On the morning of May 1, Miriam Barbosa posted a photo of her daughter, Itzkan, on Facebook. The image itself is striking—Itzkan stands smiling on pointe in front of Miami City Ballet, where she has spent the last year as a pre-professional student, perched atop a mountain of old pointe shoes of all different sizes. But it's the story behind the picture that's inspired so many people to comment their congratulations and appreciation. The photo contains every single one of Itzkan's pointe shoes, from her very first pair up until the moment she got her first professional contract as a corps member with MCB last month. The image not only calls attention to the hard work and dedication necessary for young dancers to achieve their dreams, but to the sacrifices parents make to help them get there.
The dance community mourns another loss this week, as we learned former New York City Ballet principal Peter Frame passed away on August 30. Frame, who was 61, trained at the School of American Ballet and was a member of NYCB (his twin brother Paul danced with the company as well) from 1976 to 1990, earning the rank of principal in 1988.
Frame joined SAB faculty in 1993, where he is credited with developing a body strengthening program for the dancers as well as creating a weight training class for men. Additionally, Frame taught at Ballet Academy East, where in a 2017 blog post on their site, he shared one of his fondest memories—dancing in George Balanchine's Episodes, where he was cast in the solo originated by Paul Taylor, who also passed away earlier this week. "Omitted since Taylor performed it, I would reintroduce the solo to the stage," Frame said in the post. "This was one of the most exciting moments in my career." Frame performed the solo from 1986 to 1989, becoming the only person after Taylor himself to dance it until he restaged the piece for Miami City Ballet in 2017.
Described as a "kind and generous spirit" by NYCB principal Megan Fairchild in an Instagram tribute, Frame is being remembered on social media by members of NYCB and beyond. We're sharing some of these touching tributes below; feel free to add your own in the comments.
The waltz turn, says Ballet Academy East teacher and Dances Patrelle artistic director Francis Patrelle, must be distinguished from a dainty balancé en tournant. Here, he shares how he encourages his students to bring "American largesse" to this luscious, sweeping movement.
Keep moving: "In the waltz turn, every step you take is forward," says Francis Patrelle. "Brush or développé to croisé en avant, then two steps on relevé—wait, don't turn yet!" In one beat, turn and brush or développé back, and then step forward again through fourth position.
"Push the walls away": Many small errors, Patrelle notes, inhibit dancers' ability to travel. "The most common correction I give is that there is no rond de jambe in your waltz turn. Find the way to make it the freest and smoothest, make it bigger, flow through it!"
"Who here is terrified of choreographing?"
It was a question posed by Pacific Northwest Ballet School teacher Eva Stone five weeks ago, sitting on the floor among her class of female summer intensive students. "Almost all of them raised their hand, but I said, 'Don't worry, I got you,'" says Stone. "'I'm going to give you tools and skills and you're going to build on them.' It's amazing how their perspective changed in five weeks."
Stone's choreography class, introduced into the summer program last year, served as a pilot for a new initiative at PNB School beginning this September. New Voices: Choreography and Process for Young Women in Dance is a year-round class dedicated to educating and encouraging 14 to 16-year-old female students in the art of dancemaking. Made possible through funding from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, the 38-week course was created to help address the lack of women choreographers working in major classical ballet companies.
PNB School is one of several academies offering choreographic opportunities to its students. Houston Ballet Academy and the Chautauqua Institution, for example, hold workshops during their summer intensives, while Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and Ballet Academy East recently joined forces to create a choreographic exchange program. And School of American Ballet offers numerous choreographic projects for its dancers, including one for women. What makes PNB's initiative unique is its year-long scope and structured focus on composition.
By the time Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre soloist Gabrielle Thurlow reached high school, she knew she wanted to pursue a professional ballet career. But to do so, she had to make the tough decision to leave her local studio in Buffalo, New York, to train at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School. "I wanted a school attached to a professional company, where I could train full-time," she says. With her parents' support, she approached her teachers a year in advance to begin talking to them about leaving. "It's a difficult conversation to have," she says. "They trained me, and we had this special relationship. But as former professional dancers, they understood where I was coming from."
