they are hosting the World Ballet Stars gala at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall, a fundraising event for the Romanian National Ballet that features eight of its top dancers alongside a stellar lineup of international guest artists.

 

I, for one, can’t wait to see this much talent in one place. Joining the company onstage will be English National Ballet’s Tamara Rojo and Isaac Hernandez, the Mariinsky Ballet’s Ulyana Lopatkina (dancing her world-famous rendition of The Dying Swan), New York City Ballet’s Daniel Ulbricht, American Ballet Theatre’s Daniil Simkin, Stuttgart Ballet’s Friedemann Vogel and Norwegian National Ballet’s Osiel Gouneo.

 

In a 2014 video, Kobborg praised his dancers, saying, “We have so much to offer, and I think the quality of what we have here deserves the attention of the world.” And while Wednesday night’s gala will help do just that, the proceeds from the performance will fund resources necessary to continue building the company’s momentum: equipment, teachers, trainers, scholarships and salaries, as well as an endowment and a pension plan for older dancers. For tickets, click here.

 

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

 

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Allison Walsh and Billy Cannon in Darrell Grand Moultrie's "Differences in Sections." Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy BalletX.

Alina Cojocaru
At 31, The Royal Ballet’s Alina Cojocaru finally got the ultimate gift for a dancer: a full-length ballet created on her. John Neumeier choreographed Hamburg Ballet’s Liliom just for Cojocaru, tailoring the role of Julie, a poor waitress in love with a tough carousel barker, to Cojocaru’s gentle, vulnerable presence and delicate technique. “I had been longing to work with Alina. She is a choreographer’s dancer,” he says. “I couldn’t imagine anyone else as Julie.” Cojocaru carried much of the ballet on her shoulders, lending emotional resonance to her character’s angelic sense of forgiveness. Every step seemed born spontaneously of her stream of consciousness. Liliom was so well-received that a DVD is in the works, and for Cojocaru, it marks another milestone in her career. —Laura Cappelle


Sylvie Guillem
You can take away the pointe shoes, get rid of the bun, forget the tutu: Sylvie Guillem’s ballerina-ness is in her very soul. Guillem brought her repertory program, 6000 Miles Away, to New York this spring, performing two un-balletic pieces by William Forsythe and Mats Ek. But there were enough flashes of those peerless legs and feet to show us that, at 47, Guillem still boasts impeccable technique. And the elegant ease—almost nonchalance—that made her such an astonishing Aurora? It’s still there, and it still captivates. She may be one of the ballet world’s most notorious rebels, but she’ll always be ours. —Margaret Fuhrer


Emily Ellis
It didn’t take long for audiences to notice Washington Ballet’s Emily Ellis. Last season—her first with the company—she brought deadpan kookiness to Twyla Tharp’s Push Comes to Shove, then showed off her purity of line and refined technique in a classically based pas de deux in Septime Webre’s ALICE (in wonderland). But it was her turn as Daisy Buchanan, the pretty object of Jay Gatsby’s desire in Webre’s The Great Gatsby, where Ellis demonstrated her ability to fully commit to a character. Not quite a heroine, Daisy could have come off as empty or heartless, but Ellis imbued her with deep, lovely sentiment. Girlish in early duets with her Gatsby, Jared Nelson, she evolved into a more self-assured and sensual woman, one familiar with the darker corners of the heart. —Lisa Traiger


Herman Cornejo, Daniil Simkin, Ivan Vasiliev

Le Corsaire
isn’t good for anything, really, except showing off extraordinary men. But when they’re the right men, all the silliness and awkward ethnic stereotyping are worth sitting through. And when they’re Herman Cornejo, Daniil Simkin and Ivan Vasiliev—as they were for one brilliant night this summer at American Ballet Theatre—suddenly the Metropolitan Opera House’s civilized patrons are screaming like teenagers at a rock concert. Between Cornejo’s suave Conrad, Simkin’s gloriously slimy Lankendem and Vasiliev’s outrageous, off-the-rails Slave, there were enough death-defying leaps and endless pirouettes to goad even the most blasé critics to their feet. It was The Man Show, and what an incredible show it was. —Margaret Fuhrer


Allison Walsh
When Allison Walsh stepped onstage in Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Differences in Sections last July, the BalletX dancer resembled a young, glamorous Leslie Caron. But the statuesque poise soon crumbled, revealing a repressed woman full of inner anguish. With sweeping lyricism and Graham-like angst, Walsh plunged full-force to the floor—sometimes rolling violently across the length of the stage—then knelt in moments of tense stillness. For the audience, the solo felt almost uncomfortably voyeuristic, like watching someone’s private breakdown.

