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Yos Clark, of Africa's Ivory Coast. Courtesy Ballet Rising.

From his home in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, an eight-year-old boy named Yos Clark discovered ballet from the film Un, Dos, Tres, and began teaching himself to dance through videos. A teacher in France saw photos of Yos dancing online, and taught him over Skype because the studio in Abidjan was too long of a commute for him to train there on a regular basis. Apparently, the lessons paid off; last year, Yos received a scholarship to continue his training in Warrington, England.

Dancers like Clark are what propel former Dutch National Ballet principal Casey Herd recently; since leaving the company three years ago, Herd has become determined to shed light on the lesser-known stories of dancers making it around the world. Now, he and his friend and colleague Chris Weisler are creating a documentary project called Ballet Rising. Together they have been transversing the globe, searching for people embracing ballet. (Since the series is still in development, a premiere date is TBA.) Between stops, Pointe touched base with Herd over the phone to learn about the project, where his travels have taken him so far, and what his hopes are for the future of global ballet.

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Ballet Stars

If you've ever wondered what it's like to be a member of American Ballet Theatre's Studio Company, you're in luck. The latest episode of "No Days Off," a documentary web series profiling young and inspiring athletes, spotlights 17-year-old Joseph Markey, a first-year Studio Company member. The doc not only underscores the physical aspects of Markey's training, but also the artistic refinements he must make on his road to becoming a professional dancer.

17-Year-Old Is The FUTURE of Dance www.youtube.com

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Chances are, you've seen (and "liked") photographer Omar Z Robles' beautiful shots of ballet dancers on social media. Rather than clean and tidy studio photos, his work captures dancers ("the ultimate subject," he says) outside and all over the world, often on vibrant city streets. In Pointe of Focus, a short web documentary from SmugMug Films, director Anton Lorimer goes behind the scenes with Robles during a recent trip to Rio de Janeiro. The doc follows the photographer as he scouts locations in Rio's historical districts and favelas, and directs local Brazilian dancers through the shoot. And these ballerinas are troopers, leaping over concrete, turning over cobblestones or balancing in rain-soaked pointe shoes to achieve the perfect shot.

"Putting them in an environment that's familiar, I think it strips away the barrier that comes with a studio or stage, and really shows how exceptional they are," Robles says about shooting dancers in public spaces. Learn more about this in-demand dance photographer in the nine-minute film below—you'll be sure to get some major Instagram inspiration!

Ballet Stars
Hupoy (right, as Alla Snizova) and Laszlo Major in "Le Corsaire." Photo by Zoren Jelenic, Courtesy Ballets de Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

One of the highlights of New York City's Fall for Dance Festival this year was an appearance by the Ballets Trockadéro de Monte Carlo, a company of men who dance on pointe with as much panache and style as any prima ballerina. Their performance of Paquita was funny, of course—they specialize in comic renditions of classical ballets— but also bracingly well executed. The star of the evening, Carlos Hopuy, aka Alla Snizova, was simply astonishing. His pointework sparkled, his hops on pointe were clean and strong, and he looked like he could have balanced in attitude forever. There was something deeply exciting about the way he combined delicacy and control with the explosive power and steel of a man's physique.

Hopuy, who was born in Havana, Cuba, and trained at the country's famed National Ballet School, has been with the company since 2012. Like all the Trocks, he has both a female and a male alter-ego: when he's not portraying Alla Snizova, he's Innokenti Smoktumuchsky, a dopey cavalier. He is also one of the dancers featured in the upcoming documentary Rebels on Pointe, which will have its theatrical release November 15 (click here for theaters and dates near you). I recently caught up with Hopuy, who, when he's not on tour, lives in Orlando with his husband Paolo Cervellera, a former Trock. We spoke by phone, in Spanish.



Did you always want to dance?

