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Ballet West's Emily Neale. Jayme Thornton.

This is Pointe's Summer 2019 cover story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

In Ballet West's company class at Salt Lake City's historic Capitol Theatre, demi-soloist Emily Neale stands poised in first position, her hair swirled into a slightly disheveled bun. In any other room, her 5' 8" frame would be a standout, but in this company—where the tallest woman is 6' 1"—her height is hardly something to note. Rather, it's her self-possession. As the dancers around her seek to impress on-looking artistic staff, 24-year-old Neale seems unfazed. Her épaulement breezes, her allégro soars and suspends, her technique is solid, and all the while, she is calm.

Her unflappability was built along a very patient path to Ballet West. While clearly talented, Neale struggled to find work for two years, enduring the pressures of rejection while waiting for the right stars to align. Yet she remained steadfast, and despite her difficult start, her timeline caught up with her talent once she landed at Ballet West. Since joining as a trainee in 2015, she's risen rapidly to demi-soloist. In fact, it's the fastest climb the company has seen since principal Beckanne Sisk.

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With nearly 43,000 followers on Instagram, Elisabeth Beyer is a social media sensation. The 16-year-old Ellison Ballet student came in first place in the senior women's category at the Youth America Grand Prix's New York City Finals this year and has been medaling all over the ballet competition circuit since she was 11 years old. But despite the thousands of likes she gets on each post, she also receives criticism. "It happens a lot," says Beyer. "I get accused of being too skinny or being anorexic, and it just isn't true."

The rise of social media has given dancers more visibility than ever before. The Pew Research Center reports that 71 percent of Americans 18 to 24 years old are on Instagram. And in ballet, which strives for the pinnacle of visual perfection in both execution and physicality, it can be deflating to see perfect penchés fill your feed on #whackedoutwednesday. But there are also great benefits for dancers connected on social media: Instagram can broaden your worldview and open up doors to opportunities you never imagined. The following five rules of Instagram will help you to focus on the positives and develop a healthy relationship with your favorite app.

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Finding your pointe shoe match isn't the only component that affects your dancing. Smaller, but arguably just as mighty, is the padding that goes inside. Here's what four pros have found works for them.

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Madison Penney, Youth Grand Prix winner at the YAGP 2017 Finals. Photo by VAM, Courtesy YAGP.

We're in the thick of Youth America Grand Prix regional semi-final season, and the famous competition is now being made available to fans everywhere at the click of a mouse. Here are two ways to keep up with YAGP from wherever you are:


Regional Semi-Finals Live Broadcast

Rooting for a friend competing or just want to keep tabs on the ballet world? A live broadcast of the competition is now available here. This weekend (January 12-14) are the Tampa, Florida and Denver, Colorado semi-finals; packages to watch online start at $13.99. You can choose 2, 4, 6 or 12 total viewing hours, and log in and out of the site at your convenience. YAGP is also broadcasting their "Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow" gala in Tampa this Saturday at 8 pm EST. The performance will feature National Ballet of Canada's Evan McKie and Svetlana Lunkina, Ballet West's Beckanne Sisk and Chase O'Connell, New York City Ballet's Ashley Bouder and Daniel Ulbricht and international guest artists Adiarys Almeida and Taras Domitro.

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For American audiences, Balanchine's "Rubies" is instantly recognizable. Cuban audiences, though, have never seen the iconic work, due to over five decades of severed diplomatic relations with the U.S. That will change this Sunday, when Beckanne Sisk and fellow Ballet West principal Christopher Ruud perform the saucy, showy "Rubies" pas de deux at the International Ballet Festival of Havana gala. Pointe spoke with Sisk about making dance history.

Sisk in Balanchine's "Rubies." Photo by Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West.

 

You're no stranger to galas, but do they make you nervous? 

It's not a whole production, so I feel a lot of pressure to do well in those nine minutes. But it's also very exciting. I feel comfortable with "Rubies," and I'm so honored to be the first to dance it in Cuba.

 

How do you think the audience will receive this pas?

I feel like this is the perfect pas de deux to take because they love exciting dancing. This pas has a whole lot of everything in it!

 

How does "Rubies" continue to challenge you?

I'm learning to be able to throw myself and do all these crazy things while keeping the technique. I have to be poised and together in my core while throwing my limbs, so I'm finding that balance.

 

What do you like about the role? 

There are no limits. It's all just power and go, go, go—there are no rest steps, and you do everything to the fullest. It's very showy, but it's all fun, feel-good steps.

 

Besides performing, what else are you looking forward to doing in Cuba? 

I've never been to Cuba, so we're gonna try and do some touristy things. I'd like to see some cool cars, and the food—I can't wait to try the food! We'll also get to take company class [with the National Ballet of Cuba]. I'm really, really excited about that.