Remarkably, Walsh stepped into the role at the last minute to replace an injured colleague. But she found the lack of rehearsal strangely helpful—Moultrie didn’t want her to overthink her interpretation. “He told me not to show a representation of repression, but to really expose myself,” says Walsh. The result was thrilling. —Amy Brandt


Grace Shibley
One of the defining characteristics of a dancer with star potential is the ability to maintain focus in the face of daunting setbacks. Grace Shibley, a striking member of Oregon Ballet Theatre, was already considered an up-and-coming ballerina when, in 2010, a serious foot fracture threatened to derail her career. But the injury only sharpened Shibley’s resolve. With unshakeable will and keen intelligence, she used the rehabilitation process to propel her technique to new heights. When Shibley performed Stravinsky Violin Concerto’s Aria II pas de deux this April, a new physical strength matched her natural ability to explore a role’s nuances. Dancing with a hint of mystery, Shibley gave a mesmerizing performance that foreshadowed an even brighter future ahead.
—Gavin Larsen


The Royal Ballet Live
Peeking into The Royal Ballet studios as the company prepares a new season sounds like every balletomane’s fantasy. Thanks to the internet’s magic, a global audience tuned in when The Royal livestreamed an entire day on March 23. It began with company class at 10:30 am, and by the time U.S. ballet fans woke up, the day was well underway. Four camera crews roaming the building gave the broadcast the feel of a random stroll through the halls: Dancers threw themselves into a sword-fighting rehearsal, Christopher Wheeldon coached soon-to-be soloist Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Liam Scarlett worked on a pas de deux, Wayne McGregor lent commentary, Marianela Nuñez ran her Prince of the Pagodas solo with Monica Mason. Before it ended, Royal Ballet Live reached around 200,000 viewers, and #rblive trended on Twitter as fans chatted with their counterparts across the world. For ballet lovers, it was an unprecedented international moment, a sense of belonging to something bigger than they had ever imagined. Visit The Royal’s YouTube channel to see the highlights again. —Hanna Rubin

Justin Peck
New York City Ballet’s 25-year-old corps member Justin Peck is expertly balancing two careers these days: Movie-star handsome, he alternates partnering ballerinas with creating dances of his own. Peck began making work through the New York Choreographic Institute in 2009. His setting of three movements from Sufjan Stevens’ song cycle “Enjoy Your Rabbit” made such inventive, surprising use of School of American Ballet students that it stole the show at NYCI’s 10th anniversary celebration. Peck’s ability to create exciting phrases and intriguing stage patterns earned him the institute’s first year-long residency in 2011.

This year, his In Creases, set to Philip Glass's Four Movements for Two Pianos, was the first NYCB premiere given at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in over 25 years; MOVES, the company’s touring group, promptly took it to Colorado and Wyoming. In the fall, Year of the Rabbit, Peck’s expansion of his Stevens piece, also entered the repertoire.

 Peck even found time to create Distractions for City Ballet principal Daniel Ulbricht’s summer pickup troupe. “Maybe that title was ironic, considering how busy he was,” says Ulbricht, “but the guys loved it. So did the audience.” —Harris Green


Héloïse Bourdon
Paris Opéra Ballet dancers are famous for elongated lines, incredible elegance—and a stage presence that can seem too chic to connect with the audience. It’s a kind of look-don’t-touch allure. Yet during the company’s U.S. tour this summer, one soloist tore down the stereotype of what a French ballerina could be. In Giselle’s peasant pas de deux, Héloïse Bourdon created a real character in a role that’s all too often used as a show-off divertissement. She looked completely at home in the imaginary village onstage, dancing with a youthful charm and a playful affection for her partner. And underneath her ease and warmth were hard-as-nails technical chops: Her jumps were preternaturally sprightly, her turns dynamically precise. She had the beautiful POB épaulement, but her sunny personality made it enchanting. —Jennifer Stahl


