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Mr. Jeremy FIsher, from Sir Frederick Ashton's "The Tales of Beatrix Potter."

Animal roles might not typically be what dancers dream of performing…but they're oh-so-fun to watch. You can't help falling under their spell (and perhaps aspiring to dance one someday). Here's a round-up of some of our favorite furry and feathered roles.

Bunny Hop

Run. Dance in a circle. Pretend to be a rabbit. It might sound like a creative movement combo, but don't let that fool you. The role of Peter Rabbit in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Tales of Beatrix Potter requires fierce technique—not to mention the ability to project personality while wearing an animal head and fur suit.


Four-Legged Interlude

Who do you turn to for halftime entertainment during a quartet of fairy variations? Dancing lizards, mice and a frog of course! This charming quintet of creatures light up the stage in David Bintley's Cinderella.

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HM Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and dancer Fenella Cook. Photo courtesy TIVOLI, Copenhagen.

The realms of fairy tale ballets are filled with imaginary queens.

But in Denmark, the nation's real-life, reigning monarch, Queen Margrethe II, fills the stages of fairy tale ballets with her original costume and decor designs. In fact, she's been the in-house set designer for the Pantomime Theatre of Copenhagen's famed Tivoli Gardens since 2001. Her most recent work can be seen in Yuri Possokhov's Cinderella, which runs through August 27 at the Pantomime Theatre. The production is performed by Tivoli's dance company, Tivoli Ballet Theatre, which features an international roster of 18 classically-trained dancers.


HM Queen Margrethe II of Denmark watching rehearsals of "Cinderella." Photo courtesy TIVOLI, Copenhagen.

The queen is a devoted fan of ballet. She regularly attends performances and has taken lessons as an adult. She's also created artwork for decades and even illustrated the Danish edition of The Lord of the Rings. Her first ballet costume and set designs appeared in the Royal Danish Ballet's 1991 production of Bournonville's A Folk Tale.

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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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Rojo and Polunin in Marguerite and Armand. Bill Cooper via The Telegraph.

Whether it's an oh-so fashionably late arrival to a ball or an endless line of impressively in-sync penchés, ballets know the power of a dramatic entrance. (Appropriate, perhaps, that the word “entrance" has a double meaning, depending on how you pronounce it: “an entry" and also “to enthrall.") Take a look at some of our favorite wing-to-stage moments.

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I love Prokofiev’s somewhat dark musical compositions, his way of twisting graceful melodies in unconventional, dramatic ways. This is particularly apparent in Cinderella. Prokofiev’s sonorous score, combined with Sir Frederick Ashton’s nuanced choreography and The Royal Ballet dancers’ poetic movement, makes for true enchantment. As the Winter Fairy in Act I, principal dancer Zenaida Yanowsky perfectly embodies the season. She seems to enter on a cold, foreboding wind, chill emanating with each step. Yanowsky’s expression is fierce, almost frosty, and her limbs alternately cut the air like icicles and swirl like snow.

Yanowsky has been a principal with The Royal for 15 years. Her tall stature and laudable acting lends itself well to regal roles. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Zenaida Yanowsky in another Ashton ballet, Marguerite and Armand. Photo by Tristarm Kenton courtesy of The Royal Opera House.

Fun Fact:

Does the last name Yanowsky ring more than one bell? Zenaida and former Boston Ballet principal Yury Yanowsky are sister and brother. Plus, their little sister Nadia is a soloist at Dutch National Ballet. Talk about a dancing gene!

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

Photo by Alex Lentati courtesy of the Evening Standard.

Larissa Ponomarenko, long a revered principal at Boston Ballet, has been with the company through multiple versions of Cinderella—most recently James Kudelka's in 2005 and 2008. Now, as ballet master, she's guiding dancers through Frederick Ashton's classic rendition, which BB performs through this weekend. Pointe talked to Ponomarenko about the similarities and differences between the fairytale worlds of Kudelka and Ashton, and about dancing and coaching the ballet's title role.

In terms of storytelling, how do the Ashton and Kudelka Cinderellas compare?
Well, the basic story is the same in both—a  joyful, witty, lively girl who has a heart bigger than life lives in this unfortunate house, and then the goodness in her heart brings the fairy godmother, who elevates her out of the situation. I think the biggest difference is the timeframe. Ashton's is set in the 18th century, I think, and Kudelka's is in the 1930s Art Deco period. Ashton also has the sisters played by men, but in Kudelka's version they are ladies and actually beautifully choreographed on pointe.

You danced Cinderella in Kudelka's version. What was most challenging about that role?
For me, it was the fact that his Cinderella starts out dancing in bare feet in the kitchen, and then when she's presented with the crystal shoes, she has to put them on onstage and dance in them immediately! I liked to tape all my toes, and that was a big challenge, to find flesh-colored tape that wouldn't leave any residue on the floor while I was dancing barefoot. I think some ballerinas would pre-set their toe pads inside the shoes—everyone had to come up with little tricks.
 
How about Cinderella's technical challenges in Ashton?
It has at times been difficult for the dancers to adapt to the Ashton style. I believe there are moments when he wanted Cinderella almost to represent a clock, with a leg and an arm as the clock's hands. Today everyone wants the leg up high in arabesque, but to achieve the clock effect the limbs have to be angled and close to the body.

Wendy Ellis Somes set the Ashton version on the company. What advice has she had?
She's very rich in information. She knows exactly when to turn the head, here you go on pointe, here you stay flat. And she conveys the ballet's history, too. She said that Ashton started to choreograph the part of Cinderella on Margot Fonteyn, and then she got injured, so he called in Moira Shearer for the ballroom scene. Wendy pointed out that much of the first act is lyrical and fluid, like Fonteyn, and then the second act is more sharp and edgy, like Shearer.

As a Cinderella veteran, what advice do you have for the dancers taking on the title role?
First, to enjoy the performance! But also to think about overcoming the sadness in the music. Cinderella's musical themes are quite dark—probably because the score was written while Prokofiev was having a very difficult time—but Cinderella is actually joyful and optimistic. You can't succumb to that heaviness in the music, at least not all the time.

Last night, I saw American Ballet Theatre in Frederick Ashton's Cinderella, a ballet that entered the company's rep just this season. Of course, you're at the theater to see the magical story of Cinderella and her prince unfold. And what magic it was! Julie Kent played an endearing, doe-eyed Cinderella and Marcelo Gomes was princely, as always. But in Ashton's version, the evil stepsisters—men dressed to the nines in corsets and wigs—dare I say it, stole the show. Kenneth Easter and Thomas Forster were the humorous thread that kept the plot moving, from the ballet's witty, subtle moments to its go-for-broke slapstick.


It may seem like playing a caricature-like character would be easy. But there's much more nuance to these roles than perceived. (Not to mention the high heels involved.) In this Time Out New York Q&A, Gia Kourlas talks with ABT dancers Craig Salstein and Roman Zhurbin about the highlights and difficulties of the job.

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