I always liked ballet. My mother, Norma Hopuy, was a principal with the Ballet de Camagüey. I used to hang around the rehearsals. She started giving me lessons at home. Then, when I was nine, I auditioned for the National Ballet School. I had the choice between that and gymnastics and I chose ballet.

When did you start going on pointe?

When I was 11. I would ask my classmates for their old pointe shoes and would try them on at home. When my mother realized that I liked to go on pointe, she started training me and bought me my own pair.

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Tiler Peck in "Who Cares?". Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck and Emmy-winning actress Elisabeth Moss (of Mad Men and Handmaid's Tale fame) may seem like unlikely friends, until you dig a little deeper into their backgrounds. Both attended Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica and spent summers at the School of American Ballet in their youths. Moss and Peck's career paths diverged when the former fell in love with acting and Peck went on to study at SAB full time, eventually becoming the star we know today. Now, the pairs' artistic pursuits are uniting in an exciting new project.

According to Deadline.com, Moss will produce a documentary featuring Peck and her work curating BalletNOW, last summer's star-studded, critically acclaimed program at Los Angeles's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Peck was the first woman to lead BalletNOW's programming, and she brought together dancers from companies including The Royal Ballet, Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Paris Opéra Ballet, putting them on stage with tappers, clowns and break dancers (sometimes simultaneously).


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Ballet Stars
Courtesy Retribution Media

Marcelo Gomes' clean technique, skilled partnering and magnetic stage presence make him one of the world's most versatile and in-demand male dancers of his generation. This year saw the principal dancer celebrate his 20th anniversary with American Ballet Theatre, a company he joined at just 17 years old. Coinciding with this milestone was the release of the feature length documentary Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer, created by the two-man team David Barba and James Pellerito—who actually approached Gomes via Facebook. The documentary, which was seven years in the making, has been making the film-festival circuit this year, most recently August 6 at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival.

The film combines intimate interviews with backstage and rehearsal footage and archival video. It focuses on Gomes' skill and prowess as a partner and includes interviews with some of the world's top ballerinas including Diana Vishneva, Polina Semionova and Misty Copeland.

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During one of the final scenes of Reset, a documentary following Benjamin Millepied’s 2015 creation of Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward while artistic director of Paris Opéra Ballet, a group of eight dancers walk proudly towards the front of the stage for a final tableau. They are young corps members, not company stars, but they gaze directly and confidently at the audience.  Millepied's message seems clear: Remember these faces.

Of course, we all know what happened a few months later—after trying to shake up POB’s deeply ingrained hierarchy, Millepied resigned. However Reset, which will be available for streaming on Sundance Now March 2, offers an inside view of this fascinating time in POB’s history. The film doesn’t capture a lot of drama and infighting; instead, you’ll see much of Millepied’s creative process, as well lots of rehearsal and performance footage of the hungry young dancers he wants to cultivate. (Two—Léonore Baulac and Germain Louvet—have since become étoiles).

Millepied with Letizia Galloni. Photo Courtesy Sundance Now.

Millepied comes across as an enthusiastic, good-natured boss who is genuinely concerned for his dancers’ welfare and artistic development. Still, there are subtle clues as to why he grew disillusioned so quickly. He frequently complains of a deeply ingrained culture of fear among the school students and corps de ballet, as well as POB’s surprisingly inadequate medical care. Stagehand strikes loom constantly. And he reveals his dismay at being told that black dancers are a “distraction” onstage. “I have to shatter this racist idea,” he says. (The film captures coryphée Letizia Galloni in her debut as Lise in La Fille mal gardée, and notes that she is the first mixed-race POB woman to perform a lead in a classical ballet.)

 

But what’s most apparent, at least to me, is that Millepied would much rather be in the studio creating, and nurturing dancers, than dealing with necessary administrative duties and the company's ingrained institutional bureaucracy. (He often seems to be barely listening to his beleaguered assistant in meetings—his mind is on his ballet.) In fact, a friend notes early on that once he stops having fun, “he’ll leave.” Still, Millepied is so upbeat throughout the movie that you can't help feeling a little surprised, even knowing the outcome, that his tenure didn't work out.