Amber Neumann
Part of what makes Amber Neumann so intriguing is that, while she looks like a 1950s-era girl next door, she fearlessly attacks even the most radically modern choreography. In The Joffrey Ballet debut of Wayne McGregor’s Infra last winter, Neumann brought a palpable warmth, expressiveness and humanity that melted her role’s stylized, automaton-like moves and chilly edges. Blissfully free of classical ballet affectations, Neumann gave us a lonely, anguished character without doing any obvious acting; all the emotion was channeled through her body. A veteran of several major ballet competitions, Neumann has plenty of technique, but in this case it was in the service of an inner emotional fire that was lived rather than demonstrated. —Hedy Weiss




Alina Cojocaru stood ankle deep in flowers as showers of blossoms sailed onto the Royal Opera House stage. Fellow dancers and the conductor tripped over bouquets as they took their turns to bow, and Cojocaru smiled gratefully at them, and at her partner, Johan Kobborg, as he lifted yet another armful and laid them at her feet.

 

It was late April 2009, and the ballerina had just delivered a performance of Giselle that would by any standard have been one of the greatest accounts of this role. Her heart-wrenching portrayal of the simple peasant girl, betrayed by the man she has fallen in love with, had shown a Giselle who was innocent and vulnerable, yet also full of life and joy, expressed in an irresistible desire to dance. The beautiful lines and extensions of Act II, Cojocaru’s ability to give a wraithlike, weightless quality to every movement, transformed that flesh-and-blood reality into a shimmering image of enduring love.

 

But the evening wasn’t just another gracefully acknowledged performance in a ballerina’s glorious career. It was the first time that the Romanian-born Royal Ballet principal had appeared onstage after a year-long absence, caused by a whiplash injury that had threatened to derail her career permanently at the age of 26.

 

“I couldn’t sleep properly, or laugh, let alone dance,” Cojocaru said soberly as she sat in a Covent Garden office last summer and recounted her injury. “I had to flip in the air and land on my back in my partner’s arms. He was very strong, but somehow it went wrong. For 10 years I had danced and danced, always focused on getting everything better, always living for the future. And then suddenly I couldn’t do anything.” 

 

In fact, Cojocaru—like most dancers, used to working through pain—didn’t immediately call a halt to her performances. Since being made a Royal Ballet principal in 2001, she had kept up a punishing schedule, dancing perhaps the broadest range of roles of any ballerina in her own company, and also appearing frequently with international troupes. Dancing for the pure pleasure of it was not high on her list.

 

“I was always pushing, pushing,” Cojocaru said. “I felt I had to dance everything; I never thought about saving anything for the future. It was always about getting better every day at what I do.”

 

Cojocaru, who seems even tinier than her 5 feet 2 inches in person, has pale skin and the kind of small-featured face that can look plain one moment, beautiful the next. At a quick glance, she looks much younger than her 29 years, and she speaks perfectly idiomatic English with a soft, little-girl voice. But although her manner is gentle, her single-minded intensity of focus is clear when she speaks about her dancing, and she has a reputation for demanding the perfectionism from her colleagues that she requires of herself.

 

“Alina is one of the most honest people that I know,” says Kobborg, with whom she has formed a transcendent onstage partnership, and with whom she has been romantically involved for many years. “She doesn’t try to pretend to be someone else, and that’s what really moves people in her dancing. I think her injury has made her realize that she doesn’t want to waste time with people who are not the best for whatever job they have to do.”

 

Cojocaru’s unusual history suggests that she has always possessed extraordinary inner strength. She grew up in Bucharest, the youngest daughter of a grocer and a seamstress. A family friend suggested she try ballet, and she was accepted at the Romanian Ballet School, but was promptly chosen for an exchange with the Kiev Ballet School in Ukraine.

 

“I don’t know how my parents let me go,really,” she said. “It was 1990, a year after the revolution in Romania, and we were some of the first kids to get passports. I couldn’t remember a day without my sister or my parents, and I had no real idea of what ballet was, but apparently I was excited to go. Then suddenly, as the train pulled out, I realized that I was leaving home.”

 

For the first year in Kiev, the Romanian children were accompanied everywhere by a translator and spent three hours a day studying Russian, only speaking to their families during weekly prearranged calls. Then, a few months after arriving, they were taken to see Giselle. It was the first ballet Cojocaru had ever seen.

 

“Until then, I was doing the exercises without understanding why,” she said. “I think that’s when I really fell in love with this profession. I threw myself into working.”