 

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

Ballet Stars
O'Connell and Sisk performing William Forsythe's In the middle, somewhat elevated. Photo by Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West.

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2016 issue of Pointe.

Murphy and Stiefel. Ogden and Côté. Osipova and Polunin. Ballet inspires as many thrilling partnerships offstage as on. Company romances are so common, in fact, you might say they're a perk of the job. “You're with each other all day—it happens a lot," says San Francisco Ballet soloist Lauren Strongin, who is married to SFB principal Joseph Walsh. Chemistry flourishes in the hothouse of a rehearsal studio, and choreographed embraces have a way of breaking the ice—who could resist? In celebration of Valentine's Day, four company couples share the ups and downs of love at the office, and some of their sweetest moments, with Pointe.


Sisk and O'Connell.

Ballet West principal Beckanne Sisk and soloist Chase O'Connell

Ballet romances typically develop under the watchful eyes of other company members, but Beckanne Sisk and Chase O'Connell's also played out on TV. Filmed two months into their relationship, the 2013 season of “Breaking Pointe," a reality show about life at Ballet West, exposed their tribulations to the world: Would he get into the main company from Ballet West II? Could they last if he didn't? “It was really awkward," recalls Sisk, now 23. “Awful," says O'Connell, 22. “The show was pushing us to talk about this situation that we didn't want to discuss yet."

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Ballet Stars
Kyle Froman

When it comes to dance supplies, Beckanne Sisk isn't one to pack light—even when she's on the road. "I carry so much stuff it's ridiculous," says the Ballet West soloist, whom we caught up with just before she performed in the Youth America Grand Prix gala at New York City's David H. Koch Theater. So her most important dance bag item is the bag itself: a carryall large enough to fit everything she needs. "It's by the brand MPG," she says. "When we were filming 'Breaking Pointe,' they sent over a bunch of stuff, and I fell in love with it."

Sisk also swears by her Sally Hansen leg makeup, which, like many dancers, she uses to dye her shoes. "But it's also to cover up the tattoo on my ankle," she says. "It's a tattoo of little wings. Please don't ask why. I was 15 and in a rebellious phase!"

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The season premiere of "Breaking Pointe" has just been moved up to July 22. We can hardly wait to find out what's in store this time around. In the meantime, we're fantasizing with our fingers crossed about a few things we hope to see:

 

1. Footage of Jewels. Ballet West performed the full ballet for the first time this April, and we'd love to go into some rehearsals and get a peek behind the curtain. Beckanne Sisk in the lead of "Rubies"? We bet she's pretty great.

 

2. Speaking of Beckanne, we want to see her let her guard down a bit more in front of the cameras. Last season, she was exquisite and elegant and polite, but she didn't quite seem like a real person. Luckily, in an interview she gave for Pointe's June/July issue, she told me, "This season is gonna be a lot different—you really see a whole new side to me. I didn’t notice the cameras nearly as much this time; I just did my own thing and didn’t bite my tongue as much. Which could end up being a good thing or a bad thing."

 

3. Hopefully they show us more crazy dancer-ness, like Allison and Katie sacrificing a kitchen table so that they can have a "stretching room" in their house!

 

4. From the trailer (below), it looks like Ronnie gets seriously injured. This is such a huge and horrible part of a dancer's life. We hope the producers really show how he handles the setback and what he does to help his body recover without making the drama of this experience silly. (Remember how they repeated Rex's fall so many times one episode last season they might as well have created a gif?)

 

5. Most of all, we hope dancers truly embrace the show. Yes, it's reality TV and overdramatized and obsessed with The Allison & Rex Story. But it's being streamed into the homes of people who think that ballet dancers put their fingers on top of their heads in fifth position. If Allison and Rex are what it takes to get them interested in Balanchine and Ashton, we'll take it.

Are you ready to go back inside Ballet West? The second season of "Breaking Pointe" premieres on Monday—and we can't wait. To tide you over the weekend, take a look at our photo essay, which follows a day in the life of Beckanne Sisk during filming this winter. And check out this preview clip, released by The CW.

First "Bunheads" and now "Breaking Pointe"—it seems like the ballet-on-television trend might be on its way out.

The CW has announced that it has not ordered a third season of "Breaking Pointe," the docudrama following Ballet West. The news isn't particularly surprising, as "Breaking Pointe" had very low ratings throughout the show's first season, and continued to fall during its second. Nevertheless, we'll miss our weekly dose of soapy ballet.

Already aching for those behind-the-scenes glimpses of life at Ballet West? We've got you covered! Our last June/July issue peered into Beckanne Sisk's daily routine.

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