 

Watch Reset, a film by Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai, on Sundance Now starting Thursday, March 2.

 

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

Benjamin Millepied rehearsing POB dancers. Photo by Gerard Uferas via Paris Match.

Movie buffs and ballet lovers rejoice! A new dance film called Reset, about Benjamin Millepied directing the Paris Opéra Ballet, will premiere April 20 during the Tribeca Film Festival, with New York screenings running through April 23. Directed by Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai, the documentary reveals the intense creation process of Millepied’s Clear Loud Bright Forward, which debuted at POB’s 2015 gala. The title of the piece, and Millepied’s use of only corps de ballet dancers, (unsubtly) stated his mission to shake up the rigid institution. It’s especially poignant in retrospect, given how his battle with entrenched tradition turned out.

Millepied, photo by Loic Venance/Getty Images via The New York Times.

The trailer promises tons of stunning dance footage, plus up close shots of the man behind the headlines and his choreographic process. All of the action takes place before news broke of the overhaul that will take place this summer.

Millepied set out to inject some modernism into the world’s oldest ballet company. Reset will show us how, in the form of gripping dance and filmmaking. Visit Tribeca Film Festival website for tickets, theaters, schedule and updates.

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

Artists of the Bolshoi Ballet. Photo Courtesy HBO.

From its eerie opening scene to its dramatic closing interview, Bolshoi Babylon—a documentary filmed in the aftermath of the 2013 acid attack on Bolshoi Ballet director Sergei Filin—creates a distinct sense of tension regarding the iconic company's future.

The dance footage and backstage access featured in the documentary are unprecedented—especially considering the public scrutiny the Bolshoi was experiencing at the time. The filmmakers catch the dancers in the wings, onstage and in the studio, giving viewers a perspective that's rarely, if ever, seen.

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American Ballet Theatre, in the midst of their 75th Anniversary celebration, opened their spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House this week. But fans unable to make it to New York City need not worry—on May 15, “American Ballet Theatre: A History,” a documentary nine years in the making by Emmy-award winning filmmaker Ric Burns, premieres on PBS stations nationwide.

 

Burns chronicles ABT’s beginnings as a fledgling troupe spearheaded by the indefatigable Lucia Chase (who, along with Oliver Smith, led the company for 40 years) and its development into a groundbreaking creative laboratory for some of the 20th century’s greatest choreographers. Rare rehearsal footage, as well as interviews with Alicia Alonso, Lupe Serrano and the late Frederic Franklin, offer glimpses into this trailblazing era of American dance. The company raised its international profile as a post-war touring ambassador (its dancers often flying in cargo planes, wearing parachutes!), heralding the great dance boom of the 60s and 70s and attracting major Russian talent. The film briefly touches on ABT’s years under Mikhail Baryshnikov’s direction in the 1980s, and gives insights into Kevin McKenzie’s soft-spoken leadership style. But it also offers an overview of the history of ballet itself, with commentary by esteemed dance scholar and Apollo’s Angels author Jennifer Homans.

 

In between, Gillian Murphy, Misty Copeland, Hee Seo, Marcelo Gomes, Herman Cornejo and Julie Kent weigh in on their lives as professional dancers. Burns gives ample rehearsal footage of ABT’s current roster of mega-stars, much of it in slow motion using Phantom Flex camera technology. The high-tech camerawork captures every glorious line of these exceptional artists, although at times the slow-motion scenes go on for too long.

 

In the sneak peek below, Kent talks about Natalia Makarova’s inspiring words that have guided her throughout her career.“American Ballet Theatre: A History” premieres May 15 at 9:00 pm on PBS’s American Masters series (check local listings). The film will stream on the American Masters website on May 16, and is available on DVD on July 14 from PBS Distribution.

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