 

Without much exposure to other companies, Cojocaru assumed that she would join the Kiev Ballet. But her teachers began to enter her in international competitions, and after winning prizes in Moscow and Nagoya, Japan, she was awarded a scholarship to a school of her choice at the Prix de Lausanne. “I had no idea what I’d won,” she said. “I didn’t speak English, French, anything. My teacher said I should go to The Royal Ballet School, so that’s what I did.”

 

Cojocaru spent six months at the school, where she felt at home with the many Russian teachers and picked up a good deal of English. Then the Kiev Ballet called, offering her the position of principal. She was just 16. Although Anthony Dowell, then the director of The Royal Ballet, subsequently offered her a corps de ballet spot, the lure of dancing principal roles was too great.

 

In Kiev, she danced the ballerina roles in Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, Nutcracker. But she soon became aware that she needed more. “After a year of performing, I looked ahead at the next season, and I saw everything was the same,” she said. “I knew deep down I shouldn’t just repeat.”

 

It is a testament to her desire to grow as an artist that she accepted the corps de ballet position at The Royal in 1999, where she danced the requisite snowflakes, Wilis, peasants and fairies before getting her big break as a last-minute replacement in the Margot Fonteyn role in Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations.

 

Cojocaru was happily unaware of the implications: “I went to rehearsal, and they said to me, ‘Have you seen Symphonic Variations?’ I said, ‘No.’ ‘Have you heard the music?’ I said, ‘No.’ I thought, ‘Oh dear.’ ”

 

Her stage experience in Kiev and her intense work ethic—she practiced her part over and over in her tiny apartment with weights on her ankles—helped her to learn and perform the ballet in three days. On opening night, she gave a dazzling performance at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden that won over critics as well as the audience on the spot.

 

Shortly after, she replaced another injured dancer in Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, dancing with Kobborg. Two months later, in April 2001, she danced the title role in Giselle to immediate acclaim. “Was there a dry eye in the house?” asked Allan Robertson in Dance Now. “I doubt it.”

 

At 19, Cojocaru, who had been promoted to first soloist at the end of her first season, was made a principal dancer. She quickly showed that she was as much a superb actress as a glorious dancer, triumphing in the unlikely roles of Tatiana in John Cranko’s Onegin and the death-obsessed Mary Vetsera in MacMillan’s Mayerling—both usually more the province of older dancers. She brought a lovely lyricism and humor to The Royal Ballet’s Ashton repertoire, and an unstinting adventurousness to contemporary pieces by William Forsythe and Wayne McGregor.

 

Then came the injury and the abrupt derailment of a career that had seemed unstoppable. Initially, she said, she took just six weeks off and returned to dancing. But after seven months, the severe pain forced her to stop.

 

“I tried everything,” she said. “Acupuncture, trigger point therapy, physio exercises. I spent nights and days on the internet searching for athletes who might have had this injury and how they had recovered. I went to Germany, to New York, to Japan to see doctors. I was a mess.”

 

Eventually, Cojocaru saw a German doctor who recommended microforaminotomy, a procedure that enlarges the openings through which spinal nerves pass, relieving the compression—and consequent pain—caused by the injury. Cojocaru decided to go ahead. “I woke up being able to move,” she said. “It felt so good.”

 

During the rehabilitation period, the ballerina worked with Patrick Rump, a physical therapist with The Forsythe Company. She credits his regimen with helping her to develop the strength to move again at full range. “The hardest thing for me was to build strength without creating tension in the neck,” she said. “I realized how much more we work on the right, so I worked hard with Patrick on the left, because I was so worried about alignment. Now I really have equal strength on both sides; I think my technique is actually stronger than before.”

 

Kobborg, whom Cojocaru credits with “steel support” throughout her ordeal, added that she is not just better technically, but emotionally, too. “I’ve had a long career, but I’ve yet to meet anybody who works as hard and in as focused a way as Alina,” he says. “But having the injury has made her realize that you never know when it’s your last moment onstage. She is more able to relax and enjoy every moment there.”

 

That was clear at a June performance of Sleeping Beauty with American Ballet Theatre in New York. As Aurora, Cojocaru was luminous and delicate, her Rose Adagio full of unforgettable images: one leg unfolding with glorious ease in momentary balance in a high développé à la seconde, an arm and winning smile quickly and confidently extended to each suitor; flowers gently, humbly, cast at her parents’ feet; a final arabesque that seemed to radiate across the entire stage.

 

“I had never taken the time to think about why I enjoy dancing,” she said reflectively some months later. “I used to think about what didn’t work, what didn’t happen. I’ve finally realized that technically we’ll always be working on things. I’m always excited now to go onstage.”