Dancers often face this decision as they plan their pre-professional training. They are forever indebted to the teachers who molded them, and broaching the subject of leaving can seem like an impossible conversation. While it's normal to be nervous, there are ways to sensitively navigate the situation, without burning any bridges.
As a pre-professional dancer, you need training that will help you transition as smoothly as possible into the rigorous environment of a professional ballet company. Among other considerations, that means developing strong and seamless pointework. Chances are, you're spending a lot of your classes and rehearsal time in pointe shoes right now.
That said, there are real philosophies behind the role that pointework plays in class. You may be required to wear pointe shoes throughout all of your regular technique classes; or perhaps your studio prefers you to wear flat shoes for barre before putting pointe shoes on for center, or to spend the entire class in ballet slippers, offering separate pointe classes instead. With such differences in training methods, you may feel that you're missing out on something. Luckily, each of these approaches is designed to strengthen you as a dancer—they just accomplish that goal in different ways. Pointe spoke to faculty members at four prestigious ballet academies for added insight into each philosophy.
To watch Irina Kolpakova coach Swan Lake is to witness a true artist at work. Although long retired from the stage, the American Ballet Theatre ballet mistress still possesses a commanding presence and an instinctive artistic spirit.
"Don't think about your shape when you first see Siegfried," she tells principal Isabella Boylston during rehearsal for Odette's Act II entrance. "This is not 'port de bras.' This is 'Don't touch me!' " Kolpakova demonstrates, transforming instantly into the Swan Queen. Her eyes sparkling and alive, every inch of her diminutive stature swells with a palpable energy capable of reaching the highest ring of the balcony.
Call it stage presence, call it the "it" factor, some dancers just have a natural ability to draw people in and change the atmosphere around them. Stage presence can carry a dancer to a higher artistic realm. It's the final piece of the puzzle, the emotional heart of a performance that can bring an audience to tears. Without it, even the best choreography risks falling flat.
Yesterday Pointe had a photo shoot with a handful of super-talented dancers from Ballet Academy East. They were each fantastic: technically brilliant with strong, fit bodies and completely game for all of the crazy things we threw at them. (Be sure to check out the photos when our April/May issue comes out!).
I don’t want to give away the brilliant theme of the shoot—conceived by our always imaginative Style Editor Khara Hanlon—but suffice it to say I had the girls modeling a few different yoga poses. As they moved from warrior one to tree pose to upward dog, it got me thinking about how much yoga can do for dancers.
I started taking yoga classes as a way to improve my core strength. But over time I realized that for dancers the real benefits go way beyond improving your muscle tone. In yoga (especially vinyasa) I was finally able to find a feeling of fullness to my movement—something I had struggled to attain in modern class, but never quite “got.” Once I became used to finding length in every position during the slow flow through the poses, I could translate that sensation back to the studio, and became able to move bigger, with longer lines. Yoga taught me to really feel what was going on in my body, and to become aware of where I was placing it in space. The emphasis on intention and being present helped me find greater focus in the studio, and more importantly, onstage. Through yoga I discovered a feeling in my body and a connection to my mind, that for me, I don’t think I could have found anywhere else.
What have been your experiences taking yoga as a dancer?
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Though she is winding down her career performing with New York City Ballet, Wendy Whelan isn't retiring from the ballet world. This fall, she will join the faculty at Ballet Academy East, and will continue to share her vast experience with the students in the school's Pre-Professional Division. BAE—under the directorship of Julia Dubno and Darla Hoover—is already home to notable faculty, including former American Ballet Theatre principal Maxim Beloserkovsky. Hoover is a répétiteur for the George Balanchine Trust, and Whelan's addition to the faculty will certainly enhance the students' performance and understanding of Balanchine's work.
BAE students in "Serenade", choreography by George Balanchine, ©The George Balanchine Trust, photo: Rosalie O'Connor