Roslyn Sulcas writes about dance for The New York Times.

Dancer: Sarah Van Patten
Company: San Francisco Ballet
Ballet: Marius Petipa’s Swan Lake

San Francisco Ballet principal Sarah Van Patten always commands the stage in roles that call for dramatic depth and musicality. But because she is not usually thought of as a strong technician, she was a long shot to be cast as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake.

Certainly, her interpretation was the least virtuosic among the six women who performed the role in Helgi Tomasson’s new
production—but hers was also the boldest and most touching. Van Patten’s phrasing as Odette was lush and aching. Her sexiness as Odile was searing. Portraying the emotions of her characters came naturally, Van Patten says. But she also powered through the fear-inspiring fouettés and worked hard to maintain strong footwork. “I wanted to have a solid base because when you have that, you can give yourself over to the role,” she says. Indeed, she achieved the technical strength she needed, but put it in total service to emotional artistry. —Rachel Howard



Dancer: Domenico Luciano
Company: Dominic Walsh Dance Theatre
Ballet: Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake

 
Domenico Luciano knows how to be a he-bird. As the only dancer outside of Matthew Bourne’s troupe performing Bourne’s all-male Swan Lake pas de deux, Luciano made a statement during his Houston performance last season. At 6’ 3” and a dead ringer for Michelangelo’s David, Luciano is a mighty presence. He evokes an animal energy with his seemingly endless lines. Bourne’s ballet straddles a fine edge between parody and myth, and Luciano luxuriates in that very territory: sensuous, but always masculine. “Bourne’s piece feels right for my physicality,” says Luciano. “Although I’m so comfortable in the role, there’s so much to discover in the character. It’s a bit murky in that I am a figment of the prince’s imagination. The relationship between the prince and the swan is really deliciously ambiguous.” —Nancy Wozny

 

Dancer: Natalia Osipova
Company: Bolshoi Ballet
Ballet: August Bournonville’s La Sylphide

 
In her sensational debut with American Ballet Theatre last June, Bolshoi Ballet principal Natalia Osipova demonstrated the power of a beloved old classroom step: grand jeté. With her impeccable technique and unfailing musicality, she would be the ideal heroine for any ballet, but it was the airy lightness of her grand jeté that made her the perfect choice for the doomed forest sprite in Bournonville’s La Sylphide. The three leaps she performed in rapid succession at the end of Act I seemed to require no preparation at all, coming out of nowhere to vanish before our eyes. While tossing off feats of strength, Osipova embodied a fatal fragility. A creature of the air, utterly weightless, she was too delicate to escape the tragic end awaiting her. —Harris Green

 

Dancer: Alina Cojocaru
Company: The Royal Ballet
Ballet: Marius Petipa’s Giselle

 
For almost a decade, Alina Cojocaru had been one of the brightest stars in a sparkling constellation of ballerinas at The Royal Ballet—until a prolapsed disc in her neck threatened to end her career in 2008. After 11 months away from the stage, she returned to the Royal Opera House last April to perform Giselle, her signature role.

Cojocaru always brings exquisite technique and emotional poignancy to this role. But being unable to dance for so long brought her even closer to her character. “The joy of dance made my Giselle and my Alina be one person more than ever,” she says. With just five days’ rehearsal, she allowed no concessions to her long layoff; her technique was as brilliant as ever and Giselle’s adolescent innocence blossomed into a coruscating love that defied the grave. The New York Times’ critic Roslyn Sulcas declared it to be “one of the great dance renditions of our time.” 

    
At the end of an emotional evening, the ecstatic audience covered the stage in flowers and, as the curtain fell, Cojocaru says she felt that “to lose and then fight for something I love was in my very soul. One battle in my life was won; now I’m ready for whatever else life will bring!” —Graham Watts

 

Dancer: Riolama Lorenzo
Company: Pennsylvania Ballet
Ballet: Peter Martins’ Barber Violin Concerto

 

Sometimes a smaller company offers just the room for growth that an exceptionally gifted dancer needs to burnish her talent. Riolama Lorenzo danced Peter Martins’ Fearful Symmetries while in the corps of New York City Ballet several years ago. Now, after having moved to Pennsylvania Ballet in 2002, and ascending from corps to principal in three short years, she’s still dancing Martins’ work—sublimely. Her role in his Barber Violin Concerto last season had Lorenzo making a dazzling transition from the ideal
ballerina who seemed to land each jump on a pillow of air, to literally letting her hair down in gutsier action. Cuban-born Lorenzo is beloved by Philadelphia audiences for her daring and her clear attack. Standing 5’8”, with exquisitely arched feet and an astonishingly supple spine, her flexibility, precision and range along with a presence that exudes both directness and depth make Riolama Lorenzo shine. —Lisa Kraus

 

Dancer: Alex Wong
Company: Miami City Ballet
Ballet: Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room

Few would think of the cheerfully loosey-goosey choreography for the sneaker-clad “stompers” in Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room as technical. Yet when Miami City Ballet principal soloist Alex Wong blazed through the stompers’ bouncy leaps and backward jogs this spring, he epitomized virtuosic technique. Wong’s precise classical style and fine-tuned musicality lent the high-speed role—which most dancers are lucky just to survive—polish and panache. And in a work defined by explosive displays of energy, Wong crackled with a singular electricity: His jumps were the most buoyant, his joyful intensity unmatched.

Wong thinks that Tharp’s presence in the audience inspired his superhuman performance. “We were pushing as hard as we could for her, trying to fill the entire space,” he remembers. “Just thinking about it makes my body start to tingle.”  —Margaret Fuhrer

 

Dancer: Sterling Hyltin
Company: New York City Ballet
Ballet: George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova’s Coppélia

Sterling Hyltin made several outstanding performances at New York City Ballet last winter, and two were as Swanilda in Coppélia. At her first performance, her sunny personality, unfailing musicality, assured technique and buoyant energy proved a perfect fit for the spunky heroine. Less successful was acting that relied on mugging (rolling her eyes, say, to express disdain for her boyfriend, Franz). By her second performance, however, Hyltin had replaced mannerisms with actions; now Swanilda snubbed Franz with a toss of her head or a shrug. It was if she had created a new performance, one that could now reach the audience at the very top of the house through movement alone. Such makeovers are as much a part of Hyltin’s dancing as taking class. —Harris Green

 

Dancer: Kristi Boone
Company: American Ballet Theatre
Ballet: George Balanchine’s Prodigal Son

 
Although she’s been a soloist since 2007, Kristi Boone has rarely been given the chance to carry a ballet. But during a foray into principal territory last June as the Siren, she looked every inch the part, from the sensuous, exaggerated curves of her legs and feet to her beautiful face, stoic and imposing. It was a dangerous, exciting debut. Her dancing was icy and deliberate—she pulled off the tricky Balanchine choreography with finesse. Boone had been itching to wield the Siren’s red cape since ABT’s last run of Prodigal in 2000, when she was still with ABT II. She relishes the role as a rare opportunity for a female dancer. “You’re usually the damsel in distress,” she says. “You never get to have that much power.” —Kina Poon

 

Dancer: Jonathan Porretta
Company: Pacific Northwest Ballet
Ballet: Marius Petipa’s Swan Lake

 
Even when the music was soft in PNB’s production of the Petipa classic, you couldn’t hear Jonathan Porretta land his clean, soaring jumps. You could, however, in an auditorium that seats 2,900, actually hear the beating of his feet.

Over the past few years, working with contemporary choreographers, this magnetic virtuoso has grown into an artist. With his Swan Lake roles—the flashy, character-rich Jester and the gentler, lyrical pas de trois male—he proved himself a sensitive master of classical ballet as well. Porretta is all things to all people, working to fulfill choreographers’ visions, embodying composers’ music, connecting with fellow dancers, achieving personal satisfaction and conversing with the audience. And what a conversation it is! —Rosie Gaynor

 

Dancer: Joanna Wozniak
Company: The Joffrey Ballet
Ballet: Vaslav Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring

 
Joanna Wozniak danced The Chosen One in Rite of Spring three times during the Joffrey’s spring season, and she was perfect from the start—vulnerable, aware, poignant, terrified and noticeably more powerful and ferocious than in her many traditionally lyrical roles. She had dreamed of dancing this role of a human sacrifice ever since joining the company in 2003. And once she learned the part, Wozniak began “thinking about what this young virgin girl was really like, going through all the complex emotions she must have felt knowing she was about to die, and realizing that her family, and all the people she had trusted, had turned against her in a way.” The Chosen One’s grueling solo lasts only a few minutes, but before the dancer bursts into motion she must stand absolutely still, frozen in fright. “There is a spotlight over you at that point, and everything else seems to disappear into darkness, though you can hear the Elders stomping. And it’s at that moment that you really become the character.” —Hedy Weiss

 

Dancer: Marie-Agnès Gillot
Company: Paris Opéra Ballet
Ballet: George Balanchine’s Apollo

 
As the first Paris Opéra Ballet dancer promoted to étoile after performing a nonclassical ballet, Marie-Agnès Gillot is the company’s contemporary darling. She always looks like she’s having an “on” night, so grounded that she can balance at her whim until she chooses to move on to the next step. But what makes her truly unique in modern movement is her ability to imbue even the most abstract works with meaning and personality. Many Balanchine purists were astonished at Gillot’s playful, seductive Terpsichore in  Apollo at the Nijinsky Gala in Hamburg last summer. The usually spare, cool neoclassicism became jazzy, with hips jutting from side to side. Her long legs articulated each step with clarity. And her entire body tested the limits of how much she could play with the music, coyly waiting to feel each movement from within before letting it gravitate out to the tips of her pointe shoes. —Jennifer Stahl

 

Dancer: Ebony Williams
Company: Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
Ballet: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Orbo Novo

 
When Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet’s Ebony Williams steps onstage, her presence is sometimes so fierce, it’s intimidating just to be in the audience. That presence was most evident this year in Cedar Lake’s mysterious, multilayered Orbo Novo by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Williams moved with utter fearlessness, forcefully throwing her body into the movement at one moment, finding a soft, slinky angularity the next. “He choreographed my solo by giving me tasks that would create movement,” says Williams. “At first, I had to move like I had balls all over me, then like I was made of fire and at the end I became an animal.” Although Williams admits she was nervous about having to come up with her own contemporary movement, she appreciated that the process was a partnership: “He wanted to know how I moved and who I was—and let me show that onstage.” —Jennifer Stahl

 

Honorable Mentions

Kathryn Morgan in The Sleeping Beauty Wedding Pas de Deux, during New York City Ballet’s “Dancer’s Choice” evening: Simultaneously authoritative and delicate, regal and gentle, the young corps de ballet member breezed through this technically exacting pas de deux, the perfect showcase for her ineffable brand of understated charm.

Maria Riccetto in American Ballet Theatre’s Giselle with Herman Cornejo: Usually paired with David Hallberg, Riccetto bloomed dancing with Cornejo, bringing a deep tenderness and vulnerability to the role. Technically flawless, she made Giselle utterly believable, and together she and Cornejo seemed a natural partnership.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s 45-year-old Louise Nadeau in Forsythe’s Urlicht at her farewell performance in June: Strength, grace, technique, musicality and personality all combined at peak levels for what was one of her best performances.

Hamburg Ballet principal Hélène Bouchet in Verklungene Feste by John Neumeier: She moved with that ideal combination of strength and abandon that all dancers strive for yet rarely achieve. Over and over, she sent her body flying, then pulled back and found the control to guide her limbs into precise positions.

Robin Mathes in Mauro Bigonzetti’s rousing Cantata: Leaving fear in the dust, the Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal soloist mixed gravitas with abandon, charging head-on into the pathos of the music.

Jazmon Voss and Cira Robinson of the U.K.’s Ballet Black in Antonia Franceschi’s intimate Pop8: After a scintillating duet in which Voss and Robinson were vivacious yet sinuous, Voss’ jazz-themed solo fused muscular virtuosity with delicate grace and sophistication.

Alina Cojocaru has no tendons—I am convinced of it! Legs aren't supposed to float up that high quite that easily. It's kind of absurd. Just like her supernatural sense of balance. Seriously, I'm pretty sure she could drink an entire cup of coffee while hanging out on pointe in arabesque.

 

The Royal Ballet principal was in New York last night to guest with American Ballet Theatre in Don Quixote. Although Alina wasn't quite as spicy as I usually like my Kitris, I have to admit that I couldn't stop smiling at her performance opposite Jose Manuel Carreño's Basilio. I remember last year when she was in town to dance with him in Sleeping Beauty she told me how excited she was to partner with the legendary Cuban. And now that it's his last season before retiring, you could just see how much fun the two of them were having onstage together. 

 

The best part of the night though was the curtain call: When Alina was handed a bouquet after her bows, instead of picking out the customary single rose to hand to her male partner, she laid the whole damn thing at Carreño's feet. 

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